Aiko Tezuka — Dear Oblivion – 親愛なる忘却へ

 

Curated by Sachiko Shoji (Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan)
14 September – 30 November 2019
Opening: Friday 13 September 2019, 6–9 pm

To see the artist page of Aiko Tezuka, please click here.

Press Release – English – Patrick J. Reed

Galerie Michael Janssen is pleased to present Aiko Tezuka’s new exhibition “Dear Oblivion – 親愛なる忘却へ” curated by Sachiko Shoji of the Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan. Organized on the occasion of Berlin Art Week 2019, “Dear Oblivion” is the artist’s second solo exhibition in the gallery’s space, and it features works created in collaboration with the Textile Lab at Textile Museum in Tilburg (the Netherlands), the Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI), Kawashima Selkon Textiles and Kyoritsu Women‘s University Museum.

Tezuka’s creative practice, though grounded in painting, has long found expression in intricate fabric installations and objects that explore themes related to the culture, industry, and history of the global textile enterprise. Processes of weaving and unweaving function to characterize both the artist‘s trademark aesthetic and her particular thematic preoccupations; as she articulates in her artist’s statement, she is “interested in loosening up such readymade nar¬ratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines,” and in so doing “facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.” In “Dear Oblivion,” Tezuka further explores these ideas with a critical emphasis on the deconstruction, reexamination, and reconstruction of the relationships between past and present, Japan and Western Europe, and art and craft.

One of her newest works, Flowery Obscurity (The Night Watch) (2019), translates Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Night Watch (1642) into weaving and modifies the image with swaths of ornamental Chintz, a patterned fabric of Indian ori¬gin made popular in both Japan and Western Europe via its distribution by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. In Tezuka’s version of The Night Watch, the Chintz replaces Rembrandt’s famed light rays to disrupt both the picture plane and the stability of the painting’s rarely contested “Europeanness.” Thus, the storied past of the master¬piece is intertwined with the history of maritime trade between the Dutch and countries in East Asia; namely, Japan, which closed its borders from the mid-seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century to all but China and Hol¬land. The “obscurity” in the title refers to the dimming of the painting caused by discoloration over time, and it refers to the cultures of East Asia—represented by the Chintz—which were often misunderstood by European society during Rembrandt’s age and the 220 years that Japan remained in isolation.

The evolution of this misunderstanding and its impact, known as orientalism, is an overarching exhibition theme. For example, A Study of Necessity (Satsuma-Buttons and Self-Orientalism) -03 and Rewoven in Kyoto, After 100 years -03 (both 2019) use the weft and the warp to illustrate how the East-West exchange of luxury goods influenced the two hemispheres’ perceptions of and interest in each other, which led to a commercially driven synthesis of styles, often at the expense of cultural identities in the East. And the namesake Dear Oblivion (A Study of Empress Haruko) (2019) is an homage to the Empress of Meiji Japan, who navigated old-world/new-world international politics through couture and poetry.

The acknowledgement of labor as inherent to the making and distribution of textiles, whether in the past or in the pre¬sent, is crucial to understanding Tezuka’s practice. Not only is she an intense laborer herself, but her works speak of labor as a human condition and a frequent human rights concern. Do you remember me—I was about to forget (2018), her machine-embroidered portraits of Meiji-era Japanese immigrants forced into underpaid labor on Hawaiian sugar plantations, is the most specific and haunting example of her engagement with this issue.

Concurrent to “Dear Oblivion – 親愛なる忘却へ” at Galerie Michael Janssen, Tezuka is presenting a near parallel exhi¬bition titled “Dear Oblivion,” at Spiral, an arts and culture center in Tokyo. Although the project is the same, its Tokyo iteration further elaborates Tezuka’s conceptual investigations of East and West, as geographic circumstances and cultural context inevitably change the public’s understanding of the work.

One can find more information on these artworks in “Becoming a Thread and a Needle: Aiko Tezuka‘s Thought and Method,” by Sachiko Shoji and “Art and History Intertwined: On Aiko Tezuka’s Project Rembrandt x Chintz,” by Rijksmuseum curator Chin-Ling Wang. Both texts were written on the occasion of this exhibition and are available for reading in the gallery.

