Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and the student
are located in the same individual.
– Arthur Koestler
Today I remember the birthday of my late father. And although I wasn’t yet two years of age when it occurred, I bow my head in remembrance of Hiroshima Day today.
Once, on Dad’s birthday, I asked him how it felt to have his birthday fall on the same date as the bombing of Hiroshima (he was a soldier in the Second World War) and he took a long time to say anything. Eventually he sighed and said, “It was the war, dear.”
Oh, the sorrow in that little sentence!
Rather than a ‘detail’, today I’m posting a work called triptych 06.08.45. It was made in 1988; I have no high resolution file for it, and I apologize for the poor quality of the image.
dip-dyeing, painting, stitching, wrapping, binding, assemblage
silk Dupion, silk thread, card, direct dyes
1500 x 800, private collection, Nelson, Aotearoa New Zealand
Japanese washi, silver threads, cardboard stand
I find the fragile beauty of Japanese handmade washi irresistible and came home from Japan laden with sheets of all kinds. Actually it’s much sturdier than it appears. Not quite strong enough for bowl-making, however. How could it be stiffened, strengthened?
I decided to do some research and unearthed an old Chinese recipe used to stiffen silk for flower making. A few dozen experiments and many failures later I had devised a recipe that enabled me to make bowls using just one layer of washi. The diaphanous quality of the paper was preserved, and the bowls held their shape. Stitching sometimes appears, but seldom for construction purposes.
The bowls each have their own small base, and a storage box – just as do traditional tea ceremony bowls.
Why bowls? To spend time in Japan, to participate in the rituals of tea making, serving, and drinking, is to enter another entire mindscape. Coupling this with contemplation on the paradox of form and emptiness is a deep and profoundly awareness-enhancing practice. Bowls can be potent teachers.
offering to aizen-myoo
460 x 460
dip-dyeing, braiding, painting, stitching, assemblage
Japanese washi, indigo dye, cotton threads, bamboo stick, cardboard box
Hiroyuki Shindo’s indigo vats are set into the ground in groups of four in the traditional manner, with a small hibachi at the center of each group to keep the earth warm in the freezing winter months. [See song for Shindo-sensei]
The organic vats are fed with saki, rice bran and honey. Indigo dye-baths are similar to a yoghurt culture – they are alive and they must be fed. They are sensitive; kept happy they will produce a range of blues from soft turquoise to the deepest tones of a moonless night. Eventually they will become exhausted, the quality of hue they produce will deteriorate and they will die. Then the residue will go on the garden.
High up on the studio wall sits a little altar with a dip-dyed washi kimono and other offerings. I ask Shindo-sensei about this small shrine.
“The first dip in the fresh vats at New Year is always offered to Aizen-Myoo, the protector of the vats,” he explains. The small dip-dyed kimono was Shindo-sensei’s first dip for that year, and the other offerings of riceballs and saki are replaced daily. This very contemporary Japanese artisan takes no chances …
This is my small offering to Aizen-Myoo, tucked up in a wonderbox*. The washi was dyed in Shindo-sensei’s vat, and the background cloth is a fragment from a Kyoto market. The cotton threads braided to make the ‘rope’ were also dyed with organic indigo.
* My wonderboxes are little altars where the small and often overlooked miracles of life get to find a home. I’ve been making them for as long as I remember – the earliest ones were hidden inside shoe boxes and you had to peek through a tiny hole to view them.
song for Shindo-sensei
550 x 920
ai-zome (indigo) and shibori dyeing
hand-woven ramie, bamboo, cotton cord,
Hiroyuki Shindo is internationally famous for the indescribable indigo hue he achieves from his fully organic vats. (So organic that when they are exhausted, he uses the residue to fertilize his organic vegie patch.)
During my sojourn in Japan on a Study Fellowship from the NZ Arts Council I joined him for a workshop at his home in Miyama, three hours from Kyoto, learning some of the idiosyncrasies of biodynamic ai-zome dyeing: feeding the smelly green vats with honey, rice bran and sake, offering prayers to the deities that watch over the vats, wallowing in wonder at the quality of the color that appeared on the cloth as the air reduced the dyestuff…
In the work shown above, the background fabric is hand woven ramie, dip-dyed in one of Shindo-sensei’s vats. I worked a shibori border on the piece of cloth that would become the panel. The small red object is a silk-wrapped prayer votive from a temple shrine.
Shindo-sensei’s ai-zome vats
Ai can mean indigo blue or it can mean love. Watching Shindo-sensei at work and seeing the results of his patient labors, one has the sense that, in his life, the two meanings merge into one.
Shindigo Space 07
Hiroyuki Shindo – aizome and shibori
Shindo-sensei’s home in Miyama