Fabrics and Bags Text by KONDO Yuki

KONDO Yuki - Curator of the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre [ACAC], Aomori, Japan, June 2008
(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.