Text by Patrick J. Reed

Press Release – Deutsch – Patrick J. Reed

Die Galerie Michael Janssen freut sich, zur Berlin Art Week 2019 die zweite Einzelausstellung der japanischen Künstlerin Aiko Tezukas zu präsentieren. Kuratorin der Ausstellung mit dem Titel „Dear Oblivion - 親愛なる忘却へ“ ist Sachiko Shoji vom Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan.

Die Ausstellung zeigt Arbeiten, die in Zusammenarbeit mit dem an das TextielMuseum im niederländischen Tilburg angeschlossene TextielLab, mit dem Kyoto Costume Institute (KCI), der Firma Kawashima Selkon Textiles und dem Kyoritsu Women‘s University Museum entstanden sind.

Tezuka kommt eigentlich von der Malerei, hat aber in ihren ebenso aufwendigen wie raffinierten Stoffinstallationen und -objekten längst eine ihr eigene Ausdrucksform gefunden, mit der sie Themen untersucht, die in engem Zusammenhang mit Kultur und Geschichte eines global agierenden Textilunternehmens stehen.

Dabei charakterisieren Prozesse des Webens und des Auflösens von Gewebtem sowohl die markante Ästhetik der Künstlerin als auch die Themen, an denen sie besonders interessiert ist; nach eigener Aussage der Künstlerin möchte sie „vorgegebene Narrative auflösen, um vergessene Geschichten zu entwirren oder bislang verdeckte Handlungsstränge freilegen zu können“ und damit letztlich „ein erneutes Überprüfen der subjektiven Natur der Zeit und des Prozesses der Metamorphose zu ermöglichen“. Diese Themen bearbeitet Tezuka auch im Rahmen von „Dear Oblivion“. Sie legt dabei – so Sachiko Shoji – einen kritischen Schwerpunkt auf Dekonstruktion, Überprüfung und Rekonstruktion der Beziehungen zwischen Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, zwischen Japan und Westeuropa und zwischen Kunst und Kunsthandwerk.

Zu ihren jüngsten Arbeiten zählt Flowery Obscurity (The Night Watch) 2019. Eine gewebte Übertragung von Rembrandt van Rijns Die Nachtwache (1642) in das Textile, die sie jedoch stark modifiziert durch größere Einflechtungen von floral-ornamentalem Chintz, dem Stoff, den die Niederländische Ostindien-Kompanie im 17. Jahrhundert sowohl in Japan als auch in Westeuropa populär machte. In ihrer Version von Die Nachtwache ersetzt Tezuka den berühmten Rembrandtschen Verlauf des Lichteinfalls mit breiten Streifen aus eben jenem Chintz, was nicht nur auf der unmittelbaren Bildebene stark disruptiv wirkt, sondern auch hinsichtlich der bis dato wohl relativ unbestrittenen Einstufung des Werks als klassisches Gemälde aus dem alten Europa. So wird Rembrandts Meisterwerk von Tezuka mit der Geschichte des Seehandels zwischen den Niederländern und den Ländern Ostasiens verwoben – insbesondere mit Japan, das sich von den 1630er Jahren an bis zur Mitte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts außer gegenüber China und Holland gegen alle anderen Länder abschottete. Die „Obscurity“ des Titels nimmt dabei ebenso Bezug auf das Nachdunkeln des Gemäldes im Laufe der Zeit wie auf die – hier durch das indische Chintz repräsentierten – Kulturen Ostasiens, die zu Rembrandts Zeiten und gerade im Falle Japans auch noch während der 220 Jahre andauernden Isolation des Landes oft sehr missverstanden und im Dunklen blieben.

