Art and History Intertwined: On Aiko Tezuka’s Project Rembrandt x Chintz
Rembrandt’s The Night Watch: A ‘Failed’ Masterpiece and a Misunderstanding
When one thinks of the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), his monumental work The Night Watch in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam would probably spring to his or her mind. The painting is considered not only the most precious and important work in the museum collection but also the artist’s magnum opus.
Despite that, this most celebrated Rembrandt’s work was not so well received in the wake of its completion. In the early winter of 1639, the Civilian Company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq commissioned Rembrandt to produce a group portrait of 18 people, and the painting was planned to be hung in the banquet hall of the Kloveniersdoelen (Arquebusiers Assembly Hall). When the commissioned piece was finally unveiled in 1642, much to his surprise, the artist did not meet with an overly enthusiastic reception from his clients. What they had expected was more of the accurate documentation of their dignity than a work of art with the artist’s creative interpretation. That is to say, each of them simply wanted to have his portrait painted in a respectable manner. Nonetheless, it was generally agreed that there was little dignity or accurate representation found in the painting, since most of the figures depicted in the painting were either half concealed, fading into the background, or having their faces painted in shade. To make matters worse, instead of painting the eighteen people as originally requested, Rembrandt had rendered thirty-one figures in his painting, adding extra ones purely for aesthetic and compositional purposes and intending to liven up the scene. The militiamen, the customers, were supposedly dissatisfied with the final outcome, although there is no concrete record of confirming this. It is conceivable, however, that some of the gunmen, for instance, those portrayed in shade or only partially, may have been particularly displeased with the image. It was no surprising that after completing The Night Watch Rembrandt rarely received portrait commissions for many years.
Although Rembrandt’s clients may not have been happy with the work, today the painting is considered one of the finest pieces ever created even among the so-called masterpieces in the history of European art. Rembrandt executed this picture as a theatrical history painting with much depth latent in its content. The arresting quality of the painting pulls the viewer into the dramatic scene, where the captain raises his arm, giving a command, the beat of a drum is reverberating, the rifle is loaded, and the triggered is caulked. Rembrandt built up a complex scene, giving depth to the space with light and shade and staging Baroque movements against a classical backdrop. Rembrandt was the first artist to depict figures in action in a group portrait, showing the civic guardsmen taking ownership of their duties and marching to the drumbeat. His manipulation of light was also unprecedented. Be that as it may, the title of the painting, The Night Watch, was not given by Rembrandt but rather derived from a pure misunderstanding. By the 19th century, the canvas had become so darkened and dirty that it was thought to represent a ‘night watch’, a group of militiamen on night patrol. After the canvas was cleaned up, however, it became clear that the guards were standing in a dark interior illuminated by beams of daylight.
Rembrandt with India & Japan
It is rather unusual to associate Rembrandt with India, or Japan for that matter, but the truth is that in his cabinet of curiosities, there were objects from the Orient, including goods of Indian, Chinese and Japanese origin. He was particularly fascinated by miniature paintings from the Mughal court of India. In the inventory that catalogues his belongings, an entry on July 25, 1656 reads, “a ditto [art book] full of curious miniature drawings.” This would probably have referred to these Mughal miniatures. While he hardly ever made faithful copies of other artists’ works, he did make a series of copies, twenty-five to be precise, of the Mughal miniatures that he owned.
In the Rijksmuseum collection, there are three sketches made by Rembrandt during 1656-1658, which he copied from these Mughal miniatures, and most strikingly these sketches were all drawn on Japanese paper, for example, The Mughal Emperor Jahangir (*1). Japanese paper was not unfamiliar to Dutch artists in the 17th century, and it was not only Rembrandt who used it but also other artists. For example, Hercules Segers (1589-1638) made prints with Japanese paper.
Indian Chintz with the Netherlands and Japan
Chintz refers to the cotton fabric that was woodblock printed and hand-painted with designs featuring flowers and other patterns produced in India. Imported by the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC), chintz arrived in Europe in vast quantities and was also widely distributed in Persia, Siam, Indonesia, China, and Japan. In Europe, it was not only made into clothing but also played an important role in interior decoration. The exotic motifs of imported chintz were quickly adopted (and adapted) in Europe, and in turn, commissions from Europeans influenced its production in India. In no time, the popularity of chintz spread all over Europe. Decorating interiors with chintz was popular among the wealthy, and it was also used in castles and palaces.
The process of making chintz was complicated. First, the cotton was subjected to a repeated sequence of treatments with various oils and fats. Once the cotton was ready to be dyed, each color was applied in a separate step. Some thick colors and mordants were directly printed with carved woodblocks or applied with a brush. To preserve specific areas of the design, wax was used as a dye resist.
After 1641, Japan’s national isolation policy (sokoku鎖国) allowed only the Dutch and Chinese to trade in Nagasaki until 1854. Through the Dutch VOC, Indian chintz was brought into Japan, where it was cherished as an exotic textile. In Japan, it was called sarasa (更紗) and widely used among devotees of the tea ceremony to wrap artifacts used during tea ceremonies and called meibutsugire (名物裂). It was also used to mount scroll paintings and was even made into kimonos during the Edo period (1603-1868). The Indian chintz also inspired the Japanese textile production. Not only was chintz made into the Japanese style, but also it stimulated the local traditional textile industry, including the famous yūzen-dyeing. Meanwhile, chintz also influenced the textile production in Europe, and the copperplate machine printed fabric had become iconic products in the 19th century. Interestingly, after the isolation policy, Japan welcomed the country’s modernization, and the rapid transformation and mass production changed the way people lived, and the impact has lasted even until today.
Aiko Tezuka’s Rembrandt x Chintz
Aiko Tezuka’s art project Rembrandt x Chintz is intended to pay homage to the Dutch master Rembrandt. 2019 marks the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death. Finding a thread in the history of the commerce-driven interchange between the Netherlands and Japan, Aiko Tezuka designed a special tapestry appropriating the historical chintz and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, the iconic painting of the Dutch Golden Age.
This ongoing project has so far yielded two works. One is a tapestry, Flowery Obscurity, designed by Aiko Tezuka (fig. 1). On the tapestry, the colorful Indian chintz fabrics (mostly chosen from the collection of the Rijksmuseum) fill the dark areas of The Night Watch (*2). In other words, the tapestry can also be seen as a collage of Rembrandt’s masterpiece and the historical chintz, and together, they merged into a new artwork.
One tends to divide painting and textile into high-art and craft, hence the perceived values are different. In the original commission of The Night Watch, each of the 18 members of the company paid ƒ100 to have their portraits painted, however, at that time, the cost of a tapestry would have been much higher. Aiko Tezuka’s work tackles the issue of differentiating between fine art and craft. She once stated, “I would assume that paintings and textiles were actually treated equally in people’s daily life in the 17th century and influencing each other.” In fact, in the 17th century, important artists occasionally worked on tapestry designs, and the most notable one was Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).
In this work, the brightly colored Indian chintz became the light in the painting, which symbolized the profitable overseas trade of the Dutch VOC. The illusionistic curtain was a novel motif for painters during the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt’s Holy Family with a Curtain in Kassel, signed and dated 1646, is the earliest dated Dutch painting to bear this motif (*3). At first glance, the chintz that fills the dark areas looks almost like the curtain on a stage that was set up by Rembrandt. But the chintz here is not the real chintz. It is woven on a tapestry, like the curtain in Rembrandt’s painting, which is not a real curtain but painted on canvas. Here, Aiko Tezuka plays this art historical motif in her work.
In another work of hers, Aiko Tezuka untied the warp threads of a woven tapestry and re-wove them. The process of weaving and re-weaving can be considered akin to the process of constructing and re-constructing history, while the process of untying the threads can be seen as a process of de-constructing history.
I see Aiko Tezuka’s art project Rembrandt x Chintz as her artistic dialectic between Rembrandt’s work, the overseas trade of VOC in the Dutch Golden Age, the relationship between the Netherlands and Japan, and the Indian chintz. Aiko Tezuka stated, “Accepting the rupture of the cultural lineage, I decided to embrace the cultural hybridization between the West and the East in order to create something new upon that which is neither original nor firmly fixed.” In her works, art and history are intertwined. One could perhaps see history as the warp and art as the weft, and by Aiko Tezuka’s hand, they are woven together.
Fig. 1 Flowery Obscurity (The Night Watch – 01), 2019, Jacquard weaving designed by the artist with colored warp threads (materials of the threads are acrylic, cotton and wool), fabric height 130 cm, fabric width 175 cm, development and production by TextielMuseum | TextielLab – Tilburg, the Netherlands, product developer is Judith Peskens (TextielMuseum | TextielLab), collaboration with Ching-Ling Wang (curator of Chinese art, Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
*1 The Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1656, ink on Japanese paper, 18.3 x 12 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-T-1961-82 (accessed on July 11, 2019)
*2 See also Sachiko Shoji’s “Becoming a Thread and a Needle” – Aiko Tezuka’s thought and method
*3 Holy Family with a Curtain, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646, oil on wood, 46.5 x 69 cm, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel https://altemeister.museum-kassel.de/33765/ (accessed on July 11, 2019)
“Becoming a Thread and a Needle” – Aiko Tezuka’s thought and method
Weaving the Past and the Present
As a student, Aiko Tezuka came to focus on textiles in the quest for a new painterly language and developed her own method of deconstructing and reconstructing the pre-existing notion of painting. Initially, her unique method may have been the mere outgrowth of the process to analogize weaving warps and wefts to paintings, as the former interlaces an array of patterns, while the latter consists of layers of paint, somewhat analogously. However, as it turned out, by unraveling the yarns, not only did it mean tracing back the time that it took to weave, thereby looking at the physical structure, but also examining the institutions, society and history that shaped the fabric. In other words, the act of unraveling, i.e., pulling threads out of a ‘ready-made’ textile, and reconstructing it by embroidering with the pulled out threads can be seen as an attempt to weave the past and the present, a particular moment that flows then and there, entwine them, and visually and tactilely convey the entire process to the viewer.
