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Mar/Apr 2002


Textural Space

Machiko Agano, Untitled; fishing wire, steel wire, handmade paper; 13.25 by 19.75 by 11.5 feet. Photo: Toshiharu Kawabe.

If you happened to enter the arched doorway of Brighton-based Fabrica's deconsecrated church gallery last summer, you would have been met by the spectacle of a vast woven web of fiber form, extending the length of the gallery space. In the underlit ambience of the room, the gentle organic curves and waves of Machiko Agano's unfolding netting became apparent, along with the work's still, calm, sculptural combination of fishing wire, steel wire, and handmade paper--an apt echo for its location.

Agano's site-specific piece stands out in the current "Textural Space" exhibition, which toured across Britain until November. The exhibition highlighted some of Japan's outstanding contemporary textile artists as part of a year-long series of Japanese events happening in the U.K. In so doing, it brought to the attention of British arts, design, and crafts a tradition with simply no parallels in the host country.

The cutting edge of British textile practitioners' concerns relates to a critical, almost issues-based sensibility about the medium in present-day life. Environmentalism, gender, and the full de- (and re-) construction of textile materials as themes all represent attempts to engage with this cultural zeitgeist within textural practice. Japanese aesthetics, however, so completely at odds with this world, have long been focused on the qualities of things, which in textiles are embodied in a subtle awareness of the relationship of the textural objects to the space they inhabit. This latter search for the dynamics of spatial harmony, exploring not only space but light, texture, and materials, was at the core of what curator Lesley Millar wanted to bring to Britain--hence the exhibition's title. The Japanese perspective is also not bound to textile practitioners, but spills over into design, architecture, and the arts--a traditional, though thoroughly convincing mixing of media. This is wholly timely in the current emergent flux of the Western art scene.

Asako Ishizaki, Field; linen, silk, bamboo; 10 by 10 feet. Photo: Toshiharu Kawabe.

That said, this exhibition's pieces remain resolutely from a different world. Asako Ishizaki's delicate circular fan or Agano's wispy intricate microworlds suggest the continuing importance of hand skills and a meditational calm needed to bring these pieces to fruition. The largest pieces, such as Naomi and Masakazu Kobayashi's Installation, were just that, contemporary installations, but installations that are aware of their relation to space and place. A flurry of steel bamboo rods set in careful proximity to a circular paper sphere, the latter growing out of a hundred miniature boxes, the Kobayashis' piece sat exquisitely below five woven boards. For all the consummate sense of peace and stillness that this floating world instilled, and the inspirational sense it initiated, it could just as easily be public art or be shown in architectural as well as gallery spaces, bringing home, evocatively, that in textiles, as in so many other media, there is much to learn from Japan.

--Oliver Lowenstein

Oliver Lowenstein writes and teaches on interdisciplinary arts and media and runs Fourth Door Review, an interdisciplinary green cultural, new media, contemporary arts, and architecture review magazine from Sussex, Britain.

This review first appeared in:

Mar/Apr 2002

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