“Behind Paper Doors–a series about remarkable people in Kyoto.”
In Collaboration with Photographer, Helen Hasenfeld
© Photos by Helen Hasenfeld
Kyoto has been a textile center for more than a millennium and is still home to a large community of weavers, dyers, textile designers, apparel house staff and art-to-wear artists. Historically, it was the kimono, the original “art-to-wear” that engendered Kyoto artists’ emphasis on the textile arts. Artisans, working with silk crepe; silk pongee; sha and ro gauze; ramie; cotton; linen; hemp; banana fiber; and shifu cloth (silk or cotton woven with handmade mulberry paper) created individually designed kimono in extremely small numbers, virtually one-of-a-kind clothing. To satisfy the public’s desire for something unique, artists constantly introduced new designs. These designs proliferated to such an extent that the historical lexicon of kimono textile forms is truly enormous. In addition to new designs, Japanese artisans employed different motifs, dying methods, and weaving styles. These include hand embroidery, 3-demensional weavings that look like embroidery, two dimensional ikat weaving, immersion dying, resist dying, stencil dying, shibori tie-dying, and hand dying using small brushes. Modern artisans utilize many of these same fabrics and techniques today in the creation of contemporary art-to-wear.
In addition to Kyoto’s prominence as a producer of art-to-wear, the Japanese have become world leaders in contemporary fiber art. This can be traced back to the 1970’s, when a number of talented Japanese artists showed at the now historically significant Lousanne Biennale.
Considering Kyoto’s long history of art-textile production and Japan’s prominent place in the world art-textile community, it’s not surprising that Gallery Gallery would make its home in Kyoto. Tucked away on the 5th floor of a historic art deco style building in the city’s downtown, this “Fiber Arts Central” is a gathering place for many of the most creative fiber artists in the country. Keiko Kawashima is the gallery’s director and is the driving force behind this important Japanese venue.
Director Kawashima has studied and/or lived in Kyoto for much of her life. After graduating from Doshisha University with a major in Japanese art history, she took a two-year textile course at Seian College of Art and Design. Says Kawashima, “My professor at Seian was a renowned fiber arts pioneer, the late Kobayashi Masakazu. He was an international artist whose work, presence and concepts drew lots of people from all over the world to Gallery Gallery, which he founded in 1981. I joined him here in 1984 and took over as manager in 1988.”
This unique gallery space is divided into two distinct sections: the Solo Artist Installation and the Showcase Gallery. “We have a few Solo Artist Installations each month, mostly mixed media and other three-dimensional works.” The Showcase Gallery displays works by 100 different fiber and textile artists, each one’s work displayed in an individual plexi-glass box.
The idea for The Showcase Gallery came from the artists featured in Gallery Gallery’s solo installation shows. Word got around quickly, with featured artists introducing other fiber- craft artists to the gallery. It did not take long before 50 cases were rented, and not long after that, the number of cases was expanded to 100, which are always filled. This unusual display technique makes it possible for one to see the works of 100 different artists in a single visit.
“I love when people from foreign countries come here. Because they don’t know the artists, they are not concerned about artists’ resumes or how famous they are. They simply react to what they see and feel. Either they like what they see or they don’t.” Foreign visitors often do not have sufficient background in Japanese culture to be able understand the symbolism in the works. In order to “reach” them, the art must have universal appeal, appeal that transcends context. “It is so much fun to see people having such a fresh, unprejudiced experience.”
“Kyoto is changing so quickly. The appreciation and enjoyment of handmade crafts and art from natural materials is increasing. People are using these things more and more in their daily lives. Also, people in the general public are now supporting crafts and textiles, not just people involved in the arts. Here in the gallery, I have watched as the attitudes of men and women and attitudes toward gender have changed over the past 25 years. There is a melding of social values, culture and technology. That melding is reflected in the textiles we use and wear. I love textiles because they are part of the culture of the people. They are so important.
“I have had great experiences here during these 25 years! At first I couldn’t speak English, but slowly, through necessity, I have gotten used to communicating with people from all over the world. I am often invited to different places, such as the eastern European countries of Bulgaria and Lithuania, to introduce Japanese artists. This allows me to utilize my background in Japanese culture.
“Rather than focus on what is wrong in the world, I am having a great time mingling within a large community of artists. My world is filled with so many creative people through this gallery. I feel very positive to be able to provide a venue where the activities of such talented people can be seen. Gallery Gallery has become a center for a growing segment of this society—a place to gather and share information. It is really a kind of sub-culture that congregates here, like a salon.
“Ten years ago I went abroad once each year. Now I go three times each year. The world is discovering contemporary Japanese fiber art, and we are fortunate to receive lots of offers to coordinate exhibitions around the world. It is a great time to be living in Kyoto!”