Fibre art & textiles exhibitions in Kyoto May 2023

kyoto exhibitionA table full of textiles, fashion and craft exhibition leaflets at the Kawashima textile school

While Tokyo’s art museums and galleries regularly hosts major contemporary art and design exhibitions, Kyoto is THE place to visit if you are interested in traditional Japanese crafts and textiles. When I was staying at the Kawashima textile school, my weaving classmates and I would take the opportunity to see the various textiles exhibitions in the city on the weekends.

One of the most mesmorising exhibitions that we saw was ‘Fiber art by Fifteen’, showcasing extraordinary fibre art works by 15 Japanese fibre artists. Although fibre art became an international movement in the 1960s-70s, its ambiguity also became a hindrance and most people don’t know how to define or classify it. Is it textile art? Craft? Sculptural textile? Conceptual art? For decades, the term ‘fibre art’ seems a bit dated, and fibre artists were not considered as real ‘artists’ except for Sheila Hicks. However, in recent years, the perception on fibre art has changed and it is being taken more seriously. At last. This fibre art exhibition introduced us to 15 contemporary Japanese fibre artists, who use textiles and washi to creat unique and beautiful sculptural or 2-dimensional pieces.

fiber art exhibition  chieko maedashigeo kubotaTop right: Chieko Maeda; Bottom: Shigeo Kubota

tetsuo kusamatatsumi ushioai itohiroko ote  hiroko oteTop: Tetsuo Kusama; 2nd row: Tatsumi Ushio; 3rd row: Ai Ito; bottom row: Hiroko Ote

I was particularly impressed by Kazuyo Onoyama (born in 1951 in Tokushima)’s fibre feather as each one looks so delicate and light… her works look stunning both from afar and up close!

Kazuyo OnoyamaKazuyo OnoyamaKazuyo OnoyamaKazuyo Onoyama

On the top of Daimaru department store, there was a rare chance to see ‘The 57th Japan Traditional arts exhibition 2023’ exhibiting splendid traditional kimono that showcase different techniques like kasuri, katazomi and yuzen etc.

kimono  kimonoThe Daimaru award was awarded to the artisan who made this Kurume Kasuri kimono, which is traditional technique that dates back over 200 years, and recognised as an important intangible cultural property of Japan.

kimono  kimono

kimono  kimono

We also visited Musee de Some Seiryu, the world’s first museum dedicated to contemporary dye art works. The exhibition we saw featured abstract dyed textile pieces by textile artist, Motono Toichi (1916- 1996). Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside, but it was interesting to see the modern textile art pieces by a Japanese textile artists who is not less well-known in the West.

motono toichiMotono Toichi exhibition

Another interesting museum nearby is Hosotsuji Ihee Museum, a museum dedicated to tenugui/ a traditional hand (or multipurpose) cloth. The museum is named after the fabric merchant Hosotsuji Ihee, who established one of Japan’s oldest continuously running businesses, Eirakuya, in 1615. Initially dealing in silk fabrics, Eirakuya eventually shifted to selling cotton as it became more and more popular in Japan and still has 9 shops in Kyoto.

In 2018, the Eirakuya company opened the Museum to showcase the diverse art and craftsmanship of tenugui as well as to archive the history of the shop. It exhibits Eirakuya’s past designs and offers a glimpse into its history, as well as into the future of the art. The exhibition we saw was called ‘Modern girls’ and it featured some wonderful art deco style illustrations on the tenugui. There is also a shop on the ground floor that sells many interesting tenugui with contemporary illustrations.

Hosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee Museum  Hosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee MuseumHosotsuji Ihee Museum

 

Kyoto’s textile heritage: Kawashima textile museum & kasuri in Nishijin

Kawashima textile museumkawashima textile schoolKawashima textile museum

One reason I love Kyoto is that it is full of hidden gems, and there are always pleasant surprises whenever I visit. One of the least touristy museums in Kyoto has to be the Kawashima textile museum partly due to its distance from the centre, but also down to the fact that prebooking necessary for the visit. After our 2 week course, we were granted a guided tour of the Kawashima textile factory followed by a museum tour near the school. It was a real privilege to visit the factory to see how the large-scale tapestries were designed and produced. I was particularly impressed by a room full of vintage and Jacquard looms, even though they are now dormant.

The Kawashima Selkon Textiles company was founded in 1843, and The Kawashima Textile Museum opened in 1889 is the oldest company museum in Japan. One of the missions that Kawashima Selkon Textile company aimed to achieve was to continue to contribute to development of textile culture by preserving and educating the public on the history of textile crafts and techniques. In order to achieve this goal, the company constructed the Ichihara plant in 1964 handled by 4th Jimbei Kawashima, which includes the factory, office, museum and school with dormitory.

kawashima textile schoolKawashima textile museumKawashima textile museum

Opened under the name Museum of Art Specimens, the museum exhibits masterfully-woven textiles produced by the company over the last 170 years, as well as historic textile artifacts and exhibits. There are over 150,000 items in the museum, ranging from dyed and woven textiles, 7th Century textile artworks (jodai-gire), historically notable works (meibutsu-gire), Chinese fabrics, Coptic fabrics, traditional costumes, books and drawings. In recent years, the company has also collaborated with renowned international designers to produce new home furnishings and furniture. During our visit, there was an exhibition on the new collaboration, which were exhibited at the Milan design week.

