Japan Journal pt4: Izumo tsutsugaki workshop production visit

I have been collaborating with LINK textiles for a number of years creating artwork for furoshiki - a traditional Japanese textile format- a multi-functional square piece of cloth, historically used to wrap clothes to transport to the bathhouses, and in more recent times to wrap gifts with. Each design I have made explored the portability of the function, the nomadic qualities of these transportable cloths, as subjective maps.

Recently I was invited by LINK to create artwork for another traditional Japanese textile process - tsutsugaki - literally meaning 'tube drawing', which uses a rice paste to act as a resist in combination with natural indigo dyeing, to create textile artworks, historically produced as wedding gifts in the form of bedspreads, and wall hangings, and also as 'noren', curtains that act as inviting entranceways to spaces. Having witnessed some beautiful examples of tsutsugaki noren on my last trip to Japan in 2012, and always keen to embrace the limitations and therefore potential of a new process, I was delighted to accept this commission. As luck should have it, I was able to join Kyoko of LINK on a production visit of the tsutsugaki workshop in Izumo, this May, as part of my QEST research trip.

Landing in Tokyo, I skirted around the city, from Narita to Hakeda airport to join LINK creator Kyoko and long-term photographer of all things LINK Martin Holtkamp to fly to the far west of the main island of Honshu, to the small coastal city of Izumo. Getting on the small bus that took us on the short hop from the airport to the centre, glimpsing fragments of the landscape as the sun set, we settled into the quiet confidence of the place, pulsing along to its own quiet rhythm, which I discovered is steeped in spiritual history, craft and its own distinct culture. After the most delicious seafood feast in a quiet backstreet of Izumo, and a midnight dip in the hotel's own onsen, I felt perfectly at home.

The next morning, we arrived at the workshop to be greeted by Mr Nagata and his son, and their dog Beck in a cosy corner of their workshop, the entirety of the space adorned with their craftsmanship - wall hangings, furoshiki, banners, table cloths and more. Over Japanese tea for the next hour Kyoko and the father-son duo discussed in Japanese the intricacies of the technique, the current state of the industry of Japanese craft textiles, the tools, their customers, as well as the rich culture of Izumo. We were shown work from his ancestors from the Meiji period, a baby blanket of exquisite detail, fortuitous cranes and turtles under a sunset cloud, and a bed spread of family crests, sewn together from 4 pieces, still luminously rich with indigo, despite the passing centuries.

We were then guided through the process through a series of demonstrations. I spotted my artwork draped in mid air above our heads, and another half of the noren was retrieved and suspended it the upper part of their studio in order for Mr Nagata senior to demonstrate the application of the design, the 'tubedrawing'. He filled his tube tool with the paste, and began to 'paint' on my design, that had already been marked out in pencil, sucking on the tube every few minutes to release air bubbles, and he sat with repose on the tatami mat, in the morning light, attentively applying the resist paste to the cloth. After completing a section, he would throw on some rice husks and dust them across the work, to help seal in the paste to the fabric.

The dyeing room was his son's domain and we watched with delight seeing the magical transformative process of indigo dyeing take place on our noren pieces.  The dyeing room with the 6 vats sunken into the ground had the patina of countless years of dyeing and we couldn’t help but watch with wonder as we witnessed the metamorphosis from white to green to blue, as the oxidation takes place. Above the dye vats in the corner of the ceiling we noticed a shinto shrine to the goddess of indigo dyeing, commonly told to be filled with jealousy should any female do any dyeing, so indigo dyeing is strictly a male business. 

Seeing our designs be submerged in the the vats, and remerge transformed into colour so rich, for fabric to be so utterly transformed by the power of nature was a bewildering thing to watch, and what struck me was how gentle this process seemed. Rice paste, rice husks, paper tubes with a metal tip, indigo vats with only fermented natural indigo and nothing else added. Then the large fabric swathes are taken out to the canal just outside the workshop, tied to a pole in the middle of the gushing river, and the rivers flow washes the natural indigo away with a little help from Mr Nagata to beat away the remaining rice paste. It takes at least 10 dips, each having to dry for hours in-between dips, then carefully washed, dried, ironed, then sewn by Mrs Nagata on site.

