16 March 2023

Jeff Wall's A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) Book Review

16 March 2023 - Written by Camilla Marrese

TBW’s limited edition of Jeff Wall’s iconic photograph is composed of 98 unbound, lightweight sheets of paper. The publication’s elegant, though ephemeral design turns the original museum piece, part of Tate Modern’s permanent collection, into a portable artwork challenging the fixity of the book form.

A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) is based on an 1832 woodcut, Travellers Caught in a Sudden Breeze at Ejiri, by Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai. The print is part of Hokusai's broader series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, where the peak's surrounding landscape is represented across different seasons. In this body of work, weather agents are just as relevant as the ever-present Mount Fuji is - the main subject of the woodcut inspiring Wall eventually being, indeed, a gust of wind.

In the foreground of both pictures, we see four human figures, two bending trees, and loose sheets of paper flying all around. Only one, main difference catches the eye - at the place of Hokusai's Mount Fuji is the flat landscape of urbanized Vancouver.

Wall’s work revolves around slowness, and things slightly deceiving in the way they look. The photograph, presenting itself as an instantaneous fraction of time, is instead the result of five months of almost cinematic work involving actors, a wind machine, and the seamless montage of one hundred different film negatives with early digital techniques. Quite similarly, TBW's ten-years-in-the-making publication might look like a regular hard-cover book, instead being a clamshell box that houses 98 sheets of paper in a cardboard folder. 

A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) could not have been a book by any means: the elusive, fleeting moment it represents would have suffocated in finite binding. Opening the folder and browsing through the sheets, we instead find the fragments of a story still undisclosed. A hut floating over a white sky. The surprised expression of a formally dressed man, a corner of his jacket suspended in the air. A bended knee, moving water, and papers all over. Only once re-composed, hung on a wall, can the narrative come together. 

In a PBS interview released last year, Wall says that his work is not to write stories, but to erase them. “It means that the process of picture-making is the exact opposite of narrating”, he explains, “what you’re doing is, you’re stilling the narrative. You’re un-writing it. It’s the viewer that will come back in real time, and rewrite it”. How could this better be represented than through a bunch of paper sheets flying in the air, maybe lost for good, maybe re-found by somebody else, who'd potentially re-assemble them in his own order? 

It goes for the orange folder we see in Wall’s picture, as much as for the TBW one we hold in our hands. Its color and shape recalling the original, the object is sort of suggesting a circle. One that gets, eventually, closed as the conceptual artist’s piece is installed on a wall, with the lightest airflow causing the sheets’ movement. With “just a small portion of the gust of wind that could happen outside”, as Wall says in the video produced for the publication's launch, the scene is necessarily always alive, never frozen - making TBW’s edition a uniquely designed ode to fleetingness.


All photos © Jeff Wall and TBW Books


A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) is published by TBW Books
Edition of 300 + 30 Artist's Proofs
Signed and numbered
Slipcase with clamshell and folder
98 unbound color plates
35.5 x 30 cm (slipcase)
229 x 377 cm  (assembled)


Jeff Wall (b. 1946) is a Canadian artist best known for his large-scale back-lit Cibachrome photographs and art history writing. Early in his career, he helped define the Vancouver School. His photographic tableaux often take Vancouver's mixture of natural beauty, urban decay, and postmodern and industrial featurelessness as their backdrop.


Camilla Marrese (b.1998) is a photographer and designer based between Italy and The Netherlands, about to graduate from Design Academy Eindhoven's MA in Information Design (NL). Her work, often realized in a duo with Gabriele Chiapparini, was exhibited in several festivals and galleries including Fotografia Europea, Kranj Photo Fest, and PhMuseum Lab.

Written by

Camilla Marrese

Reading time

5 minutes