For example, in the series Certainty / Entropy exhibited in 2014, Tezuka used a textile designed by herself, which was woven by a technician in the lab in the Textile Museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands. In the background, traditional textiles and decorative patterns made in the 20th-century Peranakan (present-day Singapore), the 18th-century India, the 16th-century England, and the 8th-century Japan are referenced, and symbols familiar to the modern audience are also sprinkled across those layers. The traditional textile patterns, now labeled as “decorative”, and the symbols that flood our modern society are intended to indicate memories and a variety of human emotions, such as desires, aspirations, reminiscences, and the relentless pursuit of power. The fabric that encapsulates chaos is disentwined by Tezuka’s hand, and the patterns and symbols are dissolved and returned to the original state of yarns.
In the work Do you remember me – I was about to forget unveiled in 2018, a Japanese figure who moved to Hawaii and settled in a sugar plantation there during the Meiji era was machine-embroidered on soft organdy, which allows light to gently percolate through. By Western colonizers, many parts of Hawaii were turned into plantations, and a large number of Asians including Japanese immigrated to Hawaii in search of a new land to work and prosper. They intended to return home once they made money, but in reality, they were forced to work under harsh conditions as cheap labor, and thus they were never able to leave the land. Intended to be displayed on a glass window, this work oscillates between memories and oblivion, while the scenery of its surroundings, a Hawaiian landscape and the figure of the Japanese immigrant ambivalently overlap, spreading boundlessly underneath the surface of a thin laced cloth.
One of Tezuka’s new works shown for the first time in this exhibition, Flowery Obscurity (The Night Watch), refers to the masterpiece The Night Watch by 17th-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn. Although the title The Night Watch, which the painting is widely known as today, is, in truth, an eponym of the less known fact that by the time it was titled as such, the painting had been darkened by layers of dirt and varnish, even though the painting did not originally depict a night scene. Nonetheless, the immense painting by the Dutch master reveals the delicate depiction of light and darkness that have enthralled viewers over centuries. Meanwhile, in Tezuka’s Flowery Obscurity (The Night Watch), parts of the image of The Night Watch, where Photoshop (image editing software) mechanically perceived as black, i.e., darkish, have been replaced with the exotic floral patterns that appear on Indian “Sarasa” textiles.
Also, if a viewer follows the floral patterns, the logo of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie: VOC) can be found. Around the time that The Night Watch was painted, the Asian trade was monopolized by VOC, and Indian textiles manufactured in the Coromandel Coast region, southeastern India, were particularly popular among Europeans. For this reason, VOC has contracted with the regional lords and local textile craftsmen in order to produce a lot of Indian Sarasa. The Indian Sarasa crossed the oceans as popular trading items during the age of the Great Voyages and was loved by Indonesians, the French, the British, the Dutch, and Japanese.
There is a curious dualism between the old master that had left an indelible mark in the history of art and the dyed textiles that were then excluded from the context of art, even though the latter, in fact, enchanted many people and played an essential part in the world economy at that time. This work, referring to the time in which paintings and dyed fabrics co-existed, albeit in parallel, was also designed by Tezuka and woven at the Textile Museum Lab in Tilburg.
Modernism and Japan
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 (ref.1) 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) 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.
Meeting Again and Weaving Again
The production of her new works presented in this exhibition has been sponsored by the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI), an incorporated research institute, founded by Wacoal Co., Ltd. Her solo exhibition will concurrently take place at a venue in Japan called Spiral, which is also a subsidiary of Wacoal Co., Ltd. Within the collection inventory provided by KCI, Tezuka paid particular heed to a piece of fabric that had just been acquired. It is a tablecloth that is believed to be woven around 1905-1925 by Kawashima Textile (present Kawashima Selkon Textiles), a well-established textile company based in Kyoto. There are two main reasons why Tezuka was drawn to this fabric. First, this piece was woven in the Meiji period. And Kawashima Selkon Textiles was the company that Tezuka sought cooperation from for producing the 2008 work Loom of Layers, Picture of Layers – Sewn Together (held in Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum Collection) and the 2013 work Ghost I Met.
Kawashima Textile was founded by Kawashima Jinbei I in 1843 in the late Edo period, operating initially as a kimono dealer and providing various kinds of kimono-related services. The business was further developed by Kawashima Jinbei II, the eldest son of Kawashima Jinbei I. Jinbei II conducted extensive research into Gobelin tapestries during his visit to Europe in 1886, which subsequently allowed him to improve Japanese textile production methods and make a significant contribution in the advancement of techniques in hand-woven brocade. In the following year, he received the special order to design inside the Imperial Palace and completed the interior decoration of the Meiji Palace in 1888. It was probably the first interior design and upholstery project carried out on such a large scale in Japan.
Although it is not clear as to the details of the tablecloth held in the KCI collection, the piece is assumed to be produced in the early 1900s, based analogously on the exhibition record of the same kind of tablecloths exhibited at the World Expo. While tablecloths were introduced to Japan together with table manners as a part of various Westernization policies, Jinbei II began producing and presenting a set of fabrics made exclusively for interior decoration purposes including tablecloths from the 1900 Paris World Expo onwards. In addition to that, the previously conducted research has pointed out that Kawashima Jinbei II focused on the interior decoration textiles specifically for international exhibitions such as the World Expo in order to show the world technical prowess and minuteness of Japanese craftsmanship and his company in large-size interior textiles, which were difficult be seen in relatively small kimono fabrics.
A tablecloth made over 100 years ago by Kawashima Textile, a well-established Kyoto-based company, has been acquired by KCI, a clothing research institute in Kyoto, and coincidentally, Tezuka was preparing her new works around the same time, which were to be presented in her upcoming solo exhibition at Spiral founded by Wacoal, also based in Kyoto. Tezuka requested Kawashima Selkon Textiles the remaking of the tablecloth. It was meant to be the reunion of different technologies that were developed centuries apart, namely hand weaving and machine weaving. Thanks to the miraculous encounter brought about by Tezuka, the work Rewoven in Kyoto, After 100 years, which has been reproduced almost in full size, is a conceptual art piece that reflects back upon the state of art and craft in Japan during the Meiji period, which encompassed technological innovation of art and craft on one hand and the dualistic attitude towards Western Europe on the other.
Front and back, toing and froing
In 1869, Japan finally ended over 200 years of self-imposed seclusion. In order to show that Japan was equal to its Western counterparts that were, at that time, the center of the world, the Meiji government adopted various Westernization policies, lending itself to the values of Western Europe. In order not to be treated as inferior or to be colonized, rapid Westernization was carried out with utmost urgency, which included reforming the system of government and abandoning traditional fashion and customs. For example, following the Western custom, from 1872 onwards, Empress Shōken (Haruko) (ref.2) also attended ceremonies and official meetings with key figures from Western countries that the Emperor had previously appeared alone. In addition, clothing was viewed as an extension of international politics, aiming at presenting Japan as a prominent and advanced civilization comparable to the powerful European countries.
In 1873, the emperor shortened his hair and began to wear a Western-style military uniform as formal clothing. In the Imperial Court, aristocratic women had traditionally worn a casual version of twelve-layered ceremonial kimono, which had long been worn by courtiers. However, on June 23, 1886, 10 years after the change of men’s formal dress code, Minister of the Imperial Household then Hirobumi Itō notified the royal family, ministers and others of women’s new formal dress code. On July 28 of the same year, the Empress wore Western clothes, and two days later, she presented herself in Western clothes in the public for the first time. On January 17, 1887, the Empress sent out her ‘declaration statement’ to the Cabinet Ministerial Secretary, Secretary of State and Han Chinese, promoting Western clothes for ladies.
Contrary to the Emperor who persistently opposed the Westernization of women’s clothes, the Empress’ stance was characterized as her alleged remark, “for my country, I would do anything”, presenting herself as a new type of empress who was modern, progressive and flexible in the light of the rapid and radical socio-political transformation taking place in Japan then. By 1883, as part of the Europeanization policy, the Rokumei-kan Pavilion had already been completed, which provided the primary location for foreign state guests and diplomats to engage in international diplomacy, and by then, Western-style clothing had in part already been adopted by the many, which later came to be called the “Rokumei-kan style”. However, nothing had more influence on Japanese society than the appearance of the Empress being wrapped in Western clothes. The most well-known Empress Shōken’s clothes are probably the court dress / Manteau de Cour (currently held in Kyoritsu Women’s University Museum Collection) (ref.3), which is said to have been worn on the occasion of the New Year Morning Greeting in the late Meiji period. Allegedly, only domestic materials and techniques are used for the fabric, where large, medium and small chrysanthemums are finely embroidered on deep green velvet fabric. It seems also to testify the Empress’ quiet yet endearing wish to preserve elements of the diminishing Japanese culture in the midst of rapid and extensive Westernization.
Empress Shōken was a unique individual who actively embraced change with strong conviction and self-belief despite being at the mercy of the time. Empathizing with the situation in which the Empress was placed in relation to the Westernization of women’s clothing in Modern Japan, Tezuka attentively took apart the design of the court dress and redesigned it with the two pieces of Tanka poems composed by the Empress soon after the Westernization of women’s dresses at the Imperial Court. Later, the design was materialized into the magnificent fabric at the Textile Museum Lab in Tilburg and has been titled Dear Oblivion (A Study of Empress Haruko). The Tanka poems read:
“As the exchange with foreign cultures frequents,
a sense of urgency not to lag behind them grows.”
(As diplomatic relations with foreign countries deepen, a sense of urgency to not lag behind them and to catch up with them intensifies.)
