Monday, November 28, 2016

Somé - Dyeing the Australian Environment

In August/September this year I was lucky enough to be invited to hold a solo exhibition of my work at the Japan Foundation Gallery in Sydney. It was titled "Somé - Dyeing the Australian Environment".
It's been a long while coming but here are some images from the show.

I made some new work for this show, a large noren for the entry to the gallery space and a series of pieces called "The Beautiful Weeds of Canberra".

Entrance to the exhibition. "A Hearty Welcome" on left

I called the noren "A Hearty Welcome", referencing its function as a gateway to the exhibition. I dyed it using katazome on hemp fabric which I sourced in Australia. Previously I'd dyed several noren but on Japanese linens which have a certain stiff feel to them and are rather open weaves so that a glimmer of the space behind the curtain is also visible. I'm yet to find a fabric with similar qualities in Australia but the hemp fabric was a new experiment using a natural looking slubby cellulose fibre. It's a little softer than I would like, as it creases easily and softens in the washing stage of katazome.

The noren was tied back during the opening event - Photo by Document Photography
The imagery I used for the stencil was of the droopy branches of Eucalyptus Cinerea (Argyle Apple). I've used them as subject matter before because I love their dusty blue-green leaves with their almost circular forms. They really lend themselves to being carved into a silhouette-y stencil.

The other new work I produced was a series I've been calling "The Beautiful Weeds of Canberra". I've become even more obsessed with weeds since starting these pieces but the idea behind them is that our natural environment is a composite of all kinds of species native and otherwise. When you look closer you realise that a good many of them are actually "weeds" but to me they are familiar parts of the landscape and also quite beautiful in their own right. 

Keeping a little distance from the complex conservation and environmental problems connected with "weeds" I'm trying to just depict them in all their weedy glory - kind of weed portraits.

This is a series I will be further developing and expanding for future exhibitions but the initial weeds I've dyed are Wild Blackberry, Rosehip, Umbrella Sedges and Japanese Honeysuckle. For these pieces I used vibrant acid dyes to dye the weeds themselves - true to nature- and applied natural dyes as the background colour. I really like the russets and orange tones you can extract from local eucalyptus varieties and onion skins so I've used a combination of these against the vibrant colours of the weeds I chose.

Blackberries and Sedges - first trials in "the Beautiful Weeds of Canberra" series.

Japanese Honeysuckle - Beautiful Weeds of Canberra. A garden favourite in Japan but a creeping weed in South East Australia.

For future pieces I'm planning on featuring many many more beautiful weeds and trying to get even deeper, richer background colours. I've also started research for a series on "the Beautiful Weeds of Kyoto". It's interesting to see which weeds overlap with Australia; the weeds which we "share". It's also cool finding those species which are natives in Australia but invasive in Japan or the reverse. I think there's some deeper subject you could read into that if you chose to. 

detail of "Sedges" - Beautiful Weeds of Canberra Series. 2016
Anyway, back to my exhibition in Sydney, the general response from the audience was really good. I had never shown work in Sydney, let alone so many pieces all at once before, so it was great to come across all these people who I'd never have had the chance to meet. I held a floor talk and two workshops whilst I was there too. Both went really well. It was my first time to hold workshops with so many participants but everyone was very enthusiastic and got great results.
Each participant dyed two washi postcards using powdered pigments.

looking like a pro giving my floortalk for Japan Foundation Members before the opening

during the opening

the opening

workshops underway


Participants results from the workshops. really nice!!
It would be nice to do more workshops in future, maybe on less of a tight schedule next time!

Anyway, I'm now working towards new things for 2017. A few exhibitions on the horizon so I have to get making! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Somé no Bunka - Fukumoto Shigeki's introduction to the unique magic of Somé

It took me many months to read, but I successfully worked my way through a book by Japanese artist and researcher Fukumoto Shigeki called "Somé no Bunka", or "The Culture of Dyeing".

Part of the motivation behind my exhibition (and especially the choice of title) last month at the Japan Foundation in Sydney was to introduce more people to the genre of somé. Somé means 'dyeing' in Japanese and the term separates it from other forms of textiles. 

