Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Aino Kajiniemi

Aino Kajaniemi (born 1953) lives with her family in the beautiful central lake district of Finland. It is the house that she grew up in, and her studio is in the cellar. The rhythms of nature and everyday life influence her work. Her images of female protagonists, shown in the midst of thought or caught in interior monologues, are as assured as the line drawings of women made by modernist painter, Henri Matisse.

“The subjects of my work usually originate from the innermost heart of a human being; sorrow, joy, uncertainty, guilt, tenderness, memories, and so forth.” The eyes of her subjects look down, off to the side, or into themselves. This invites the viewer to consider beyond the picture and build a narrative that passes through and between the woman in the tapestry and the interiority of the viewer. Kajaniemi’s subjects are not passive women offering themselves up to be gazed upon, they are intently involved with their inner lives and this self involvement inspires a similar participation within the viewer. Kajaniemi usually produces eight to ten small tapestries that are displayed together in order to give multiple perspectives. She uses the difficult and labour intensive technique of tapestry weaving. She selects which aspects of her narrative will be hidden and which will be revealed. Yarns are interwoven and carefully considered and the process is painstaking. Craftsmanship is important to Aino Kajaniemi. Her line is controlled, yet dramatic, nervous, and spontaneous.

“My textiles are my way of thinking. I appreciate simplicity, but I work things out in a complicated way. " Yet her work has a swift and easy look, as if it was just a sketch. To achieve this casual look, she does many pre-sketches beforehand. She may draw the same idea over and over, ensuring that the composition is interesting and that the subtle glance of the subject is emotional. Eventually she translates the sketch to the loom and uses a single line of black wool to weave her idea into white or natural backgrounds always allowing for changes that may arise.
Her work never loses the feeling that it is just an easy sketch, made quickly when the subject was caught unaware in a reflective moment. The idea of lace or lace-like pattern appears often in her work. These spaces, lines, curves and floral shapes translate a feminine, fragile sensibility and contrast with the pared down, almost tough, tapestry weave. Out of place colours and different weights of yarns are added and disrupt the even warp and weft. We remember that cloth eventually wears out after time because this work seems to hold its own destruction within itself. It appears to be something old that has been mended, and eventually, some time in the future, it will wear away.

“I get all my threads from flea markets now” she said in 2008 which explains the surprising tones and materials that enliven her new work. This up-cycling of used or surplus materials is an ethical decision. Our current material culture is ‘awash in plenty’. Kajaniemi’s pared down imagery and slow intent sings of order within the disorder of our wasteful world. A sense of isolation is palpable in her work, relating perhaps to the loneliness of the beautiful Finnish language, unique in Europe.

“Weaving is finding”

After 30 years she still allows the weaving itself to make unexpected decisions and avoids complete mastery. If, as Rilke proposes, poetry’s purpose is to address the natural growth of a human’s inner life then these weavings are poems.

All images are from the artist's website.
Text is from my 2010 BFA dissertation, "The Immensity Within Ourselves" for Julia Caprara School of Textile Arts.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Noriko Narahira

Noriko Narahira was born in 1948 near the tragic war zone of Hiroshima. Everyone there had experienced loss, and this underlying horror must surely inform her work although she never refers to it. Instead she speaks about the influence of nature.

When she was a student Noriko Narahira lived and worked very close to an unspoiled natural area. Aware of the rhythms and cycles of nature, the sounds of rustling grasses, leaves and birdsong, those feelings of soft air has never left her.

“My perception of nature has been the main inspiration for my work.”

Eastern meditation practice informs her work, demonstrated in the attention Narahira pays to intervals, small differences, and breath. The physical repetitive activities of wrapping and stitching do not attempt to conquer time but instead allow her to be at one with its flow. The repetition is meditative.
Some pieces marry elements of Japanese daily life such as the colourful printed kimono, obi and koinobori, (hanging streamers that catch the breeze) to the elegance and fragility of European lace. As in lace, it is the voids and spaces in her work that are the most important design elements. sound of nature, printed cotton, organza, polyester thread, 1994

“There is no tradition of lace making in Japan, but my perspective is Japanese. I wanted to bring this to my work in lace.”

In her installation, sound of nature, twig-like rolled and stitched pieces of printed cloth are collected loosely together as if from the forest floor into airy panels held together with delicate threads. There is as much open space as connecting thread. The small linear elements outline large circular voids or mass together to form large leaf or ark shapes. Everything emerges organically from a chaos of seemingly unorganized threads in an all over composition of emptiness and slender broken lines. Human sized, the work hangs from the ceiling and casts mysterious and ephemeral shadows. scene of white, felt, organza, polyester mesh, polyester thread, each dress life sized, 1999


hanging in the air

white wind of the atomic bomb

Noriko Narahira also stitches into wool felt, distorting the fabric by covering it completely with stitch and pierced or slashed holes. The intensive stitching activates and distorts the surface and connects her work to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi which teaches the acceptance of transience and that beauty is in imperfection, impermanence, and decay. In Scene of White a series of five white dress-like shapes hang in a semi circle from the ceiling. They hover. They seem like angels, each different. One has zigzag points coming out of one side, others are longer, curvier, another has a large ellipse made of unstitched sheer organza where the chest would be. All have been slit, slashed or punctured with holes.
It is the central dress shape in this series that drew me to Noriko Narahira’s work. A mummy shape, wrapped and with a useless arm, rent and slashed through the torso, it is full of holes. Punctured, some flesh coloured areas of stitch are revealed in the middle area.