“Water becomes the form of a vessel,
as it conforms to its shape.”
(Depending on the shapes of containers, the shape of water alters capriciously.)
What was it like inside the mind of the Empress at that time?
Although the two pieces of Tanka do not necessarily refer directly to the Europeanization policies or the Westernization of clothing, they, nonetheless, convey the senses of hesitation, anxiety, and uneasiness that she must have experienced then.
Aiko Tezuka’s method
Over the years, Tezuka’s artworks have captivated viewers, which transform prefabricated textiles into dynamic installations by painstakingly pulling out threads from them one by one by hand. Tezuka examines Modern art and Modernity itself and poses questions both elegantly and craftily by using a technique that is positioned as craft-like and decorative in the realm of art where the aforementioned hierarchy still persists.
In her new works produced for this exhibition, the trajectories of her handwork that characterized her previous work, such as unraveling textile threads and embroidering, the hallmark of Tezuka’s artistic lexicon, are not necessarily discernible to an extensive degree. However, when designing the textiles, Tezuka experienced, as she recounted, “the feeling of myself becoming a thread and a needle”. It can be said that the thickness of the newly woven fabric on this occasion encompasses patterns, textures, and layering that have been carefully chosen by her in collaboration with the textile technician with utmost care, attentiveness and thoughtfulness, and during the course of her creative and investigative endeavor, each and every thread woven into the fabric has embodied Tezuka’s thought on deconstructing, re-examining and reconstructing relationships between Japan and Western Europe, Modern and Contemporary, i.e., the present, and art and craft, which may have begun even before the fabric was physically liberated.
Tezuka named the title of this exhibition “Dear Oblivion”. When we look back on the past we tend to simply trace our retrievable memories. However, memories and oblivion are like two sides of the same coin, and there is always something forgotten behind retrievable memories. Hence, the word reflects Tezuka’s sincere aspiration to cast our attention on not only the traces of the past that are accessible but also unobtrusive moments that have long descended into oblivion. Untold stories that have been fallen into oblivion are sometimes painful. There is both unintended and intended reduction of certain events to obscurity. While recalling one’s memories and looking back at history, one may notice moments and events lost into oblivion. In such instances, instead of glorifying and idealizing them upon recollecting, it is vital to re-examine the situations, in which the events occurred, critically reflect on them, and share the process of the exploration with the wider public.
Translated by Masaki Yada
Into the Unknown World of Layers, or Lessons for Restoration Text by Hibino Miyon
(This text was contributed on the occasion of the exhibition Artist File 2015 Next Doors: Contemporary Art in Japan and Korea at The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan (29 July - 12 October 2015) and Artist File 2015 Next Doors at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, Gwacheon, South Korea(10 November 2015 - 14 February 2016).
A painting is a single plane made up of layers of colored material. Though an accumulation of time and narrative is contained in each layer, we cannot immediately detect this with the eye. Tezuka Aiko’s conception of “painting as weaving” is a means of visualizing and literally dismantling the layers. A piece of fabric is made up of woven threads. By loosening them, it is easy to return the threads to their original form. When you consider that nearly everything around us cannot be reduced to its elemental state, the materials of thread and fabric are, though familiar, extremely unusual.
Prior to adopting this approach, Tezuka, who majored in oil painting in university and focused primarily on the structure of the medium, began an ongoing series of embroidered works. Thus, her artistic practice began with thread rather than paint on canvas. In her early embroidered works, Tezuka exposed the rear of the canvas, so that both the image on the front and the countless threads in back were simultaneously visible. Tezuka evolved a means of production that emphasized pliability – a quality lacking in painting, hardened as it is with glue – and dismantled the embroidery, giving rise to a front, a back, and a neutral layer or “unknown world.”
Tezuka has worked with a diverse range of materials, including antique fabrics from 100 years ago, fast-fashion brand scarfs, and cloths that she designed and wove herself. While textiles are associated with a variety of times, places, and motifs, Tezuka’s work has consistently focused on scooping up drops of irreversible time that have spilled from our hands and unraveling the structure of the world and time.
With a circular section unraveled in the middle, Lessons for Restoration is a work that attempts to blur central perspective and erase the vanishing point. Obscuring the painterly convention of perspective, and trying to teach us how see things again, the series takes on even greater significance through Tezuka’s use of contemporary souvenirs from the city of Florence, where the perspective technique was originally developed. On the other hand, while referencing Peranakan design, shaped by a blend of English, Chinese, Indian, and Malay culture in Singapore during British colonial rule, Tezuka unravels a textile that incorporates contemporary symbols in Certainty / Entropy. In another work in the series, Certainty / Entropy (England 6), she reveals the dazzling reverse side of a textile that contains bio, recycling, and peace marks, a simplified diagram of female ovaries, and a radiation hazard symbol rendered in gold thread. In this way, Tezuka creates a more dramatic expression of the cycle of construction and reconstruction.
In Dear Oblivion 1 (2015), a new work made for this exhibition, Tezuka references The Lady and the Unicorn, housed in the Musee de Cluny, and The Hunt of the Unicorn, housed in the Cloisters, and depicts a fountain emerging from an open canopy with two sets of hands reaching toward the water. Everything – the fertile earth, people washing their hands in water, the dismantling of a structure made out of a spring of gushing water (the root of life) – is a metaphor for “dear oblivion,” something we were forced to address after the earthquake in 2011. A similar sense of danger triggered by a threat to food, the basis for sustaining life, is apparent in Suspended Organs (Kitchen) (2013). The work consists of an unraveled tablecloth with vivid traces of past use that was made in Germany in the 1920s prior to the rise of the Nazis.
By dismantling textiles and motifs of the past, Tezuka presents us with the reality of our times. She sets out to create links not only by unraveling everything that constitutes the world, including social, cultural, political, and economic elements, but also our own psychological structure. Despite exposing the content of a textile, the bundle of gracefully extracted and ordered threads does not give us the slightest pause. In addition to the brilliant and eerie appearance of the works, they contain a sense of hope regarding the real world.
“Thin Membrane Pictures Come Down” Text by Linda Schröer
(This text was contributed on the occasion of the solo exhibition “Thin Membrane Pictures Come Down” on 13th September – 9th November 2014 at Dortmunder Kunstverein, Germany.)
«When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns.»
On April 24th 2013 the whole world was shocked by the pictures from Savar in Bangladesh when the nine-level building of the Rana Plaza plant, which was home to many clothing factories, collapsed and over 1000 people lost their lives. Only few weeks later a factory in the capital Dhaka, not far from Savar, burned down, and already in November there were reports of two more fires in local textile factories in the newspapers all over the world. These headlines were accompanied by the protests of the textile workers against their working conditions and their substandard wages, forcing many well-known textile corporations to a complete clarification of the origin of their products. A shift in the way of handling these textile workers became visible as a result: in a huge fund-raising campaign, C&A donated $500,000, KiK and Primark $1,000,000 each, whereas H&M planned to inspect their 700 subcontractors more thoroughly. On top of that, the statutory minimum wage was raised and tighter fire prevention, building and safety regulations were imposed. Bangladesh is, following China, world’s second largest textile producer; about 4500 factories produce roughly 80 p/c of the country’s exports.
This shows that, over the course of globalization, the textile production centres upon fewer and fewer countries, because large producers barely manufacture their products inside the countries where they sell them. Symbols, ornaments, patterns and fabrics are no longer evidence of individual culture, but meaningless mass designs by large corporations.
The textile objects and installations by Aiko Tezuka from Japan deal with the history of textiles and discuss it up until today. Thus she buys old fabrics, often in flea markets, but also clothing at huge chains of retail stores like H&M (Two Identical Scarves from H&M, extracted Threads #4), and takes them to pieces. By extracting several wefts or respectively warps, the fabrics lose their original form and colour, the former patterns are irretrievably destroyed. But the process of deconstruction is always an act of reconstruction: new forms and ornaments evolve, hidden layers inside the fabric are revealed almost surgically. The disbandment of the fabric into its constituent parts accentuates the impact of the single thread that only attains creative appeal in the network with other threads. The colour also emerges in a new quality: extracted from the mesh, the single tones shine, whereas they appear dulled in the overall context. This effect in the eye of the onlooker and the demonstration of colours being formed by single dots respectively lines connect to the concepts of impressionism and pointillism.
This shows that Aiko Tezuka’s works, although she was born in Japan, studied and taught there, is mainly influenced by a westward understanding of art and the European art history. This is also an example of globalisation, greatly advancing, beside the cultural communication, especially the economical exchange in the world. It leads to mass production and therefore to a throwaway society and the loss of awareness towards the historical value of textile production, whereas this development is not new in the 20th century. In some cases, identification of a particular fabric with a particular culture dissolved early and may go back so far that traditional Japanese fabrics have not only been lost entirely or barely preserved, but – despite modern technology – cannot be reproduced using original contemporary techniques. According to Tezuka, this upheaval begins in the middle of the 19th century in the course of the Meiji Restoration. During this time an appreciation of The West and a change in Japanese culture occurred: Western culture with all its accomplishments became a paragon and was aspired to be emulated, whereby many Japanese traditions – as before mentioned techniques of traditional fabric production – got lost. This new orientation also took place in painting, but rather determined by a way of fruitful exchange. This is evident in the movement of Japonism in the 19th century and paintings originating from the last quarter of this century by Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh and Pierre- Auguste Renoir who formally or content-wise took up the new influence from Asia.
