Sunday 31 March 2013

Andy Goldsworthy - Bamboo in Japan

Next stop on my Land Art tour is the fascinating world of the British sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is probably the most well known Land Art artist of today. He has also inspired a lot of informal and playful Land Art activity around the world.

In this blog post I will concentrate on a series of works that Goldsworthy created in Japan more than 25 years ago. One of the influences in Goldsworthy's work is Eastern philosophy with its emphasis on balance of opposites, as expressed in the ying-yang symbol. Much of his work incorporates the idea of balancing opposites until the tension results in collapse. These works in Japan, all created from bamboo sticks on a beach in Kiinagashima-cho in Autumn/Winter 1987, were part of a photo exhibition named Mountain and Coast. I'm not sure but I guess that these works, that are dated with the actual day they were created, incorporated the tide disintegrating the sculptures at the end of the day.

The sculptures and their setting on the beach with mountains in the background looks oddly familiar. It's almost as if it is the same location as in three of my other recent blog posts:
Sofu Teshigaharas drift wood sculptures from the mid 1960s,
Ryusaku Matsuda's bamboo works The Shape of Air ca. 2006, and
Kaïdin's drift wood sculpture on a beach from 2008.

In 1988 Goldsworthy took the sculptures from Kiingashima-cho a step further in a similar series of screens in the English Lake District. This time he placed the screens out in the water and made the reflexion on the water surface an important part of the work. The two last pictures are from that series.

Old Bamboo, Kiinagashima-cho,  Japan,  Nov. 27, 1987
Woven Bamboo,  Kiinagashima-cho,  Japan,  Nov. 29,  1987
Bamboo spires calm to begin with wind becoming stronger,  Kiinagashima-Cho,  Japan, Dec. 4, 1987
Woven bamboo,  windy..., Before the Mirror, Kiinagashima-cho,  Japan, 1987
Screens series, Lake district, England, 1988
Screens series, Lake district, England, 1988

Thursday 28 March 2013

Happy Easter!

Pine and Daffodil.

Nordiclotus wish you a happy easter holiday!

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Bonus - Sofu in the Woods

While looking for materials for my blog posts on Sofu Teshigahara and Land art I stumbled across this charming photo series by French photographer Robert Doisneau. Probably from the late 1950s or 1960s, and my guess is Bois de Boulogne, Paris. I think I can see a glimpse of Sofu's daughter Kasumi as well, helping out with the branches in picture number two. I love the expression on Sofu's face. He looks so content in the last picture.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Sofu - The Humble Beginning of Land Art Ikebana, part 2

Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu School of ikebana, was in many ways an important pioneer and a contributor to modern ikebana. In an earlier blog post discussing Sofu and Land Art, I argued that although Sofu doesn't seem to have been very occupied with Land Art, he opens up the ikebana tradition. In that sense he lays a ground for later ikebana artists to explore the site specific nature of ikebana in relation to outdoor surroundings. Have a look at the post Sofu - The Humble Beginning of Land Art Ikebana, part 1 if you're interested in Sofu's thinking on the importance of using local materials. You'll also find a couple of examples of site specific driftwood sculptures.

In this post, part 2, I'll discuss Sofu's distinction between ikebana and sculptures. I will also give a few examples of wooden sculptures placed in an outdoor environment. Thinking of Land Art, I guess most people would first think of works that are made on location, from the materials found on that location. The precise term for this would be site-specific art  or sculpture. For the sculptures presented here it would be more correct to use outdoor sculpture. Or they could be site spesific sculptures produced elsewhere and moved to the site. It could also be that they are simply placed in the outdoors to make a nice photo. On the other hand this act of placing them gives them an interesting new relation to the surroundings.

Sofu is well known for introducing sculptural ikebana, using all kinds of materials and sometimes very few or even no flowers. His avant-garde scrap metal ikebana from the 1950s are good examples of this. From the late 1950s he also exhibited as a sculptor, with his first exhibition being held at the Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo, 1957. His sculptures were carved from stone or wood, sometimes covered with beaten metal, or embedded with pieces of coloured mosaic. With forms already partly modeled by nature they are closely related to Sofu's ikebana works and the practice of using branches of trees and driftwood in the flower arrangements.

