Saturday, 31 March 2012

Sogetsu Headquarter's Class

I had the opportunity to attend a class at the Sogetsu Headquarters earlier this week. It was great to experience the atmosphere and see the building that I've read so much about. Amongst many other things there is a large selection of interesting ikebana containers to choose between. It was especially nice since I recognized many of them from photos of Sogetsu arrangements.

The class was taught by Koka Fukushima, one of the master teachers at the headquarter. Since I'm not that used to Japanese plant materials I got to work with to kinds of typical Japanese branches, finding a way to arrange them that shows the character of both the materials. I had jet lag and was kind of stressed by the whole situation and wasn't that satisfied with the result of my work. At first it was really out of balance, but with a little help and advice I think it turned out acceptable. Sometimes you just have to accept that you did  your best under the circumstances, and anyway it was a great experience.

Sogetsu Tearoom

On the 5th floor of the Sogetsu building in Tokyo you'll find a beautiful Japanese tearoom, each week with flower arrangements by different Sogetsu artists. There is always one large arrangement centre front and one smaller in the tokonoma.

This week's ikebana arrangements are by Nakamura Sozan. The large arrangement has bamboo sticks and flowering branches and the smaller one red branches and yellow orchids. The sculpture to the right in the first picture is probably a sculpture by the founder of the Sogetsu School, Sofu Teshigahara.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Believing in the Power of Flowers

I had the privilege to see Iemoto Akane Teshigahara 10th Year Celebration Exhibition “Believing in the Power of Flowers” in Osaka a few days ago. As it was the last day of the exhibition and almost closing time I felt incredibly lucky, and even more so when I got to meet Akane Teshigahara in person. I'll share more pictures from this exceptional Sogetsu exhibition later, so please come back and enjoy!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Aurora Borealis

Limonium, Chrysanthemum and iridescent cellophane.

Photo: Wikipedia, United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Strang.

Abstract Scream

Edvard Munch's painting Scream is one of the most famous paintings in modern art history. Right now one version is up for sale in New York, expected to fetch $80 million or more. The painting is known in four versions.

Why do we love this picture full of horror? A man on a bridge, meeting other people but still alone in the world.

To me, the energy in the motive lies in the hands raised to his face, and in the emptiness of the gaping mouth. Of course the radiant colours also helps.

I was looking for flowers that could express the existential anxiety in the shape of grasping hands, but ended up using two tongs from my kitchen instead, a shiny metal pasta tong and a red plastic salad server similar in shape. It's like they don't belong in the mass of flowers, and jet they fit in. The emptiness of the cry is expressed by the space in between the two openings of the vase.

Abstract interpretation.
Trachelium, Limonium and Roses,
metal pasta tongs and plastic salad tongs.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Kawana in Moscow - Waterfall 2005

Nice video featuring Tetsunori Kawana, master teacher of the Sogetsu School, from his installation "Waterfall" in Moscow 2005. It's in Japanese and Russian but it's interesting to follow the construction of the installation even if you, like me, don't understand what they are saying. As usual Kawana works with a group of local volunteers on the construction.

More on Tetsunori Kawana here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Landscape Interpretations

Naturalistic interpretation of a landscape photo.
Driftwood, birch branches and Ranunculus.

Freestyle ikebana is a lot about interpreting the surroundings, the space or situation that the arrangement is going to relate to because it will be placed in a certain spot, or because it will be commenting on a specific occasion or an object in the room. The interpretation is a personal work by the ikebana artist in which one can use different styles, materials, forms etc.

As a practice I was challenged to interpret a landscape photo from a calendar, making first a naturalistic arrangement and then an abstract interpretation of the same photo. This was great fun and a good exercise. It opens the eyes to the many possibilities we have, being surrounded by so many materials of different colours and shape. Life is a lot about choosing to use one possibility and let others wait for another time.

Abstract interpretation.
Dried Aspidistra, two types of white Chrysanthemum,
pine, black and blue plastic.

This last picture is the photo from the calendar that I got to work with. The text is an Albert Camus quote in Norwegian about friendship and about walking side by side, so that was also part of what had to be interpreted.

“Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
Albert Camus

Monday, 19 March 2012

Under the Cinnamon Moon

Browsing for new ikebana videos on YouTube I came across a presentation by California based ceramicist Barbara Stevens Strauss speaking about the Japanese influence on her art, through her study of Ikebana, Chanoyu, Raku firing, and Zen. It's recorded at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco on the occasion of her one-woman show opening "Under the Cinnamon Moon: Japanese Inspired Sculpture".