Such historic aspects are seized by the large-scale work Thin Membrane / Pictures Come Down that can be seen in Germany for the first time: 25 embroidered motives are assembled altogether on the transparent, 4 meters by 4.28 meters piece of cloth. These motives vary from illustrations of a cat’s cradle over depictions of a masterwork of European art or Egyptian clothing to Chinese landscapes and Japanese furniture decorations. Tezuka combines high and low art and especially accentuates the outlines of these images, showing mostly fabrics without the corresponding bodies in their various draperies. Thin Membrane / Pictures come down makes clear that the human history is a history of things and also of textiles. Fabric, respectively clothing, reveals facts about era, culture, origin, predominant style, class and gender. The images, embroidered by Tezuka onto the translucent fabric, pick up elements from painting, sculpture and tapestry and reveal close ties between these forms of art: whereas painting and sculpture were organised in guilds during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the strengthening of the individual as a consequence thereof transformed their appreciation into an intellectual work. The products of tapestry were seen as symbols of power and wealth from the ancient times on. Not only were they decorative, they also provided insulation when hung on the wall and were portable when rolled up. Frescos on the contrary were considered a tacky surrogate for the precious tapestry in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age. But as painting rose in prestige, the value of tapestry decreased and it remained a craftsmanship no longer valid as proof of ingeniousness.
Against this agreement and especially against today’s trends Aiko Tezuka endorses the aspect of the handmade: the three-piece series Operation, of which one work is shown in the exhibition, encourages the onlooker to re- enact the process of her artisanal work. This is not only achieved by the motives – knitting, operating and sewing hands – but also by stitching with dark yarn onto transparent fabric. The embroidered image can be seen in the foreground, but the threads on the rear side form a sketchy shape. Also the title emphasises the aspect of manual work: the term operation – Latin opus, meaning work – suggests the act of surgery, which originates from the Greek cheir for hand and ergon for work or labour.
As mentioned before, a similar change like the one of the craftsmanship affected the value of textile fabrics: Once a sign for wealth, today anyone can buy clothes anywhere. Therefore Aiko Tezuka is also interested in aspects like: what is the meaning of fabric and clothing to their owner and wearer? Which changes do they cause? Which individual stories are behind a piece of fabric?
In her new series of works Certainty / Entropy Aiko Tezuka turned her own designs into real fabric for the first time and thereby interweaves the chronicles of a society: Peranakan is the description for an ethnic community living on the Indonesian archipelago and British Malaya, now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, that combines Malayan and Chinese culture. During her research Tezuka learned that local fabric designs entail strong influences from the Colonialism: Irish and British motives were combined with Asian ones like exotic fruits or animals. Worth mentioning here is that the selection of motives focuses on three spheres of life: prolificacy, rich harvest and safety. The Peranakan Designs are a typical attestation of fabric closely entangled with cultural history. Aiko Tezukas own layouts seize their basic structure and combine traditional patterns, that for example symbolise Singapore’s rich flora and fauna, with internationally known symbols like the VISA logo, the Peace Sign and the “@” icon. But the symbols contradict themselves; they are icons of consumption (Master-Card), emblems of mass production of food and clothing (European Organic Label), they are symbols of life (uterus, DNA strand) as well as renewal (Recycling icon). Tezuka deals with lost history and the eternal cycle of raw materials, economy, life etc. through her fabrics, respectively her motives. An apparent contradiction, reflected in the title, where certainty is opposed to entropy.
Aiko Tezuka exposes in her newest works how we take up and use the emblems of our society without challenging them, buy clothes without knowing their origin, accept a food industry which impact on the environment is completely unclear and much else. Just as former fabric patterns and motives once were tokens of their era and significant carriers of meaning, today’s world wide used, more or less significant symbols are literal emblems and ciphers of our culture.
Aiko Tezuka was born in 1976 in Tokyo, studied painting in Kyoto and taught in Kyoto and Okayama until 2009. After that she went to London, moved to Berlin in 2011 and received a scholarship for the international studio programme of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin in 2012. Aiko Tezuka currently lives and works in Berlin.
English editorial reading: Matthias Fabry
Text by Sachiko Shoji
(This text was contributed on the occasion of the exhibition In Search of Critical Imagination, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan, 5 January - 23 February 2014.)
Having developed an interest in pictorial structure as a university student majoring in oil painting, Tezuka Aiko began to withdraw the normally invisible interior and time woven into preexisting textiles by removing their threads. Or at least, this is the cliché that is often told about the artist’s work. It is important to stress that Tezuka’s interests do not end with structure. Using dangerously ephemeral embroidery in which an entire image might disappear when the threads are removed, and weaving meaning into her works, Tezuka’s recent efforts seem to embody a fertile new world.
Until about 2007, Tezuka made use of iconographic embroidery that incorporated ancient Japanese and Celtic patterns, and her choice of images during the period suggests a sense of interest and at the same time discomfort with the history of painting, the origins of icons, and the division between painting and crafts. Works like Loom of Layers (2008) and Fragile Surface (2009), in which Tezuka incorporated detached images from famous paintings, pleats from clothing, knit patterns and designs, suggest that she retained a healthy interest in painting. But in 2008, Tezuka’s work made a sudden return to reality with embroidered depictions of body parts. In a work called skim, for example, red thread in the shape of a hand scooping up liquid, hangs down to the floor, and the white fabric stretched over the embroidery frame recalls a supernatant, alluding perhaps to the human tendency to look no further than the surface of things.
Several years ago after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the structure of Tezuka’s works, made up of an embroidered image, extracted thread, and as a result, a violated interior, became linked to an invisible sense of wonder / menace and complexly intertwined with a tinge of social meaning. Since 2011 (the year of the disaster) in particular, we can detect her sense of discomfort and doubt in regard to the society in her remote hometown. For example, in the 2012 work Lessons for Restoration (sewing up), Tezuka used various techniques to apply needlework to a piece of sheer fabric, but all of the embroidery threads hang down in front of the work, suggesting that it is ultimately impossible to hide the scars and that things that have we have tried to repair will always be revealed.
For this exhibition, Tesuka’s largest in Japan for some time, she has imbued her works with frank thoughts. Installed on the upper part of a red wall, which recalls blood, are bamboo and PVC pipes that discharge an invisible liquid. The type of liquid is better left unsaid, but beneath this straightforward message is a group of altered fabric items that were originally used in Germany between 1900 and the 1930s. Tezuka has added embroidery and removed threads from these textiles, which retain the actions and signs of people from that era through the presence of stains and yellowing. The inner pain that we assume historically and the risks that are concealed in daily life are suggested by images such as a deformed heart and a person eating while wearing an eye mask, and brought back into the present with every stitch. The works urge us to consider what has happened to a society in which the present should not have been detached from the past, but at some point various mistakes were made and things went wrong. This is also true of two other works in which the definition of the word “bruise” is printed in many different languages. On one side, there is an old German tablecloth in the center of a red wall, and on the other, six different Gobelin tapestries with the weft thread removed, and words printed on a thin fabric in the center of Suspended Organs (bruise), from which bright red threads have been extracted. As this form is based on a bruise that actually appeared on Tezuka’s body, it represents the point at which her personal pain intersects with the pain of society. The thin fabric causes the various different kinds of red thread in the background rise to the surface, resembling a bruise (or internal bleeding). In a counterpart work, called digital and analog, the warp has been removed from a Gobelin tapestry, and only the loosened weft has been used to embroider the form of an anus on the mesh ground. Though the exact meaning of the title and image remains unclear, the emergence of this form, in which an organic entity seems to be overflowing from a minute, inorganic textile, perhaps indicates a proliferation of something incomprehensibly vivid. Finally, there is a work titled re-imagine, an installation housed in a showcase that was made expressly for this exhibition. By combining antique works from the museum collection with cheap, mass-produced objects, Tezuka has created a space in which we are urged to reconsider a variety of problems. These not only include questions related to contemporary society but also extend to our respect for objects and people who persevere until the end, the original human motivation for making things, and the museum system.
The dialogue between Tezuka and the huge amount of time she put into this exhibition is sure to resurface in in the future in her works.
Text by Tohru Matsumoto
(This text was contributed for a recommendation for Fellowship under the Japan Government Overseas Study Programme in 2009.)
Aiko Tezuka is a recipient of a 2-year fellowship from the Japanese Government Overseas Study Programme and is currently residing in Berlin. She is a highly promising young artist who has gained recognition in the Japanese contemporary art scene for her highly unique installation works that are both painterly as well as three-dimensional, created with ready-made woven fabrics as the material. In 2005, she became an honorable mention winner at VOCA (“The Vision of Contemporary Art”) show, a highly regarded contemporary art competition in Japan. Since then, she has been exhibiting extensively and invited to participate in numerous major group exhibitions at prestigious museums including Okazaki City Mind Scape Museum (2007), Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art (2007), Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2008), Aomori Contemporary Art Centre (2008), The Museum of Modern Art Gunma (2008), Toyota Municipal Museum of Art (2009), Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum (2009), Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto (2009), and Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea (2009). In addition she has had solo exhibitions at Sculpture Project Space, Royal College of Art, London (2010), Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum, Kyoto (2011), and Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2013), among others.
Tezuka’s works in the last several years have been created through quite a complicated methodology where a certain amount of threads are pulled out from a fabric that is structured of warp and weft threads woven together, to be transformed into a (customarily gigantic) three-dimensional or spatial piece, or to be fed back into the original fabric in order to stitch images on it. Here, the dissection and recomposition of the original fabric creates something totally new that simultaneously has various significant contexts between ready-made and art, craft (fabric) and art, and painterly images and spatial constructions. In the Japanese art world, it seems that her work is sometimes regarded as “craft-like,” but this is a total misunderstanding. Rather, we should see her methodology as a new, marvelously conceptual way of contemporary art, where structural thinking, painterly color schemes, and architectural space formation are combined together.
The inner scheme of fabric Text by Christina Lehnert
(This text was contributed on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in 2013.)
Each time that I visited Aiko Tezuka’s studio, her walls were always full of schemes and maps of many different things. A submarine, a Polynesian stick chart, an anatomical sketch of scoliosis, a nuclear power plant, instructions for stitching and more.
