Friday 21 January 2011

Gallery Gallery

Also in Kyoto we visited Gallery Gallery run by Keiko Kawashima, which specialises in contemporary textiles. I had heard so much about Gallery Gallery, and it has hosted several prestigious exhibitions, so I thought it was quite large and was surprised to find that it was much smaller than I expected. However, it contained many varied exhibits in a series of glass cases representing a large number of artists and providing a taste of the practice of each one. While we were visiting, the main exhibition was Plasma Rose by Miyoko Yoshiya, a series of colourful felt tubes hanging from the ceiling in one corner of the room and draping into the room and across the floor.

Gallery Kei

While we were in Kyoto we visited Gallery Kei run by Kei Kawasaki. It was an Aladdin’s cave of wonderful textiles, weaving and stencils. Kei Kawasaki is very knowledgeable about everything in her shop and kindly talked to us about many of the items on display. She showed us some handcut stencils on mulberry paper tanned with persimmon and described how some were cut and others punched with fine holes. She also explained resist printing and ikat weaving to us. Talking about threads she explained that linden fibres are retted and then each single fibre is twisted on to the next one to form a continuous thread, which is very time consuming, however, silk and linen are spun, which is much quicker. She was very friendly, helpful and interesting and I could have stayed all day listening to her.

Sun Moon Gallery

In Kyoto we visited Akihiko Izukura’s family business at the SunMoon Gallery. We started our visit in the dyeing workshop where we saw fabrics bring dyed with natural dyes. The business specialises in innovative woven, braided and felted textiles applying natural dyes to silk and wool. Their design concept is based on a sense of spirituality and empathy with nature. We were then taken to a room where we had to remove our shoes and sit on the floor Japanese style. Here we saw different designs of obis and were told how they were woven. They are quite heavy and the pattern lies on the square at the back of the body. While we were there some customers arrived and they kindly allowed us to take photos of them wearing kimono and obi. We then visited the shop, where beautiful scarves and clothes were for sale and several of us succumbed to the innovative scarves when we were shown how versatile they were to wear. We were then taken to the workshop, where Akihiko Izukura kindly explained the philosophy of the company to us and described some new research into silk weaving they are undertaking.

Amuse Museum

Amuse Museum lies in the Asakusa area of Tokyo close to the Sensoji Temple compound, adjacent to the Nitenmon Gate, and you get a good view of the entire site from the top of the building. When we visited there was a large display of Boro cloth. These are the old, patched and stitched clothes that used to be worn by the peasants. They are referred to as Yuyo-no-Bi (beauty of practicality) and are now seen as a contrast to consumer culture, although a generation ago they were considered an embarrassing sign of previous Japanese poverty. We saw underclothes, simple shifts, nappies, kimonos, jackets, tabi socks, mittens, and old scraps of cloth which were salvaged and kept for patching other clothes. The clothes contain a wealth of history and many were kept for generations. For example a bodoko was a cloth used for childbirth in a family to bring good fortune from the ancestors.

In other displays of Japanese culture we saw salmon skin boots, old kitchen tools, Jomon pots and flints and a special display of girls’ underwear from the 19th century called tattsuke. The tattsuke were worn by women in the Nanbu District of Aomori Prefecture and are distinctive with leggings that are tight on the calves and baggy around the bottom.

Phantom limb exhibition

This exhibition by Odani Motohiko was staged at the Mori Arts Centre in Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo. I was very impressed with his earlier work and intrigued by the posters I had seen in the city depicting his waterfall installation and spiral made of vertebrae. My favourite piece was Fingerspanner, which used a device to make piano players’ fingers more flexible in such a way that the hand looked like a deformed human violin; it subtly depicted the duality of horror and beauty.

Motohiko’s work arises from an interest in the psychological conditions of fear, pain and unease. Inferno, his installation combining videos of a waterfall with music in a ‘room’ setting that you entered was also very effective and very disorientating because the speed of the video and the intensity of the noise changed and the floor and walls appeared to move. The quote accompanying that exhibit was ‘if you stare at the abyss it enters into you’.

Nezu Museum of Art

This museum in Tokyo had just reopened when we visited. We approached it along this lovely bamboo walkway, a peaceful path away from the busy traffic of Omotesando. I later discovered the architect had deliberately tried to create an experience of wa or Japanese harmony in the building and its surroundings. The Museum has many holdings of Japanese art, ceramics, lacquer and metalwork, but the displays I found most interesting were the Kosode fabric fragments from the 16th and 17th centuries in muted browns, blues and greens, depicting flowers and symbols, in particular a sample of tie dyed wisteria, and a panel of embroidered interlocking circles. Another delightful surprise was the garden behind the Musuem. It was very relaxing to stroll through it admiring the autumn colours of the leaves and the reflections in the water of the ponds and waterfalls.


As part of the UCA study visit to Japan we visited Nuno the textile shop in Tokyo. Although describing Nuno as a textile shop is accurate, it doesn’t quite convey the amazing range of innovative fabrics produced and sold by Nuno. We were lucky to be given an introduction to the fabrics by Reiko Sudo, the Creative Director of Nuno. She pulled out numerous bolts of fabric for us, describing what they were made of and how they were produced. Many of the textiles had paper embedded in them or were made from woven paper threads, one even had pieces of newspaper attached to it. We were also shown fabrics with fluorescent fibres and strips of chemical lace forming hangings. As well as the fascinating talk by Reiko we all enjoyed browsing through the scarves and clothes on display and many of us bought samples to bring a little bit of Nuno home with us.