Never having made it as far south as Okinawa while I was in Japan, I was intrigued to hear about an exhibition in London influenced by Okinawan culture and traditions. Tonight, I went along to the opening night of LOOCHOO ‘Time’ at The Crypt Gallery in London to see what it was all about…
In the second half of the 18th century British Navy ships ran aground near Okinawa. The kindness and help of the Ryukyuan (people from Okinawa) at that time is well recorded. The British called Ryukyu “Loochoo”, and reported that they were deeply impressed by the Ryukyuan’s culture and hospitality. The culture of the Ryukyu Dynasty still has a significant effect on both Okinawan artists and designers.
In this exhibition the artists and designers, who are all, in some way, related and influenced by Okinawan culture and traditions, have created works that respond in very personal ways to their conceptual thinking about ‘Time’.
I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed myself this evening and the Okinawan atmosphere really cheered me up. The weather in London is grim at the moment, but these wonderful artists from Okinawa brought all of the warmth of the sun with them. They were such friendly people, so happy to see everyone enjoying their work, and everyone was so laid back and relaxed. I really want to visit Okinawa now!
Here’s some more information about the artists:
Hiromi Tsuha – visual artist
Hiromi Tsuha’s work is drawn from a very personal starting point. Almost autobiographical in nature her art has an ephemeral quality that arises from the transient nature of the objects she uses. Tsuha often seeks to locate and present memories within her site specific art and her choice of her materials is always crucial. Simultaneously poetical and playful her work continues to explore the motivations we all have to find a place of our own in the face of all that we have lost, and the decisions we must encounter to realise our desires. For the Loochoo show, Tsuha admits her desperation for time and looks at her own reality when confronted by it. She projects this through installation work inspired by Okinawan winter scapes.
Atsushi Izena – ceramicist/VIVACE CEO
Atsushi Izena is a ceramic artist and creates pieces with an emphasis on functionality and how they serve people. For this exhibition, he looks at the topic of death; a subject inspired by the crypt itself. It is well known that in some cultures, death is a taboo subject. Izene wants to confront this by introducing to us a unique Okinawan cinerary urn that he designed. He states that “The process of creating and making an urn is one way of accepting the inevitable… how time affects us all. It could be a starting point for us to talk about our own design for death.” Izena hopes that his piece will open up conversation about death and dying in an open and relaxed way.
Hiroshi Tanaka – textiles designer
Hiroshi Tanaka first worked at a design company in Tokyo. He returned to Okinawa to set up his own interior design company specialising in shop/store outfitting. Tanaka’s evolving career led him to collaborate with his wife who introduced him to the world of textiles and later established himself as a textile designer with the well-recognised brand YOKANG in Okinawa. His work is hugely influenced by traditional Okinawan Bingata, a technique that dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom of around 14th century which uses dyed fabric and patterned paper stencils. Tanaka has taken this ancient technique and has adapted it to his own artistic style using very precise details and colour schemes. His innovative work has an enthusiastic following.
Pokke104 : Yukino Ikeshiro – illustrator
Yukino Ikeshiro, better known as Pokke104, is recognised as one of the leading female illustrators in Okinawa. Her inspiration comes from traditional designs of Okinawan handicraft. Her work includes vibrant motifs of plants and sea creatures in unique displays. She has undertaken a variety of projects including collaboration with HONDA. In recent years Pokke104 has been exploring ‘Ryuka’ a type of Okinawan lyrical poetry dating back to the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom (15th – 19th centuries). In this show Pokke104 uses ‘Kajadefu’ – a song which suggests the joy of new life. She attempts to express the warmth and welcoming nature of ‘Ryuka’ through the medium of painting. Her use of colours and shape translate the traditional words and sounds of ‘Kajadefu’ into a visual commentary. Pokke104 invites people with ‘Shurei’ which means to welcome with kindness and hospitality.
