very interesting write-up published by Manish Jha
|Trace of Memory, The Mattress Factory, 2013 (Photo: Priyanka Sacheti)|
I remember being thoroughly enchanted the first time I encountered Japanese installation and performance artist, Chiharu Shiota’s work, Trace of Memory at The Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. Utilising both the spatial landscape of an abandoned 19th century row house as well as specific objects such as a wedding dress, hospital bed, and a pile of suitcases, Shiota enmeshed it all in intricate black wool-thread creations. Everything was visible and yet, not; it was not unlike cobwebs studding the dusty corners of an abandoned house, simultaneously representing decay and life. In a sense, Shiota’s work resurrects an otherwise dead house, creating a physically tangible web of narratives through the confluence of thread, space, and air. Perhaps, enchanted was also an appropriate word to describe my engagement with her work, for there was a fairy-tale, other-worldly quality to her work that I had never previously witnessed or experienced elsewhere. Researching further and talking with the artist herself, I discovered that the wool-thread is a signature motif of her work and through which she quite literally binds memories, past, people, and objects.
What does installation art specifically mean to her? “I love empty spaces; the minute I come across one such as an abandoned building or an empty exhibition space, I feel as if my body and spirit transcend a certain dimension – and I can then start from scratch,” Chiharu says, presenting the abandoned or blank exhibition space as one void of references or associations and which she is subsequently free to re-interpret and realise her imagined worlds in. What particularly excites her about installation art is the immediacy of communication and engagement with the viewer. “[The viewers] can immediately feel as to what I am trying to show…unlike a painting or sculpture where you may have to engage with it for quite a while before distilling its meaning,” she opines.
The scenario made her start thinking about the gulf between the idealised memories when one is away from the home and yearning to return to it — and actually being in home itself. “I began to interrogate the idea of missing and memories and I fused it with the idea of old shoes and the memories associated with them,” she says, elaborating that the installation consisted of 400 disused shoes that people had donated along with notes containing specific memories associated with the shoe. Looking at the installation (below), it is almost as if the threads anchor the memories in form of the shoes in place, lest they vanish into nothingness and being unremembered.
|Chiharu Shiota, During Sleep, (2004), Saint-Marie-Madeleine, Lille, France, Thread, Beds, Performers
Photographer: Sunhi Mang
|Chiharu Shiota, Trace Of Memory( 2013), The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Thread, Various Materials, Photographer: Tom Little
Having only seen her work at The Mattress Factory gallery in person, I still feel that the exhibition there is a cumulative presentation of much of her preoccupations: space, thread, objects, memories, remembering, and the binary of absence/presence. “I was inspired and nourished by the lives of someone who had already been living there, as opposed to a [blank] cubic gallery installation,” she says of Trace of Memory. “I was using the threads to weave someone’s personal memories.”
Chiharu transforms absences into presence through her thread air drawings; she invites us to remember and simultaneously pay homage to the act of the remembering.
If you would like to learn more about Chiharu’s work, you can visit her website.
Picture credits: All pictures except the first one courtesy of Chiharu Shiota.
Looking back to the late 90’s, “Girl Power” created a great sensation in the UK pop music industry. These pop idols are grown up now and no longer proudly shout their catchphrase “Girl Power”. Their time in the 90’s has become a rather nostalgic topic to reminisce about. On the other hand, there is a long surviving tradition in Japan for girls to celebrate being girls. Nowadays, 3rd March is a day to celebrate a girl’s well-being and happiness by setting out a special dolls display with peach blossoms. This festival is called the Hina festival (雛祭りHina matsuri).
Women, both young and old, enjoy everything related to the celebration of the Hina festival, from opening boxes, unpacking the dolls and placing them in position to offering them peach blossoms. They also prepare treats such as dainty sweets and special drinks, and hold parties while taking pleasure in viewing the dolls. Basically it is a relaxing “Girly” day.
Sakura mochi (桜餅), a modern example of seasonal sweets for Hinamatsuri. Ashinari Photo Material
Hina (literally ʻprettyʼ or ʻlittleʼ) dolls are dressed like courtiers of the Heian period (794-1185). They are treated with great respect and are dearly loved throughout their graceful existence by all generations of women. In the display the top level is reserved for the master (男雛 Obina) and his mistress (女雛 Mebina). The next level below that is for their servants such as the Three Ladies-in-waiting (三人宮女 Sannin kannyo), the Five musicians (五人囃子Gonin bayashi), the Two ministers (随身 Zuijin), the Three guards (衛士 Eji), and beneath the mistress’s trousseau is also on display.