Dieses fortgesetzte Missverständnis und seine (vom Begriff des Orientalismus bezeichneten) Auswirkungen sind ein übergreifendes Ausstellungsthema. So nutzen sowohl A Study of Necessity (Satsuma-Buttons and Self-Orientalism)-03 und Rewoven in Kyoto, After 100 years (beide 2019) die Systematik von Schuss und Kette, um darüber zu veranschaulichen, wie der Austausch von Luxusgütern zwischen Ost und West die gegenseitige Wahrnehmung der beiden Hemisphären und das jeweilige Interesse aneinander beeinflusste und schließlich zu einer kommerziell inspirierten und betriebenen Synthese der Stile führte, oft auf Kosten der kulturellen Identitäten im Osten. Das für die Ausstellung namensgebende Dear Oblivion (A Study of Empress Haruko), ebenfalls aus 2019, ist hingegen eine Hommage an Haruko, die Kaiserliche Gemahlin des Meiji-Tenno, die sich mit Couture und Poesie durch die internationale Politik der alten/neuen Welt bewegte.

Die Wertschätzung der menschlichen Arbeitskraft als ein für die Herstellung und den Vertrieb von Textilien essentieller Faktor, heute wie in der Vergangenheit, ist entscheidend für das Verständnis von Tezukas Arbeiten. So ist sie selbst eine unermüdliche Arbeiterin und auch in ihrem Schaffen nimmt sie Bezug auf die Arbeit als wertvoller Bestandteil der Conditio Humana, ebenso wie auf die Thematisierung von Arbeitsbedingungen als eine nur allzu oft brennende Frage der Menschenrechte. Do you remember me—I was about to forget (2018), ihre maschinengestickten Porträts japanischer Einwanderer aus der Meiji-Zeit, die auf hawaiianischen Zuckerplantagen zu unterbezahlter Arbeit gezwungen waren, sind wohl nicht nur das diesbezüglich konkreteste, sondern auch das eindringlichste Beispiel für ihre Auseinandersetzung mit dieser Frage.

Parallel zu der Ausstellung „Dear Oblivion - 親愛なる忘却へ“ in der Galerie Michael Janssen präsentiert Tezuka im Kunst- und Kulturzentrum Spiral in Tokio eine auch thematisch weitestgehend parallel konzipierte Ausstellung, ebenfalls mit dem Titel „Dear Oblivion“. Auch wenn es sich um das gleiche Projekt handelt, geht die Tokioter Variante der konzeptionellen Untersuchungen Tezukas zu Ost und West jedoch noch über die Ausstellung in Berlin hinaus und trägt damit dem Umstand Rechnung, dass der geografisch-kulturelle Kontext vor Ort die öffentliche Wahrnehmung von Kunst zwangsläufig verändert.

Weitere Informationen zu den ausgestellten Arbeiten Tezukas finden Sie in Sachiko Shojis Text „Becoming a Thread and a Needle: Aiko Tezuka's Thought and Method“ sowie in „Art and History Intertwined: On Aiko Tezuka’s Project Rembrandt x Chintz” von Chin-Ling Wang, Kurator am Amsterdamer Rijksmuseum. Beide Texte wurde aus Anlass der Ausstellung verfasst und liegen in der Galerie zur Lektüre bereit.

Text – 'Art and History Intertwined: On Aiko Tezuka’s Project Rembrandt x Chintz' – Ching-Ling Wang (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Art and History Intertwined: On Aiko Tezuka’s Project 1. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch: A ‘Failed’ Masterpiece and a Misunderstanding

When one thinks of the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), his monumental work The Night Watch in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam would probably spring to his or her mind. The painting is considered not only the most precious and important work in the museum collection but also the artist’s magnum opus.

Despite that, this most celebrated Rembrandt’s work was not so well received in the wake of its completion. In the early winter of 1639, the Civilian Company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq commissioned Rembrandt to produce a group portrait of 18 people, and the painting was planned to be hung in the banquet hall of the Kloveniersdoelen (Arquebusiers Assembly Hall). When the commissioned piece was finally unveiled in 1642, much to his surprise, the artist did not meet with an overly enthusiastic reception from his clients. What they had expected was more of the accurate documentation of their dignity than a work of art with the artist’s creative interpretation. That is to say, each of them simply wanted to have his portrait painted in a respectable manner. Nonetheless, it was generally agreed that there was little dignity or accurate representation found in the painting, since most of the figures depicted in the painting were either half concealed, fading into the background, or having their faces painted in shade. To make matters worse, instead of painting the eighteen people as originally requested, Rembrandt had rendered thirty-one figures in his painting, adding extra ones purely for aesthetic and compositional purposes and intending to liven up the scene. The militiamen, the customers, were supposedly dissatisfied with the final outcome, although there is no concrete record of confirming this. It is conceivable, however, that some of the gunmen, for instance, those portrayed in shade or only partially, may have been particularly displeased with the image. It was no surprising that after completing The Night Watch Rembrandt rarely received portrait commissions for many years.