In Japanese it is common practice to divide the field of textiles into dyeing and weaving (somé & ori 染め、織り). The name of the textiles course in many Japanese universities is senshoku (dyeing and weaving 染織) which is the just a different reading of the characters for somé+ori.

Somé is different from weaving, obviously, but it is also distinct from surface design or 'textiles'. It's a complicated division and of course there are overlaps but Fukumoto's book reiterates the unique history and way of thinking behind Somé.

Fukumoto is a practitioner and proponent of Textile dyeing. His own work is diverse but is characterised by free-form dyeing with gradations, folds and wax resist.

This is a beautiful video showing him and one of his techniques. I have to say it's a little bit contradictory to the things he says about flatness and tactility but it's interesting nonetheless.

I thought I might translate a few short passages from Somé no Bunka here for you. (Please excuse the Engrish-y feel of them!)

"There is a curious pleasure to be found in dyeing work, almost without realising. It’s something you sense during the actual work of the dyeing process; a joy perhaps only privy to those who’ve tried it. 

There’s the feeling of pleasure when impurities and excess dyes are washed away. Or in the final rinse, one feels a sense of accomplishment as the dye stops running from the fabric and the water runs clear.
You see the vibrancy of the dyed colours in the soaking fabric.
Relaxing the fabric with steam, it becomes supple and fresh again.
Touching the freshly dyed fabric, and knowing it is clean and clear of impurities is a joyous moment.
As well as the many possible dye-effects, there is a satisfaction in knowing the finished artwork is still simply a single piece of cloth. 
There is a joy not simply the making of the work, but also in the sensation of touching it with the skin.
I question that perhaps I enjoy this too much."

Regarding mounting textiles ↓

"Dyeing requires cloth and dye
Unlike painting with pigments, for example, dyeing is borne of the need to fix colour onto cloth without spoiling the fabric's characteristics. 
That is, the basis of dyeing is using methods that don't alter the feel of the cloth.

If you go and frame or mount a dyed piece of fabric, it becomes a flat artwork. That piece of cloth is transformed into a mere surface and it loses its meaning as a soft, pliable cloth.
If it's an illusory flat surface you want, what's wrong with using canvas, or paper, wooden board or a wall?
If you insist on using fabric even though the final product will be hard and flat, what's the point of going to all that trouble dyeing it to maintain it's fabric qualities? You're probably not interested in the tactility of the cloth - the direct interaction with the skin.
 In which case, your choice to insist on using fabric is nonsense."

- YEAH! you tell 'em Mr Fukumoto!

He also goes into a lot of depth regarding the relationship between Japan's dyeing history and culture and European and American understandings of dyeing. He is particularly scrupulous about the Surface Design Association in the U.S and their development from a weaving-dominated association to one that covers all kinds of textiles. I think Australia went through a very similar progression, from crafts-based textile skills, to 1960's/1970's free-form fibre-work and dyeing to a contemporary Textile scene we see today.

Though Dyeing tends to be subsumed under the heading of Surface Design in Australia and the U.S, Fukumoto maintains that Somé and Surface Design are not one and the same. He advocates using the word Somé as an alternative, to avoid the inevitable connotations of words like Textile Design, Surface Design or Fibre Art.

He's actually quite adamant, "Sashimi, Karate, Anime and Shibori are already incorporated into our internationalising vocabulary. Why not just call it Somé? Japanese dyeing culture is highly regarded around the world. If people are so enthusiastic about learning those traditions and skills, first they should just use the word Somé!!"

I would love to share more of his writing in future posts - but for now just these tasters!

-- keep an eye out, I hope to post images from my exhibition in the near future!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

It's all in the details.... The Making of Katazome and Yuzen works for my new exhibition! 型染と友禅での新作~工程動画

After some reluctance, much procrastination and a lot of shaky filming, I bring you some short video clips that give some insight into the processes I use in making my work. Katazome and Yuzen are mixed together in these but I have made them abstract on purpose - I just want to show the many and diverse steps in making a piece using these traditional methods. I hope you enjoy them!

Here's part one and two

and here's where these works will be on show from the 13th of August (one week from now!!)