The following day, we headed to Nishijin, Kyoto’s famed historic textile district to visit Kasai kasuri atelier specialising in kasuri (). Kasuri is a form of double ikat dyeing, which creates splashed patterns characterised by their blurred edges ( ‘kasuri’ means blurring) on the textiles. Originated in ancient India, the history of kasuri dates back to 5th century Kyoto in the Nishijin district where local weavers worked.

Currently, double ikat is practised in only three countries in the world: India, Indonesia and Japan. Unlike single ikat, the warp and weft are both resist-tied according to a specific design and, when woven, intermesh seamlessly to reveal the pattern. Hence, the process of preparing the warp and weft yarns for dyeing demands the same degree of mathematical precision as the process of weaving the textile on the loom. In 2019, I visited Patan in Gujarat, which is famous for Patola, a double ikat woven sari, usually made from silk. At the Patan Patola museum, aside from demonstrations and exhibits on the locally made textiles, there were also double ikat textiles from Indonesia and kasuri textiles on display. This shows that the curators at the museums view kasuri and Indonesian ikat textiles on par with their intricate Patola textiles.

nishijin  nishijinkasai kasuri nishijinThe kasai kasuri atelier is located in the historic Nishijin textile district

Sadly, like many traditional crafts around the globe, the craftsmandship of kasuri is under threatened due to less demands for kimono and obi, aging artisans and fewer young people wanting to learn a craft that is time-consuming and requires meticulous care as well as precision. Now one of the ‘youngest’ (middle-aged) artisan working in Nishijin is Ikuko Kasai, who is determined to preserve and pass on the invaluable craftsmanship that has been passed on for centuries.

We felt very grateful to have spent the afternoon at the atelier learning about the process of kasuri. In Nishijin, each artisan specialises in only one task, hence they all have to collaborate together to create the kimono or obi piece. Usually a custom-made kimono would take around 6 months and 20 artisans to complete, which explains the high price tag. At her atelier, Kasai san is responsible for the marking and wrapping of the yarn to be resist-dyed at a differenet dye studio. After the initial dyeing process, the dyed yarn returns to her studio again for a second wrapping, and this process can be repeated multiple times depending on the colours on the design. After the dyeing process, the dyed threads are spunned around a drum-like machine called Taiko (see below). The next stage is called ‘hamekomi’ when the threads are counted and arranged according to the design. The last stage involves the threads are hung on a machine called ‘hashigo’ (meaning ladder – see below), and passing through metal rods at various height, so that the horizontal lines are shifted vertially to create the unique kasuri patterns. The finished yarn is then ready to be shipped to the weavers to be woven.

kasai kasuri kasai kasuri  kasai kasurikasai kasurikasai kasuri  kasai kasurikasai kasurikasai kasuri  kasai kasuri

One thing really struck me during and after the visit, and it was Kasai san’s immense passion for her craft and her determination to pass on the craftsmanship. She was always smiling while explaing her work and techniques, but I am sure her road has not been easy so far. With dwindling orders for custom-made kimono and obi, the presevation of the heritage and craftsmanship is crucial for the Nishijin craftsmen/ artisans. Undoubtedly, they have a tough road ahead of them, but I think with the resurgence of traditional crafts like shibori, natural dyeing and weaving etc in recent years, there is hope for things to change.

 

Beginners weaving course at Kawashima Textile school 2023

kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  kawashima textile school

It is early June 2024, exactly a year after I completed the 2-week beginners weaving course at Kawashima Textile school in Kyoto, and I decided to share my experience one year on. One reason why I stopped updating the blog was because it is a very time-consuming task, and due to the pandemic, my life (like everyone else’s) changed drastically. Once I lost the incentive/ momentum/ habit, it is rather difficult to pick it up again. However, lately I have been thinking that it would be a shame not to share my experriences, especially my craft journey in Japan over last spring/summer.

