Sep 19

JQ Magazine: Art Review – ‘Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers’ at Japan Society

From left to right: 'Feel the Wind' (2010), by Fuminori Ono; 'Birth' (2011) by Hitomi Nagai; 'Su no hana' (Nest Flowers) (2011) by Takaaki Tanaka. (Vlad Baranenko)


By Vlad Baranenko (Saitama-ken, 2000-02) for JQ magazine. Vlad is an avid photographer.

Opening this week at New York’s Japan Society is the exhibit Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers, which showcases the works of Japanese textile masters and explores the ever evolving relationship between traditional fabric manufacturing and the uses of unconventional technology and materials to create awe-inspiring works of art. To commemorate the opening of the gallery and the designation of the Japan Society building as a city landmark, a special preview event was held on Sept. 14 with many of the artists in attendance along with an exhibition walkthrough from gallery director Joe Earle.

Originally conceived in 2007, the project received approval following this year’s devastation in Japan, and is jointly presented by Japan Society and the International Textile Network Japan in collaboration with Tama University. According to Japan Society, the collection of 35 works on display was thoroughly selected by a special committee to showcase the work of 30 contemporary masters of a movement originally envisioned in the 1950s to “reflect the fecundity of the Japanese artistic tradition and ingenuity.” Since many of the pieces had to make a long journey from Japan to New York, unique containers had to be meticulously designed for each piece to preserve the artist’s intended presentation and allow the viewer to fully appreciate each work.

To simply describe the collection as a stunning example of creativity and the profound Japanese insight into the coexistence of nature and man would not be enough to credit the artists on display. The exhibition explores such themes as the passage of time and seasons just to name a few. While many of the works are composed of traditional materials such as silk and washi paper, modern materials such as stainless steel, vacuum deposited aluminum, and complex chemical dyes are also added to create three-dimensional enchanting expressions.

At the entrance to the gallery, the visitor is first greeted by Requiem, a wave of indigo-dyed threads suspended above the lobby bamboo garden. This piece by the internationally renowned paper artist Kyoko Ibe is a memorial to the victims of the March earthquake and tsunami, and was constructed with misumata Japanese paper originally used for Buddhist scriptures. Ibe, whose involvement with Japanese paper spans more than 30 years, has also included in the exhibition a traditional partition screen composed of recycled family manuscripts dating back to the Edo period.

Also notable is a work by Yasuko Iyanaga that envisions an undersea world with her piece entitled Umi Kara no Okurimono (A Gift from the Sea). By combining silk and wire the artist is able to create a ghostly yet beautiful vision of coral seemingly blooming with bioluminescent red and purple flowers.

Another artist, Kyomi Iwata, who works extensively with silk organza and who was present at the opening, had contributed a piece entitled Chrysalis. By using paper and kibiso, the first few meters of thread produced by the silk worm and usually discarded for its limited use, Iwata was able to create a vividly formed sculpture with background strings accentuated by eerie lines, which were shadows cast on the piece during its construction in the artist’s studio.

While all of the exhibition’s works offer much to contemplate, a piece toward the end of the gallery by Atsuko Yoshioka particularly resonates with inspiration. A work called Construction for a String Quartet is a wall feature composed of three bundles of branches arranged to represent a single visual moment of a musical note. The precision of the build and the sheer time and effort involved in its construction is quite astounding, and is sure to inspire appreciation for the artistry and mastery of the medium.

Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers runs through Dec. 18 at Japan Society. For more information, click here.

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