The Art of Friendship: Japanese Surimono Prints

Chester Beatty Conservation

The Chester Beatty Library’s collection of surimono and picture calendars extends to some 375 single sheet prints. Alongside these are the kyōka books and a further 116 surimono with illustrations in the Shijō style popular in Osaka and Kyoto, many of which are preserved in albums. The greater part of this collection was formed between 1954 and 1963.

Acquired by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty for his newly built Library in Dublin, the collection took shape under the specialist guidance of Jack Hillier and Beatty’s own developing interests in Japan’s printed arts. As works created through the collaboration of artists and poets in celebration of new beginnings, it is fitting that these prints were collected in that same spirit.

Triptych J 2183 before (above) and after conservation (below)

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ireland: an event precipitated in March 1957 by an exchange of letters between…

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Nothing Is Off-Limits in Hirokage’s Humorous Ukiyo-e Prints by Claire Voon from Hyperallergic

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Many artists during Japan’s Edo period designed ukiyo-e woodblock prints, but the works of Utagawa Hirokage stand out from many of these “pictures of the floating world” for their affinity for the absurd. A student of the famed Utagaway Hiroshige, Hirokage is perhaps most known for an incredible triptych of a battle between fruits, vegetables, and fish — but also for a successful series he published around 1860 titled Edo meisho doke zukushi, or Joyful Events in Famous Places in Edo. The 46 images set in present-day Tokyo are simply bizarre: scenes of a tiny octopus attacking people on a beach or of foxes carrying pumpkins are so ridiculous you can’t help but chuckle. Hirokage, in a sense, was churning out the memes of his time.

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Leaving His Mark on an Ancient Art: Arabic Calligrapher Honda Kōichi Culture – www.nippon.com

 

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Honda Kōichi Arabic calligrapher. Born in 1946 in Kanagawa Prefecture. President of the Japan Arabic Calligraphy Association and a professor of international relations at Daitō Bunka University. In 1969, graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, where he studied Arabic. Joined the Pacific Aerial Survey Co. in 1975 and spent the next five years in the Middle East, where he picked up the basics of Arabic calligraphy. Continued to study calligraphy on his own after returning to Japan under the long-distance guidance of Turkish calligrapher Hasan Çelebi, from whom he received his “Ijaza” diploma as a master calligrapher in 2000. Has won numerous awards for his work, starting with the Jury’s Encouragement Prize at the 1990 International Arabic Calligraphy Contest. His published works include Pasupōto shokyū Arabiago jiten (The Passport Beginner’s Arabic Dictionary), Arabiago no nyūmon (An Introduction to Arabic) and Arabia moji o kaite miyō yonde miyō (Try Writing and Reading Arabic), as well as a collection of his calligraphy works titled Arabia shodō no uchū (The Universe of Arabic Calligraphy).

More: http://www.nippon.com/en/people/e00028/

Issey Miyake’s technology-driven clothing designs on view in Tokyo from artdaily.com

  • TOKYO.- An exhibition devoted to designer Issey Miyake is on view until June 13, 2016 at the National Art Center, Tokyo. The Center has considered design to be an important exhibition theme since it opened in 2007 and is devoted to presenting a wide range of artistic expressions and proposing new perspectives. This exhibition, Miyake Issey Exhibition: The Work of Miyake Issey, promises to be an unprecedented event, focusing on the entirety of Miyake’s 45-year career, from 1970 to the present.

    Miyake has consistently presented new methodologies and possibilities for making clothes, while always focusing on the future. It all began in 1960 when Miyake, a student at Tama Art University, sent a letter to the World Design Conference, which was being held for the first time in Japan that year. The letter took issue with the fact that clothing design was not included in the event. At that point, Miyake’s notion that clothing is not merely “fashion” ― i.e., something that changes with the times ― but a form of design that is closely connected to our lives on a much more universal level was already apparent. Miyake has always explored the relationship between a piece of cloth and the body, and the space that is created as a result, unrestricted by any existing framework. In addition, along with his team of designers, he persistently undertakes research and development to create clothing that combines both innovation and comfort.

    This exhibition sheds light on Miyake’s ideas about making things and his approach to design by examining his entire career, from his earliest work to his latest projects, and his explorations of greater creative possibilities in the future. This exhibition provides viewers with an opportunity to expand the boundaries of their thought and stimulate their creativity, allowing everyone, young and old alike, to experience the joy of creation.

 

Chiharu Shiota: Drawing Memories in the Air Posted by Priyanka Sachet

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.