The 3-month trip to Japan was originally planned for spring/summer 2020, but sadly it got postponed due to the pandemic. The Kawashima Textile school is a well-known vocational school in Kyoto that specialises in weaving. Every spring and autumn, it accepts only 5 international students onto their weaving courses out of hundreds of applicants. I was thrilled when I was got accepted, so it was particularly disaappointing when the school decided to stop the all the courses due to the pandemic. I refused to get a refund and opted to wait three years, which seemed to impress the teachers/admin of the school! Before the course, I knew very little about weaving and have only done some Saori/ free style weaving, which is quite different from traditional weaving. Shockingly, despite being the oldest person out of the 5 students, I was also the one with the least experience, which was a hindrance for me.

kawashima textile school  kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  kawashima textile school

Founded in 1973 by Kawashima Textile Manufacturers Ltd to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the company, the school is one of the oldest textile academies in Asia. The internationally-renowned Kawashima Selkon Textiles (the company changed its name in 2006) is a fabric manufacturer founded in Kyoto in 1843, and it is particularly known for its tsuzure-weaving techniques used for large-scale stage curtains. Secludedly located in the suburbs North of Kyoto, the factory, school and museum (appointment only) are largely tourist-free, with only one small supermarket and one konbini near the railway station.

Surrounded by by mountains and beautiful nature, the school and dormitory were designed by renowned Japanese architect Shozo Uchii, and was warded with the Building Contractors Society Prize in 1975. The weaving room up in the main school looks absoultely splendid with row after row of vintage looms and equipment. Most of the tools that we used are original/vintage items and rare to find these days. Hence it was a real privileged to be able to stay and study in this environment and get acquianted with some local textile students.

kawashima textile school  kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school

Over two weeks, we learned to dye woollen yarn using acid dye (not my usual preference, but I guess it is ok for this occasion), set up the large loom (which takes over a day), read the charts and weave some basic patterns. It all sounds pretty simple, but I found out that it is really not as simple as it sounds!

A lot of my friends were curious to know my reason for doing this course. I have never thought of learning to weave until I saw a few natural dyers who could weave too. It made me think that perhaps I could dye and weave by myself in the future (very idealistic). Also I enjoyed some saori weaving previously, so I thought I would make sense to learn the basics.

It turned out that I am completely hopeless at weaving and tying knots! I am a right-brained person, and I reckon that weaving is more suitable for people who are logical and diligent (which I am not). I never knew that setting up the loom would be so time-consuming – it requires a lot of concentration and meticulous care. After making a few mistakes while threading, I had to redo it all over again, which was very frustrating. Even while weaving, my threads constantly got tangled, and the more I tried to untangle, the worse it became, so I ended up spending hours after dinner in the weaving room trying to fix my mistakes.

kawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile schoolkawashima textile school  woven scarf

After struggling for 2 weeks, I finally completely the 2 pieces thanks to Emma sensei’s patience and teachings, and I even received a certificate for it. Thankfully, I did not enroll onto the kasuri (double weaving) course right after, because I was told by my classmates that it was very complicated and even they struggled with it.

Despite it all, I am glad that I took the course and learned the basics of weaving, meanwhile I realised that weaving is not for me as I much prefer freestyle weaving, natural/indigo dyeing, shibori or block printing. However, it was interesting to spend three weeks staying in the suburbs of Kyoto exploring places that I normally would not visit if I was staying in the city centre.

IchiharaichiharaIchiharaichiharaimg_3559-minIchihara  eizan railway img_3559-mineizan railway  eizan railwayeizan railwayeizan railway

Ichihara is a quiet suburban town reachable via bus or the Eizan railway from the centre of Kyoto. The railway line ends in Kurama, a popular day trip destination for visiting the sacred Mount Kurama and its famous temples. The train journey is very scenic, with some special scenic trains and a maple tree tunnel, which I believe would like spectacular in autumn. Interestingly, the seating inside some trains were woven by Kawashima textile company, and I even spotted some small ‘photo-like’ woven tapestries at the Ichihara train station. It is easy to miss them as they look like ordinary sightseeing photos (see above)!

ichihara shrineichihara temple  ichihara templeichihara shrineichihara shrineThe Daijingu-sha Shrine behind the railway station

Ichiharaichiharamaple leavesmaple leavesichiharaichiharaichihara  ichihara

Over the three weeks, my classmates and I would spend the weekends exploring either the city or its surrounding area. On weekdays, I would sometimes go for walks around the town after dinner. Since the town is located in the mountainous region, with Kurama river running through it, it is very tranquil as few Kyotojin would visit this area, let alone tourists.

I think the school has certainly picked the right location for its students as there isn’t much to do in the surrounding area, but nature is plentiful, thus very inspiring for the students. Sadly I learned that local students (especially male) who apply for the weaving courses have been dwindling in recent years as less youngsters are interested in becoming full-time weavers in this day and age. There are exchange programmes with schools overseas, and students can also get apprenticeship/jobs at the factory, but I am not sure if these are ‘appealing’ enough for them. I know that the school also runs short courses on weaving and natural dyeing for the locals, so I hope that these would help promote the school and the craft of weaving. It would be a real shame to lose the school as it is part of Kyoto’s craft heritage, and it needs to be preserved for future generations.

img_2029-min  img_2708-min img_2821-minimg_2712-min  img_1995-minimg_2710-min  img_2722-min

 

Two-day natural dyeing workshops at Aranya Natural, Munnar

aranya natural

 

The first two days of “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference took place at Eastend hotel in Munnar, followed by two days of natural dyeing workshops (at an extra cost) at Aranya Natural’s HQ. Due to limited numbers, all the spaces for the workshops filled up quickly, but many conference attendees requested to stand by and watch, which subsequently overfilled the workshops on the first day.

