Japonism, Japonism, Japonism…

It is the word to describe my existing mental status.  If not the tsunami at Tōhoku in Japan, I would have already studied in Japan.  The school registration was all ready and suddenly came the outbreak of the crisis.  If I were not given the chance to go to France for the language course, I would have already taken the offer for a Master’s study in Buddhism in Hong Kong.  Life is amazing.  Everything starts from a point and end on the same, like a circle.  Things intermingled and then after going miles’ way you find yourself doing what you should have done at the very first instant.  Today, I start to do my research in Japanese Zen paintings.  Zen, in fact is originated from the Buddhism in China.

But Japonism does not really mean my passion to the culture of Japan.  The term Japonism refers to the late 19th century European craze for Japanese art, fashion and aesthetics.  In art, it refers notably to fans, screens, lacquers, bronzes, silks, porcelains and ukiyo-e woodblock prints – which arrived in huge quantities from Japan, following the decision taken in 1854 by the Tokugawa Shogunate to open up its seaports to international trade with the West.  The ukiyo-e has the advantage of cheap mass-production, making them universally accessible.

“Japonism” exerted a vigorous influence in France (Japonisme in French), especially among painters of the impressionism, by bringing to the artists the new ideas in terms of composition, color, and design.  The European artists made reference to the distinctive Japanese imagery from ukiyo-e and grafted them into their own works.  Examples are the cherry blossoms, lanterns, kimonos, and temples.

Ukiyo-e helped reshaping the techniques and the aesthetic expression of western art.   It typically features prominent outlines (rooted in the Japanese reverence for calligraphy), and areas of flat and vibrant color.  Shadows are generally omitted.  This influence was obvious in the colors and compositions of Édouard Vuillard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and above all Vincent van Gogh.

Hiroshige and Van Gogh

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) was one of the most famous Japanese ukiyo-e artists, considered the last great master of that tradition.  Best known for his landscapes, Hiroshige has greatly influenced French Impressionists such as Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.  For instance, the Flowering Plum Tree (1887) from Japonaiserie of Van Gogh and his Bridge in the rain (1887) were inspired respectively by the works of The Plum Garden in Kameido (1857) and the Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (1857) of Hiroshige.

The Exhibition: Fiber Futures in Paris

At the height of this Japonism, I went to La Maison de la Culture du Japon in Paris and discovered a very interesting exhibition: Fiber Futures.

The works of 30 Japanese artists fascinated my eyes with their metamorphosis of textiles in this exhibition.  The exhibition had already taken place in New York, San Francisco, Helsinki, and Madrid.

Fiber art emerged in the 1960s.  In Japan, it is acting as a framework through which artists are able to re-examine their ancestral traditions through a contemporary angle.  Indeed, the country has a rich history of dyeing and weaving, techniques which are re-appropriated by Japanese contemporary artists nowadays.

We can find in the exhibition the intermingling of art, craftsmanship, and design.  These contemporary Japanese artists transformed fabrics into sculptures, pictures, emulations of nature by using materials ranging from silk, cotton, recycled cocoons, antique paper scraps, jute, hemp, stainless-steel wire and synthetic fiber.  They transform, bend, divide and reuse the fiber.  The creation of Machiko Agano is one of the most impressive works for me.  The artist presented an artificial forests cut out from mirror card and suspended from the ceiling.  The work infuses in the space with the reflections resulted from the sunshine at the exterior.  The idea of ecology is transmitted through this work.

La Maison de la Culture du Japon at Paris

At the end of the exhibition, we can ask for the posters of the previous, current or coming exhibitions for free.  There is also a small bookstore selling Japanese decorations and books.  This House of Japanese Culture also organize workshops like making and tasting of Japanese noodles – Sobas, sake tasting, Japanese tea history and tasting, etc.  Conferences on cultural topics and courses in Japanese are also available in the House.

(Exhibition of Fiber Futures is open from 6 May to 11 July 2015)


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