Yōshu Nobuchika 楊洲周延 (1838-1912). ‘Hina-doll viewing’ (雛拝見 Hina haiken), which is a part of ‘The Great Interior of the Chiyoda Castle’ (千代田の大奥 Chiyoda no Ōoku), Tokyo : Fukuda Hatsujirō, 1896. Nishikie (錦絵) wood block print. Photo National Diet Library
The custom of displaying the Hina-dolls on different levels, looking as if they were placed on a kind of stand, became popular in the Edo period (1600-1867). This display format still lives on today. A number of educational books were published throughout the Edo period, which targeted girls for the purpose of teaching women’s morals, appropriate manners and accomplishments. It wasn’t however, until the later Edo period that publications dealt with the etiquette of the Hina festival on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month which we consider to be the foundation of the modern version of Hina matsuri.
An example of early Edo era educational text books for girls with a page showing the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month on the right. Based on a publication by Namura Jōhaku (苗村常伯 1674-1748), edited and revised by Takai Ranzan (高井蘭山 1838-1912). ‘A record of collected treasures for woman’ (女重寶記 Onna chōhōki), 1847. Woodblock printed (British Library 16124.d.23)
In the early Edo era, instead of celebrating with Hina-dolls, ceremonial poetry competitions were held on the date of Jōshi (上巳), which falls on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month. This traces its origins back to the Heian period when one of the absolutely essential skills for courtiers was the ability to compose elegant poetry spontaneously. There were many opportunities for poets to compete against each other. Perhaps the most challenging was the highly refined event held by the bank of a meandering river. The contestants sat along the river bank and had to complete their compositions before the cup, which was floating downstream, passed them by. This was called the river bank poetry competition (曲水の宴Kyokusui no en).
Some abstract illustrations of Heian courtiers. The figures on the left page are represented as if they were sitting along the meandering river. ‘Practical design book’ (応用漫画 Ōyō manga), illustrated by Ogino Issui (荻野一水), 1903 (British Library ORB.30/6167)
Hina-dolls certainly existed in the Heian period, but not as display objects. In fact, they were children’s toys for playing with. In chapter 5 of ‘The Tale of Genji’ (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari), the hero, Prince Genji, discovers a young girl who reminds him of Lady Fujitsubo, whom he has been secretly admiring as his true love. He is eager to approach the girl, who does not have enough family members to support her upbringing, by offering his noble guardianship. However, her ill grandmother politely rejects his offer saying her granddaughter is just a child happily playing with her Hina-dolls, therefore not of suitable age to accept his overtures.
There are no episodes describing the river bank poetry competition in the Tale of the Genji, but in chapter 12, Genji undergoes a purification ceremony on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month (上巳の祓え Jōshi no harae). The dolls had a key role during the ceremony since they absorbed the supplicants’ bad fortune. Then the supplicants threw the dolls into water in order to remove all of the negative energy from their lives. Both events were rooted in trusting in the natural power of flowing water, which was able to carry things away.
The 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month was also the time of peach blossom. In fact, peaches were believed to have divine power to protect people from evil. Most famously in Japanese legend, the god Izanagi, who formed the landmass of Japan with his partner, defeated demons by throwing peaches on his way back to earth from hell. Peaches might be part of the reason why the purification ceremony was carried out on Jōshi. People could expect extra protection from peach blossom as good spirits.
Peach blossom. Ashinari Photo Material
Peach blossom is still one of key elements in the modern day celebration of the Hina dolls Festival. In fact the day is also known as the Peach festival (桃の節句 Momo no sekku). It is not only pretty, but also quietly ensure a safe and successful happy “Girly” day.
Takeda, Kyoko 武田京子. Hinamatsuri in home education 家庭教育からみた雛祭. Iwate Daigaku Kyōiku gakubu nenpō 岩手大学教育学部研究年報 [The annual report of the Faculty of Education, University of Iwate] 54.2 (1994): 79-87. (in Japanese)
With special thanks to Alessandro Bianchi, Asian and African Studies and PhD student, University of Cambridge
Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator Japanese
– See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2015/02/the-truth-about-the-japanese-doll-festival.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+asian-and-african+%28Asia+and+Africa%29#sthash.sderaoFX.dpuf
It is rare for an Iranian artist to be widely celebrated at home, withstanding the scrutiny of a nation in love with both art and the contemporary and yet highly critical of its living artists because it recognizes the contemporary as a category imposed from the outside. Born in 1937, Parviz Tanavoli has become a legendary figure through a prolific career as artist, scholar and teacher. Iran’s first significant modern sculptor, he works in a style distinctly his own, undeniably modern, and entirely Iranian.