In a photo book from 1966 Sofu choses his best works of ikebana and sculptures. Surprisingly, his famous 1950s avant-garde ikebana with scrap metal are not represented. Instead he introduces a few newly made wooden sculptures. The sculptures and the ikebana arrangements are presented in the same categories, with the title being the only distinction defining some of the works as sculptures and some as ikebana. It is of course easy to see that the sculptures are the ones without flowers. But in Sofu's own texts on ikebana this distinction is not valid:
"To me ikebana is principally a question of producing a desired beautiful shape, to which end one uses flowers, even dead ones. I do not believe however, that flowers are the only material with which such a shape can be produced, and I have therefore used other materials from time to time."
The use of other materials to produce a shape refers to the sculptures that appears in this book. Every ikebana is a sculpture but not all of his sculptures are ikebana:
"I regard myself as a creator of shape who uses mainly flowers as his metier, rather than purely as an arranger of flowers."
Another distinction could be that the sculptures are more permanent than the flower arrangements. On a philosophical level it still remains unclear where the line between ikebana and sculpture goes. An interesting observation pointed out by others is how this is influenced by Sofu's appreciation for zen-buddhistic thinking and the "conviction that all things, the ephemeral, like ikebana and the lasting, like sculpture, are at their very roots the same." There is no such thing as a permanent work of art, eventually everything changes and perishes - this is again a point made by Land Art artists and shows the relation between Land Art thinking and Ikebana philosophy.

Quotations by Sofu can be found in the book:
Sofu: His Boundless World of Flowers and Form
By Sofu Teshigahara with photographs by Ken Domon
Published by Kodansha International, Tokyo / Palo Alto, California 1966

Photos are from the catalogue:
Works of Sofu, Hiroshi and Kasumi
Published by Sogetsu (undated)

Saturday 23 March 2013

Princess Spring - Suddenly and at Full Speed

Nageire, Abstract freestyle, Untraditional materials.
Bicycle tube, Anthuirium, bleached Brussels sprouts stalks, pine.

Last weekend some of my ikebana colleges in Oslo were exhibiting at the yearly Hanami Family Day. I had planned to be there as well, but unfortunately I got sick and had to cancel. Sine I had already started planning I decided to make an arrangement at home inspired by spring and cherry blossoms.

The titel of this arrangement is "Princess Spring came suddenly and at full speed". According to a Japanese folk tale the Flower Princess was thrown out of heaven by her jealous sister. She landed on Mount Fuji, and in that moment the Cherry blossoms opened. A princess falling out of heaven at full speed - that calls for a modern ikebana arrangement. I've used bicycle tube as a material reminding me of spring. In my childhood, taking the bike out after the winter and filling new air in the tubes was the very start of spring. The warming sun always came suddenly and kind of unexpected, melting the snow and luring the spring flowers up of the frozen ground.

at full speed
- Princess Spring!

Saturday 16 March 2013

Ikenobo Video Visit

The Ikenobo School is the oldest ikebana school of today. It is also one of the biggest, both in Japan and internationally. I visited the Ikenobo headquarters and their ikebana museum in Kyoto a year ago and had a great time. You'll find my journal from the visit in this blog post. Watching this video introduction to ikebana brought up some good memories of generous hospitality and a fascinating history.

Ikebana artist Toshiro Kawase also appears in this video with a couple of examples of creative use of containers for ikebana. Toshiro Kawase is well known also outside of Japan. You might have seen his book Inspired Flower Arrangements that introduced him to an English speaking audience.

Monday 11 March 2013

Hanami Day Oslo

Welcome to the 2013 hanami day at Historical Museum in Oslo on Sunday March 17th, 13:00-15:30.  It's far to early for cherry blossoms in Oslo, but we're all seriously waiting for spring to arrive. Let's come together to share our anticipation. There will be a lot of fun for all ages, koto music, origami, Japanese art, ikebana, bonsai, kyudo (archery), kendo, akido, budo and I-Go (Japenese board game).

Sunday 10 March 2013

Stones Wrapped in Ropes

Moribana, abstract freestyle.
Stones, shoelaces, pine and moss.

Decorative knots is one of many nice features of Japanese hospitality. You'll find them on gift wrappings and in ornaments made from mizuhiki paper strings. In this abstract freestyle ikebana, made after an idea from my ikebana teacher, the three main branches have been replaced by rope and stones. Since I am no good at Japanese decorative knots I haven't even tried going there. Instead I've formed black and red shoelaces into knots and spirals to bring out some of the character of the materials.