Although Rembrandt’s clients may not have been happy with the work, today the painting is considered one of the finest pieces ever created even among the so-called masterpieces in the history of European art. Rembrandt executed this picture as a theatrical history painting with much depth latent in its content. The arresting quality of the painting pulls the viewer into the dramatic scene, where the captain raises his arm, giving a command, the beat of a drum is reverberating, the rifle is loaded, and the triggered is caulked. Rembrandt built up a complex scene, giving depth to the space with light and shade and staging Baroque movements against a classical backdrop. Rembrandt was the first artist to depict figures in action in a group portrait, showing the civic guardsmen taking ownership of their duties and marching to the drumbeat. His manipulation of light was also unprecedented. Be that as it may, the title of the painting, The Night Watch, was not given by Rembrandt but rather derived from a pure misunderstanding. By the 19th century, the canvas had become so darkened and dirty that it was thought to represent a ‘night watch’, a group of militiamen on night patrol. After the canvas was cleaned up, however, it became clear that the guards were standing in a dark interior illuminated by beams of daylight.

2. Rembrandt with India & Japan

It is rather unusual to associate Rembrandt with India, or Japan for that matter, but the truth is that in his cabinet of curiosities, there were objects from the Orient, including goods of Indian, Chinese and Japanese origin. He was particularly fascinated by miniature paintings from the Mughal court of India. In the inventory that catalogues his belongings, an entry on July 25, 1656 reads, “a ditto [art book] full of curious miniature drawings.” This would probably have referred to these Mughal miniatures. While he hardly ever made faithful copies of other artists’ works, he did make a series of copies, twenty-five to be precise, of the Mughal miniatures that he owned.

In the Rijksmuseum collection, there are three sketches made by Rembrandt during 1656-1658, which he copied from these Mughal miniatures, and most strikingly these sketches were all drawn on Japanese paper, for example, The Mughal Emperor Jahangir (*1). Japanese paper was not unfamiliar to Dutch artists in the 17th century, and it was not only Rembrandt who used it but also other artists. For example, Hercules Segers (1589-1638) made prints with Japanese paper.

3. Indian Chintz with the Netherlands and Japan

Chintz refers to the cotton fabric that was woodblock printed and hand-painted with designs featuring flowers and other patterns produced in India. Imported by the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC), chintz arrived in Europe in vast quantities and was also widely distributed in Persia, Siam, Indonesia, China, and Japan. In Europe, it was not only made into clothing but also played an important role in interior decoration. The exotic motifs of imported chintz were quickly adopted (and adapted) in Europe, and in turn, commissions from Europeans influenced its production in India. In no time, the popularity of chintz spread all over Europe. Decorating interiors with chintz was popular among the wealthy, and it was also used in castles and palaces.

The process of making chintz was complicated. First, the cotton was subjected to a repeated sequence of treatments with various oils and fats. Once the cotton was ready to be dyed, each color was applied in a separate step. Some thick colors and mordants were directly printed with carved woodblocks or applied with a brush. To preserve specific areas of the design, wax was used as a dye resist.

After 1641, Japan’s national isolation policy (sokoku鎖国) allowed only the Dutch and Chinese to trade in Nagasaki until 1854. Through the Dutch VOC, Indian chintz was brought into Japan, where it was cherished as an exotic textile. In Japan, it was called sarasa (更紗) and widely used among devotees of the tea ceremony to wrap artifacts used during tea ceremonies and called meibutsugire (名物裂). It was also used to mount scroll paintings and was even made into kimonos during the Edo period (1603-1868). The Indian chintz also inspired the Japanese textile production. Not only was chintz made into the Japanese style, but also it stimulated the local traditional textile industry, including the famous yūzen-dyeing. Meanwhile, chintz also influenced the textile production in Europe, and the copperplate machine printed fabric had become iconic products in the 19th century. Interestingly, after the isolation policy, Japan welcomed the country’s modernization, and the rapid transformation and mass production changed the way people lived, and the impact has lasted even until today.