In bringing together over 50 years of his art in his first US solo museum exhibition, the Davis Museum has the task of engaging with thousands of years of cultural heritage, which Tanavoli draws on with fervour and ease. He neither imitates nor ignores the Iranian visual lexicon, but rather makes it his own and expands upon it.
Tanavoli is one of the handful of artists responsible for the Saghakhaneh style, which developed in the early 1960s as young, mainly western-educated artists sought to reconcile distinctly Iranian forms with the language of contemporary art. In doing so they turned to traditional forms, touching on pre-Islamic and Shia Muslim art and architecture, as well as Iranian folk motifs.
Among those associated with the style, Tanavoli’s work embodies the widest range of cultural signifiers, from the grandiose to the familiar, from the ancient to the now. His scholarship has been impressive in its scope and influence. Tanavoli has published books on locks, talismans, gravestones, horse and camel trappings from tribal Iran, rugs and textiles, make-up boxes, tablecloths, ceramics, and the magic of letters and numbers, among other topics. He is by temperament a collector, and the innumerable hours he has spent scouring flea markets, villages, and artisans’ workshops have deeply affected his work.
It is indeed often difficult to distinguish an established cultural motif from one Tanavoli has established. When one thinks of an Iranian form, one is as likely to visualise a Tanavoli as an ancient relief. The pseudo-cuneiforms covering his more recent Wall series are just as much etched into my mind as the 2500-year-old inscriptions on the side of a granite boulder at the foot of Mount Alvand in Hamedan province, to which I made weekly pilgrimages as a child.
As the country has grown more secular, Tanavoli has built up and maintained certain religious motifs as a significant part of his visual lexicon. A good example is his relationship to locks, as fastened by devotees to the lattice grillwork of Shia shrines.
He shows the same devotion to saghakhanehs, small niches in walls offering passersby drinking water in memory of Imam Hussein, who with his followers was cut off from water before his martyrdom at the battle of Kerbala in AD680. Tanavoli’s devotion to form while excluding function releases the artistic tradition from its mythical aura.
While the lock has been a site of both ingenuity and metaphor in Iranian heritage, it is Tanavoli’s sculptures and extensive research that make it so significant. He ties in religion, myth and history with contemporary hope. He equates the praying hands that fasten locks onto shrines with his own, which sculpt them in the studio, often as small breasts or disproportionate penises.
Tanavoli’s fervour for Iranian formal heritage is balanced by a sense of irreverence and play that give his work relevance beyond a specific cultural context. In Innovation in Art, 1964, he cuts a vaginal opening into a handmade Persian rug to make room for a toilet ewer, a scatological object most common and most rejected in the Iranian domestic psyche. The ewer is painted after a Jasper Johns Target and the intricate patterns of the rug are flattened into kitsch as they are crudely traced in paint.
His signature Heech series, which has for years been a staple of Tanavoli’s practice, was conceived of in 1965 as a protest. The three letters of the word heech, meaning nothing or nothingness in Farsi, took form in the decorative Nastaliq script both as a protest against the empty overuse of calligraphy in the increasingly popular Saghakhaneh style and the individuals, the institutions and the market that embraced this emptiness. The many years Tanavoli has spent with Heech, and the sheer number of pieces produced with his factory-like ambition, take it beyond the cynicism of its initial protest.
It is radical for an artist to make “nothing”. But Tanavoli’s heech is constant neither in form nor narrative. The pieces are made in all sizes and media, from bronze to fibre-glass and neon lights. Heech emerges from a box, melts into its chair, lies beneath a table and embraces another. As it takes form it grows both endearing and ridiculous. Its irony, not lost on the artist, points to his nostalgia for the figure, a need for play, for narrative, for history.
Tanavoli cannot stay on a heech hiatus. However freely he has drawn from and built upon his own heritage, he has always done so with great care. It is partly this sense of responsibility that has given him the popular status he enjoys in Iran. While it may be a source of pleasure and inspiration, it is no doubt also a burden for any artist, one he has borne seamlessly, and with grace and humility.
Parviz Tanavoli at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, curated by Lisa Fischman and Shiva Balaghi, offers more than 175 objects from the artist’s expansive oeuvre. The exhibition opens today and runs through 7 June 2015