It was hard to blame those who wanted to watch the workshops as it was a rare opportunity to learn from three leading natural dyeing experts and a group of Japanese indigo farmers and dyers. Since the process of natural dyeing involves the understanding of chemistry, many of the experts would focus more on the chemistry rather than the aesthetics. To me, this is quite valuable, as I believe it is crucial to understand the science behind it all in order to achieve the desired results.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The first workshop that I attended was conducted by Michel Garcia, a world-renowned botanist, chemist, dyer, and naturalist. He is the founder of Couleur Garance (1998) in Lauris, France, and established Le Jardin Conservatoire de Plantes Tinctoriales (Botanical Garden of Dye Plants) in 2000. I have long wanted to attend a workshop by Michel, but he doesn’t seem to conduct many regular workshops, and I can only watch his videos online. In person, he is very funny, passionate and creative, you can really feel his passion for plants and natural dyeing.

In natural dyeing, a mordant is often needed to fix the dyes onto the textiles, and the most common mordant used is alum/potassium aluminium sulfate. At the workshop, Michel demonstrated how to use old tea leaves as a natural mordant, which was very interesting. However, the workshop was extremely packed, which made it difficult for us to hear and follow him properly. It was a shame that this issue was only addressed on the next day.

 

aranya natural  michel garcia

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Screen printing workshop using natural dyes with Michel Garcia

 

The afternoon workshop was conducted by Jagada Rajappa, who is an independent textile entrepreneur/consultant on natural dyes. She demonstrated dyeing silk yarn with kapila (mellotus Phllipinces) and lac (coccous Lacca), which resulted in vibrant red and yellow. The results revealed that naturally dyed colours are not dull and muted as many would expect.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Jagada Rajappas workshop and ceremony

 

The next day, the workshops were restricted to those who had originally enrolled, which made more sense. The first workshop was conducted by Linda LaBelle, who is a weaver and natural dyer specialising in indigo. She also runs the website The Yarn Tree that sells fair-trade indigo and other natural dyed items. After yesterday’s observational workshops, I was longing to get my hands dirty. Finally, we got to do some doodling with natural indigo on some cotton fabric that has been pre-dyed in myrobalan. It was a fun session and we got to taste some indigo tea grown by Linda.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

Indigo Doodles workshop with Linda LaBelle

 

The last session was the one I had been looking forward to since I signed up months ago. Buaisou was established in Tokushima by a collective of indigo farmers in 2015, and it is partly responsible for the revival of natural indigo worldwide in recent years. Not only it has over 44K followers on Instagram, it also collaborates frequently with other fashion and textiles companies to promote Japanese indigo and the colour ‘Japan Blue’. Buaisou is renowned for its indigo leaf farming – from cultivating the raw indigo, fermenting the indigo leaves (Sukumo), dyeing, and designing, all the way to production. Since the fermentation process takes around 10 days, Kyoko (the manager) had to arrive 2 weeks earlier to set up the vat.

 

buaisou

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

Since I have previously tried katagami (making paper stencils for dyeing textiles) and katazome (the Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil) with Bryan Whitehead in Japan (see my earlier post), I was quite familiar with the process. This time, I didn’t need to design and cut my own stencils as there were many beautiful and complex precut designs to choose from. We were all given a cotton bandana to work on, and after applying the paste through the stencils, we all took turns to dip the fabric into the indigo vat with some guidance.

I would say this was a taster workshop, and would love to learn more from them when I next visit Tokushima (which was supposed to happen this year but it got cancelled because of COVID-19).

 

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

After the workshop, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Over the four days, I made many new friends from around the world who share the same passion as me, and got the opportunity to chat to many experts in the field, hence the conference has exceeded all my expectations. The fact that it managed to take place just before COVID-19 became a pandemic was extremely lucky.

After exchanging contacts with many attendees, a few of us decided to walk back to town and have dinner together. It was a pleasant walk downhill and we had a fun girls’ night out – something that I haven’t done for a long time.

In the past few years, the pursue of natural dyeing has opened doors for me and enabled me to make new friends from around the world. This was completely unexpected, and it made me realise that I am on the right path.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

munnar

munnar

aranya natural

munnar

munnar

 

 

‘Just sitting’ at the zazen weekend retreat

zazen retreat

 

For the past few years, I would spend one February weekend attending an annual zazen retreat organised by my zazen group at a farm outside of London. Our zazen group is quite small, so most of us know each other quite well. People come and go, and there is no pressure to attend the sessions regularly.

