Wednesday 30 March 2011

Haran, Haran, Haran

The basics of a classical Haran ikebana.

My ikebana teacher loves to quote the expression "Everything starts and ends with Haran" - meaning Haran, or Aspidistra leaves, is the most important material in ikebana. In classical ikebana it is often used as isshu-ike, one material only arrangement, with 7-10 leaves shaped into artistic curves according to detailed rules. The arrangement should show both the sunny (front) side and the shadow (back) side of the leaves, as well as the side view. The basics is the triangular shape with three lines put together to form a balanced and harmonious design. I actually find this basic skeletal quite appealing. Today when we are often looking for simplicity and calmness we might not need the rest of the leaves that makes the arrangement more complex and crowded.

Classical Haran ikebana the Sogetsu way.

In the Sogetsu School classical ikebana is taught as an insight to traditions giving a deeper understanding of the meaning of ikebana. Not going to much into the strict rules of a traditional ikebana arrangement, but rather imitating the style to get a feeling of what it's all about. Creating an arrangement like this is actually quite demanding and takes a lot of practice if you should do it according to all the rules. An obvious mistake in my attempt is that the base is not clean enough. It should be one clear and thin line as in the first picture. To manage this you need to have both large and smaller leaves so that you can get the right size without having to cut the long stem. Haran is also much used in modern, abstract ikebana. This of course is much less time consuming, and shows the leaves from a totally different point of view.

Modern Haran ikebana (mass and lines).
Aspidistra leaves and Stocks.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Hanami Day Exhibition

"In the eye of the storm".
Siberian dogwood, white Cherry blossoms, Lisianthus.
Ohara School Madoka container.
Without kenzan, straight and curved lines, focus on water.

Hanami Day March 27th 2011 at Historical Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Theme: Pity, compassion, and human kindness.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ... Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (Matthew 5:4,7)

Plastic mesh, Dried and fresh Aspidistra leaves, Ornithogalum.
Mass and curved lines, untraditional and fresh materials,
dried materials.

Friday 25 March 2011

Materials, Creativity and Nationality

“Americans are excellent at putting together combinations of color and material that Japanese people would never think of", says grandmaster of Sogetsu ikebana Yokou Kitajima. Since moving from Japan to the US in the 1970s he's been teaching ikebana to Americans and should know from experience what he is talking about. You can read the whole interview with Yokou Kitajima on the Discover Nikkei website, a project that is documenting and sharing the life of Japanese people living outside of Japan.

Yokou Kitajima says he's impressed with his students ideas that he himself, being a Japanese, would not be able to come up with. "I believe these are not qualities that can be taught, but an ability that they possess naturally", he continues. He also relates the differences to the amount of flowers and plant materials that are available in different parts of the world. In California, where Mr. Kitajima lives, there is a wide range of materials available that allows for other opportunities than in Japan. He sees the differences in national consciousness and climate as an enrichment to the world of Sogetsu ikebana: “When I show it [a piece created in America] to a person from Japan, I want them to think, “Ah, indeed, American Sōgetsu is different.” I want it to be a piece with even more freedom of creativity—not just something big, but a piece of work that would really intrigue them.”

As a person living in Norway I find Mr. Kitajima's reflections on ikebana materials and national consciousness quite interesting. In California you can cut impressive flowers, like Bird of paradise flowers, in your back yard. In Norway it's much more limited what you can grow outdoors. The cold season with frozen ground and bare branches on the trees lasts for at least one-third of the year - I'm sure this also has an impact on people living here.

When I look at the expression of Norwegian ikebana arrangements compared to creations by ikebanists from further south in Europe and other parts of the world, the importance of our culture and natural surroundings becomes quite obvious. In Norway we are using less green materials and flowers. As a result the ikebana arrangements are less decorative and maybe more fragile and cut to the bone. To me celebrating the differences becomes part of being "here and now" and accepting things as they are rather than pretending to be somewhere or someone else. I will definitely keep thinking about the meaning of nationality and surroundings as I continue my ikebana work.

I came across the Discover Nikkei website preparing for a trip to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. I would be happy to hear from you if you now of any must do's in the area. On the website there are several other interesting articles on Japanese culture that you might want to read, including a portrait interview with Haruko Takeichi, also a high ranking Sogetsu ikebana master in Los Angeles.

Photo of Yokou Kitajima borrowed from Sogetsu Los Angeles Branch.

Monday 21 March 2011

Preparing for an Exhibition

This years Hana mai day (Cherry blossom day) at The Historical Museum in Oslo will be a special day in solidarity with the people of Japan. I was invited to make to ikebana arrangements so I spent the evening preparing and planning. I decided to go for a hana dome arrangement with Cherry blossom and a boat arrangement reflecting the violent forces of the sea.

My fellow ikebanist in Washington DC, Keith Stanley, has been working a lot with hana dome lately. He has also posted some information and pictures on the internet, so I wanted to try it out. Hana dome basically means flower fixture, and is a visable structure of any kind to help fix the flowers without kenzan or other fastening techniques.

These photos are of a work in progress, to illustrate the process of preparing for an exhibition. You'll first have to find a theme and an idea for the arrangements. Next you'll have to try out the basic form and the materials. In the end the result will always be different from the sketch depending on all the small but significant details of the flowers that are available on the exhibition day.

