Monday, August 25, 2014

The Vagueness of Textiles and the Fake-ness Trap of Art

There’s a few words in Japanese that I miss when speaking English. There’s just no words to replace them in English that have quite the same feel or roll off the tongue in the same way. For example, yappari (just as I expected) sasuga (that's so typical) naruhodo (it all makes sense now) or bimyo (vague, hard to categorize).

It really shouldn't be so surprising that Japanese is full of words like these that refer to complexity, vagueness, subtlety and difficulty because, you know, Japanese society is like that! Nearly everyday I am confused by complexities (wait, how do you open this triangular onigiri package with numbered instructions?), bamboozled by subtleties (a limited express train is not the same as an express nor a local-express...they all end in "kyu", of course) and irritated by vagueness! ("Yes this is the Arts Faculty Office and yes, I'm the person you are supposed to make enquiries to but..." But? But what?!) 

It really is complex... Onigiri opening step-by-step by Sake Puppets

I've just one semester of study left in Japan now and I am starting to think about the future. As well as trying to figure out the equation of "art+x=able to eat", I've been thinking about where I fit into the field of textiles and what it means to me to make textiles. 

But the thing is, textiles as a field is just so BIMYO

"Textiles" is such a broad and all-encompassing description as to be rendered almost useless. It’s not just handiwork, it’s not just art, it’s not just traditional crafts, it’s not just design, it’s not just fashion, it’s not just industrial fabric production... it's a confusing diagram of all of these things. 

Oh textiles, you're so unsure of yourself and confusing....

"Textiles" crosses the borders of a bunch of different fields and it becomes hard to define where you fit within it all. It's not that you need to slot perfectly into one 'section' or another but I'm coming to realise its important to know what you make and why you do it in order to stay focused and get where you want to go explain to attractively high-paying grants what you do and why you need their money!

Since coming to Kyoto Seika University, I've been studying textile dyeing inside the Graduate School of Arts and I think that has made me frame myself as a "textiles artist". When I was at ANU, in the Australian textiles spheres, I think I saw it more as a pursuit of design or craft. Seeing how Textile dyeing can be art too has been great but the prospect of graduating from `ART` is daunting. 

I was speaking to my Professor earlier this year about the possibility of selling one of my works and she made a comment that went something like 
"Our job as Artists is to show people something. If that truly resonates with someone so much that they want to have that in their home to enjoy then that's great but our main aim is to express something we feel." 
Obviously my professor sees herself as falling into the Art category of textiles and as such, guides her students in that direction. I left that conversation kind of depressed, thinking, "well if my job is only showing people something, how am I supposed to make money to buy the materials to make the next work to just show to more people?!" She also suggested that it's sad to sell your work; to part with your creations. I couldn't see why my "art" ought to be so exclusive and it seemed like arrogance to me to assume that one day I would have a retrospective exhibition in which I would want access to my entire back catalogue of stuff. 

Soon after that an article was circulating on social media about the fact that you can't expect to make a living from art. It was saying that young people now assume they can turn their art education into a living only because of a myth perpetuated by their forerunners that says it's possible. When in fact, this is, and has never been the case, so better stop expecting to. Also, in the very act of trying to make your art your income source, you render it no longer art but just a commodity. Okay, So then what?! If I am to make art my passion, then I should just resign myself now to living in poverty and eating cabbage soup a la Charlie & The Chocolate Factory? 

I've written before about the weird relationship between Art and Textiles and I think I'm still trying to figure that out. Sure, Textiles is a big, active and innovative field in Australia but I think the concept of "textiles as art", especially "dyed textiles as art" whilst established in Japan still hasn't got there in Australia. I hope I can help push boundaries that will make dyeing part of the art world, and for now I think that means negotiating genres.

But. The world of Art is also somewhere I'm hesitant to get sucked into.  

I'm saying, for now that I do want to make textile ART (not design or craft or fashion): pieces that are to be displayed and appreciated; pieces that have a story, maybe even a message; pieces that might even be hung in the National Gallery one day (haha, really?!).  That would make me an ARTIST.  By definition, ARTISTS participate in the art world loops of galleries, exhibitions, grants, museums, artists talks, artist statements...I both want to be a part of that and I don't. 