After warm good-byes, bows and the trading of business cards, we were kindly driven to the local Shussai pottery, and adjoining cafe where we tucked into the most delicious curry before heading back east on the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto. We left filled with the joy of experiencing dedicated craftsmanship, one of only 2 remaining tsutsugaki factories remaining in Japan, and a feeling of gratitude of experiencing artistic collaboration across the world.

All photos courtesy of Martin Holtkamp / LINK

Visit https://linkcollective.com for more info on our latest tsutsugaki collaboration.

Japan Journal pt3- The Site of Reversible Destiny

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After leaving the Aritmatsu Shibori Festival, we made up way back north-east via Nagoya to visit the incredible project - The Site of Reversible Destiny. 

'Arakawa and Gins' Site of Reversible Destiny--Yoro, is a created landscape containing a series of pavilions, undulating planes, shifting colors, and disorienting spaces that the artists presented to visitors as a place of purposeful experimentation. The work is part of the larger Yoro Park, located in Yoro, Gifu Prefecture, and opened to the public in 1995.

The first pavilion encountered is the Reversible Destiny Office (added later in 1997) that contains an uneven pastel colored maze and a ceiling that mirrors the design of the floor. The Critical Resemblance House is the next building in the park and also includes a maze with walls bisecting furniture and a map of Gifu Prefecture forming its roof. The Elliptical Field encompasses the rest of the park and is set in a concave basin in the foothills of the local mountains.

More pavilions (referred to as Architectural Fragments) are set in the terrain of the Elliptical Field and have names such as Exactitude Ridge, Trajectory Membrane Gate, Zone of Clearest Confusion, Mono no Aware Transformer, and Imaging Navel. Additionally, the Elliptical Field contains an intricate network of 148 paths and 5 maps of Japan placed at different scales throughout the landscape. The vegetation includes 24 different breeds of herbs selected by Arakawa and Gins to emphasize the changing of seasons.' (Text taken from http://www.reversibledestiny.org )

Visiting the park became like entering a new world full of latent possibilities. Arakawa and Gins believed that changes in bodily perception would lead to changes in consciousness thus they developed architecture and environments to challenge the body as a way to “reverse our destinies.” Arakawa and Gins' wish was for visitors to explore the site like children and to reorient perceptions and discover the unlimited possibilities of the body.  

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Sol exploring the site

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The site requires an increased bodily awareness, an attention to terrain, and and unexpected forms that aim to sharpen the mind. The entire landscape acts upon you like a thought experiment in the potentiality of bodily perception, testing body and mind and interaction in a way that feels completely bizarre and challenging to how one is used to traversing a site. It was truly wonderful to visit this legacy to the visionary couple, for further reading they published a number of books including 'Architectural Body'. 

Prepare to be astonished! 

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DOMEY x Hannah Waldron

My latest collaboration is a fun translation of my Kreuzberg weaving into a miniature enamel pin badge with San Francisco based Domey Pins.

Domey's mission is to promote and support independent artists by curating and creating the best enamel pins, working with top artists and illustrators to create original wearable art work in their artist series.

... Additional info ...2.5 cm wide x 3.8 cm high hard enamel (cloisonné) pin with 2 metal backingsRose gold plated metal.Packaged on a Domey backing card in one of my gift boxes, and all orders currently receive a free Lion print. 

Available in my shop now. 

A huge thanks to Domey for the opportunity, take a look at their whole Artist Series here!

About | Hannah Waldron

Hannah Waldron is an artist & designer based in the UK. Her graphic and narrative-led image-making has been applied across a range of media from print to textiles, at both a personal and architectural scale. Hannah has found weaving to be a natural process to complement her grid-based image-making and completed an MFA in Textiles at Konstfack, Sweden in 2014. 

Hannah Waldron studio specialises in designing and creating research-led unique printed and woven textiles that have an emphasis on storytelling.

Previous clients and collaborators: The V&A museum, Herman Miller, SCP, The New York Times, Arper, Paul Smith, Wallpaper*, IKEA, World Of Interiors, Graphic Thought Facility, Pizza Express, GQ Italy, Wired, Hutchinson books, Unico Japan, Computer Arts, Routledge, Laurence King, Edinburgh Art festival, M&C Saatchi, London Design Guide, Shelter among others.

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Get in touch via email - hello@hannahwaldron.co.uk