In looking more into my core essay idea of ‘locality as material & process’ I have been investigating weaving techniques and materials which are completely rooted within their local cultures and history. This has brought me to the beautiful art of Japanese Bamboo Basketry. Fundamentally, I think it is the simplicity of material and elegance of form which attracts me to this most of all – and I would like to take some of my inspiration into my wheat weaving work.
This history of bamboo basketry as a craft (as as a modern fine art discipline) isn’t as well known worldwide as some of the other specifically Japanese craft traditions. Bamboo is native to Japan (as well as China, South Asia and parts of Africa and South America) and there are apparently 600 different varieties in Japan – 40% of which are to be found on Kyushu. It is incredibly fast-growing and and although very resilient, can be split into very fine strips along the vertical length of the bamboo. As with willow basketry in England, the origins of the craft were in utilitarian containers made and used locally. Baskets dating back to the 700’s have been used to hold flowers scattered during Buddhist ceremonies. From the late 1600s to the early 1900s, bamboo baskets expressing a “uniquely Japanese aesthetic” were made by high-level bamboo artists as flower baskets for the sencha tea ceremony.
In the 1950’s and 60’s bamboo artists began exploring more sculptural and non-functional means of artistic expression using bamboo as their material. This opened the doors to a wave of contemporary bamboo basketry and a new fine art tradition within Japan. There is a strong heritage of artistic lineages (passing from father to son and so on) in bamboo art, and a range of amazing work which coves everything from Meiji, modern and contemporary functional baskets and art pieces. I can do this range no justice in summary – so see the book refs below if you want to know more. However, I have picked out a few artists whose work I find really inspirational for my own practice.
Flight, 2003 (Photo from Museum for Fine Arts, Boston)
Synchronizing ripple, 2015
Galaxy (Seiun), 2001
In summary, what I like most in all of these works is:
- the strong sense of continuous lines
- simplicity of material – often only bamboo, or bamboo with rattan for knotting and tying.
- it is clear to see the inherent nature of the weaving material explicitly within the structure itself
- there is a balance of energy and freedom with the tight control of the weaving process – many layers of entropy co-existing
- these baskets couldn’t be made of anything else – they exist because of the material they are made from