Tuesday 27 November 2012

Yukio Nakagawa - Hana Gurui & Ondes Oniriques

From the start of land art it has been an art form related to conceptual art, and in some cases also to installation and performance. Some argues that land art is the correct term for conceptual art that is created outdoors, while installation art is it's indoor equivalent. Labeling things can be interesting, but the crossing of borders and combining of different expressions often makes it difficult and not so fruitful.

The Japanese ikebana artist Yukio Nakagawa has been an influential exponent for an experimental approach to art. Nakagawa was born in 1918 and died earlier this year. Starting out as a traditional ikebana artist of the Ikenobo school, in 1950 Nakagawa joined the non-conformist ikebana research group Byakutosha organized by landscape architect Mirei Shigemori. Since 1956 he's been working independently, developing his avant-garde and revolutionary approach to flowers.

For this blogpost I've chosen two of Yukio Nakagawa's later works that are related to ikebana, land art, installation and performance: His 2002 outdoor performance Hana Gurui [Flower Crazy], a collaboration with Butoh legend Kazuo Ohno. And Ondes oniriques, a 2003 installation at Maison Hermès in Tokyo. In both these works Nakagawa uses an overwhelming amount of flower petals - apart from that they are quite different works.

The performance Hana Gurui took place on the Shinano riverbed in Niigata prefecture and was documented in the 2002 movie An Offering To Heaven. 95 year old dancer Kazuo Ohno sits in a chair in the open air while a helicopter flies overhead and drops half a million flower petals down over him. The wheelchair bound man is dancing in his chair under the swirling shower of petals in the rain.

Photo courtesy unknown
Is Hana Gurui land art? Not if the term is limited to site specific works made from natural materials found on the location. Neither is it proper ikebana - the arranging of the flowers in this work is far too random. How would you label this work? Maybe it's an outdoor flower performance informed by land art and ikebana?

In the other work, Ondes oniriques (2003) [Dreamlike Waves], Yukio Nakagawa arranged 700 kilos of stemless lavender blossoms, some of which he died in cobalt blue, in swirls and waves reminiscent of a zen garden. Nakagawa says he wanted to represent its depth rather than its superficial beauty, and offer the gentle invitation of its fragrance. Visitors at the Maison Hermès exhibition were allowed to interact with the installation by throwing the flowers as they wished.

I wouldn't call Ondes oniriques a site specific work. Nakagawa explains that it's more a reconstruction of his feelings when he experienced a lavender field in France. One could argue that this is an example of land art in an exhibition gallery, representing a nature phenomenon. But how is this ikebana? Ikebana is a meditative and intuitive art form, but it is also about philosophy and skills passed down through tradition. In my opinion too little has been done to analyze contemporary ikebana works from an ikebana perspective. Or maybe I just haven't looked in the right places. What is your opinion?

Photo courtesy Hermès Japon Co, via designboom.com
"I would like to express the lives of flowers" (Yukio Nakagawa)

Read the exhibition words by the artist at Maison Hermès
See more photos of Ondes oniriques on designboom.

Read more about the artist on the official website of Yukio Nakagawa.

Friday 23 November 2012

Architecture Students Experiment

A group of students at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa School of Architecture recently went through a course in Sogetsu ikebana"Being able to compose things, different arrangements and elements - that really relates to form making in architecture as well as ikebana", says Graham Hart, a teaching assistant and graduate student. The connection between architecture and ikebana was immediately apparent to both students and their instructors.

Read the article Architecture students experiment in ikebana on the website of The University of Hawai'i.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Bilberry Intertwined

Bilberry branches and Snowberry. Nageire, abstract free style, intertwining.

First snow
on the half-finished bridge

Haiku by Basho

Sunday 18 November 2012

International Klein Blue

Today I went to MAMAC Nice to see the exhibition Klein Byars Kapoor, featuring blue works by Yves Klein, white works by James Lee Byars and red works by Anish Kapoor. The exhibition was powerful and subtile, and it worked great in the exhibition halls. So now I'm really fascinated by Klein's patented indigo blue colour IKB, International Klein Blue. These are three smaller works that I'd like to share with you:

Natural Sponge 
Tree Branches 
Iron Wire

Saturday 17 November 2012

Patrick Dougherty - Twisted Logic

My journey exploring the relation between Land art and Ikebana has taken me to New Jersey's Grounds for Sculpture and Patrick Dougherty's 2004 installation Twisted Logic.

