Sunday, May 28, 2006

Shigeo Kawashima

Where am I? Where have I been? In the past week I've driven to Philadelphia, NYC, and Connecticut. In the name of art handling and exhibiting I've been to an artist's studio in Philly, the houses and apartments of incredibly wealthy collectors in all three places, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Northeast (Greenwich) and one of the poorest (West Philly).

Half of the reason for the trip was to pick up a few sculptures by Shigeo Kawashima, an independent bamboo artist from Kanagawa, Japan who is at Visarts until June 2 making a site specific bamboo sculpture. The following pictures are from a stop motion video I'm making of the creation of the piece. Following these pics (and my words) is the press release from the Visarts website.

We ordered 2 dozen 20' bamboo poles from a bamboo forest/farm in Dudley, Georgia. Here they are in the warehouse space at Visarts where Kawashima and his assistants did the first stage of the work (I have been one of them off and on but mostly I have been running to the store, making sure he has what he needs, cleaning up, etc.). Kawashima cut the ends off all the poles, the assistants (including me for this part) washed the poles, then Kawashima began splitting the poles into eighth's and the assistants cleaned the strips of the interior node pieces with what looked to me like bamboo shanks.

After the bamboo was cut into hundreds of (approx. 1.5") strips Kawashima began weaving them together to make what appears (for now) to look like a smiling queen-size futon. The piece is approx. 15' long and the strips of bamboo are joined with black zip ties.

After about half of the strips were woven together the piece was moved into the gallery and Kawashima will complete it there. After all the bamboo is woven Kawashima will use black yarn and tie thousands of knots all over the piece.

The exhibit opens this Friday at 6pm and will remain on view until mid-July.

Press Release:

At the invitation of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, sculptor Shigeo Kawashima arrives in mid-May from his home in Kanagawa, Japan, to spend three weeks at the center as a resident artist. Intricately weaving strips of fresh-cut bamboo, Kawashima will construct a monumental sculpture that he has conceived specifically for the VACR's galleries. The exhibition also includes a selection of Kawashima's small-scale maquettes, for which he has become internationally known.

Kawashima's residency follows the VACR's 2004 exhibition, Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Arts, which introduced his work along with that of 30 other Japanese artists to audiences in central Virginia. His exhibition is also the sixth installment of On Site / Artists' Projects. This annual series supports the creation of site-specific works that stretch traditional boundaries and expectations, giving both artist and audience new challenges and opportunities for interaction.

Although Kawashima's early training was tradition-based, he later pursued a path as an independent artist instead of joining a professional craft-arts organization. Born in 1958 in Tokyo, he was in his twenties when he began teaching at the Beppu Occupational School. Because of his youth, his students did not take him seriously until he challenged them to a competition to see who could split bamboo the fastest and most accurately.

According to Robert Coffland, a specialist on Japanese bamboo arts and director of the TAI Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Kawashima's sense of artistic experimentation was inspired by Shono Shounsai, Japan's first Living National Treasure in the bamboo arts, who was a major advocate of the sculptural possibilities of bamboo. "Kawashima's creativity and his deftness at mastering new techniques," Coffland notes, "have established his reputation as a leader in the next wave of bamboo sculptors."

In the 1990s, Kawashima began making large-scale bamboo sculptures in natural and urban settings. Characterized by graceful curvilinear forms and dramatic surfaces, these unprecedented works have led to several recent site commissions in this country. Over the last decade, his small sculptures have entered more than 30 collections throughout Japan, Europe, and the United States, including the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and have been included in a dozen shows featuring new work by emerging contemporary artists.

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