Since 1970 Japanese textile art has often been presented at both the International Biennial of Tapestry held in Lausanne and the International Triennial of Tapestry in Poland and subsequently to a wider European audience. Japanese textile art, with a different history and culture than the western tradition, has attracted much interest outside Japan because it evolved separately from the western culture of tapestry. Japanese textile art evolved from Kimono production. In particular, contemporary Japanese textile art is made possible by a distinct cultural sensitivity to the four seasons, to materials and techniques that are seasonally arranged, and by textile artists who have learned traditional textile manufacturing techniques. Works by the artists contain many messages and express the varied potential of textile. All of these factors attract the attention of western people.
For Textile 05, nine Japanese artists were invited to participate. In this exhibition, there are three divisions and artists were selected independently for each section. The categories are “Place,” “Concept” and “Technology.”
When I examine the tendency of Japanese textile artists, a common characteristic is that the majority of them, across the three categories, are most conscious of “Place”. Likewise, when they hold a one-person show or participate in a group exhibition many of them are extremely conscious of space. Since ancient times, we have had a three-dimensional sense, which has contributed to the textile that covers our bodies (kimono) and textile that exists in space. Most of the works of textile art that were exhibited in Europe or America were created to be in harmony with space. So, this time, we introduced Machiko Agano, Shihoko Fukumoto, Harue Takami and Tomoko Baba. Machiko Agano has been producing large-scale three-dimensional works of textile art since the 80’s, which were also introduced in western countries. Machiko Agano used silk organdie and bamboo in the 80’s and then moved on to paper in the 90’s and then, since 2000, has further developed her work using fishing line and stainless wire knitting. However, she has been consistently expressing her interest in the life force of the ‘whole’ of nature through her artwork. Put simply, her style expresses her respect for everything that either goes back to or lives with nature. This time, she offers photographic reproductions of her work that focus on the narrow gallery with a light shining inside. The works, which are laid out in the whole space, show rich changes of expression by reflecting sunlight in the morning and artificial light in the evening. It is a great collaboration of light and shadow.
Shihoko Fukumoto has been creating indigo works since the beginning of her career as an artist; tapestry-like work using the technique of shibori (tie-dyeing). However, since the latter half of the 80’s she has been making three-dimensional textile works that incorporate a sense of space. “Kiri No Chashitsu” (“Tea House of Mist”) is a 2m × 2m × 2m room made completely from indigo textile. In Japan, we hold the traditional tea ceremony in this fixed-size tea drinking space. We go into the small space and have a cup of tea. This is how we calm our minds, pray for world peace, and feel thankfulness for the patience and forbearance of others. Shihoko Fukumoto expresses the space by wrapping it up in textile. A human being feels secure and calm by being wrapped up in textile from the moment of birth. The space made purely with the blue textile makes you feel the expansion of the space you exist in.
Since the beginning of her career as an artist, Harue Takami has been producing artworks within a specific space filled with cloth strips and covered with cloth. Many different spaces are used - a gallery, a Japanese temple or a commercial space. The colours of cloth she uses are blue, yellow, red, white and green, which all have special meanings in either Japan or in Asia. The space filled with these colours places you in a special mental state unlike regular living space. The picture exhibited today is the latest work, an installation in a room of an ancient temple in Kyoto. Therein white paper wrinkled and folded just like pleats is put on the floor. This work has constantly changing reflections of light and shadows due to the sunlight coming from outside and achieves a unique universe. The fact that this was done in a Japanese temple symbolises its Japanese flavour.
The fourth artist is included in the category of “place”. Tomoko Baba is the youngest artist of the four. After she learned weaving in university, she became interested in spaces that a thrum can create, and then organised a one-person show. She makes her own thread out of pure wool and tangles the thick threads to cover the whole space. The floor is covered with dirt. If you walk into the space, you feel like an insect trapped in a web and also feel puzzled. But soon after, you feel safe, protected and comfortable because of the space filled with the soft and elastic threads. Textile can simultaneously have strong, straightforward messages and soft, tender ones. This is how I feel about her spaces.
As for the category of “Concept,” until just recently there were not many textile artists with clear-cut social messages. Most contemporary textile artists that have exhibited in western countries since the 70’s preferred to express interest in nature, light and shadow, or something abstract, such as space, rather than any concern with social messages. These aspects are described as the distinguishing characteristic of Japanese artists. However, the artists introduced this time are at the crest of the new tendency in Japanese practice to express personal opinions through textile art. Suzumi Noda expresses the strength and the terror of “word” in the form of clothing. An example of this is the terror contained in the word “diet,” which has been felt all over the world. She gives warning of the fact that the word can change the life of people; indeed one word can make up a huge industry. Noda’s work has attracted a lot of public attention. More recently her work focuses on themes such as “water” or “forest.”
As for Masako Kitagawa, her style of art has changed since the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which she experienced herself. It was in 1995 that the effect of this disaster struck a chord with people all over the world. She was living very close to the Kobe area and the house where she and her family members lived was completely destroyed. They had to live in temporary housing offered by the government. While living in such conditions, she experienced the human practice of “mutual support.” She used to produce installations made from textile or fiber, but her style has changed completely since 1995. She ripped a map apart and transferred it onto a cloth to cover the gallery space. The first time I saw it, I could not help feeling the tremendous mental damage she had gone through. But as time goes by, the chunks of the map were put together again and expanded. Photographs of people - from a baby to older people - are printed on the cloth to symbolize the reuniting of the people, expressing a message of peace.
Tohru Ohtaka became independent as an artist by developing textiles using computers in a textile company. However, his work always contains adoration for handwork. The fact that he has been working on development of modern technology actually inspired him to incorporate the tremendous energy and expression of handwork. Thus, it can be suggested that this is a collaboration of modern technologies and traditional handwork. It seems to me that this is how an artist captures originality. Mitsuo Toyazaki usually uses mass-produced products in installations. However, now he produces inkjet prints with the pictures of antique buttons he has photographed. Inkjet print-making in itself is not something new, but the fact that he applied this technique to the traditional Japanese Kimono (yukata - summer kimono) draws critical attention to the work in Japan. Through the use of contemporary printing technologies, “yukata” serves to challenge the designs of contemporary artists because of its association with traditional Japanese techniques.
Finally, in the category of “technology,” I would like to introduce Reiko Sudo who has attracted world-wide attention and is the exponent of this category. She established a company called “NUNO” in Tokyo in 1984. Since then she has been working on development of new textiles. Many of the textiles that NUNO has developed have been adopted by cutting-edge designers and used for fashion material or as a wallpaper substitute. While NUNO focuses on state-of-the-art computers or automated textile development, there is always the element of traditional Japanese craftsmanship in NUNO’s textiles. They focus on the idea of “made in Japan” in developing textiles. As I mentioned before, there is a deep-rooted tradition in Japanese textiles. They develop textiles in a way that focuses on preventing the loss of tradition. This is how they produce their original textiles, which we can find anywhere else than Japan, and capture world-wide attention.
Through this brief introduction, I would like people in Lithuania to see the diversity of Japanese artists. I think it would be great if people thought of issues such as ethnicity, gender and peace through textiles. I believe textiles can enable us to think of these issues in peaceful ways.
Lastly, I would like to thank the Japanese artists for exhibiting their work, the Lithuanian people for giving us this opportunity, the Japan Foundation for their support, and everyone else who has been involved in making this exhibition possible.