I want to keep my head above the quagmire of the fake art-talk and long winded art statements. I've never liked that part of Art. It felt like what I really learnt at art school in Australia was how to skillfully use a broad range of materials...AND how to talk "art-talk"; how to use words like 'nuance' and 'juxtaposition' and 'transience' and 'allusions'. Even all in one sentence! 
Put on Arty voice, ahem, "My work is about juxtaposing the ideas of transience and permanence, in all their nuances and alluding to the transcendental nature of our existence." Oh god, it rolls off the tongue too easily.
I don't know how easily you can be in the Art world but "not of it" but I do want to be an honest, genuine, relatable person who doesn't try and hide behind art-talk or mingles only in art circles and lurks around opening-night cheese platters. Sure artists might all be faking it until they make it but why do we have to fake it with the same old regurgitated art-speak? Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be a bit more REAL and just say what we do and not hide behind lofty words? 
I make dyed textiles. I love parrots, I think they are beautiful and have incredible colours, behaviors and histories. Dyeing fabric is a process I enjoy and I hope viewers will enjoy the energy, colours and nature in my work too.
There. Not so hard is it? (not a juxtaposition or nuance in sight)

Here's to being down-to-earth Artists. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Textiles, Camembert & Kites - Podcast

I was recently invited to be a guest on the new Kyoto PechaKucha Podcast. They are interviewing former speakers and getting a bit more in depth than a PechaKucha presentation allows. If you haven't heard of PechaKucha before it's a 6 min 40 second presentation format where you have 20 slides and only 20 seconds to speak about each one. It's a chance for people to share their passion or their work in an interesting way.

I gave my PechaKucha presentation in January 2013 (see more and even listen to it here) about my Textiles and research and it was a nerve-racking but ultimately, cool experience.

This time, I was chatting with Eric and Ash from the Kyoto PechaKucha Night team about Textiles in Kyoto, birds in Canberra, and what goes into making a kimono. Camembert also gets a mention, what's not to love! 

Check it out here 

or follow this link: PechaKucha Night Podcast 2 Melinda Heal

Friday, August 15, 2014

Group show at Maronie Gallery, Kyoto ギャラリーマロニエで「外から来た人たち」

It's been a crazy few weeks and amidst all of it, my two fellow Textiles Master's students and I managed to pull off a group show at Kyoto's Gallery Maronie. Every year the textiles department provides funds for us to hold an exhibition, both as a chance to show our work and as a part of our assesment. I suspect they also want us to experience the "character-building" process of staging a group exhibition. 

Since none of the three of us currently in the graduate textiles program are from Kyoto, we decided to use that as our selling point. We are from Hokkaido, Australia and China and whilst each of us are making dyed artwork, we each of course have a different style. 

The term "gaikokijin" or "gaijin" in Japanese is sometimes used with undertones of discrimination so I don't really like using it. However we decided to call our exhibition "Soto kara kita hitotachi" which in Japanese means "people who came from outside". For me, this was not meant to be a kind of self-defamation but rather to point out (almost with a touch of sticking it to the man...or the professors) that we all came together from different backgrounds and places and we too have valid ideas and expressions to share. 

So let me share with you some images from the exhibition all set up. 

My works spread across two walls. 私の作品
Takahashi-san and Luo-san's works on the other two walls

I had two new works on display and one additional work "Fragmentation : Red-tailed Black Cockatoos" which I completed this past January. I showed you some images of my "Murmurations" piece a little while back, so now I'm excited to show you the third series of work I displayed which is also my newest called "Degradation" 

Degradation Series I-III L to R, Mallee Emu Wren, Orange-bellied Parrot and Superb Parrot. All three are Endangered Species. 崩壊I~III。全部絶滅危惧種の鳥です。左から、クリビタイエミュームシクイ、アカハラワカバインコ、三日月インコ。
These pieces incorporate two techniques that I'd tried in previous works and liked. One of them is layering sheer fabrics on top of each other. I did this with a piece in April, putting a heavy layer of stencil-dyed silk at the back and a hand-drawn resist dyed sheer organza at the front. This time I did much the same but had 3 layers. I tried to account for the way the patterns and colours on the three layers would overlap, so as not to end up with muddy colours or a strange composition when they were all stacked up. I hope the three layers create a sense of depth.

アカハラワカバインコ Orange-bellied Parrots piece. You can see the 3 layers overlapping. The very back is a pattern of coastal heath bushes.

using a Japanese style scrubbing brush, called a tawashi, to dab nori onto the fabric, a.k.a tataki-nori. 束子でたたき糊を置いた。
A second trick I included again here was "tataki-nori" is a way of flicking or dotting resist paste onto the surface of the fabric to make a speckled pattern. I used it this time to mask out areas of the design that were supposed to represent habitat degradation. (I don't think this came through strongly, though) It's a nice technique to introduce textures because katazome and yuzen are so often about clear lines and edges.

雲のようなところはたたき糊で防戦したところです。the white cloud-like areas you can see are where I used tataki-nori to resist the dye.

A few more photos of the series. I included some snatches of text from good old John Gould for texture and extra interest.

the work floating around in the aircon in our exhibition
superb parrot

The exhibition was well received I think. I'm planning to exhibit these works again later this year, probably in Canberra and possibly also at a group show I'm participating in in New York (!!), stay tuned for more on those soon!