Saturday 19 March 2011

A Floating World: Then and Now?

Earlier this week a new exhibition opened at The Historical Museum of Oslo. A collection of old Japanese woodblock prints by the great masters are exhibited together with samples from a resent donation of contemporary prints by the artist Okamoto Ryusei. The exhibition is called "A floating world: Then and now?" and is running until June 5th.

My ikebana teacher Lisbeth Lerum was asked to create ikebana arrangements to go with the exhibition. With the tragic events in Japan in mind the task of creating beautiful ikebana of course took on a deeper meaning than expected. The arrangements are referring to themes such as kimonos, woodblock printing and nature.

If you are in Oslo tomorrow you can take part in a lecture about Japanese woodblock printing at the exhibition, or you can bring your own or other peoples children to an exciting printing workshop with Okamoto Ryusei. Sunday March 27th there will be more ikebana arrangements in the Museum as the traditional Hanami day is offering a broad selection of Japanese culture. This years Hanami day will be held in solidarity with the people of Japan.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Three Themed Windows

Spring sale in the Hardware store, (lines).
Metal vase, chicken wire, metal objects,
dried branches, miniature Lisianthus.

Modern ikebana is often seen in department stores in Japan. In the Sogetsu School these large scale installations created for public spaces are called Flo'work, meaning Flower+Work. You'll also find Flo'Work displays in hotel lobbies and other places where people are passing.

Tea shop exhibition, (mass and lines).
Teapot with cups, tray, tea powder, Roses, Hydrangea,
Chrysanthemum and branches with red berries.

Creating themed displays for shop windows is a fun and creative exercise. These three exemples are not very large scale, but they are all ment to draw the attention to the environment were they are placed and the products that are sold in the store.

Book store exhibition, (masses).
Books, paper, lacquered wooden vases,
Roses and Hydrangea.

A Prayer for Japan

Winter season simple shin style ikebana.

to my upturned face
as I pray, blossoms
drip down

Haiku by Issa (1795)
translation by David G. Lanoue

Flower Ceremony Revisited

If you are interested in Kaden Otemae, traditional Japanese flower ceremony, you should watch this video (there are three parts to be watched on YouTube). Some of my readers might remember Véronique Masurel, a master of the Kaden Ryu living in France. In these videos you'll get a more detailed version of Masurel performing the flower ceremony than in the video I posted a year ago.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Flower Woodblock Prints

A while ago I bought some Japanese woodblock prints on eBay. They are depicting scenes from everyday life and they all have references to flowers, flower arranging or flower symbolism. I guess that's what caught my interest. I recognize some of my own relation to flowers in these pictures.

To my untrained eye it doesn't look like high quality prints. I'm not an expert on woodblock prints, but I guess the affection value is higher than the financial.

This is perfectly fine with me. I've been told that the same woodblocks were used many times, and even sold to less scrupulous editors when they
weren't good enough anymore. The quality difference between the first edition and later prints is reflected in the price level.

The first print has a motive of a young man balancing on a fence, holding on to some kind of flowering branch. In this print Harunobu (1725?–1770) emphasizes the contrast between the long perspectives in life, represented by a small pine tree, and the present moment that will soon pass away, represented by the short lived blossom.

The second print also has a spring motive. A woman with long hair walking under a Sakura, Cherry blossom tree. I love the way she is catching the flower petals blowing in the air, or maybe just protecting her hair with a scarf. This woodblock was designed by Kunisada (1786-1865).

Lastly an autumn motive. In this design by Shigenaga (1697-1756), three young women are admiring and measuring a very large Kiku, Chrysanthemum, in a vase. To the right are three other Kiku of different colours prepared for an exhibition.

I love my woodblock prints. Next I'm going to look for prints of men working with ikebana. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Talking, Working and Communicating

Earlier this week I was invited to Oslo University College to give a lecture on Japanese esthetics and ikebana. The lecture had a practical approach, giving the basics of esthetics and culture while I was creating a series of ikebana arrangements. I'm impressed with the students, their interest and attitude. It's quite challenging to switch between talking, working with the arrangements and interacting with the adherents, all at the same time. Especially as I also want to give an experience of the slow, calm and meditative aspects of working with ikebana.

Anyhow, it's inspiring to get the opportunity to meet with others and share. This was a group of students taking a course in Japanese literature. I got to think about the relation between modern authorship and the practice of following a traditional meditative path. This also raises questions about the relationship between esthetics and storytelling - enough to keep the brain busy for quite some time. I'm grateful for the opportunity to think in new directions.

Friday 4 March 2011

Techniques Revealed

Traditional ikebana techniques goes back several hundred years in history and used to be secret knowledge handed down from teacher to student. This beautiful video from the Kadou Enshu School demonstrates the use of a traditional flower fastener called Yagen that is used by Kadou Enshu for classical style ikebana. It also shows bending techniques that includes using wedges and wire, as well as carefully cracking the branches.

Personally I find this ikebana style to manipulative and idealized. I prefer working closer to the natural form of the materials. Nevertheless it's a beautiful arrangement and most of all an inspiring video with an authentic feeling to it.
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