Masterful Japanese fiber artists at the Design Museum in Helsinki
The successful and surprising Fiber Futures exhibition at the Design Museum in Helsinki (until May 5) is co-organized by Japan Society, New York, International Textile Network Japan, and Tama Art University Museum, and originally curated by the esteemed, experienced and energetic professor Hiroko Watanabe.
The exhibition is rewarding on many levels and goes to the core of the Japanese approach (philosophy) in the arts and crafts tradition. This difference in the attitude between the Finnish (our western) approach and the Japanese is also a reason why arts and crafts in Japan are part of such long, evolving and strong tradition, with a freedom for the masterful use of new -and old- materials and techniques,
Japan represents the approach, tradition and culture of thinking and doing, of mastering the craft, of developing skills through repetition, slowly gaining the understanding of materials, their nature, behavior and ”soul”, and by painstakingly doing, and doing over again. This awareness of the exterior and interior qualities of materials and the meaning of different methods is extraordinary in Japanes arts and crafts.
The reach of superb skills open a new, different freedom and liberty for expression. And, for a reason, an experienced master-artist or artisan can be acknowledged with a status of a National Living Treasure in Japan.
The western culture, Finland included, is a culture of seeing, not doing. We believe that once we see something, we posess it and that we gain the ability to make someting perfectly just by having observed it, instantly. The idea of spending years and years learning a special craft, polishing skills, makes us anxious and intimidated. Dedication, patient hard work in arts and crafts is not for most Finns.
Anyone who can weave rag carpets or knit a sweather can call her- or himself a textile artist in Finland. Part of the problem of evaluating -and pricing- the works of finest crafts in our culture is that our sense of quality has slipped, thus qiving the possibility for mediocre (and lazy) artisans to try to sell their works at a higher price as ”art”.
The Fiber Futures exhibition showcases the work of 30 Japanese artists and designers, and their works clearly demonstrate the importance of serious thinking and doing, and through that, being liberated in their choice of materials and most laborious processes. The works can be enjoyed as art or sculpture. For anyone contemplating the substance, the possibilities, and the difference between art and craft, this exhibition is a horn of plenty.
I have been personally very strongly influenced and inspired by the Japanese textile and design culture. I received my first grant from the Finnish Culture Foundation in 1980, to visit Japan and to learn about Japanese design & craft tradition. During a month long stay, I met with several important artists & master craftsmen. Tetsuo Kusama, Naomi Kobayashi and the late Masakazu Kobayashi were amongst them. It was a special delight to meet the two former visiting in Finland and find their work in the exhibition.
Tetsuo Kusama’s three horizontal weavings in the show, with magically shifting colours, are but a fraction of his major output of large scale works, often created for public spaces in close collaboration with architects. One would certainly hope that new generations of Finnish architects could find a way to include fiber arts as a possibility in creating inspirational spaces.
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The newly curated and designed permanent exhibition of the Design Museum is a lively whole that tells of the development of design in Finland. The exhibition is filled with objects that evoke epochs and bring back to life decades of creative minds and ambitious production. The exhibition serves also as evidence of the Design Museum’s desperate lack of exhibition space. The story of Finnish Design is much more many-faceted than the present, rather obvious and limited edition, and a proper venue and ample space would be needed for the presentation.