The path that brought me to my teacher and the group was windy, but it was worth it. After my teacher moved away from the UK, the annual retreat would be a good opportunity to spend quality time with him and listen to his talks. Our group’s practice is based on the teachings taught by the 13th century Japanese Zen master, Dogen Zenji, who founded the Soto school of Zen in Japan. However, our group is not associated with any Soto zen organisation or institution, since my teacher (and his teacher) do not like the hiercharchy, rigidity and dogma of any organisation – even the Buddhist ones.

 

zazen retreat

 

Due to my upbringing, I have felt like an ‘outsider’ all my life, and I never felt the need to belong to a group, yet my views changed since I became a regular at my zazen group. In Buddhism, Sangha means a community of fellow practitioners, and it is the third of the Three Jewels (the other two are The Buddha and The Dharma i.e. the teachings), so it is an important part of the practice. Practising with a group of people from all walks of life is not only interesting, it also broadens my horizon. They are not friends who I hang out with, though they are more than acquaintances, and I know I can turn to some for support if I need it. I dislike clique groups, so perhaps the reason why I like this group is that we tend to maintain an adequate distance between us. Low-key and friendly, but not cliquey.

 

zazen retreat  zazen retreat

 

There are many misconceptions regarding zazen. I want to clarify that the zazen practice taught by Dogen is neither mindfulness nor meditation. It is not about emptying the mind, finding happiness, or seeking enlightenment (this is the major difference between Soto and Rinzai Zen); the core of Dogen‘s teaching is Shikantaza, which can be translated to ‘just sitting’. This form of practice was introduced to Dogen by his Chinese teacher, Rujing, a monk of the Caodong school of Zen Buddhism in China. Unlike other kinds of meditation practice, it does not require you to focus your attention on the breathing or solve a koan or visualise, instead you just sit in a full or half lotus position (if possible) wholeheartedly and be aware of your body-mind (N.B. body and mind is not separate). This kind of practice is more difficult, but over time, you would become more aware of all the sensations in your body and the fleeting thoughts that come and go. Letting go of thoughts, stories and images does not involve conscious effort, as long as you don’t grasp or dwell on them, they would eventually fade away.

When you sit without trying, aiming or judging, you may experience what Dogen describes as shin-jin-datsu-raku, which meansbody-mind dropping off(originally translated from Chinese). Of course, he does not mean it literally, but from my experience, it feels like there is more ‘space, clarity, openness and calmness’ within. This is not a state that you can seek, it happens naturally, and without making any effort. All the effort you need in zazen is to keep your body relaxed and upright, yet this is easier said than done.

 

lower shaw farm

 

Zazen is crucial if you want to understand Zen Buddhism because it is experiential. You can learn Buddhist ethics and teachings from many books, but zazen is not an intellectual practice, it is an ‘action’ that does not involve thinking. My teacher often emphasise that zazen is not about sitting still, rather it is an action that requires constant adjusting and you can only find balance through the subtle adjustments and movements. It is like walking on a tightrope or riding a bicycle – both are balancing acts that require adjustments of the postures.

“Zazen is good for nothing” is a quote by the prominent Japanese Soto Zen teacher Kodo Sawaki (who died in 1965), which completely contradicts other goal-oriented spiritual practices. Zazen is not about self-improvement, and it does not make you a better person; to me, it is more about acceptance and awareness. After practising zazen for 6 years (and prior to it, I spent 6 years practising different forms of meditation), now I simply enjoy the act of ‘just sitting’. I don’t sit because I want to be in a different state, I sit because I want to, even when I feel down/happy/conflicted… We all have the tendency to want to escape from reality, but the truth is it never works. Although practising has not always been easy, it has become a habit to me (like brushing my teeth) and I would miss it if I don’t sit for a while.

 

zazen retreat

 

Many people think of retreats as some kind of spa holiday where you would relax for days – nothing could be further from the truth! It is actually exhausting to sit in a upright position for 4-5 hours a day. We would start each day at 7am and end after 9pm, and the day is filled with different work duties (samu in Japanese), hence a retreat is hardly a holiday. However, after just a weekend of sitting and time away from my digital devices, I usually would feel quite uplifted despite the aches and pains in my body.

Like my teacher would say, “After a weekend of sitting, all the stiffness in our bodies would ‘drop off’ and this would be revealed in our postures”. Surprisingly, our sitting postures reveal a lot about the states of our body-mind. According to some cognitive and neuroscience research, the balance state of the autonomic nervous system is one of the benefits of the practice. Besides the health benefit, Kodo Sawaki Roshi said that “Zazen is to tune into the universe”. I believe that zazen is just one of the many methods that enable us to let go of our self-centredness and be more connected to the universe. If all of us can find a method to feel this connectedness, then perhaps our world would one day become integrated and harmonious.

