Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Dead Kimono & Killer Swords on the Living Room Table

Sorry....no picture of a dead kimono on a table.

There was an elegant group of Swedish women at the house for the past four days. We were up in sub-zero weather at the indigo vats before they left on the 10:30 train.

Yesterday, I put several kimono and Japanese jackets on the table and we stood around and discussed them.

The genius of simple design over a thousand years.
The sublime choice of natural dyes used.
The ingenious way of recycling thread and cloth.
The degree of standardization over the centuries but the freedom of expression in the garments.
How silk threads vary endlessly.
Who would have worn them?

How can I present some images to the students besides photographs and film clips....... The workshops are already just bursting with time consuming activities...

We shook our head in disbelief of the amount of cultural information in an artifact of clothing lying on the table we surrounded. Later in the evening after a few cups of sake I pictured the table as a gurney...

There had been no warm body in the clothing. The maker/creator was more with us than the wearer.  (Which is not  bad thing in itself since we are all textile makers.)

It was my last working night of 2017.

Something special to mark the occasion was appropriate. In the evening two local bamboo flute players to come to the house and give a performance to the Swedes.

They have been playing the instrument for 45 years each.

Last night was the first heavy frost of the autumn.

The well-prepared area around the roaring campfire in the yard wasn't going to work so we quickly made space in the living room for the show.

Momo was not going to give up her favourite chair to the musician so he was forced to share unknowingly as she hopped up from behind once the music started.

The shakuhachi bamboo flute music was not like the old clothing on the table. It was alive and we had to deal with it live. It was not a clean piece of antique cloth that we could admire and revere.

Once the music started the common music cultural reference points were hard to find with the immediateness and strangeness of the music played right in our faces/ears. It wasn't a cozy concert of familiar songs by a familiar singer. 

The breathiness and instability of the quivering notes was uncomfortably intimate at first.
 (Like an unwelcome musical hand on your knee I thought briefly) 

It took me a song or two to fire enough synapses to create a safe space....

The value of the unique experience started to form over a few songs and talking to the gentlemen after the performance in such a confined space left a subtle other-worldliness to the evening. 

A very good paragraph on the instrument.

The shakuhachi is a testament to the elegance of traditional Japanese culture. Made from the root of the bamboo, its aesthetic is organic and simple. Hidden inside this rustic form, however, is a bore that is carefully crafted with the utmost precision. This instrument produces a sound that is said to replicate the full range of natural life on earth.
The shakuhachi is an end-blown flute tuned to a pentatonic (5-note) scale. By various fingerings -- half- and quarter-holings -- and by controlling the angle of mouthpiece against the lip, all twelve tones of the western chromatic scale can be produced. The mouthpiece consists of an oblique blowing edge whose design is unique in that it enables the player to control the pitch produced by changing the angle at which the flute is being blown. This, in turn, produces a delicate change of intonation -- a swelling or bending of notes characteristic of the traditional music. Alterations in embouchure, intensity of blowing and cross fingerings allow the player to create a wide variety of subtle and incredible sounds. The timbre of the instrument is mellow in its low tones, although it is equally capable of producing loud, penetrating and breathy tones in its middle and upper registers. Little can be said of the sound of the shakuhachi without first hearing its hauntingly beautiful ring. With this in mind, noted ethnomusicologist Fumio Koizumi concluded: "Because of the religious origin of its music, the sound of the bamboo flute leads the mind directly into spiritual thought. Thus a single tone of the shakuhachi can sometimes bring one to the world of Nirvana."
Traditional Japanese music played on this instrument reflects the many voices of nature. Gentle and warm, the summer rain. Frayed and gusty, the autumn breeze through the bamboos. Shrill and honking, the cry of a wild duck, winter on its tail. Quiet and sweet, a mountain lake fed by early spring runoff. 

The musicians were generous. One of the handsome players came from on old samurai family and he brought two old swords to show us. (They are terrifying unsheathed.) One was from 1650....350 years old. The metal was so clean it was still a perfect mirror. We were all taken aback but unable to resist taking photographs once the killer weapons were back in their lacquer cases. 

I  try to create a context in the workshops to bring more meaning and life to the indigo and silk workshops. My old Japanese silk farming farmhouse provides the shelter. The austere carpentry joinery and smoked patina of the pillars and beams gives a hint of the refined poverty aesthetic from the old days.  (Then... I pack it to the ceiling with all sorts of clutter...) There are hundreds of antique garments and textile scraps and textile related tools and books carefully boxed and shelved and close at hand to use as reference material. The indigo fields and vats are just outside. We trip over the still-in-use weaving and silk farming equipment through-out the house. 

It works. 

But there is always room to improve.

I have over three months off work now to think of how I can make the cultural roots of these beautiful textiles more alive in future workshops. How to momentarily create a  more holistic  images of the life of the old textiles.  (And then finally...give insight and instruction on how they were made.) 

It is full autumn now. The sky is brilliant blue. The house is sitting in half-shadows for a few months now. 

Hibernation starts.


Whiteboots has the right idea.

Noguchi san. Thank you for giving life to my work and workshops throughout the years. I'll see you in the spring.

Thank you to the indigo vats as well. Another year past. I am away to Scotland in a few days for a month. The last dyeing of the year. Kibiso silk for Diana in Vancouver.