Dougherty is known for working with sticks creating outdoors sculptures that relates to the environment. So why have I chosen a show with works in an exhibition hall? First, this show relates to the building structure of the exhibition hall in much the same way as Dougherty's outdoor sculptures are in dialog with the environment, which is interesting. The only difference being that this installation works with the surroundings from an indoor position. But the main reason why I choose this installation is that it consists of a group of works with quite different characters, making it easier to discuss similarities and differences between Dougherty's work and land art ikebana.

In my opinion the first sculpture shown in the video has quite a lot of ikebana quality to it. The difference between this work and the tower like sculpture in the middle of the exhibition hall is striking. Although they are both structures that invites you to explore and come inside, the first one refers more to natural forms while the last one is clearly architectural in its structure.

Dougherty has named his way of working "natural architecture", comparing it to human architecture, bird nests, and his own playing and building with sticks as a child. It's an example of how many land art artists deals with man made phenomena, like technology and architecture. I'm thinking maybe one significant difference is that an ikebana artist would more likely chose to work with natural forms and phenomena? What do you think?

There are of course also inspiring similarities between Dougherty's work and contemporary ikebana. The most obvious is that he is working mainly with plant materials. But also his way of working the materials into intertwined structures is similar to ikebana techniques, the way he is working with space and maybe even more so his use of lines in the structures. Working with long naked branches of trees gives clear lines in the structure of the installations. Dougherty refers to the lines of the sticks as sweeping lines of pencil drawing. In ikebana clear lines are used to define space and create an asymmetric balance.

Holy Rope, photo: Tadahisa Sakurai
It would be interesting to know if Dougherty himself would relate his work to Japanese esthetics. He's been working in many countries and cultures. During a residency in Japan in 1992 (quite early in his career) he stayed in Riniyo-in Temple in Chiba, where he created three large site works. The one in this picture is named Holy Rope, made from bamboo and reeds (7.6m x 3m). Isn't this sculpture also quite interesting from an ikebana perspective?

And now for some more goodies on "Twisted Logic":

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Abstract Interludium

Gladiolus leaves and Gerbera.
Moribana, abstract free style, straight lines, surface leaves.
Swedish midcentury ceramics by Rörstrand Atelje.

Behind Ise Shrine
unseen, hidden by the fence
Buddha enters nirvana

Haiku by Matsuo Bashô, 1644-1694

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Munich - Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974

Right now and until end of January the exhibition Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 can be seen at Munich based museum Haus der Kunst. This first large-scale, historical-thematic exhibition to deal broadly with Land art, is organized in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, MOCA.

"The exhibition highlights the early years of untested artistic experimentations and concludes in the mid-1970s before Land art becomes a fully institutionalized category. Rather than romanticizing notions of "return to nature" or an "escape from culture", the exhibition provides a comprehensive overview that reveals the complexity of the movement's social and political engagement with the historical conditions of its time. Ends of the Earth exposes Land art as a media practice as much as a sculptural one, focusing on the extent to which language, photography, film, and television served as an integral and not a secondary or supplementary part of its formation."
Among the artists presented is the Japanese artist Tatsuo Kawaguchi, b. 1940, based in Kurashiki, Okayama. He is represented with the two film works Land and sea, 1970, 4:14 min, and Location, 1960, 7:23 min, focusing on the meeting point of water and land. Kawaguchi was a founding member of the Japanese artist collective Group "i", included in the exhibition with the work Hole, 1965.

The exhibition runs 11.10.12 – 20.01.13.

An extensive 264 pages hard cover exhibition catalogue can be bought on Amazon.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Land Art - Keita Kawasaki

I'm planning to do some research on ikebana artists who are approaching land art from an ikebana tradition. If you like you're welcome to join me on this educational trip. I'll also swing by some well known land art artists who's works can be seen as similar or related to land art ikebana.

