Unraveling and Revealing Text by Mihoko Nishikawa

Mihoko Nishikawa - Curator of Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
(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.

7. Conclusion
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.