 

swindon

 

 

Emmanuelle Moureaux’s ‘Slices of Time’ exhibition at Now Gallery

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

I have been a fan of Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux and her colour-driven architecture for some time. Since 1996, she has been living in Tokyo where she established Emmanuelle Moureaux architecture + design in 2003. I have never actually seen Moureaux‘s architecture and installations in real life, so I was really looking forward to seeing her first art/design exhibition “Slices of time” in London.

Moureaux invented the concept of shikiri, which literally means ‘dividing (creating) space with colours’. She uses colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, and her work ranges from art, design to architecture.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

Inspired by the location of the gallery, near the Greenwich Meridian, “Slices of Time expresses the past, the now and the future through 168,000 numbers cut out from paper. The cut-outs are hung in the gallery space, as a representation of the round earth floating. 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades of colours visualise the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119), while 20 layers of numbers in white represent the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

On the preview night, I headed to NOW Gallery on the Greenwich Peninsula, and a long queue had already formed outside of the gallery. At the door, we were assigned a timeslot and when it was our turn, we had to queue (again) outside of the exhibition area. We were allowed to walk around the installations for a short period before being hurried out to let the next group in.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

It was wonderful to see the striking installations from above and up close. I am also glad that the architect has chosen paper as her medium – the installation truly reveals the beauty and power of paper. I only wish that I was given more time to linger, but since I was going to be away for several months, this was the only opportunity for me to see the exhibition before leaving. And for those who don’t live in London, there are currently two other exhibitions being held in Taipei (“Forest of Numbers” ) and New York (“100 colors”) where visitors can be stimulated by vast array of colours.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux  Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

 

“Floating worlds: Japanese woodcuts” exhibition at Brighton Museum

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

I have visited exhibitions on Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock prints) in Japan, France and London before, but never in Brighton. After reading some positive reviews on the “Floating Worlds: Japanese Woodcuts” exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, I decided to head to Brighton to see the exhibition before it ended.

Oddly enough, even though I have visited Brighton several times before, I have never been to the museum nor The Royal Pavilion. As I was approaching the museum located within the Royal Pavilion garden, I was immediately impressed by its architecture, which was built in a similar Indo-Saracenic style as the nearby Royal Pavilion.

 

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem

 

Opened in 1873, the museum was one of the first purpose built museums in England. A major refurbishment costing £10 million took place in 2002, moving the entrance from Church Street to the Royal Pavilion garden, and its galleries redesigned with new interpretation.

The museum has a interesting collection of pottery, which was the collection of one of its founders. Henry Willett, a wealthy local brewer.  I was also surprised to see the 20th Century Art and design collection in the main gallery featuring artists and designers like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Eric Ravilious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Grayson Perry etc.

 

brighton musuem  brighton musuem

brighton musuem

brighton musuem  brighton museum

brighton museum

brighton museum  brighton musuem

 

The ukiyo-e exhibition occupied two rooms upstairs, and it showcased woodblock prints from the Edo period (1615-1868), which are part of the museum’s collection. Guided by haiku poetry, the exhibition enabled visitors to learn more about lives in Edo ( Tokyo) through the exquisite prints.

The term ‘ukiyo-e’ literally means ‘pictures of the floating world’. The ‘floating world’ referred to the ‘pleasure quarters’ that were filled with teahouses, Kabuki theatres and licensed brothels in Japan’s cities during the Edo period. The hand-carved and hand-printed prints depict actors, courtesans and geisha, who became style icons of their day. I love the detailed patterns on the kimonos of the courtesans and geisha, which reveal the splendid craftsmanship of the period.

 

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Besides the ‘pleasure quarters’, the exhibition also explored the Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers. Meanwhile, countryside and the transient seasons are common themes featured in ukiyo-e, alongside with Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, which was illustrated either explicitly or implicitly in the background.

 

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Unlike the extremely crowded and overhyped Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, I utterly enjoyed this low-key and wonderful exhibition. It is hard to appreciate an exhibition in a stressful environment (where people kept pushing, chatting and refusing to move), hence the quiet and spacious setting of this exhibition truly enabled visitors to appreciate the poetic quality of the prints. I only wish that the museum will showcase more of its ukiyo-e prints to the public in the future, because they are just too beautiful to be locked away.

 

brighton museum

Drawings by the visitors at the exhibition

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

Minyo Crusaders & Souad Massi at the Jazz Cafe

Minyo Crusaders

 

It has been many years since I last visited Jazz Cafe in Camden. In recent years, I tend to go to ‘proper’ concerts at the Barbican and South Bank where I would sit quite still for hours. I think I have almost forgotten the joy of standing (and dancing) at a concert. Yet in November, I went to Jazz Cafe twice to see the Japanese folk band Minyo Crusaders, and Algerian Berber singer and guitarist Souad Massi.

