Tezuka has consciously used prefabricated textiles in the context of contemporary art, whereby she has investigated the relationships between art and craft, industrialization and industry, and fine art and decorative art. Textiles and paintings are both forms of human expressions that require tremendous time and effort to produce. Within various patterns created there, common threads are found, which mesmerize and enlighten viewers, but, at that same time, ostentatiously display the power of rulers. Similarly, in a case where textiles were used as clothes in daily life, the same can be said, as clothing bore heterogeneous functions and meanings. And in Japan, it was during the Meiji period when art and crafts parted their ways and began to be treated differently, which coincided with the time when the concept of “fine art” was imported from the West.
In the meantime, the year before entering the Meiji era, from Japan, the Edo Shogunate, the Satsuma domain, and the Saga domain were exhibiting at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. Allegedly, it was the Satsuma buttons submitted proudly by the Satsuma domain that attracted much attention of Western visitors. The gorgeous ceramic buttons with the diameter of just a few centimeters are swathed in beautifully rendered Japanese landscapes and women in kimonos exquisitely painted on precious white Satsuma clay. In the light of the ‘Japonism’ boom spreading across its export destinations in the West, the traditional Japanese image that Western Europeans expected was consciously conveyed and fabricated. At that time, buttons were rather redundant embellishments for kimonos in Japan. The Satsuma buttons illustrate the way in which Japan consciously played self-orientalism to satisfy the expectation of Western Europeans, and simultaneously, it underlines the recentness of the situation where Modern Japan had only come in contact with Western Europe not long ago.
Tezuka’s new work A Study of Necessity (Satsuma-Buttons and Self-Orientalism) (fig.4) is a textile designed by the artist with reference to the oldest known example of embroidery in Japan made during the Asuka period, namely the Tenjukoku Shūchō Mandala, appearing in the background, which was also referenced in her previous works, such as Thin Membrane, Pictures Come Down (2009) and Ghost I Met (2013). On top of that, the Satsuma button is visible from between the ridges of the Suigetsu (Water-Moon) Kannon half-stone statue. The images of objects spanning several centuries, such as 7th-century embroidery fabrics, 13th-century statues, and 19th-century ornaments exported to Western Europe, were carefully edited into a multi-layered image. After then, the design data was converted into a format for the use of weaving machines. Together with the technician, Tezuka attentively compared the image pixels with threads one by one, adjusting the image to be rendered on the fabric, before it was finally woven. In this work, the Satsuma-button has been starkly contrasted with the formal sensibility of Europeans. From gaps created between the walls of the drapes of Italian marble statues, the original 18th and 19th-century European buttons appear, which Japanese craftsmen must have closely studied when producing the Satsuma buttons.
Text by Sachiko Shoji, Curator, Fukuoka Art Museum (excerpted from “Becoming a Thread and a Needle” – Aiko Tezuka’s thought and method)