Stones wrapped in ropes can sometimes be found in tea gardens and temples as signs for the visitors. They are called Sekimori Ishi which l've been told means boundary-guard stone. In addition to being decorative they are a subtile way of telling people not to enter when a tea ceremony is going on, or to guide guests on their stroll by placing stop stones on the paths not open for the public.

The rope makes the stone easier to notice. But ever since ancient times rope have also been used in Japanese religion to mark off sacred space and designate things as divine. You can find both trees and rocks wrapped in ropes to mark that it is inhabiting a kami, a spirit. Maybe this tradition also ads to the authority of the garden stones? In my ikebana arrangement the shoelace refer both to the use of ropes to indicate sacred space and to the hospitality of the tea ceremony. Welcome - find your way into the sacred.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Sofu - The Humble Beginning of Land Art Ikebana, part 1

While early Land Art had a focus on earthwork making use of soil, rocks etc., ikebana has through it's long history always been based on the nature of plant materials. That is until Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu School, stated that although flowers have been the obvious choice of material in this art of flower arranging, the arranging activity is in fact more important than the materials used.
"Somebody once asked me what I would do if I lived in a place like Manchuria where there are no flowers or plants, to which I replies that I should probably arrange the earth. ... While naturally I consider it fortunate if one has flowers which one can arrange, I do not say that if one lives in a place where there are no flowers it is necessary to grow them at all costs in order to produce ikebana. It should be remembered that the term ikebana is made up of two words; ikeru, which means to arrange or create, and hana, meaning flowers, and that if the two, ikeru is the more important."
Sofu was very much influenced by modern Western art. I wouldn't say that Land Art is an important reference for his work, but in this quotation from 1966 the basic idea of rearranging landscape comes through. The Land Art movement started in 1968, so it's the same time period and it's possible that Sofu also referred to the new ideas amongst young Western artists that a couple of years later were to be the basis for the a more organized art movement. It could also be an influence from Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi who Sofu regarded as a friend and also collaborated with. Noguchi's 1941 design for Contoured Playground in New York is considered an important early piece of land art even though Noguchi himself simply called it "sculpture".

Robert Smithson is probably the most well known earthwork artist. His Spiral Jetty from 1970 has become iconic. In my opinion his Broken circle created for the Sonsbeek'71 art festival at Emmen, the Netherlands, is even more interesting as a reference for ikebana practitioners.

Robert Smithson: Broken circle, 1970
All ikebana is sensitive to the setting it is going to work within, in that sense it is always site specific and a suitable companion for Land Art. In the same text from 1966 Sofu explains:
"Whenever I go about producing a floral arrangement, my first consideration is the setting. My aim is always to arrange those materials that I have in such a way that they will fit harmoniously with their surroundings."
I've already stated that Sofu doesn't seem to be very occupied by Land Art in a more precise understanding of the category. He opens up the ikebana tradition and in that sense he lays a ground for later ikebana artists, but he never makes use of his idea to arrange the earth - after all he lives in a country where there are flowers available. There are however a few works amongst his drift wood sculptures that can be considered Land Art.

I'll discuss ikebana and sculptures placed in an outdoor environment in a later blog post. For now I'll limit myself to present a couple of site spesific sculptures - works that are more closely related to their natural outdoor surroundings.

Sofu Teshigahara: Instant sculpture, Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido.
The first drift wood sculpture I'd like to focus on is without title and described as instant sculpture at the location, Lake Shikotsu in Hokkaido. This work corresponds with more resent trends in Land Art with a focus on temporal and rather informal sculptures made on location, from the materials one finds on that location. Much of the work by leading artist such as Patrick Dougherty and Andy Goldsworthy can be placed in this category. 

Sofu Teshigahara: Orochi from the Kojiki series 1965/66.
This second sculpture, Orochi, seems to be based on the same idea as the first one, although a bit more processed. The paint gives a more complex relation to the colors in the surrounding nature and also links the work closer to human culture.

For a discussion of definitions and categories in Land Art I recommend this web article by Dutch artist Lucien den Arend.

Quotations and the first photo of works by Sofu can be found in the book:
Sofu: His Boundless World of Flowers and Form
By Sofu Teshigahara with photographs by Ken Domon
Published by Kodansha International, Tokyo / Palo Alto, California 1966

Thursday 7 March 2013

Abstract and Geometric

Abstract freestyle vertical arrangement.
Metal mesh, taxus, trumpet lily, steel grass, plasticine.
Untraditional material. Repeating the shape of the container.

Developing personal creativity is one of the main goals of Sogetsu ikebana. But in ikebana creativity is never free from tradition. Creativity means being able to interpret tradition and invest something from your own personal history into it. In the Sogetsu School freestyle ikebana is divided into three distinct forms: Naturalistic freestyle, abstract freestyle and avant-garde style. This categorisation is corresponding with the development of Sogetsu ikebana from the 1930s to the 1990s.

Abstract freestyle has a focus on the form, often based on line and mass, and on geometric lines.  The style is not restricted to traditional symbolism and the seasons of nature (as apposed to naturalistic style), but the ikebana arrangement usually still has a message. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 3rd. iemoto of the Sogetsu School, stressed the importance of practicing geometric painting to develop a sense of balance in geometric composition. His distinct interpretation of abstract freestyle seems to be especially in focus from the 1980s  and corresponds with tendencies in art and architecture. Geometric abstraction is an abstract, non-objevtive form of art based on geometric shapes. Typical representatives for the first generation would be Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian. Their pioneering ideas were followed up by the next generation of artists, such as Victor Vasarely. Sogetsu abstract freestyle also has a strong focus on the use of unorganic materials, defined as untraditional materials. This is a heritage from Sofu Teshigahara, 1st. iemoto and founder of the school, who introduced dry plant materials and untraditional  materials in ikebana.

If you want to see another interpretation of the same idea and materials as the ikebana in this blog post, I recommend that you take a look at the blog of Tatjana Felberg who is also a student of my ikebana teacher. Her blog is written in Serbian but it works okay translating it with google translate.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Visit From The Other Side of the World

Some time ago I was contacted by my blogger friend and fellow Sogetsu ikebanist Christopher James in Australia. He was on a trip in Europe and suggested that he could come to Oslo and that we could meet.

We got a couple of beautiful winter days with the sun shining on the crispy snow. It was great to meet in real life, being able to share experiences, talk about ikebana teaching and also discuss the books by Norman Sparnon who in many ways pioneered Sogetsu ikebana in Australia. I have most of his books in my ikebana library and find them to be great both for inspiration and as references for ikebana techniques and philosophy.

In 2011 Christopher was awarded a scholarship by the Norman and Mary Sparnon Endowment Foundation and spent three months studying at the Sogetsu Head Quarters  in Tokyo. During that time he kept an internet journal and that is how we got in contact. I've been following his blog Roadside Ikebana since then so I was really glad that we got to meet.

Christopher is represented in the book Ikebana Through All the Seasons with some great contemporary ikebana arrangements. Have a look if you have the book - but make sure you have enough time. I always get stuck looking at all the great pictures when I open this book.

Ikebana Through All the Seasons
Publisher: Stichting Kunstboak, 2011
ISBN-10: 9058563677
ISBN-13: 978-9058563675

Books by Norman Sparnon at Amazon

Monday 4 March 2013

Olav Christopher Jenssen - Abstract Painting and Ikebana

I ran into an ikebana related painting when I stopped at one of Oslo's leading art galleries the other day. Norwegian painter Olav Christopher Jenssen's exhibition at Galleri Riis in Oslo consists of selected works from two new series of large scale paintings Panorama Second Generation and The Letharia Paintings. In addition there is also room with a series of smaller Grenadine Paintings, and this is were I found the painting titled Ikebana.

Ikebana / Grenadine Paintings, 2011
Olav Christopher Jenssen: Ikebana / Grenadine Paintings, 2011
Ikebana is a typical abstract Jenssen painting with many layers of paint partly covering each other. The title still makes me look for a more figurative reference. Is the green shape a vase? What do the read lines represent? The exhibition text invites further exploration: "The paintings open up a philosophical space for dialogue and reflection, encouraging the viewer to unveil strata of paint and decipher cryptic symbols, as on an archaeological journey through the hundred year history of abstract painting". 

The painting made me curious. What experiences lies behind this reference to the art of ikebana? What meanings do the concept of ikebana have to a contemporary abstract painter? What layers do you see in the painting?

The exhibition OLAV CHRISTOPHER JENSSEN Panorama Second Generation / The Letharia Paintings runs until March 10 at Galleri Riis in Oslo.

If you want more stimulation you're also welcome to visit earlier blogposts on ikebana as a motive in modern art. The story about ikebana in the pop art of Andy Warhol should make a nice contrast to Olav Christopher Jenssen.

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