What the different diagrams have in common is that they are an abstraction of something concrete. They are graphic renderings that describe the structure of a location, a body or a nuclear power plant, similar in appearance to an embroidery pattern or some kind of geography.
These diagrams, while implying the represented object, are themselves only imaginary. It is this in-between state of actually being something (a graphic on paper) and simultaneously pointing toward an external object or concept, in which one sees a representation of something real. The maps and schemes show structure, they define the elements that something is composed of. These types of abstractions take away details of lesser importance, in order to provide a clearer view of an object or form.
Aiko’s work does not deal with diagrams; her practice is based in fabrics. Fabrics are usually directed towards an end-product such as clothes or furnishings. Therefore they function to add up to something else. A fabric rarely refers to itself simply as a fabric; moreover it usually refers to something more complex, so it is an element which is used for something.
Aiko, however, has a reverse view of fabrics. She takes the fabric and dissects it according to its own principles – the threads. Like a cartographer, she shows the inner structures of things. The chosen fabric can be considered a readymade, which she does not take to be a static entity, but rather attends to it to visualise and dissect it into constituent parts.
The different types of fabric that she uses are not diligently manufactured or the outcome of certain precise processes. Mostly, they are fabrics that are either objects of utility or simple mainstream souvenirs, such as the Gobelin- esque views of Canale Grande in Venice and fabrics that one in Germany would deridingly name: ‘Gelsenkirchener Barock’.
Aiko unravels threads or extracts certain coloured threads from the fabric, so that the designs or the woven motifs fade out into a blurred image of what they originally depicted. The outcome of the unravelling process shows something that is usually invisible, since the threads only gain in importance once they come together, to constitute fabric with its different motifs or images.
By unravelling the thread by hand, Aiko applies an arduous and painstaking method that is far from the actual process of the industrial production from which the fabric originated. The discrepancy between Aiko’s work with her hands, and the machine-produced fabric is taken one step further: in some of her works she reconnects the threads again by re-using them for her own stitching. This is a very poetic transformation in a way, to re-engage material, which evolved originally from an industrial work and to make a new piece of work from it.
She once told me that she wanted to show what one cannot see. Therefore she works with fabric as opposed to making paintings, because it has the quality of being able to be opened up and reveal its constituting layers. By re- using fabrics, Aiko engages with the meaning of fabric itself, its cultural heritage, its designs, the origin of motifs and the globalised market of industrial productions.
Over time, intercultural transfer has led to the exchange of motifs, so that no design pattern of fabric is original in terms of a country of origin. This is even more pronounced in times when Western culture seems to be viewed as being state-of-the-art.
Therefore the fabric that Aiko uses could be seen to symbolise the constituent parts of where a traditional motif or a design comes from and the act of unravelling those bonds as an attempt to show the compositions that our cultures consist of in its fragments.
Returning to the maps and schemes, one cannot deny that the underside of an embroidery appears very much like a map or a scheme. Similarly, making invisible structures visible are functions that these types of plans also have. While the deconstruction of its intended appearance is in one way a careless or destructive act, the thoughtful unravelling and re-enaging of the threads in Aiko’s work could not be more mindful.
Extracting Warp Threads – Five colors Text by Shuji Takashina
(This text was contributed on the occasion of publication of “Hon” magazine No.47 which has series "From the Real Site of Contemporary Art" in 2009. The work “Extracting Warp Threads - Five colors” image was on the front cover.)
Warp threads are tied together after having been removed from Gobelin tapestries stretched over six round wooden panels. More precisely, warp threads of a certain color, such as red or blue, are selectively taken out of each pair of adjoining tapestries. Thus, in total, five “bouquets” of five different vivid colors are formed in-between the panels. Linking two panels that are neatly aligned, each bouquet attracts the viewer with its elegant curved lines that form a slight swell, and above all, with its pure color glistening without any sentiment. Because the original overall tone of the tapestries is comparatively somber and intricate, you can hardly predict such vivid, fresh colors are actually hidden. So, seeing their emergence in front of your eyes, one can become exceedingly surprised and cannot help applauding it, as if watching a chrysalis transforming into a beautiful butterfly. It is such a preeminently well-deliberated artistic structure.
Furthermore, the act of pulling out certain threads from the fabric leads not only to deconstruction and revelation of how it is shaped with warp threads and weft threads woven together, but also to elucidation of what gives its overall surface such delicate color tones. Indeed, to form the fabric, threads of various colors overlay each other. However, each thread is not visibly a discernible, individual unit, like beans. Threads with many different kinds of colors, not necessarily five, are interlaced into one, creating a totally new variation of tones. The same applies to painting, where different kinds of pigments are composed and overlapped.
Now used as a single concept referring to painting, the Japanese term Kaiga 絵画 was originally a mixture of two different things, as shown by the two Chinese characters that form it. The original meaning of the latter, 画 , as it graphically suggests, is dividing things into segments with lines. In short, it represents drawing. In contrast, the former, being formed with threads 糸 and encounter 会 , originally refers to fabrics. This suggests that in essence, paintings are “fabrics” composed by various “threads” that “encounter” each other (In fact, Aiko Tezuka once made a work titled ” 糸 会 ,” whose English title is Layer of Threads). In this sense, a painting is about a world of profound colors.
Deconstructing fabrics is quite an intellectual manipulation. It requires a rich sensibility to discover the secrets of colors in doing so. With her volition towards perspicuous, orderly systems, and her extraordinarily rich sense of color, which this work most clearly exemplifies, Aiko Tezuka has opened a new door in the field of contemporary art.
Translated by Yuki Okumura
Co-translated by Linda Dennis & Greg Wilcox
Assemblage of Decisions and Deft Resolutions Text by Kasumi Yamaki
(This text is an excerpt from the text contributed on the occasion of Stitch by Stitch, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan, 18 July - 27 September 2009.)
Aiko Tezuka works in thread; she both weaves and embroiders. In a work using a textile (p.85, Fig. 1), she began by unraveling the weft threads from the material, disrupting its colorful floral design. Deconstructing its structure as a woven textile and returning it to thread, she then rewove those strands to create a new fabric. This work thus makes manifest that this product we call “fabric” is made by weaving together threads. What is particularly impressive is that the unraveled threads are far brighter and lighter in color than they appear when woven into the original fabric. The experience of seeing the colors of the threads-‐‑-‐‑not only the colors that appear on the surface of the fabric but also those layered within it-‐‑-‐‑frees one from the way we look at paintings, spectators who see only the image on the surface.
Tezuka has also used the technique of embroidery repeatedly since her 1997 work entitled go home (p.23, no.1). In that work, she turned her attention to one of the characteristics of embroidery: the fact that a design is drawn by the thread’s passing back and forth between the front and the back of the cloth. In go home she revealed the usually hidden underside. (The title itself hints at the movement of the thread, not merely drawing a line on the upper surface but going back and forth between its front and back.) Here too is an experiment in invalidating the “surface” on which something called a painting might be made, by deconstructing the image and calling attention to its physical nature, with the overlapping threads and the overlapping of the cloth and the threads that cross on its underside.
To Tezuka, thread is an ambiguous presence; both structure and image, linking direct opposites. Her choice of motif is also a clue, a starting point in history linking the present to the root state before such expressions as “painting” or “art” were created. Tezuka’s early work used traditional images derived from Japanese and East Asian textile cultures such as classic lotus flowers or honeysuckle arabesques. With her grid series (p.26), the edges of the draperies of the Suigetsu Kannon from the Tokeiji temple in Kamakura and Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa enter the picture, tracing back the lineage of art. In grid, Tezuka’s approach of addressing textiles and embroidery from an historical perspective, including the origins of thread and cloth and the human culture that devised them itself, revealed itself fully.
Then came her Empty and Filled, Hanging Simultaneously (2004), an oil painting that incorporates motifs from European lace and from the Indian printed textiles known as chintz, and her large-‐‑scale work for the MOT Annual, Loom of Layers (2008), in which she arrayed motifs from many times and places, including Coptic textiles, motifs from antique fabric scraps, and decorative French patterns. Looking at them, one senses that she is relativizing what we now call “fine art.”
That tendency grows stronger in her Bags (p.27), which she produced while participating in the artist-‐‑in-‐‑residence program at the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre in 2009. The bags in Bags are embroidered, in Japanese and English, with terms born in the modern paradigm and words that happen to fall through the cracks: “rational”, “possess”, “kinship”, “curse”, and “several gods,” for example. Another bag has the shape of a pair of hands scooping up something rendered on it. Those hands also appear in Tezuka’s skim 1 (p.28). Those scooping hands repeatedly serve as a symbol of the evanescence and power of expression that cannot be grasped within the constraints of the painting and fine art paradigms.
Tezuka’s new work, Thin Membrane / Pictures Come Down (p.29) combines three worlds in relation to expression. One is history, with her work part of an unbroken lineage of Western art, indicated by lines sampled from the draping of clothing of human figures in paintings by François Boucher and in Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) by Velázquez. The second is the tradition of Japanese and Asian weaving and dyeing, expressed through motifs from the Ten’ju-‐‑koku Shucho (an embroidered curtain depicting the Buddhist Paradise) and Indian printed textiles. The third is the heritage of creative work by ordinary people, including the forms of local beliefs and handicrafts, as in hands playing cat’s cradle, Oshira-‐‑sama silkworm deity icon, or a knitting chart. The artist continues her adventures in reassessing the history of “creative expression” itself, with the same sense of respect for and empathy with all three worlds.
Fabrics and Bags Text by KONDO Yuki
(This text was contributed on the occasion of the exhibition Tangent, Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 14 June - 13 July 2008 (Residence: 28 April - 19 July 2008.)
