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.

 

img_5604-min

img_5605-min

img_5595-min

img_5598-min   img_5590-min

img_5588-min

img_5591-min

img_5592-min

 

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.

 

img_5600-min

img_5602-min

img_5603-min

 

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. 

 

London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

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Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…

 

Tribute to Mono-Ha exhibition at Cardi Gallery in London

mono-ha cardi gallery

 

While I was walking around Green Park one afternoon, I stumbled upon a poster outside of the Cardi Gallery with this title: ‘Tribute to MONO-HA’ (13 March – 26th July 2019). I was not only surprised but extremely excited since it is rare to see collective work associated with this art movement outside of Japan.

Mono-ha, meaning ‘School of Things’ in Japanese, is a pioneering art movement emerged in Tokyo in 1968 that rejected traditional art practices in reaction to the rapid industrialisation of postwar Japan.

The movement, led by the artists Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, was one of a number of groups engaged in ‘not making’ (others included the Neo-Dada and the short-lived Hi-Red Center). The young artists of Mono-ha never formalised into a group, and they never organised any group exhibition under Mono-ha, hence, this exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see their works under one roof.

 

Kishio Suga's perimeters of space  Nobuo Sekine's Phase of Nothingless

Nobuo Sekine's Phase of Nothingless

Top left: Kishio Suga’s perimeters of space; Top right and bottom: Nobuo Sekine’s Phase of Nothingless

 

Curated by Davide Di Maggio, the exhibition features seminal works by Koji Enokura, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Susumu Koshimizu, Lee Ufan, Katsuhiko Narita, Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Jiro Takamatsu, Noboru Takayama, and Katsuro Yoshida.

Mono-ha emerged in response to a number of social, cultural and political precedents set in the 1960s. Most of these artists were studying at Tama Art University back then. Influenced by Zen Buddhism and Taoism, they rejected values of Western modern art, and explored the properties of natural and industrial materials, such as stone, steel plates, glass, light bulbs, cotton, sponge, paper, wood, wire, rope, leather, oil, and water, arranging them in mostly unaltered, ephemeral states. An important aspect of Zen Buddhism is ‘to see things as they are without distortions’, therefore, their aim was not to ‘create’ but ‘rearrange’ ‘things’, drawing attention to the interdependent relationships between these ‘things’ and the space surrounding them. They aimed to challenge pre-existing perceptions of such materials and relate to them on a new level.

 

Koji Enokura  mono-ha cardi gallery

mono-ha cardi gallery

Noriyuki Haraguchi

Top left: Koji Enokura’s Quality 1973; Bottom: Noriyuki Haraguchi’s Untitled, 1970/2015

 

Although Mono-ha created an original new vocabulary, its recognition as truly one of the driving forces of Japanese post-war art production begun only in the early ‘90s, first as an influence on Japanese artists and later in the West, where it was seen as a critically-engaged movement thanks to the contemporary relevance of its language and themes, so deeply linked to both nature and industry.

Since we are now living in an unsettling time with many political, social, religious and environmental issues, the works of Mono-ha are once again regarded as relevant to our current society.

 

Relatum III (a place within a certain situation), 1970

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum III (a place within a certain situation), 1970

 

Two weeks before I visited the exhibition, I learned that Nobuo Sekine –a key member of the group– passed away in California at the age of 76. Some of his works like ‘Phase of Nothingness, and photos of his famous ‘Phase—Mother Earth’ (1968) can be seen at the exhibiton.

 

Susumu Koshimizu's From Surface to Surface  Katsuro Yoshida's cut-off

Susumu Koshimizu's From Surface to Surface

mono-ha cardi gallery

Top left & 2nd row: Susumu Koshimizu’s From Surface to Surface (1971) industrially manufactured wood (15 pieces); Top right: Katsuro Yoshida’s Cut-off; Bottom: Kishio Suga’s and Koji Enokura’s installation

 

mono-ha cardi gallery

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum 1969-1995 Iron (5 parts)

 

 Lee Ufan's Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

 Lee Ufan's Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

mono-ha cardi gallery

Lee Ufan’s Relatum, 1969/1995-2015 Stone, cotton-wool, iron

 

Susumu Koshimizu's paper  "Phase—Mother Earth", 1968

Nobuo Sekine's 'Phase of Nothingness– Cloth and Stone' (1970)

Top left: Susumu Koshimizu’s Paper, 1969/1995; Top right: Nobuo Sekine’s ‘Phase—Mother Earth’, 1968 Bottom: Nobuo Sekine’s ‘Phase of Nothingness– Cloth and Stone’ (1970)