Wrapped, swaddled
With its own death
Held tight

Personally, this piece is one of the most emotional pieces of stitched art I have ever experienced. It recalls for me a vision of my mother when she lay dying. So still, propped by pillows, wrapped in sheets, her bones so brittle that they broke for no reason, her closed face and the emotions of that time in my life resurface Yet, at the same time, this piece makes me think about what it must have been like in Hiroshima at the end of the war. What was it like for the maker of this piece? I go back and forth, distracted and spell bound, lost in the surface and shape, perfect just as it is.

While the maker may have had a conscious intent, art quite often has a completely different message for the viewer. Each of us is unique, sustained by our own experiences. When art touches something buried deep in the memory of the individual viewer, it connects on an emotional level. Ephemeral, fragile, unsettled, hanging free, Narahira’s work connects with the viewer’s psyche enabling contemplation and accessing of the inner self.
However, it is prudent to remember Lesley Millar’s advice to Western audiences about the Japanese aesthetic before finding metaphor.

“Japanese artists are very concerned with structure and materials. Their concerns lie with respecting the harmony of nature and creating something which is very beautiful but which contains no other meaning. The context is purely the harmony achieved, whereas for many western textile artists the context is much more concerned with contemporary debate” Lesley Mllar

The images in this post are all taken from Telos Art Publishing's excellent
Textiles of the World Japan Volume 2.

The text is from my December 2010 B.A. dissertation for Julia Caprara School of Textile Arts.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kyoko Kumai

air cube, stainless steel filament

Some moments in nature happen so quickly and then they are gone. The rush, harmony and togetherness of a moving flock of birds is one example, so emotional and uplifting to watch. Another such sight is when wind pushes grasses over and over as it ripples a field, making the air otherwise invisible, visible. These kinds of things, common in nature, are nearly impossible to capture in a painting or a photo, but we remember them forever.
Kyoko Kumai (born 1943) says that she remembers these kinds of things with “memories in my cells that have four billion years.”

There are things that we are consciously influenced by and others that we are unconsciously aware of. The interconnectedness between the land, the air, and humanity is one of the latter. Blowing in the wind 1985 - 1987

It is her attempt to bring forth that unconscious memory without regard to academic theory or traditional materials that is so astounding. Her quest for whatever technique or material that might work led Kyoko Kumai to eventually find a way through trial and error. Although she had studied weaving she needed to develop her own technique of interlacing and knotting the steel filament. The natural effects of gravity had to be overcome.

She was able to eventually succeed in the late 80’s and has continued honing her own technique of making visible what is invisible. Such works then achieve a powerful connection with the viewer’s invisible inner self. blowing in the wind 1988

"I have been making things that I myself hope to see, and have never seen before”

The use of stainless steel filament, a comparatively new man made material to create her representations of wind blowing over grass is innovative and practical. Her work can cover a floor in a gallery, be spread outside in the courtyard or be contained, bunched up and draped over walls in a relatively small space. Embedded in all her work are the repetitive physical body movements that she must make over and over during a long period of time.
Although the employment of an industrial material to represent nature is ironic, she does not use it for that reason. Her purpose is more representational. For example, in blowing in the wind (1988) the viewer is able to experience a gust of wind blowing over a huge field and the fact that the grass is actually stainless steel filament does not matter. This small chunk of represented grass and earth seems to go on forever in the viewer’s imagination, because we recall it. We recognize it and can imagine a kind of infinity in the repeated, narrow organic and tactile shapes. We recognize and we imagine because of her hours of repeated activity. the wind blowing over the grass 1999, stainless steel filament

Egg shaped and circular forms from wrappings of stainless steel filament are another direction for Kyoko Kumai. Displayed piled up into tower forms, or stuffed into small rooms, they bring to mind the crush of humanity that must be part of the artist’s experience in over populated Japan. sen man na yu ta-ga 1996

Her work enables the wonder and awe that one experiences occasionally in nature. We recall moments glimpsed from train or car windows. Things become visible that are usually invisible. Kyoko Kumai’s use of stainless steel filament to depict the grasses found in nature is an example of how her intuitive approach led her practice. Although the employment of an industrial material to represent nature is ironic, in blowing in the wind (1988) the viewer is able to experience a gust of wind blowing over a huge field and the fact that the grass is actually stainless steel filament does not matter. It is the small differences in each detail that, we can see that these grasses go beyond the chunk of detail Kyoko has given us – it’s infinite the grass. We recognize and we imagine because of her unendable activity. The quintessential way that Japanese artists work is intuitively rather than intellectually. Academics in the UK were startled out of their preferred theoretical approach when Kyoko Kumai exhibited in Textural Space, a show that toured Britain in 2001.

“Pattern, colour, form as well as monumentality and lightness are all derived from the patient and repetitive manipulation of stainless steel filament. While the economy and approach suggests a minimalist approach it belies a lingering emotional charge.” Martina Murgetts

She enables the wonder and awe that one experiences occasionally in nature. We recall moments glimpsed from train or car windows. Things become visible that are usually invisible.

Her work connects with her viewer’s deep memory and gives it back to that individual. Her work sets the mind free.

All images are from Telos Art Publishing's book Art Textiles of the World Japan 2.
The text is from my 2010 dissertation for JC Textile Arts - The Immensity Within Ourselves.