LEQUIOSIAN: Taichi Naka, Eriko Naka – fashion designers
LEQUIOSIAN’s aim is to use a set of creative textile designs. Expressing the image of the ‘LEQUIOSIAN’ people – a fictitious nomadic tribe, in a different context. Their unique designs, with photo images of Okinawan landscapes, characterise the methods and fabric of Okinawa in an efficient and economical sewing style to provide a versatile and flexible use of clothing. It could be said that the basic concept of their style is a ‘thinking design’. For this show, an interactive approach to their work is encouraged, whereby the medium and participant, together become a vehicle in the creation of new abstract art modelled against an atypical setting. How and what will the emergence of Okinawa in the London Crypt unfold?
Kyota Matsudo – visual artist (glass)
Kyoto Matsdo’s major at University was sociology. He led the production and design of blown glass at a glass studio in Nagasaki following the Tokyo glass art institute. He then left for the USA and produced works at “UrbanGlass”, then introduced his work to the gallery and shop whilst he was attending the National Academy in New York. Matsudo’s site-specific work in the exhibition is inspired by the Crypt’s history and space. He pays homage to the 557 people buried there, by introducing his piece as a traditional Okinawan ritual of honouring the dead. His work is an embodiment of his living presence at a moment of time in the present, connecting to and contrasted with, the dead and of a time that once was.
decco : Moritaka Nakamura, Satoko Nakamura – potter unit
decco predominately creates tableware. Porcelain is their signature work. Their creations have appeared in numerous articles and magazines. The popularity of their work is mainly due to their collaborative approach, working with artists of various disciplines and concepts. For this exhibition, decco challenges the concept of time through their refined methods of craftsmanship. They hope to elicit dialogue with the viewer through their interactive work.
Aya Taira – visual artist
Aya Taira ponders the connections between nature, the cosmos and time and tries to tie all these elements together in her work. She uses empty larval cases of the Cicada. The larval cases are not just husks of empty space; they hold echoes of the past and signify life anew. Just as black holes elude our comprehension, the life of the Cicada remains, for most part, out of sight and mysterious. Their empty vessels are black holes; black holes of forgotten memories and of stories untold. Taira thinks about her ancestors, the Ryukyu people and how they are like constellations. We look to them in wonderment but there is so much that’s unanswered. However, we are somehow all connected by a mysterious thread.
Eiten Oshiro – painter
Eiten Oshiro is both a 2D and 3D artist and works with different mediums such as paint, iron and steel. He has held several solo exhibitions and has collaborated with musicians in his ‘live’ work. Oshiro’s unique familial background of mediums has led him to take an interest in the spiritual world. Communication between the physical and spiritual world is characteristic of ancestral worship in Okinawan culture, a traditional practice that goes as far back as the Ryukyu period. For this show, Oshiro tries to make connections between the historical past and the present, the physical and the spiritual, nature and the cosmos; all the elements that he believes are inherent to what is the ‘Okinawan vibe’, and expresses this as lines and colour in his work.
Chihiro Furugen – paper jewellery designer
Furugen has worked in various design fields but eventually specialised in jewellery design. Her allergy to certain metals led her to search alternative materials. She grew a fascination with paper, its nature and qualities, and pushed the boundaries in its use in jewellery design, achieving interesting and creative results. For this exhibition, Furugen explores the ephemerality of paper juxtaposed with the idea of regeneration. The paper that she uses is made from the Okinawa ‘Ge-tto’ plant, valuable to the Okinawan people because of its many uses. The motif in her paper object is inspired from the flowers produced by the plant. She hopes that her work will inspire people to think differently about paper and its usage.
HOME : 12 collective artists – moving image
‘HOME’, a concept jointly planned by Tsuha and Taira in Okinawa in 2010 has been screening at the Okinawa Prefectural Museum of Art, Club Else, Z space. Each artist from Okinawa and London depicted the HOME within a 5 minute video work. This is a first screening in a foreign country.
There were also examples of tradition Okinawan dancing (Ryubu) by Yuko Izena. If you watch this clip without sound it looks sort of like a rave, but with sound you can tell that these people are really enjoying traditional Okinawan music. I was told that this kind of dance is a typical way to end an event. How fun!
(Much of the informative text above is taken from LOOCHOO’s promotional materials. All photos are my own. Please see Flickr for the full album.)