I have not heard of Minyo Crusaders before, but I was intrigued when I found out that they rework traditional Japanese folk songs (minyo) with Latin, African and Caribbean rhythms to create inventive music. The band launched their debut album “Echoes of Japan” in 2017 (and reissued in 2019) and has since gain fans from around the world.

 

Minyo Crusaders

Minyo Crusaders   Minyo Crusaders

 

The 10-piece group was co-founded by Katsumi Tanaka and Freddie Tsukamoto, with the goal of reviving minyō as a ‘music for the people’. There is a retro feel to the band, but at the same time, it also feels refreshing and unique.

The history of minyō can be traced back centuries and it has been passed down for generations in villages and rural communities. Often accompanied by dancing, minyō usually portrays a local story or scenery, and it is played during neighborhood festivals and other communal gatherings. By experimenting and fusing with Latin, jazz and other forms of contemporary music, Minyo Crusaders has successfully revived ‘old-fashioned’ minyō into something cool and distinctive.

Honestly, I have not had so much fun at a concert for ages. The atmosphere was lively and vivacious, and the audience clearly loved the catchy tunes. Everyone was dancing away, and none of us wanted the night to end. I highly recommend seeing them live, because they are fantastic on stage, and you are likely to love them more after the concert.

 

 

Less than 2 weeks later, I returned to Jazz cafe to see Algerian Berber singer, songwriter and guitarist Souad Massi. Souad has been active since the late 80s, and regularly performs in the UK (since she resides in Paris). I have been to her concert at the Barbican a few years ago, but compare to the music hall at Barbican, the smaller and more intimate setting at Jazz Cafe enables the audience to get closer to the stage and performers. Thus, the experience was more memorable and compelling. Distance, in this case, matters.

 

Souad Massi

 

Like Minyo Crusaders, Souad Massi likes to incorporate different genres into her music, including rock, country, fado, oriental, and Algerian folk… meanwhile, she also sings in Arabic, French, English and Berber – she truly is a world music artist. Often, the lyrics of Souad’s songs contain political messages, which resulted in her fleeing Algeria to Paris when the political messages of her band Atakor attracted death threats.

 

Souad Massi

Souad Massi

Souad Massi

 

At Jazz cafe, Souad performed songs from her 6th and newest album Oumniya, featuring themes on Algeria, politics, love, freedom and emancipation – topics that matter to her and many others. As much as I like listening to Souad on CD or Spotify, it still lacks the impact of her live performances, accompanied by her brilliant band.

After the two fantastic concerts, I can’t wait to return to Jazz Cafe again for more music from different parts of the world.

 

Here is a short clip of the concert recorded by Julian Evenden.

London design festival & Kengo Kuma at the V & A museum

bamboo ring

 

Over the past few years, I have been quite disappointed with design industry’s ‘slow response’ in tackling the sustainability issues, and felt the same way when I visited trade shows and exhibitions at the London design festival. Finally, things have changed this year. Sustainability and handmade crafts became the main focus of this year’s festival, and it was conspicuous at the V & A museum, the official hub of the festival.

At the entrance of the festival, visitors had to walk under a massive cube suspended from the ceiling. The ‘Sea Things’ installation, created by Sam Jacob studio, addressed the ocean plastic waste issue that we face today. An animated motion graphic created by Rory Cahill was projected within the cube, which showed the growing numbers of plastic waste alongside with sea creatures. It reflected an infinity that seemec both as wide as the ocean and as large as the challenges we face.

 

sea things sam jacob

sea things sam jacob

Sea things by Sam Jacob studio

 

At the John Madejski Garden, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma worked with Ejiri Structural Engineers and the Kengo Kuma Laboratory at The University of Tokyo, to create a nest or cocoon by weaving rings of bamboo and carbon fibre together. The 2m-diameter ring was made from strips of the bamboo Phyllostachys edulis, and was combined with carbon fibre to achieve a certain rigidity while maintaining the unique material properties and beauty of bamboo. The installation was intended to be a catalyst for weaving people and place together.

 

bamboo ring kengo kuma

bamboo ring kengo kuma

bamboo ring kengo kuma

Bamboo ring by Kengo Kuma

 

At the Global Design Forum, Kengo Kuma was invited to give a talk on material explorations. Kengo, who recently designed the £80m V&A Dundee, his first building in the UK, as well as the New National Stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, revealed that nature has always been his main source of inspiration. Located on the edge of the River Tay, the V&A Dundee was inspired by the eastern cliff edges of Scotland, and it is partly built on the water to emphasis the connection with nature.

It was interesting to hear him talk about his past projects and the materials he used for them. The world will certainly be focusing on him next year when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opens. After so much controversy over his timber stadium, I wonder if it will prove the critics wrong.