TEZUKA Aiko, well-known for her use of thread and fabric, her needlework and weaving, creates works about painting. She explains that she arrived at the choice of these materials because she wanted to express “the state of ambiguity.” (1) In line with this objective, her works represent or suggest multiple conditions, or imply multiple states, and even the flow between these for its own sake. So, for instance, cloth may be unraveled into thread and the thread reconstructed into something else. The simultaneous occurrence of deconstruction and reconstruction is a common trait in her works, represented in various ways.
For instance, in Meeting of Threads (2007) (fig. 1), the weft is partially pulled out from Gobelin tapestry, making apparent again the layered structure of the textile because only one color is pulled out. So it seems as if a layer has been peeled away. The work appears to rewind time as it unweaves the fabric. On the other hand, in Layered Picture—Sewn Together (2008) (fig. 2), unwoven threads are visible in the middle of the work; woven textiles at both ends show different patterns, so one sees the time in which thread is woven into textile go forwards and the textiles’ illusionary pattern-making is exposed, subverted. The time and process of weaving is also suggested in Slight Amplitude (2004) (fig. 3), this time in an endless, cyclical structure, like the Möbius loop of the same red thread that penetrates both sides of the textile: the embroidered reverse pattern on the front is also visible on the back. Space and Saturation Suspended Simultaneously (fig. 4) is an oil painting of lace and textile patterns; oil is the medium the artist constantly uses, aside from her installations with thread and fabric. Though there are no threads or fabrics in this work, it reminds us of the materiality of paintings as painted canvas and also that both painting and textile are ‘designs on cloth.’ Textile and painting thus coexist in this work and the difference between them is diminished. Progress on these above mentioned works seems to have been ‘suspended’ and so the works unfinished because, in exposing the progression of the process and the reverse side of the patterns, the artist denies us the illusion of complete ‘pictures’ on the frontal planes. Fabric and thread are thus materials deliberately selected and Tezuka’s works have references to painting, even if made of them.
However, Tezuka’s concern is not limited to these formal and structural aspects. While questioning the material and formal and rethinking history, she critically learns from the achievements of the previous generation and tries to give them other positive meanings, neither denying nor naïvely accepting the traditions of weaving and painting. Tezuka seems to share the tendency of many of her contemporary artists to trace back to origins, maybe because this is one of the few options for artists of our time who perceive their predecessors to have already exhausted the options for painting, even meta-painting (painting about painting). Or it may be the counter reaction to the Postmodernist view that considered the world as a fiction superficially repeated. In any case, there is a concern for and awareness of the history of art and inquiries into the fundamentals and essentials of painting and artistic expression in general. These are the two major axes of Tezuka’s work. The former is concern about painting as a major form of representation––her concern with its structure seems to come from her awareness that she belongs to the generation after Modernism. The latter is pursuit of expression per se through the examination of the birth of art, of the origins of humanity’s creative impulse.
Bags, the work the artist created at ACAC, is an installation of seven bags she made herself and some local historical artifacts that she borrowed. It features bags hung from the ceiling in the center of the gallery: three of them are white, cylinder-shaped, and embroidered on their front-facing sides. The ends of their embroidery threads hang down onto the floor from the bottom of the bags. On the bag at the front of the installation, some words are embroidered in Japanese and English in various colors including yellow, green, and pink (fig. 5). She said she chose words that were related to the paradigm of the age of Modernism. (2) Each letter is sewn with fine thread and scattered, so some viewers may fail to find the words. On the bag at the back, the words are sewn with white threads so, contrary to their weighty meanings, they are hardly visible. There is another bag from which the thread ‘spills’ from the ‘broken,’ open bottom. This one has a design of hands sewn in pink which look as if they are scooping something together or receiving something. The threads hanging down from this embroidery of hands appear to be flowing out from the work. In between these white bags, there are black ones of soft cloth and a gold mesh one. The bottoms of the black ones are completely open so their ends elegantly drape on the floor. Compared with the bags ‘spilling’ their threads, the black ones look as if their entire contents are all falling out at once. In contrast, the gold one, wide-meshed and glimmering, though airy and almost weightless maintains the complete shape of a bag. This work as a whole seems to demonstrate different phases of things falling from a broken bag. Appearing too fragile to hold things, these bags may be symbols of vulnerability.
Tezuka began working at ACAC by researching old artifacts used in Aomori, such as textiles and embroidery. She met with Mr. TANAKA Chuzaburo, chair of the Society for the Study of Popular Artifacts, and saw various textiles and bags in the collection of the City of Aomori Board of Education, formerly housed in the Aomori City History and Folk Art Museum (A.K.A. Keiko-kan). (3) Finally she borrowed an old linen bag from Mr. Tanaka and Nambu-hishizashi, a type of quilt special in this area, from the Board of Education (fig. 7). These artifacts must have been used everyday since the cotton or linen pieces were overlaid and stitched again and again for repair or for additional warmth. At the same time, these pieces of needlework were not only functional, but also magico-religious and playful in choice of design and color. Actually some of them were originally objects of ancestry reverence, as the overlaid fabric pieces represent continuing family tradition and history generation after generation. These objects led the artist to think about the origin art and the prototypes of artistic forms back in time when there was no boundary between art and artifacts.
Tezuka’s respect for these artifacts is visualized in the other two items in Bags. One of them is a patchwork bag on the wall at the back of the gallery; she adopted the form of the old linen bag (fig. 8). This ‘present-day linen bag’ is made of brand-new textiles with various printed patterns that superficially appropriate popular designs, such as an imitated famous brand-name logotype, calligraphic hiragana characters, camouflage, famous cartoon characters, a pseudo-European flower pattern, etc. The original patterns imitated by these textiles certainly have historical meanings and backgrounds but they are eliminated and superficially consumed here.
The other item is a fabric piece that consists of a quilting exercise cloth with an embroidered design of a handbag from which something is spilling (fig.9 ). Quilting exercise cloth is for learning how to quilt by following the instructions and the pattern already on it. Along with Nambu hishizashi, these items contrast traditions we still keep alive and those we don’t.
Tezuka clearly insists that she does not intend to criticize contemporary crafts, crafts as hobbies, our tastes for commodities or our consumer society through her work. (4) It is obvious that we cannot go back to the age in which those quilts and bags were made and used everyday. She quietly presents that there are some things we chose to keep and others that have somehow been lost even before our time. This awareness led to her repetitive broken bag motifs that fail to contain everything, always spilling some of the contents. These bags are afloat in the air as apparatus to understand and discriminate things rather than to enclose or to show limitation.
This is not Tezuka’s first work with bags. She has repeatedly created bags to represent that a form appears but is broken; or a broken one and unbroken one coexist. By exhibiting the bags with those historical materials, Tezuka’s quest for the form and domain of art seemed to meet with her spiritual search for the origin of art, the moment in which an ‘artifact’ made by somebody became a ‘work of art.’ The artifacts selected this time are commodities for everyday use. Their purpose and spiritual backgrounds are tied very closely to the reality of life. They have nothing to do with fiction or the conceptual game around art. In her doctoral dissertation, Tezuka described the layered structure of time and history of paintings: “I see ox horns between Piet MONDRIAN’s grids; Rimpa and Renaissance paintings beneath KISHIDA Ryusei’s Reiko portraits.” (6) Mondrian’s quest for fundamental principles and reductive representation of the world and primitive artists’ creative impulse are considered equal, since both are about how they perceived the world and themselves. Moreover, both Tezuka’s examination of painting as a seemingly autonomous medium and her quest for the origin of art is, after all, about human life. Her approach to origins is not simply derived from primitivism but from her deep comprehension of our history. Accordingly, Tezuka exhibited the artifacts with her work because she discovered their hidden layer of actuality, not because they are precious antique pieces.
The bags that spill things are not bags that cannot grasp anything at all. Instead, they represent an open system, because they can simultaneously hold and not hold. The ambiguity of holding and spilling at the same time does not represent perception of the world as fiction but seems rather to present a new, dynamic, affirmative receptivity towards the world as an open and ambiguous system.
Translation by YAMAKAWA Sumiko
(1) TEZUKA Aiko, “Ori toshiteno Kaiga [Painting as Weaving]”, doctoral dissertation submitted to Kyoto City University of Arts, 2005.
(2) Tezuka explained as she made this work at ACAC, May 2008.
(3) Aomori City History and Folk Art Museum (Keiko-kan), closed in 2006, housed and showed its big collection of folk art and crafts, Ainu traditional patterns and more. TANAKA Chuzaburo, formerly director
of the Museum, is a leading researcher in the field and also a private collector. For this ACAC exhibition, Mr. Tanaka and Ms. MIKAMI Yoko, formerly curator of the Museum, helped us a great deal, lending the artifacts, giving us relevant advice and financial support. We wish to express our deep gratitude to them here.
(4) Tezuka, artist’s talk at ACAC, June 14, 2008.
(5) Same as (1), p.42.
Unraveling and Revealing Text by Mihoko Nishikawa
(This text is an excerpt from the text contributed on the occasion of the exhibition MOT annual 2008, Unraveling and Revealing, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan, 9 February - 13 April 2008.)
5. Visualization of Structure
If one should distrust the world as it appears and wish to confirm its reality, one method for doing so is to peer into its structure or through to its reverse side. By unraveling fabrics, Aiko Tezuka (born: 1976) reveals a fabric’s structure to startling effect. In her two works Pulling Out Warp Threads – For a New Volume (2003) and Pulling Out Warp Threads – Five Colors (2004), she has pulled threads from the warp of a pre-existing fabric to bring them to the fore. As each work’s subtitle suggests, threads whose brilliance is unimaginable from the quiet tones of a Gobelin tapestry are displayed before us as a mass or as colors. A fabric is composed of warp and weft threads, the pattern of its front surface being the direct result of how they are interwoven. This is true of all ordinary cloth products, yet, when confronted with the structure formed by these threads, normally invisible from the fabric’s front, we feel a degree of astonishment. Besides the works in this exhibition, Tezuka has created other works that investigate structure in paintings and fabrics, such as Loosening Fabric (2005)*—in a flowing arc across the floor, eleven-meter threads unraveled from an existing fabric—and Reweaving (2005)*, a reweaving of threads unraveled from two different fabrics.
