Papering a fragile world
Kyoko Ibe is one of Japan´s most innovative paper artists, creating large-scale installations using ´washi´, traditional Japanese paper. She became interested in the material and began constructing contemporary art objects from it at a time when ´washi´ was used exclusively for traditional Japanese art and crafts. In her pioneering work, Ibe has pushed the limits of ´washi´ to develop a new art form, which combines a respect for tradition with technological experimentation.
Papermaking, invented by the Chinese, began in Japan in the seventh century. A special technique of making paper using fibre found between the core and bark of the mulberry tree as the raw material was developed and it became the prototype of production for ´washi´.
Paper has a symbolic presence in Japanese cultures, playing an important role in rituals, ceremonies and festivals. The ancient Japanese believed that the presence of divine spirits resided in paper. ´Washi´ in particular has been used widely. Although it is most commonly used as a writing or painting medium and as the translucent material found in traditional Japanese shoji screens, it has also been used to make screens, furniture and even costumes.
The tradition of papermaking is fast dying. Nevertheless, there are still a few hundred Japanese families engaged in the craft, each of whom passes down the secrets of the trade to the younger generations. For Ibe this is crucial. For, despite her artistic inventiveness, it is imperative that the paper she uses is handmade. In an artist´s statement, she explains, "A single sheet of handmade white paper is a quiet, solitary object, but it causes one to calm one´s heart and gives one a warm peaceful feeling which you can´t from machine-made paper."
She believes that ´washi´ is a paradigmatic example of the four principles of Japanese aesthetics - harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity - as identified by Sen Rikyu, one of the chief developers of tea ceremony in the sixteenth century. Ibe adds, "It is perfectly adapted to express an eco-aesthetic sensibility, which can carry us in to the future with beauty and mindfulness of our fragile, precious natural world."
For Ibe, this aspect is crucial. Isabel M. Sharp, Coordinator of the International Resource Network has quoted the artist affirming, "more and more art is closed to human beings . . . water, paper is nature . . . to touch and feel these things opens their minds".
When Ibe began working with the soft, fibrous material in the 1960s, few artists considered using it. Ibe, however, loved its translucence. "It is both light and strong," she says, "and there are many techniques you can use to adapt it with other materials."
Her first washi works were small-scale pieces, predominantly toys, lamps and furniture that she made for her own pleasure. In the 1970s, however, she began exhibiting her work. They began to grow in scale becoming monumental installations that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. They have been described in the January 2003 issue of Cdecor.com as "shimmering down like a curtain of rain, or horizontal ribbons, suspended one on top of the other in mid-air, in atriums, lobbies and museums". The description continues, "Some of her installations look like flocks of origami-style crane."
During the mid-1980s, Ibe began to receive commissions to create sets and costumes for dance and theatre productions and in 1997, she won the Isadora Duncan Award for her stage design at the San Francisco Performance Festival at the Palace of Fine Art. She has also collaborated with performance artists such as the Noh actor Sakura Genso and the Utah Dance Company. Ibe also designs products for domestic interiors, including lighting and wallpaper.
Kyoko Ibe was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1941. A graduate from the Kyoto Institute of Technology in 1963, she completed her Masters at the same institution in 1967. Since then she has exhibited her work in twenty countries across the world and has received numerous awards for her work.
In addition to her paper artworks, Ibe has also created stage sets and costumes and designed products for domestic interiors such as lighting and wallpaper.
Exhibition / Installation,
2001 ‘International Paper Art Show’
2001 ‘On Paper’, Crafts Council, UK
2001 ‘Made in Japan’, Bristol Museum, UK
2000 Gallery 1, Tokyo, Japan
2000 Fuji City Art Hall, Fuji, Japan
2000 ‘NeoCon, Merchandise Mart’, Chicago, USA
1999 ‘Form of Washi’, Nerima Museum, Tokyo, Japan
1999 ‘SOFA Sculpture, Object, Functional Art Show’, Navy Pier, Chicago, USA
1999 ‘Home Celebration Show’, Merchandise Mart. Chicago, USA
1998 ‘SOFA Sculpture, Object, Functional Art Show’, Navy Pier, Chicago, USA
1998 ‘Home Celebration Show’, Merchandise Mart. Chicago, USA
Exhibition / Installation,
2001 Gallery Gonaku, Tokyo, Japan
2000 Scottsdale Contemporary Art Museum, Arizona, USA
2000 Gallery l’Asiatique, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
1998 I Space, University of Illinois Gallery, Chicago, USA
1997 Keihan Gallery of Science and Arts, Osaka, Japan
1997 Tokyo International Forum Exhibition Space, Tokyo, Japan
1997 L Park Sendai Gallery Hall, Sendai, Japan
1993 Merit Prize of Kyoto Prefecture Culture Award
1990 Art Award of the Paulista Society of Art Critics, Sao Paulo, Brazil
1988 4th Isadora Duncan award, Visual Design Award, USA
1986 Kyoto Prefecture Art and Craft Exhibitions
2001 Visiting Artist, Scottsdale Cultural Council, Arizona, USA
2000 Visiting Artist, University of Utah, Salt Lake, USA
1999 Visiting Artist, Columbia College, USA
1998 Visiting Artist, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, USA
1997 Visiting Artist, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine, USA
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(08 September 01 - 30 November 02)
Article on Kyoko Ibe in Cdecor magazine
University of Utah, USA
Webpage of Kyoko Ibe´s residency at the University of Utah, USA, 2000