Born in Osaka, Japan, Chiharu moved to Berlin, Germany in 1997, where she studied with Marina Abramovicand Rebecca Horn, forerunners of the performance art movement; she has exhibited all over the world, presenting her installation art in both solo and group exhibitions.

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.

While her work is largely rooted in the soil of her personal memories and concerned with theme of remembering and oblivion, it also sprouts and entwines itself with larger collective memories as well; one glimpses it in installations such as Dialogue from DNA in Krakow, Poland and which was subsequently recreated in Germany and Japan. Currently living and working in Germany, Chiharu reminisces about how it is linked to the time she returned to Japan three years after moving to Germany. “I wore my old shoes and experienced a curious situation; they didn’t fit me any more even though they were the same size. This sense of dislocation persisted even when I was interacting with my parents and old friends. Nothing specifically had changed – and yet, I felt differently about them,” she says.

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 has often remarked that working with thread is a bit like drawing in air. “When I began working as a painter, I felt that two-dimensional drawings were limiting me. I needed more space so I started working on installations and using thread in order to achieve a three dimensional drawing, so to speak. The threads since then have been a fundamental aspect of my work,” she says. These threads represent multiple meanings in her diverse output of work, whether of connections or ensnarement or opacity.
Apart from the threads embroidering the surface of Chiharu’s installation spaces, they are also home to objects which Chiharu frequently and quite literally weaves into her works; these objects are plucked from the quotidian, facilitating both the unspooling of a narrative while crucially being a narrative in themselves. They also signify absences, absences which become the works’ fundamental bedrock. “Specific objects inspire me when I experience a personal association or link with them as I did when putting on my old shoes. Abandoned objects are laden with even more memories and associations,” she mentions, suggesting that this surplus of memories adds further narrative texture to her work. “The object itself has a meaning, being a signifier and then my role would be to weave its memories and meaning together using the threads.”
Chiharu Shiota, During Sleep, (2004), Saint-Marie-Madeleine, Lille, France, Thread, Beds, Performers
Photographer: Sunhi Mang
While objects frequently figure as the central components of her installation works, her works are also distinctively body-oriented, as evidenced in works such as During Sleep, which features real-life women asleep on hospital beds and the space enshrouded in her customary fog of thread, bringing to forth gendered associations with the fairy-tale Sleeping Beauty.
She has also chosen to introduce her body as a vehicle of narrative into her works, two of her performances depicting herself with either mud being poured onto herself or naked and smeared with mud. She has also sewn her own umbilical cord into a work; this ultimate symbol of mother-child connection manifesting itself as one of the multiple threads of connections constituting her work. “There is presence in the center of absence; however, when I sometimes sense that there is still a touch of incompleteness, I then choose to put a body,” she says.
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.”

What she accomplishes through Trace of Memory is to render the house and its inhabitants’ memories visible. What we see as potential barriers in the form of the complex web-clouds of black web are in fact portals to the memories of the people which inhabited the house; we see the traces they leave behind of themselves through the objects that once belonged to them.  The thread-work immerses the house in a sea of remembering, the submarine quality ensuring that nothing is quite like what it is above in the open air. It also hints toward how people and events are altered when glimpsed through the veil of memory. If one were to shear away through the threads, allowing the cold, harsh of contemporary reality to fall upon it, the house will simply be reduced to an abandoned shell of a structure. Seen through the Chiharu’s intervention of thread-work, the house assumes another function of that of a memory portal.

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.
http://imowblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/chiharu-shiota-drawing-memories-in-air.html

The truth about the Japanese doll festival

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).

Image1Example of a modern Hina-doll display. Photo by © Y.Ohtsuka

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.

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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.

Image3Yōshu 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.

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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)
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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).

Image5Some 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)
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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.

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Chapter 5 of ‘The Tale of the Genji’ (源氏物語繪詞, Genji monogatari ekotoba), Naraehon manuscript, mid-17th century (British Library, Or.1278, f.18)
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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.

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Chapter 12 of ‘The Tale of the Genji’ (源氏物語繪詞, Genji monogatari ekotoba), Naraehon manuscript, mid-17th century (British Library, Or.1278, f.18)
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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.

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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.


Further reading

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

A Little Thing to Wear That Speaks Volumes ‘Kimono: A Modern History’ at the Met Tells Rich Stories Through Fabric By KAREN ROSENBERGDEC. 25, 2014 From The New York Times

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When clothing appears at the Metropolitan Museum, it’s typically a big to-do involving the Costume Institute, haute couture and numerous theatrical set pieces. (See, for instance, the current exhibition of Victorian mourning attire.) But “Kimono: A Modern History,” quietly folded into the museum’s Arts of Japan Galleries, is a different kind of fashion show.