Tezuka majored in painting in college. In her third year of studies, she produced a piece employing embroidery and subsequently gravitated toward using fabrics as her material. She has since created fabric works in parallel with paintings, focusing her investigation on ways of displaying the time, processes, and materials that go into a painting yet remain invisible to the viewer. For Meeting of Threads (2007) she has pulled out a fabric’s warp threads and stretched them over a wood frame meant for a canvas. Unraveling the threads has blurred the pattern’s outlines and made its colors appear to run so that a new picture appears. The Japanese Kanji ideogram for “picture” is written as a “meeting” of “threads.” In this work, Tezuka has reconfirmed painting structure as the meeting and interplay of colors in the form of substances.
Her installation Thin Film, Underground Forest (2007)* features 50,000 threads hanging from below an embroidery sewn on a seven-meter-diameter cloth disk (“thin film”). The profusion of threads produces an “underground forest.” When viewers, after wandering through the forest of threads, go out and see the cloth’s outer surface, they find an embroidery blending Celtic and Japanese patterns. An embroidery is formed of an assembly of threads that can be unraveled and returned to their original state. By showing both the embroidery’s front and back sides, Tezuka refers to the multi-layer structure of a painting, whose surface is like a thin film. By deconstructing fabrics and revealing structure, she also makes apparent the time that has been woven into it.
Until now, Tezuka has moved backward in time by reducing existing fabrics to their materials. In this exhibition, however, expanding on past attempts at re-embroidering the threads or otherwise reconstructing after deconstructing, she sublimates thread to fabric for the first time.14 To produce her new work, Picture of Layers, Tezuka created a design and had it woven on an industrial loom, leaving a portion of unwoven warp threads. The colorful warp threads extend to the ceiling, causing viewers to imagine they are standing before a huge fabric still under production. Here again, Tezuka has used warp and weft threads to produce a surface design, while yet revealing the fabric structure that forms the design.
Her design for this work complexly overlays and blends a great many patterns from times ancient and modern and regions East and West. They include patterns from Egyptian Copt tunics15 (7th century; 9-10th century),
14 Examples are Going Back Part Way and Redoing: Unraveling Checks (2007)*, in which Tezuka has pulled threads from the lines forming a checkered pattern, then used them in embroidering the cloth they were pulled from), and Stitching of Signs: Before There Was A Name (2007, Fuchu Art Museum), in which she has pulled threads from striped fabric, then embroidered on that fabric the patterns of many cultures.
15 “Copt” refers to the people who were originally Christians indigenous to the dry region of the upper and middle Nile River in Egypt, and who produced the Copt culture from around the 3rd to the 12th century. Tezuka is interested in how the Copts built a unique culture by fusing different cultures within their resistance to the Islamic culture created by Arabic peoples.
the dyed patterns of ancient textile fragments from the Shosoin Repository (Nara period: 8th century), a Momoyama-period turtle shell pattern (16th century), and a 19th century French decorative cloth pattern. Over these patterns, then, she has furthermore overlaid folds sampled from various artworks, such as from the drapery of the Chuguji Kannon (Asuka, Hakuho periods: 6th-7th century) and Suigetsu Kannon at Tokeiji Temple (Kamakura period: 14th century), a gown in a Bernini sculpture, “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa” (17th century), the fabric of “Hermes and the infant Dionysus” by the Greek sculptor, Praxiteles (4th century BC), and a curtain depicted in a Caravaggio painting (17th century).
In her doctoral dissertation, “Ori Toshite no Kaiga” (“Woven Cloth as a Painting”) Tezuka describes her own works by first unraveling the history of thread, cloth, and fabric. Having acquired cloth by weaving threads, people spread it on the ground or wore it and gave richness to their lives. The pictures and patterns they wove into the cloth performed as adornments for their house and clothing, or as prayer or in communicating a message. Patterns can take plants and other aspects of nature as motifs, or they can link shapes already invested with symbolic meaning. In either case, they give a form and thus expression to the thoughts people wish to convey. As cultures have fused, old patterns have changed and new patterns have evolved. Tezuka has said that, when working with patterns, she is ever conscious of the paths taken by patterns in their development, as they have been communicated between different cultures.16 In her oil paintings, Empty and Filled, Hanging Simultaneously (2004) she has eliminated regional and temporal divisions by expressing patterns from Indian cotton cloth and European lace on the same picture plane, and attempted to retrieve the blank spaces falling away as a result. In her fabric installation this time, she goes even farther in overlaying patterns from different regions, time periods, religions, and cultures. We ordinarily see history as linear and categorize its phases. In Tezuka’s work, however, each of the many different patterns, regardless of its cultural background, becomes a single element in the overall composition. Tearing away the meaning possessed by individual patterns, Tezuka reconstructs them all as things of equal value. By bringing into convergence things never
16 From this writer’s interview with the artist (1 December 2007)
intended to meet, let us say, she seeks to express something outside the pre-established harmony. Through her labor, she seems to be trying to approach the thoughts and desires people had at the moment patterns were born or when weaving patterns into cloth. Like the other artists in this exhibition, Tezuka casts light on what pre-exists there and renders visible what is hard to see.
In another new work, Layered Picture – Sewn Together, two different fabric patterns sharing the same warp threads are displayed left and right. In the left fabric, the folds of the Madonna’s gown in Ghent Altarpiece by Jean Van Eyck are overlaid on an Eastern pattern, while in the right, the drapery folds of the Suigetsu Kannon at Tokeiji are laid over mainly Western patterns. She employs the same motifs in grid – eyck and grid – suigetsu, works embroidered using threads pulled from checkered cloth. Although Van Eyck’s folds and those of the Suigetsu Kannon possess different qualities and depths, either become simply “folds” when reduced to lines. We can sense how the folds of clothing, albeit an element subordinate to the main theme, have been depicted with enthusiasm in any age. Folds bring out the three-dimensional aspect of cloth. Simply a flat material when spread, cloth receives organic, three-dimensional form and shadow when given folds.
When the boundaries between subject and object shift restlessly and front and back grow reversible, a three-dimensional world takes visual form. Subject and object, we discover, are hard to separate, for they are front and back of the same thing.17 With her current works, Tezuka is taking her perennial theme, “layers”—the strata of colors and shapes hidden in the depths of a thin picture plane—into a new territory.
6. Unraveling the World
Fumio Tachibana (born: 1968) employs paper, type, and printing as his art media. His expressive methods take many forms—installations and artist books, as well as bookbinding and the art direction, planning, and editing
17 An example is Gill Deleuze’s observation of a correlation between the philosophy of Leibniz and Baroque folds in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque.
of publications. Born to a family who were bookbinders by trade, he had a close acquaintance with paper, type, and printing from an early age. A book may be a medium for presenting abstract content, such as a story or information, but the actual book is composed of paper that has been printed with type and bound. Tachibana, by unraveling our understandings of books, paper, and writing systems as physical embodiments of accumulated knowledge, seems to be trying to know the make-up of the world.
Tachibana has started from the same point of inquiry as the other artists in this exhibition, who all break down concrete, pre-existing materials and reconnect their components in new ways, as the expressive means most resonant with their reality. For “MADE IN U.S.A.” (1995), his solo exhibition after a period of residency in Vermont, and for an exhibition at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh (1999), Tachibana created installations using the paper he had collected throughout his stay in America. Traveling to India (1998), he observed the process by which clothing fabric is dissolved to produce paper. Upon returning to Japan he made clothing from the paper he had collected in India, then returned it all to the form of a single sheet of paper. In “Clara” (2000), Tachibana resurrected, in artwork form, pattern paper left behind at the site of a former dressmaking institute of long history. In all these installations he employed discarded and found materials. By connecting, layering, and arranging these materials, he has stripped away their utility and meaning and revealed them as a pure physical presence. In such works, we can glimpse something inexpressible, lying between words and bits of information. Unlike the art object viewed as a single unit, Tachibana’s works place an object into a relationship with other objects. The viewer experiences a narrative presented through the many layers of the overall work. The books Tachibana creates present a different mood and character with each turn of a page. Taking a book in hand and flipping its pages, the viewer experiences a composite of multiple images.
Obtaining a printing press around the year 2000, Tachibana began to create artist books using letterpress printing, such as his Hentai (2001) and Henhen taitai (2003). He has since frequently used letterpress printing in his works. The printing press, a rarity in today’s publishing world, employs combinations of movable type made of lead to produce the block copy. Tachibana may combine type pieces of greatly varying size, print with the bottom of the type piece, or round the metal strip used to make ruled lines and print circles with it. To print many lines or circles on a large sheet of paper, he will apply the paper to the plate and print repeatedly while changing the paper’s position. Before a block copy is made on a printing press, blind material is packed around combinations of type to fix them. To set even a single circle involves this invisible labor of filling the blank around it with blind material. Tachibana is interested not so much in what appears as a printed letter or line as in the blanks that give it a presence.18
Since around 2000 and particularly since his 2005 solo exhibition, Q-tai, he has increasingly employed photography as a medium. When producing a feature article for the magazine Idea (November 2000), Tachibana—assigned the cover and first almost fifty pages—took “bodē(body)” as his theme and filled them with photographs selected entirely on the basis that they contained images of his works, thereby surprising the editor, who had expected typographic expression.19 Instead of a precisely calculated composition, he presented the photographs haphazardly without relation to order, date, or category, as if trying to avoid presenting meaning. The reader may feel puzzled at first, but turning the pages, comes to experience an investigation of paper, writing systems, clothing, and body—the elements forming the core of Tachibana’s art.