I found this personal talk to be a quite inspiring story and wanted to share it with you all. The whole presentation takes 45 minutes and is divided into 4 videos. If you have limited time I recommend video 2 in which Ms Stevens Strauss talks about her present ikebana teacher Soho Sakai of the Sogetsu School. I've referred to the Soho Study Group in a previous blog post. It's of course easier to follow the story if you can also set aside time to watch video 1, featured in this blog post.

Barbara Stevens Strauss makes raku ceramics and also practices and teaches chabana, tea flowers. As many of you know I am a big fan of both raku and chabana. Let's hope we'll see more from Strauss in the future.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Porcelain Bamboo Vase

Red Lilies and Ranunculus.

This is another of my new vases. It's a porcelain vase made by my friend Brigitte Schneider of Atelier Tokibana. Bamboo vases are among the most traditional of ikebana vases. Some people say they were first introduced by the great tea master Rikyu to match the humble esthetics of his tea style. I don't think Rikyu would agree with porcelain bamboo vases, but who knows? Although this one is brand new it gives me a retro feeling that I like. I guess it's the hand painted glaze and the slightly uneven shape that makes it.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Winter Again

Birch branches and Ranunculus.

The shiftings of the seasons are really a resource in ikebana. The atmosphere indoors should be in harmony, not in conflict with the season outdoors or even with todays weather. There is no use fighting what's out there, so why not rather work within the time of year and appreciate every season.

In the flower shops in Oslo everything is spring and pink these days. Peach and cherry blossom branches have been for sale for some weeks already. I can appreciate that spring flowers makes people happy, for ikebana use however it's far too early. Yesterday the snow was back after a week with warm weather. Now everything is again covered in a bright white duvet.

These Ranunculus looks a bit like snow balls to me. The arrangement is a basic upright in a shallow bowl showing off the water. This is actually one of my newest containers. It's a Swedish midcentury bowl by renown ceramist Carl-Harry Stålhane. It's the first time I'm using it and I love the egg shell feeling of it.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Performance Video 0047

The video from the performance at 0047 is now on YouTube. The performance was originally 25 minutes long so this is a slightly edited version. The ocean sound in the background comes from a motion sensor that is part of the exhibition. The music has been added later.

This ikebana performance was part of the opening reception of the exhibition "Lords of the capital, why not remain here and lengthen your days?", Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas at gallery 0047 in Oslo (Norway), February 17, 2012.

Shopping for Flowers

Flower seller, Kiyonobu
Kobori Sojitsu is the present Grand Master of the Enshu Sado School. He is the 13th in a long line of grand masters and inherited the responsibility for the tea ceremony tradition from his father. I found this charming little story in his column "Leaves from a Tea-Journal" on the Enshu Sado website. It's about a son's experience of going shopping for flowers with his father, the respected grand master of a tea school:

I would go to a flower shop with my father and listen to conversation between its shop owner and my father. It is only once in a year when my father went to the flower shop all the way. I remember very well that shop staffs to welcome us were so nervous along with courteous attention, much more the owner who had to directly conversation with him. 
In terms of shopping for the first-three days of the New Year, there is one unforgettable thing about my father: He has never misspent money. It seems to be easy to execute but actually it’s not. For one thing, when he looked at flowers, he observed and assessed what these flowers could be in upcoming 3 or 4 days and finally bought them. Since they were always right, his predictions impressed me a lot back in those days.

To me this little story has a special atmosphere of the old world about it. I don't know much about Japanese flower shops, but I can almost see the son and the shop staff following the examination and conversation leading to the decision on what flowers will be perfect for the respective day of the upcoming new years celebration.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Chabana Enshu Style

One of the main settings for Japanese flower arranging is the Tea Ceremony. I have discussed the relation between ikebana and chabana (tea flowers) in an earlier blog post. To me it looks like the tea practitioners are more likely to focus on the differences than ikebana practitioners are. These two quotations from Wikipedia gives a nuanced tea ceremony perspective on chabana:

