Sunday 26 September 2010

Plastic is Fantastic

One of the new features in ikebana introduced by Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu school, was abstract freestyle arrangements using nonorganic materials. Sofu, who was fascinated by modern western avant-garde movements such as Cubism and Surrealism, started experimenting with what he called avant-garde ikebana, or Zenei-bana, at the end of the 1920s, using scrap metal and other unconventional materials.

Although Sogetsu ikebana is again turning to more naturalistic arrangements, the avant-garde ikebana is still an important style. I was handed a plastic chopping board by my teacher to be used as the main material for a series of ikebana arrangements. As many variations as possible using one Aspidistra leaf, two Carnations and three straws of Bear grass in a green on green composition.

The Story of a Tea House

Not far from the city centre of Stockholm, Sweden - in the park outside The Museum of Ethnography, you can enjoy a genuine tea ceremony in the Japanese tea house named Zui-Ki-Tei, The Cottage of Auspicious Light. This tea house was built in 1990 as a replacement for an earlier tea house that unfortunately burned to the ground in 1969. This early tea house has an interesting and fascinating history.

In 1888 a young Swedish woman named Ida Trotzig moved to Japan to live with her newly wedded husband who was a Swedish businessman in Kobe. She stayed for more than 30 years, studied Japanese culture and wrote a book on tea ceremony that was published in Sweden in 1911. She studied for many years with the Omotesenke School of tea.

After publishing her book on tea ceremony she decided to take up ikebana studies and was accepted, probably as the first European, by the Misho school in Kyoto. When she died in 1943, a manusrcipt for a book on ikeabana dating from the 1920s was discovered. She was especially interested in the symbolism and culture of arranging flowers, and the book that was finally published in Swedish in 1990 gives a good insight into ikebana theaching in the early 1900s.

Through the eyes of a westerner, Trotzig experiences the magic of an ikebana exhibition held in the spring of 1915, at Saga Gosho in the old temple Daikaku-ji. At first, she writes, the many traditional flower arrangments that were being prepared in front of her eyes looked the same. Only when she looked closer, the many details made each of the arrangemnets uniqe and special.

Trotzig studied thoroughly and got the highest degree of the Misho school that was open to women at this time. Only men could reach the highest levels and the tradition was treated as secret teachings thought trough the different steps.

To Ida Trotzig there was an obvious and close relation between the arranging of flowers and the practice of tea ceremony. After moving back to Sweden she became a driving force behind the building of a the first teahouse in Europe. This was the first Zui-Ki-Tei in the garden of The Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, inaugurated in 1935.

Ida Trotzig: Japansk blomsterkonst, bokförlaget Signum 1990, ISBN 91-87896-04-4
Gaby Stenberg: Ida Trotzig, min mormor, Japanpionjären, Ellerströms förlag 2009, ISBN 9172472162

Saturday 18 September 2010

Leftover Sunbeams

It's kind of chilly outside. Still, if you are lucky enough to get in the way of a sunbeam you'll feel the warmth. It's almost like leftovers from the hot summer days.

I had some Sunflowers that I used in the ikebana class, and decided to let them light up my dinner table to remind me to make the most out of the sunny moments.

Floating ishu-ike (one material only) arrangement with Sunflowers in a triangular container.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Earthy Colours

Summer is over and I'm taking up my ikebana studies again. Early autumn with clear air, a lot of moist, and if you are lucky - bright autumn sun. In ikebana autumn arrangements are meant to bring out the thoughtfulness and the beauty of sadness.

The trees have only just started getting their red and yellow colours so it's a bit early for poetry about falling leaves. Even so, and so that I don't forget, I'm posting an autumn poem by the great Chinese poet Li Bai. Enjoy it now or save it for later:

The autumn air is clear,
The autumn moon is bright.
Fallen leaves gather and scatter,
the jackdaw perches and starts anew.
We think of each other- when will we meet?
This hour, this night, my feelings are hard.

Sunflower, Daylily leaves and dried Tansy in a yellow vase.

Autumn is also about the energy of colours. Yellow brings joy and optimism. Brown brings safety and grounding. In these two arrangements the starting point is the colour of the container, reinforced by the plant materials. The container is always as important as the flowers in ikebana. Focusing on the colour of the container is one of the lessons taught by the Sogetsu school to help creating a harmonious arrangement.

Sunflower, dried Tansy and Daylily leaves in a brownish ceramic container.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

A Moment - Michiko Takahashi Nilsen

If you are in Oslo this September you should definitely take time to visit Kunsthåndverkerne i Kongens gate, an artist-run gallery for exhibition and sale of arts and crafts in the center of Oslo. This months exhibition features ceramics by the Japanese born artist Michiko Takahashi Nilsen.

Takahashi Nilsen lives and works in the north of Norway. "My wish is that the contrasts should meet in an interaction, and that the result of flame and ash in the shape, colour and texture will be reminiscent of the organic nature", she says. I love her wood fired ceramic bowls with interesting shapes and sometimes strong yet earthy colours - a perfect challenge for ikebana arrangements.

The exhibition is called "A moment" and lasts from September 7th to October 3rd.
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