His method of compiling a plural number of pages entered a new stage of development with his editing and designing an entire volume of the magazine “FOIL” using the works of Katsuya Ise.20 Although the volume, taking the theme of “nature,” is formed only of Ise’s photographs, it can nevertheless be viewed as a Tachibana art piece employing another artist’s work as materials. Tachibana, who selects an object, rearranges its content, then binds it, is also bringing fresh new expression to the
18 From this writer’s interview with the artist (22 November 2007), Fumio Tachibana “Space,” Arne No. 5, October 2003, pp. 2-3.
19 Idea vol. 283, November 2000, pp. 178-9. 20 FOIL vol. 3, August 2003
magazine as an existing distributional medium. More recently, in his L’arbre qui cachait une Incroyable Forêt exhibition catalog (2005) and in the quarterly Kyūtai (volume1, November 2007), he has similarly embodied his vision of the world in a compilation of photographs of his own artworks and other scenery and things. By combining differing scenes page after page in one volume, he manifests a complex, multi-layered world inexpressible in a single picture.
For this exhibition, he has created an installation providing a compilation of his work to date. Taking the Japanese Kanji ideogram kuchi (mouth) as its theme, the installation is created from works employing photography and letterpress printing, and works composed of found paper. Featuring works he has presented since 2005 in the form of exhibits or artist books—Q-tai, In-tai, and L’arbre qui cachait une Incroyable Forêt —along with works of built-up paper scraps, such as page trimmings with crop marks, his focus in composing the installation is on printed paper. The viewer, through encounters with the paper placed (or attached) there, gradually unfolds and experiences Tachibana’s narrative, much like reading a book. The ideogram for “mouth” is expressed by an empty space inside a square enclosure. Tachibana’s work, like the empty space of this ideogram, accentuates the negative space.
Expanding on his “mouth” theme, Tachibana created the exhibit, Kunigamae, a composition of images of the scenery and rural customs he observed in a Yamagata hot springs town. During the autumn and winter of 2007, Tachibana took part in the Tohoku University of Art & Design “TUAD as Museum Artist in Residence Program” and traveled to the hot springs town of Hijiori in Yamagata Prefecture. In that region, he became acquainted with traditional customs that have long been observed in maintaining village order and unity. Among them is an annual meeting of thirty-six people possessing hot springs rights, who form a circle and pass around large prayer beads. Tachibana not only participated in this ritual but also created his own prayer beads from mochi rice, which were subsequently passed around by the villagers. The people’s hands, connected by the prayer beads, formed a large circle that looked like an ideogram, he says.21
In deconstructing the world, Tachibana endeavors to find primordial forms. Rather than creating his own forms, he looks for them in nature—a tree branch or the tracks left by a moving insect—and in ideograms. Before people invented pictographs and ideograms, they were perhaps already conscious in daily life of the shapes and landscapes that would become their prototypes, Tachibana has said.22 In printing there is always a plate; for all things, there is a matrix, a word deriving from “mater” (mother). The transfer from negative image to positive is the creation of new life. Tachibana, who perceives of the book as body-like, having a spine and face, perhaps sees both the book and the body as a vessel whose form gives life to its content.
With his inclusion of photographic expression, Tachibana—having focused in the past on deconstructing paper and ideograms and connecting them in new forms—is expanding his interests to the deeper realms of people’s time and memories. In Moji no Hanashi (Kyūtai, volume1, 2007)23, he has compiled in scores of photographs his hometown, Hiroshima, where past and present find continuance in recollections handed down; Ise, a place alive with traditional beliefs; and Tokyo, the city where he lives and works. Tachibana, we can believe, seeks to discover prototypical expression of prayer and awe—feelings people have fostered in their relationship with nature. We can discover a resonance between this and the title of the book he produced ten years ago as a journal of his collecting paper in India, Kami-gami, ( “gods,” but written using the ideogram for “paper,” also pronounced kami.)
Tachibana, who shatters images encased in conventional perceptions and fixed concepts, ladling up something pure from the resulting cracks, reminds us of something precious, unexplainable in words. The outlines of the ideograms he displays align with the small moments of our lives.
21 From this writer’s interview with the artist (12 January 2008).
22 From this writer’s interview with the artist (12 January 2008).
23 “Tachibana Fumio Special 2: Moji no Hanashi”, Quarterly Kyūtai, volume1, November 2007, pp.1-98.
As we view the works of our five featured artists, we will notice the similarity of their approach and perceptions. All view the world as a fluid entity composed of tiny fragments and, through their works, demonstrate that all things possess unknowable depths. The exhibition itself has been constructed to reflect the vision of these artists, who, by highlighting individual phenomena, express a world that is three-dimensional. Viewers, absorbing their works one by one, will gradually come to feel something from the exhibition as a synergy. The artists, moreover, have planned their exhibits and created new works with the Museum’s spaces in mind. It is hoped that viewers will be able to sense a world intricately woven of many layers. Our days, in substance, are an accumulation of trivial events, each a small story in itself, possessed with meaning and bringing rich color and feeling into our lives. When we unravel the things we normally take to be fixed and decided, a world of freedom and potential opens before us.
(Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo) * Works not presented in this exhibition.
Text by Kazuo Amano
(This text is an excerpt from the text that was contributed on the occasion of the exhibition Painting as Forest: Artist as Thinker, Okazaki City Museum, Aichi, Japan, 10 February - 25 March 2007.)
Extracting Warp Threads to Create a New Quantity is a work by Aiko Tezuka where a certain amount of white warp threads are untied and pulled out of a Gobelin tapestry. Because the arc drawn by the edge of the untied area in the part of the tapestry stretched over the round panel and the width of the untied area in the part drooping below both seem to have the same length, the work looks as if it’s an embodiment of some mathematical solution. The once- composed pattern is now re-loosened, spreading and shaking. Re-discovered through the temporal retroaction similar to that employed in some of the works by Giuseppe Penone, the white threads reveal the hidden structure of the tapestry, giving it a new image as a living organism that continually transforms itself. It also includes an atmospheric gloom where we may sense something like a human figure. Perhaps this is a collapse of painting, where its plane is reinterpreted as a three-dimensional, bag-like entity that fails to contain certain elements. Such an image lies between the orderly pattern on the surface and the chaotic one on the back, telling us that “painting” is the unique concept that emerges at an intersection between the two sides.
Text by NAKAI Yasuyuki
(This text was contributed on the occasion of VOCA exhibition which is an annual painting competition at Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo.)
Tezuka Aiko’s artistic expression is not derived from the tradition of painting. Paintings have generally been constructed by applying traces of various kinds of media on a canvas surface, but Tezuka’s creative actions shift our aware- ness to the support underneath the painting media.
As historical background,one might refer to a group of French artists in the 1960s who established a style of art that questioned the nature of painting by reducing it to the physical elements that constitute it, this movement known as “Supports/ Surfaces,” also pursued the expression of painting as such. By eliminating forms into which viewers could project emotion, the “Supports/ Surfaces” artists intended to produce paintings for the sake of painting, but the lack of historical and literary qualities in their work may have been a factor that caused a decline their expressive capacity.
Tezuka used the technique of embroidery on canvas in some of her early work, but rather than showing the embroidered image itself she presented the mass of yarn protruding from the back of the canvas. Ordinarily, paintings show images from the front, but Tezuka focuses on the underlying structure that establishes the painting’s surface.
In the work she is submitting to this exhibition, Tezuka unravels a portion of a patterned fabric, showing the nature of the support after it has been disassembled. In another work, she unravels parts of two pieces of fabric with different patterns and weaves strands of each together to create a new pattern. The resulting textile has a patterned image with a strong quality of anonymity resulting from a process of historical change. Performing the operations of unraveling and reconnecting according to certain rules, she creates art that can be characterized as unintentionally intentional.
Tezuka’s art does not arise from the essential features of painting. It reduces painting to its structural elements, pushing these elements to the level of artistic expression and creating works that raise new questions about the reason for being of painting.
Outside of Modernism Text by Nakai Yasuyuki
It isn’t painting and it isn’t sculpture. Yet, neither is it a work of so-called industrial art. Nevertheless, what Tezuka Aiko makes is unquestionably art. People question the form of a painting, the origin of a sculpture, the tradition of industrial art. In contrast, Tezuka’s work appears to unravel the “structure (text)” of preexisting frameworks of this type.
Viewers comprehend her work as painting, take note of the sculptural space and recognize the materials used in industrial art. But Tezuka is not remonstrating against an illusion, neither is she constructing a space to eliminate mass or rebelling against the tradition of industrial art. Still, Tezuka Aiko is clearly attempting to give a new “form to the art work.”
Labyrinth of Thread Text by Nakai Yasuyuki
“Ariadne’s Thread” is a well-known story involving thread. In this parable from Greek mythology, Ariadne hands Theseus, with whom she has fallen in love, a thread to take with him on a trip to Crete to kill the Minotaur. With it, Theseus is able to find his way back through the labyrinth and return home.
When I saw this series of works by Tezuka Aiko, I was immediately reminded of the myth. This could have simply been because of the use of “thread.” But later I also began to feel as if there was some sort of invisible thread connecting me to Tezuka’s art and couldn’t seem to get it out of my head. Then I started to think of her work as something to trace back the thread of memory.
The thread that appears in Tezuka’s art is something that we have never been able to see, or at the very least, have remained unaware of. In the pattern of the weaving, the warp gives a three-dimensional mass to the thread that either did not exist or was not previously visible. Here, the thread that rises out of the background, which is usually invisible or unnoticed, becomes the object of expression.
The allegory inherent in giving expression to previously invisible thread and manifesting an existence which had been denied visibility is likely to suggest a host of meanings to contemporary viewers. As something that gives concrete form to these meanings, Tezuka Aiko’s thread arouses a new awareness in us.