On April 24th, Aibi Ikebana held its 4th group show- and for the second year in a row at Sakurai kominka- a 150 year old traditional style Japanese farmhouse just outside of Kichijoji.
During the weekdays the building doubles as a day care center for the elderly and for children, during the weekends, all kinds of workshops are held there-most recently having to do with traditional carpentry- over the next year or so they are building a big treehouse on the property with all traditional building techniques- clay walls, hand-made paper shoji window coverings, etc. Our group is very fortunate to have such a unique space within Tokyo to exhibit our work- a very welcome break from the typical “white box” gallery space.
The old house, the adjoining kura (storage building) and the generous yard surrounding it are filled with odd bits and bobs- so a bit of treasure hunting is called for. This year in particular, I wanted to use materials that I could find on hand at Sakurai, or obtain from my own garden or those of friends. Even the price of flowers has gone up since the earthquake, and during spring’s abundant season, it seemed better to forage than to buy pre-cut materials. My first find was a delightful family of daruma dolls in a dusty crate in the kura attic. These bright, round, still eyeless dolls are made of paper-mache and weighted so that when they tumble over they always end up back upright, hence symbolizing the ability to overcome misfortune and overcome adversity. There is a saying associated with the daruma “fall down seven times, get up eight” that embodies this sense of resilience. The dolls are purchased eyeless, and typically one eye is painted in at the outset of a new endeavor. When the goal has been accomplished, the doll’s owner paints in the other eye.
As I pondered the eyeless dolls, and the symbolism associated with them, and what Japan is dealing with in the wake of the recent disasters, the themes of vision and resilience emerged.
Other found materials include bamboo rings strung from the ceiling (used to hold together old wooden miso containers), the Hinomaru (Japanese flag-was also found in the chest with the dolls), and fresh materials include cut bamboo from my teacher’s garden, grass leftover from my own garden-building project, white stones, dodan azalea branches, haran leaves, and cherry blossom petals.
In choosing the 8-meter long engawa (hallway) for my installation, I used the light in the old washroom to draw in the viewers, and the petals on the floor also indicated the way. Yet it was interesting to see that most viewers were reluctant to enter the space- nervous perhaps about disturbing something. So at some point we put up a little sign inviting people to walk through. When you enter the bathroom, there is a very small daruma sitting on the grass. This is was the only daruma that had both eyes painted in.
With 16 members participating in the show, it was a truly incredible transformation to witness. In the space of a day, the entire building had been converted into something very unique- around every corner a new surprise awaiting. In the afternoon, the members of the group who are going to the Beijing University event did a small outdoor demonstration – arranging with live music. With over 300 visitors from all backgrounds- local folks from the neighborhood, young families and children, other Ikebana students and teachers, etc, it was a unique chance to come together in celebration of spring and the unique spirit of beauty expressed through Ikebana.