4. Aiko Tezuka’s Rembrandt x Chintz

Aiko Tezuka’s art project Rembrandt x Chintz is intended to pay homage to the Dutch master Rembrandt. 2019 marks the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death. Finding a thread in the history of the commerce-driven interchange between the Netherlands and Japan, Aiko Tezuka designed a special tapestry appropriating the historical chintz and Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, the iconic painting of the Dutch Golden Age.

This ongoing project has so far yielded two works. One is a tapestry, Flowery Obscurity, designed by Aiko Tezuka (fig. 1). On the tapestry, the colorful Indian chintz fabrics (mostly chosen from the collection of the Rijksmuseum) fill the dark areas of The Night Watch (*2). In other words, the tapestry can also be seen as a collage of Rembrandt’s masterpiece and the historical chintz, and together, they merged into a new artwork.

One tends to divide painting and textile into high-art and craft, hence the perceived values are different. In the original commission of The Night Watch, each of the 18 members of the company paid ƒ100 to have their portraits painted, however, at that time, the cost of a tapestry would have been much higher. Aiko Tezuka’s work tackles the issue of differentiating between fine art and craft. She once stated, “I would assume that paintings and textiles were actually treated equally in people’s daily life in the 17th century and influencing each other.” In fact, in the 17th century, important artists occasionally worked on tapestry designs, and the most notable one was Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640).

In this work, the brightly colored Indian chintz became the light in the painting, which symbolized the profitable overseas trade of the Dutch VOC. The illusionistic curtain was a novel motif for painters during the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt’s Holy Family with a Curtain in Kassel, signed and dated 1646, is the earliest dated Dutch painting to bear this motif (*3). At first glance, the chintz that fills the dark areas looks almost like the curtain on a stage that was set up by Rembrandt. But the chintz here is not the real chintz. It is woven on a tapestry, like the curtain in Rembrandt’s painting, which is not a real curtain but painted on canvas. Here, Aiko Tezuka plays this art historical motif in her work.

In another work of hers, Aiko Tezuka untied the warp threads of a woven tapestry and re-wove them. The process of weaving and re-weaving can be considered akin to the process of constructing and re-constructing history, while the process of untying the threads can be seen as a process of de-constructing history.

I see Aiko Tezuka’s art project Rembrandt x Chintz as her artistic dialectic between Rembrandt’s work, the overseas trade of VOC in the Dutch Golden Age, the relationship between the Netherlands and Japan, and the Indian chintz. Aiko Tezuka stated, “Accepting the rupture of the cultural lineage, I decided to embrace the cultural hybridization between the West and the East in order to create something new upon that which is neither original nor firmly fixed.” In her works, art and history are intertwined. One could perhaps see history as the warp and art as the weft, and by Aiko Tezuka’s hand, they are woven together.

Fig. 1 Flowery Obscurity (The Night Watch – 01), 2019, Jacquard weaving designed by the artist with colored warp threads (materials of the threads are acrylic, cotton and wool), fabric height 130 cm, fabric width 175 cm, development and production by TextielMuseum | TextielLab - Tilburg, the Netherlands, product developer is Judith Peskens (TextielMuseum | TextielLab), collaboration with Ching-Ling Wang (curator of Chinese art, Rijksmuseum - Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

*1 The Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1656, ink on Japanese paper, 18.3 x 12 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-T-1961-82 (accessed on July 11, 2019)

*2 See also Sachiko Shoji’s "Becoming a Thread and a Needle" - Aiko Tezuka's thought and method

*3 Holy Family with a Curtain, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646, oil on wood, 46.5 x 69 cm, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-T-1961-82 (accessed on July 11, 2019)

