A former phone booth in the lobby of the Honolulu Museum of Art School has become a fun and formidable exhibition space, attracting some of the island’s biggest art names like Jason Teraoka, Daven Hee, Jon Vongvichai, and now, John Koga. Since November 2012, the Art School has opened its doors, or rather a door, to guest artists to do whatever they wish with what has been dubbed the Nanogallery. While the space is tiny—just 12 square feet with an 8-foot-high ceiling—it hasn’t limited artists’ creativity. In recent months the space has played host to giant ceramic spiders, a deep-space galaxy, floating houses, and a diorama of a gopher habitat.

On display this September is a conceptual installation by Koga. While he works primarily as a sculptor and painter, he is taking this opportunity to explore an intangible medium: sound. With an aim to evoke empathy through spatial acoustics, Koga’s offering is visually stark and yet transportive, moving listeners to the innermost closets of human emotion.

In the week prior to installing, John took time to explain what led him to that decision, and what he hopes to leave with folks passing through the Art School.

Your sculptures often require wide-open spaces. How did you adapt your process to working in such a small space? Did it dictate your concept?
I am definitely more comfortable working in a larger format but I have shown large sculptures in a small gallery spaces—BOOM, run by Charlie Valorosa, and a four-person show at Virus, a missing brick space in a wall at NYU, curated by Lawrence Seward.

Adapting and working with new environments is a constant in all of our lives. Being in the arts and having a chance to change the feel is always a welcome challenge!

Can you describe your focus for the Nanogallery?
[Art School director] Vince Hazen approached me to show at the Nanogallery and I hesitated because of the scale of the space. I actually cancelled twice and he was kind enough to ask me again. It’s not an easy space to place an object or install an idea, although I have seen many successful pieces.

An idea of using sound/voices kept coming to me because of the history of the Nanogallery—the space was formerly a telephone booth. The concept of recorded sound became my creative drive.

What will you call it?
Naked Tears—our universal link to empathy, a recording of an adult woman and an adult man crying.

Do you think you will try your hand at other small-scale venues in the future?
Absolutely, I would encourage the creative challenge to all! In fact, the museum should create 20 nano-spaces at the museum and let the future visionaries have some fun!

What would you like viewers to take away from seeing, or experiencing, your installation?
A smile and a tear, or a tear and a smile.