Chabana evolved from the "free-form" style of ikebana called nageire (投げ入れ?), literally "throw (it) in", which was used by early tea masters. Chabana is said, depending upon the source, to have been either developed or championed by Sen no Rikyū. He is said to have taught that chabana should give the viewer the same impression that those flowers naturally would give if they were [still] growing outdoors, in nature.
(Wikipedia search: Japanese tea ceremony March 6, 2012)
A less formal style of Ikebana arrangement was added to the more stylized rikka arrangement and was called nageire, or thrown in style. This new style had fewer rules and appealed to those who were searching for a more simple and natural look. Early tea masters used the nageire style until it further divided into the seika, pure chabana, tea flower, styles. The chabana style, with no formal written rules, became the standard style of arrangement for Chanoyu.
(Wikipedia search: Chabana March 6, 2012)

Although it is true that the ideal is simplicity and a less formal style, there are probably even more rules for chabana than there are for other Japanese flower arranging. This is because chabana is always integrated in the tea ceremony and follows the rules and grades of formality that are so essential to this tradition.

The beauty of simplicity always strikes me when i see a good chabana arrangement. I came across the website of the Enshu Sado School of tea, and their picture gallery with "flowers for a tea occasion". Have a look if you like tea flowers. The pictures are beautiful and there are also comments on what flowers to use. The Japanese site is more recently updated than the English translation so that will be the best place to look. I used google translator for the comments and that worked fine.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Exhibition Photos - 2 Weeks Later

One of the ideas behind Aeron Bergman and Alejandra Salinas' exhibition is to explore the durability of ideas and materials. This is what the ikebana arrangements look like two weeks after the opening. The flowers are gone. Some of the leaves are still there, and new green leaves have sprung on the birch branches.

Elegant Potatoes

Scallions with savoy cabbage, mini aubergine and fingerling potatoes.

This will be the last ikebana arrangement in this weeks fruit and vegetable series. Slightly curved, elegant lines in black and green, and a mass of yellow potatoes. The materials are fixed with wire.

As my sensei pointed out it would have been great if the potatoes had grown sprouts. That would really have added the fun and interesting extra touch to the arrangement. As it is, it's quite close to being a traditional morimono arrangement and maybe not so much as a sculptural freestyle. Either way, I like the elegant black and green emphasized by this tall Japanese vase. The fingerling potatoes are nice this way too.

Who says you can't play with your food? I hope you have enjoyed the results of my excursions in the grocery store. That's all for now.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Neon Ginger Yellow

Ginger and pomegranate with peppers and coloured hemp bast.

Do you recognize the ginger root? I think you agree with me that it has a more interesting appearance in this arrangement. It was a bit dull in the morimono on a wooden tray that I posted earlier this week.

I've cut away a piece of the pomegranate to make it less heavy and also to show the interesting inside of the fruit. The neon yellow peppers ads a nice contrast, and the coloured hemp bast helps getting the best out of the ginger.

The main materials, ginger and pomegranate, makes up a freestyle variation no. 4 (leaving out the Soe). The contrasting colours, greenish yellow and purple-red, are also an important aspect of this arrangement.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Crazy Purple

Scallion with purple raffia bast, savoy cabbage and turnips.

Savoy cabbage has a lovely green colour and a very interesting texture. Turnips has a somewhat similar shape but a totally different character, even though the sprouts are the same green colour. The green of the savoy cabbage and the purple of the turnips gave me the idea to create a composition making use of contrasting colours. In addition I've used curved lines and mass, and also dried and coloured materials that emphasizes the colour contrast and supports the shape of the scallion.

This is not a regular morimono arrangement, but more a sculptural free style ikebana with vegetables. The thing about this kind of composition is to forget about the food aspect and concentrate on the shape and character of the vegetables. If there is a surprising twist that is also a good thing.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Fruit in Tall Vase

Lemon grass, black grapes and lime with longan fruits.

Although morimono is a variation of arrangements placed on a flat surface, it can also be done in a tall vase. In this example from a few years ago I've used straight lines in a triangular shape combined with circular forms. The fruits are fixed with wire and dropstick kubari.

More Morimono

While I'm at it, I'm posting a few old pictures of morimono arrangements. I apologize for the photo quality and hope that you'll find them inspiring.

Turnips, mini aubergine and shallot on a Japanese bamboo shovel.

Branch, Artichokes and turnip, with freesia and silk butterfly.

Branch and apples, with antique Chinese butterfly (variation no. 4).

Leek, artichokes and mini aubergines on a Japanese lacquer tray.

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