It’s as stunning as anything the Costume Institute has to offer, with case after case of richly embroidered, dyed and printed robes. Its point of view, however, is more scholarly than sartorial. Really it’s a history of modern Japan, told through a garment with a simple T-shaped cut and a name that translates, simply, as “thing to wear.”

Despite its ceremonial, traditional reputation, the kimono belongs (and has always belonged) to a wider material culture that runs high to low and includes hanging scrolls, prints, books, magazines and decorative objects. Kimonos have even served as home décor, as seen in a pair of six-panel folding screens from the late 16th century that show pictures of robes draped over stands to form a makeshift room divider.

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Folding screens from the late 16th century. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Edo period kimono pattern books, displayed alongside contemporaneous woodblock prints of kimono-wearing actors and glamour girls, link kimonos to the theater and to a flourishing publishing industry. Men’s kimonos from the 1930s and ’40s, printed with airplanes and battleships, meanwhile, do double duty as war propaganda.

Throughout, the show revels in the versatility of the kimono — a garment worn by men and women, commoners and elite samurai, Westerners and the Japanese alike. Although the curators include some incredibly luxurious examples, like the sky-blue silk satin robe embroidered with gold shells that may have been part of a wealthy young woman’s trousseau, they also make room for coats worn by farmers and firefighters (which, to a contemporary eye, are just as fabulous with their patchworks of recycled fabric and printed figures from Japanese folklore).

Although the most sumptuous textiles in the exhibition date from the Edo period (1615-1868), the section on the subsequent Meiji period (1868-1912) is even more stimulating. It unfolds as a lively back-and-forth between Japanese kimono designers and their Western counterparts, made possible by the opening of Japan’s ports to international trade. Prints by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi set the scene, showing a mix of Western-style dresses and kimonos in of Yokohama, a port city.

A coral silk velvet evening coat by Jean-Charles Worth, a great-grandson of the Paris-based English designer Charles Frederick Worth, attests to the kimono’s appeal for fashionable Western women (especially those who had tired of the corset). Corsets and bustles, meanwhile, found their way into the wardrobes of high-ranking Japanese women.

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Prints depicting a period when corsets were au courant (just as kimonos were becoming popular in the West): top, “Nobility in the Evening Cool” (1887), and “Concert of European Music” (1889), bottom.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Materials and techniques were exchanged along with designs; wool traveled east and silk west, and a new, hybrid method of stencil dyeing, called kata-yuzen, evolved, enabling such gorgeous creations as a silk gauze kimono bordered by a summery scene of carp and waterlilies.

Synthetic Western dyes are responsible for the deep purples and other brilliant colors of kimonos of the Taisho period (1912-1926). And some early Showa period robes, from the 1920s and ’30s, borrow liberally from the stylized, swirling patterns of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

Other Showa kimonos flaunt aggressively modern, representational motifs: Leicas and Rolleiflex cameras, in a men’s under-kimono from 1955, or Mickey Mouse, in a midcentury child’s kimono. These mass-produced items, sold in department stores and suitable for everyday wear, stand in vivid contrast to the show’s older, handmade kimonos (which, by midcentury, had become sought-after collector’s items).

Inspired by and dedicated to the independent textile historian and scholar Terry Satsuki Milhaupt, who wrote the detailed and insightful book that is the show’s catalog, “Kimono” was organized by the Met’s curator of Japanese art, John T. Carpenter, and the curatorial fellow Monika Bincsik.

It concludes with kimono-inspired fashions from the 1950s through the early 1990s, by designers such as Bonnie Cashin, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, displayed alongside traditional kimonos made by Japanese artists who have been designated Living National Treasures. The show might have benefited from some more current examples; Mr. Miyake’s persimmon-colored shirt with long, spiraling sleeves, from 1991, is the most recent piece on view.

Fortunately, Ms. Milhaupt’s book (edited, after her death, by her widower, Curtis J. Milhaupt) offers an up-to-the-minute account of kimonos in contemporary culture, with nods to gatherings of kimono devotees in Ginza and Kyoto and kimono-promoting pop stars like Puffy AmiYumi. It also quotes some sage advice on kimono styling from Mr. Yamamoto, who reminds us not to get too fussy: “It’s only a kimono (meaning ‘material for wearing’).”