 

Noboru Takayama's Underground Zoo, 1968/2015 Wood

Noboru Takayama's 'Underground Zoo

mono-ha cardi gallery

Noboru Takayama’s ‘Underground Zoo’, 1968/2015 Wood

 

‘Living Colours: Kasane’ – an exhibition on Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop

Living Colours: Kasane

 

When I returned from Asia, I managed to book myself onto the curator’s tour of the “Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations” exhibition at Japan House. The exhibition explores the natural dyed textile work of the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop in Kyoto. Due to my interest in natural dyeing, it prompted me to pay a visit to Yoshioka‘s small shop Somenotsukasa Yoshioka in Kyoto last year (see photos at the bottom), hence I was particularly keen to see this exhibition.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

 

The exhibition focused on the ancient art of kasane, the creation of Japanese colour combinations based on the changing seasons in Japan, using natural dye techniques. Master Sachio Yoshioka is the 5th-generation dyer of the 200-year old family-run company, while his daughter Sarasa also co-runs the workshop.

Kasane is the layering of colours seen in formal kimonos worn by the aristocratic women of the courts during the Heian period in Japan (794-1185 CE). The hand and plant-dyed silk kimonos were made up of three, five, or up to eight layers, with each layer reflecting the colours of the natural world around them, such as cherry blossom, or an important occasion or the wearer’s rank.

Japan’s oldest record of natural dyeing was also compiled during this period in early 10th century in books called Engishiki, which describe royal rituals, customs, and clothing, including dye ingredients used for particular colors.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

With the help of pre-19th century historical documents and textile samples, Yoshioka was able to recreate the palette of the Japanese court and revived this an anicent craft from the brink of extinction.

When I did the indigo textiles dyeing workshop in Japan last year, I learned that the traditional kimono industry is rapidly declining, and craftsmen working in the industry are struggling to preserve their important heritage and craftsmanship. Hence, what Yoshioka doing is not only reviving an ancient craft, but an industry that is in crisis.

 

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Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

img_4847

 

Aside from textiles, Kasane was also used in paper. Members of the Heian court often wrote and exchanged poems between lovers on dyed fans or several sheets of seasonally coloured paper.

The most famous Japanese literature from the Heian period is “The Tale of Genji”, which is often referred to as the world’s first novel. Written by a noble women from the 11th century, the novel depicts the lives of courtiers during the time. Inspired by the novel, special dyed washi revealed how the layering concept applied to paper as well.

 

img_4843  Living Colours: Kasane

 

For over 40 years, Yoshioka has been taking part in the the thousand-year-old Shuni-e Buddhist ceremony held every March at the famous Todai-ji temple in Nara. Washi paper flowers dyed in red with benibana (safflower) and yellow with kuchinashi (gardenia) are offered to the Kannon (the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) for harvest and protection for the nation. A five-coloured cord made of dyed silk yarn was also recreated at the consecration ceremony of the Great Buddha at the temple in 2002.

 

img_4853

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img_4846

  

Based on traditional dyeing methods, Yoshioka uses 30 kinds of dyeing materials, including indigo (ai), benibana petals, murasaki-gusa (purple gromwell) roots, akane (madder) roots, acorn nuts, and leaves and stalks of kariyasu (rice grass). Meanwhile, silk, hemp, and cotton are commonly used in their work.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

The Japanese are a nation particularly sensitive to the changing seasons, and their appreciation for this is reflected in their culture, habits, arts and craft.

Simon, the curator of the exhibition told us that Yoshioka wanted to show that Japanese aesthetics are not just about wabi sabi (the beauty of the transience and imperfection), and the art of kasane demonstrates an aesthetic that is vastly different.

 

Living Colours: Kasane  img_4848

img_4849

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

 

It is encouraging to see that natural dyeing is becoming more popular in recent years, and this exhibition showcased the vivid and sensual colour palette that can be created from plants. It is time for us to reflect on the sustainability of synthetic dyes and its damaging impact on the environment.

 

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can watch this beautiful video “In Search of Forgotten Colours” on the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop made by the V & A, which was accompanied by a small exhibition at the museum.

 

 

yoshioka workshop

yoshioka workshop

The “In Search of Forgotten Colours” display at the V & A museum

 

Higashiyama-ku

Somenotsukasa Yoshioka

Somenotsukasa Yoshioka’s shop is located at 206-1 Nishinocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto