2012.11.6 [tue] – 11.24 [sat] 11:00-19:00(Saturdays 11:00-17:00) Closed on Sundays, Mondays and national holidays.

written by Shihoko Fukumoto

Extinction or the threat of extinction in the natural world are matters of grave concern, and it is the same in the human world as well. An example is Japan's precious traditional fabric culture, which in recent years has come perilously close to extinction.
Not so long ago, on the remote and rocky island of Tsushima that lies between southern Japan and the Korean peninsula, the local people lived a self-sufficient existence under difficult climatic conditions, growing hemp and cotton in the tiny fields and weaving the thread on primitive looms into work clothes, called yamagimon. These yamagimon ceased to be worn several decades ago, but old women of the area still remember their childhood when people worked their looms. Worn down the years, the yamagimon embody the world of manual labor and the daily round of the people's working lives.
The fabric of the yamagimon is known as "Tsushima hemp", cotton woven through hemp. The addition of a little soft cotton to the hard flax creates a more comfortable wear. The highly durable hemp is used over long years, washed till it is faded and worn, and blends intimately with the cotton, maintaining its strength while evolving into a white, soft fabric. And when rinsed in water, it revives into something yet more beautiful and strong. This is fabric woven by and for the family, so each piece has an individual length, width and weave characteristic. A single piece of cloth reveals both the natural and the human worlds, and indeed history itself.
In my work, I dismantle the yamagimon into single lengths of Tsushima hemp. I erase the shape and function of the clothing, and dye each piece to create a new work, which aims to draw out the inherent expressiveness that is the fruit of those long years of process.

[On the exhibition]

Rich graduations of blues, that glow forth from the soft cloth as if through transparent depths — Shihoko Fukumoto's indigo is spacious and serene. Surely it is just such a vast blue space as this that envelops us all, enticing us from pale white light down into hidden depths of darkness. Fukumoto's work contains the beauty of a time-space continuum beyond the grasp of science, and elicits in us an instinctively natural response.
The material is the concept. The key color tone is blue. Since the '70s, Fukumoto has been obsessed with traditional Japanese indigo, bringing to it her own unique sense of beauty in what she terms "the search for a sense of my personal ideal space", and has created a revolutionary union of indigo tradition with contemporary sensibility. She is always studying the material and refining it into fresh art works. Working as a cutting-edge world artist, Fukumoto's forceful expressivity and intensity draws the world of Japanese kôgei, that traditional concept that combines the Western ideas of "art" and "craft", into the realm of international acclaim.
In recent years, Fukumoto's meeting with Japan's now rare natural folk fabrics has added an interest in and examination of folk craft to her work. There she has encountered unique fabrics such as the so-called Tsushima hemp work clothes, Echigo chijimi (crepe) weave, and okuso-zakkuri (cloth woven through with thrums or thread scraps of hemp). In this world of fabrics we find both cloth of such coarse yet supple strength that it will dye with nothing but indigo, and exquisite hand-spun cloth so thin it can scarcely withstand the dyeing process. These hemps and gossamer ramie fabrics are now essentially extinct things, the traditional art of making them now lost.

"My technical relationship with fabric has changed through the interest I find in hemp," says Fukumoto. From the beginning of history until the end of the Edo period (1867) in Japan, the word asa meant either hemp (taima) or ramie (choma). Hemp in particular was cultivated for its fiber, which sustained folk culture in a wide variety of ways, from clothing to mosquito nets, Shinto ritual objects and good luck charms. Stereotypically rough, hard hemp gives way to a soft whiteness achieved by being boiled in lye, soaked, and bleached by exposure to sun or snow. On the other hand, we also have the cloth personally made to order for the high-class shogun households in the Edo period, fabrics of rare quality, made through the long cold winters in snowy Echigo, when the women would spin long thin thread of the utmost delicacy, then devote themselves to the task of weaving kimonos that were light as the finest membranes. Only a little of this cloth survives today.
Fukumoto has seized every opportunity to collect this traditional hemp and ramie that epitomize the old weaving methods and Japan's unique sense of material, and has found there her own "history in hemp, my own Japan". She has set her hand to the task of creating new art from this rare cloth which began so rapidly to disappear under the influence of Japan's postwar economic development, for all that it embodies precious material and techniques evolved in our own country. In fact the fascination and sense of destiny that Fukumoto has found here surely derives precisely from her exploration of that world of indigo dyeing that has been so essential a part of Japan's long tradition of the pursuit of color sensibility and beauty, across the spectrum from everyday objects to the luxury goods of the elite down the ages.

Related events

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    Ms. Yoko Imai(Curator, The National Museum of Modern Art,Tokyo) x Shihoko Fukumoto
  • 2012.11.16 [fri] 19:30– 21:00 This event was finished.


Shihoko Fukumoto