 

kengo kuma

kengo kuma

kengo kuma

Kengo Kuma at the Global Design forum

 

Non-Pavilion by Studio MICAT, There Project and Proud Studio

Non-Pavilion by Studio MICAT, There Project and Proud Studio. The Non-Pavilion is a digital pavilion and it used AR technology to invite visitors to engage with the idea of ‘less’ as enrichment rather than loss.

 

robin hood gardens

robin hood gardens

The demolition of Robin Hood Gardens –the Brutalist housing estate in Poplar, East London, completed in 1972 by British architects Alison and Peter Smithson– was recorded by London-based Korean artist Do Ho Suh in 2017. His panoramic film used time-lapse photography, drone footage, 3D-scanning and photogrammetry to create a fascinating visual journey.

 

sacred geometry

sacred geometry

Rony Plesl’s unique glass installation draws inspiration from fire and wood – key components of glass making – and from the idea of Sacred Geometry, a universal language organising all visible and invisible reality according to basic geometrical principles. 

 

affinity in autonomy  affinity in autonomy

Supported by Sony Design, Affinity in Autonomy is an A.I. installation featuring a pendulus moving in random directions inside a round cage. However, human presence would be detected and the pendulus would respond to visitors’ physical movements outside of the cage.

 

One of my favourite exhibits at the V & A was the Black Masking Culture inside the Tapestries Gallery – the huge Mardi Gras Indian suits are composed of intricately hand-sewn beadwork created by New Orleans artist, Demond Melancon. The beaded suits illustrate actual and imagined events of the indigenous people in America and enslaved Africans, with imagery rich with symbolism and meaning. The suits blended surprisingly well with the tapastries in the background despite being made centuries apart.

 

black masking in culture

black masking in culture

black masking in culture

black masking in culture  black masking in culture

Black Masking Culture

 

blanc de chine

blanc de chine  blanc de chine

blanc de chine

blanc de chine  blanc de chine

blanc de chine

blanc de chine

Blanc de Chine, a Continuous Conversation (ongoing until 2020) showcases historic pieces from the V&A’s Asian and European ceramics collections, as well as a selection of new works by contemporary makers including: Babs Haenen, Lucille Lewin, Liang Wanying, Jeffry Mitchell, Su Xianzhong, and Peter Ting. Retelling the story of porcelain-making in Dehua, the display builds a bridge between the past and the current, tradition and innovation, and breaking the boundary of Chinese and non-Chinese ceramic practices.

 

sea things sam jacob

sea things sam jacob

sea things sam jacob  sea things sam jacob

Sea things by Sam Jacob studio showcased eight historic water vessels remade in new sustainable materials such as recycled plastic, sea shells and bioresin etc.

 

repair-making

repair-making

Repair-Making and the Museum – V & A resident maker Bridget Harvey examined repaired and broken objects in the collections, and conservation practices.

 

bamboo futures

bamboo futures

Bamboo Futures – Bali-based designer Elora Hardy and her team at IBUKU construct sustainable bamboo buildings across the world, with every IBUKU building being devised using a bamboo model. This installation of miniature buildings demonstrates how IBUKU’s model-making is both integral to their creative process and an invaluable tool throughout construction.

 

Leaders of London’s cultural institutions were invited to collaborate with some of the world’s most prolific designers to create a ‘Legacy’ piece of design – an object of personal or professional relevance to them. The 10 pieces were beautifully crafted in American red oak, a sustainable hardwood species that grows abundantly in American forests, and were fabricated at Benchmark Furniture in Berkshire.

 

KWAME KWEI-ARMAH OBE Artistic Director, Young Vic, with TOMOKO AZUMI  legacy v & A

legacy v & A

legacy v & A  legacy v & A

legacy v & A

Top left: Kwame Kwei-Arwah, Artistic Director of Young Vic, with Tomoko Azumi; Top right: Hans Ulrich-Obrist, Artistic Director of Serpentine Galleries, with Studiomama; 2nd row: Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of Science Museum Group, with Marlene Huissoud; 3rd row: Dr Maria Balshaw CBE, Director of Tate, with Max Lamb; Last row: Alex Beard, Chief Executive of Royal Opera House, with Terence Woodgate

 

MR LEMAN TEXTILES

MR LEMAN TEXTILES

MR LEMAN TEXTILES

MR LEMAN TEXTILES

The Ingenious Mr Leman: Designing Spitalfields Silks (on display until October) showcases James Leman’s silk textiles from the early 18th century. 

staging places

staging places

staging places

Staging Places: UK Design for Performance (ongoing until 2020)

 

COLLECTIVE DESIGN SCHOOL

COLLECTIVE DESIGN SCHOOL

COLLECTIVE DESIGN SCHOOL

COLLECTIVE DESIGN SCHOOL

Pioneered by the V&A Research Institute (VARI) and Design Thinker in Residence, Ella Britton, this experimental school inside the V&A will collectively create a design curriculum for the 21st century. The School is about exploring what a design education could be. And who it should be for.