Assemblage of Decisions and Deft Resolutions Text by Kasumi Yamaki

Kasumi Yamaki - Curator, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
(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.