First stop is the Japanese flower artist Keita Kawasaki. He's a well known personality in Japan and has been working creatively with flowers for more than 20 years. The Kawasaki family runs the Mami Flower Design School, founded in 1962 by Mami Kawasaki.

Although also working with ikebana, Keita Kawasaki is definitely not a traditional ikebana artist. I would say he is merging Japanese and western flower design, keeping a clearly Japanese attitude to flower art. The inheritance from ikebana tradition is obvious also in his land art projects. I have chosen two works that I like. The first is a very delicate work with spiderweb, yellow and orange autumn leaves and what looks like parts of flower buds or small berries. From an ikebana perspective I would say this is a line and mass arrangement. It also relates to hanging ikebana, which is an old traditional category of ikebana. The use of spiderweb is similar to the use of mesh and other untraditional materials in modern ikebana.

The second work that I have chosen is a work with bamboo forest and yellow leaves. The leaves are glued to the bamboo trunks so that a zigzag pattern appears when you're standing in front of the work. The zigzag line emphasizes the straight lines of the bamboo forest and plays with the light in between the trunks. Bamboo is a traditional ikebana material that symbolizes strength of character. Working with lines and the space between lines is one of the main characteristics of ikebana. Classical ikebana made for the tokonoma is always designed to be seen from the front only.

To see more land art ikebana go to the website of Keita Kawasaki. Click on the beetle to enter. Then click the large leave to the right where it says "Works". Choose the category in Japanese to the right of "Natural art". Sit back and enjoy. You'll find a lot of inspirational photos here, and quite a few land art works.

Photo credit: www.keitakawasaki.net

Saturday 3 November 2012

Basket Finale

Modern basket ikebana. Bamboo sticks, Sun flowers, Gerbera, Gladiolus leaves.

This welcoming sunflower "gift basket" is another modern interpretation of the tradition of using bamboo baskets in ikebana. Note that in this mass and line arrangement the mass has been placed inside the transparent basket to emphasize the volume of the basket itself. The straight lines of the bamboo sticks are contrasted by the circular and curved lines of the flowers and the basket.

This will be the last posting in a series focusing on ikebana and Japanese baskets. I hope you have enjoyed the postings, and maybe learned something useful.

Friday 2 November 2012

A Collection of Baskets

The museum of decorative arts and design in Oslo hosts a small collection of Japanese bamboo baskets. The 15 ikebana baskets dates from the period 1850-1900, and they are exhibited permanently in the downstairs stairwell area. I went there the other day to take some pictures and was surprised by the variety of the baskets.

Flower baskets were quite popular in this era of the Meiji Restoration, especially the formal style inspired by Chinese culture. The opening of Japan to the west made collecting Japanese items more accessible. Still only a few Europeans travelled to Japan at this time. When the Swedish woman Ida Trotzig moved to Japan 1888 to live with her husband who was a businessman, she was one of very few Westerners to study ikebana and Japanese culture. There is no information on where the basket collection at the museum in Oslo comes from. So I guess we're free to let the imagination loose and make up our own stories about how the collection ended up in Norway.

Which one of the baskets is your favorite? What kind of ikebana would you create in "your" basket if you got the chance?

Thursday 1 November 2012

Kaïdin - Nomadic Art on the Path of Bashô

The Museum of Asian Arts in Nice, France, invites you to follow the French Vietnamese artist Kaïdin on her nomadic wandering across Japan. Following the trail of Matsuo Bashô, the great master of haiku poetry, the artist Kaïdin began to listen to nature. Inspired by the haiku she creates art installations in the natural environment. 

Taking her time, the artist uses the space, setting and materials at her disposal: water, wood, earth, stones, sand, rock, etc. She neither adds nor subtracts anything, but adapts and transforms the nature. Like the extremely stripped form of haiku poetry her work is based on the brilliance of the moment to convey an emotion. With a direct reference to land art she seeks to link art and life.

The works are being presented through photographs by the renown photographer Uwe Ommer. There is also an exhibiton catalogue in French, Japanese and English that can be bought through Amazon.

The exhibition Nature et haïku - Quand le poème devient art éphémère will be up until January 7th 2013, so there is plenty of time to schedule a visit if you're planning a trip to Nice.

 The Arch, Koriyama, Lake Inawashiro, 2008.
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