Text – 'Becoming a Thread and a Needle' - 'Aiko Tezuka's thought and method' (short version) – Sachiko Shoji (Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan)

When we look back on history, we tend to trace our retrievable memories. However, memories and oblivion are like two sides of the same coin, and there is always something forgotten behind retrievable memories. In this exhibition titled Dear Oblivion, Aiko Tezuka focused on modernity in Japan. All new works created for this exhibition are woven from scratch, not using ready-made cloths. Each and every thread woven into these newly designed textiles has embodied Tezuka's thoughts on re-examining and reconstructing relationships between Japan and Western Europe, Modern and Contemporary, paintings and textiles, i.e., art and craft, which may have been born even before the fabric was physically liberated.

Rewoven in Kyoto, After 100 years has been originated from Tezuka’s particular heed to a single piece of fabric that had recently been added to the collection at the Kyoto Fashion Costume Institute (KCI). It is a tablecloth that is believed to be woven by Kawashima Textile (present Kawashima Selkon Textiles), a well-established textile company based in Kyoto. Kawashima Textile was founded by Kawashima Jinbei I in 1843 in the late Edo period, operating initially as a kimono dealer and providing various kinds of kimono-related services. The business was further developed by Kawashima Jinbei II, the eldest son of Kawashima Jinbei I. In order to show the technical prowess and minuteness of Japanese craftsmen, which were difficult to be seen in relatively small kimono fabrics, Kawashima Jinbei II embarked on producing large-sized interior decoration textiles after the World Expo in 1900. This tablecloth is supposed to have been woven during this period. Tezuka, who has collaborated with Kawashima Selkon Textiles for several of her past projects, requested them the remaking of this tablecloth. Thanks to the miraculous encounter and the invention of contemporary weaving machines, this reproduced work becomes an artistic practice to bridge the gap between Modern and Contemporary, reflecting back upon the technological innovation of art and craft in Japan during the Meiji era on one hand and the dualistic attitude towards Western Europe on the other.

A Study of Necessity (Satsuma-Buttons and Self-Orientalism) is a textile work designed by Tezuka, which was once taken apart and reconstructed. This textile is layered with images and patterns of the Asuka period embroidery, the Tenjukoku Shūchō Mandala in the background, the ridges of the Suigetsu (Water-Moon) Kannon half-stone statue in-between, and the Satsuma Button on top of them. Made of precious white Satsuma clay, the Satsuma Button is a gorgeous ceramic button with a diameter of only a few centimeters, on which images of Japanese landscapes and women in kimonos were exquisitely painted [ref.1]. Following the ‘Japonism’ boom in Western Europe, the exotic buttons were produced specifically for export purposes from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji era. Tezuka grew fascinated with the curious behavior of Japanese exporters who produced buttons that were merely redundant embellishments for kimonos then and yet turned them into something strikingly Japonesque. Seeing it as another point of departure, she unwove the textile and visualized linkages between the Satsuma Button and the original 18th and 19th-century European buttons in various ways, while juxtaposing their images.

In 1869, Japan finally ended over 200 years of self-imposed seclusion. In order to show that Japan was equal to its Western counterparts, the Meiji government adopted various westernization policies, lending itself to the values of Western Europe. Empress Shōken (Haruko) is known as the first empress who consciously replaced kimonos with the Western-style clothing as a member of the Japanese loyalty [ref.2]. Empathizing with the situation in which the Empress was placed in relation to the westernization of women's clothing in Modern Japan, Tezuka attentively took apart the design of the court dress / Manteau de Cour (currently held in Kyoritsu Women's University Museum collection) [ref.3] and redesigned it into Dear Oblivion (A Study of Empress Haruko) with the two pieces of Tanka poems composed by the Empress soon after the westernization of women's dresses at the Imperial Court.

"As the exchange with foreign cultures frequents, a sense of urgency not to lag behind them grows." (As diplomatic relations with foreign countries deepen, a sense of urgency to not lag behind them and to catch up with them intensifies.)

"Water becomes the form of a vessel, as it conforms to its shape." (Depending on the shapes of containers, the shape of water alters capriciously.)

Written by Sachiko Shoji, curator of Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan