Chiyoko Tanaka

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Buddhism, nature, time
Design and Crafts (textiles)
Visual Arts (installation art)
Asia, Eastern
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June 23, 2003
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Weaving the threads of time

Weaving linen and ramie, Chiyoko Tanaka is an artist who positions her work in line with the tradition of the woven silk textiles of Kyoto. The 1,200 year-old city was the former capital of Japan where Nishiki woven silks originated. Although the weaving process is of paramount importance to Tanaka however, once the fabric is woven, Tanaka still dyes it, ‘grinds’ it and sometimes applies soils or charcoal for further effect. In 2001, Tanaka participated in the UK-touring exhibition, ‘Textural Space’ which was originated by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College, UK and partly funded by Visiting Arts, UK. In the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, curator Lesley Millar cites the artist hinting at an explanation as to the centrality of weaving in her works: ‘the beautifully stretched warp being covered by weft threads one after another – the simple reality of the relationship between warp and weft threads as a construct…’ For Tanaka, Miller writes, the act of weaving is ‘an accumulation of weft threads, one by one, representing time passing; the resulting texture, the cloth, being the locus of the present time’. She explains Tanaka’s working process: ‘in the development of the work she sets up a vertical time axis and a horizontal space axis, the weaving process is one of transforming the weft into accumulated space. The crossing points, which physically vanish as the work progresses, continue to exist as integral features of the work’. She also points out that in some works, including the ‘Blue Threads’ pieces, ‘the centre section is left unwoven with the weft from one side carried across in a diagonal line representing the “vanishing point”. The warp ends of each work are cut in a particular way and left exposed as a reminder of the vertical and the horizontal, the warp and the weft, time and space.’ The process of dyeing cloths is also connected to Tanaka’s concern with the passing of time. As Lesley Millar explains, ‘The cone of yarn is dyed in its entirety allowing the dye to slowly permeate the yarn with the resulting graduation of colour a visual indicator of time.’ Tanaka also subjects her cloth to a process that she refers to as ‘grinding’. This allows her to trace the ground texture as well as ‘grind’ out the surface texture. Further effects are achieved by the application and use of other materials. For the works ‘Ochre No.300’ and ‘Ochre No.200’ for example, Tanaka also uses soils. In the latter piece, she applies a soil used which can be found in the Jurakadai area of Kyoto and which was traditionally used to make the surface layer of interior walls in homes and teahouses. In other works, she uses different stones: brick from Sienna in ‘Blue Threads and Sienna’ and white stone for ‘Blue Threads and Grey’. Charcoal is rubbed on the reverse side of the fabrics using a stone in the diptych ‘Permeated Black 1 and 2’. Tiny stones on the ground became embedded in the fabrics as a result of this process, and charcoal powder was forced through to their surface. Tanaka’s works are influenced by her spiritual and physical relationship with her surroundings. Buddhism elements can be discerned in her works through the symbolism of their structure. In the ‘Permeated Black 1 & 2’ both works are divided into six sections, ‘Blue Threads from Sienna’ and ‘Blue Threads & Grey’ each are divided into three sections making six in total. As Millar explains, this is a direct reference to the six senses or ‘ways’ of Buddhism. Tanaka has had solo exhibitions in Japan and has recently participated in many group exhibitions in the USA, Australia, France, Belgium and Israel. Many of her works are held in public collections worldwide. Source: Based on texts by Lesley Millar in the ‘Textural Space’ catalogue and website
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts


Chiyoko Tanaka was born in 1941. She took her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Kyoto City University of Arts, completing her education in 1965. She currently teaches as a lecturer there. She has had solo exhibitions in Japan and has participated in group exhibitions worldwide.



Exhibition / Installation,
Mountain Villa of Fujita Industry Co. Ltd., Nasu, Japan Senri Chuoh Building Taisho Fire & Marine Insurance, Osaka, Japan Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo, Japan Stage & costume design for 1400th Anniversary of Shitennoji Temple, Osaka, Japan


Exhibition / Installation,
Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg, Germany The Art Institute of Chicago, USA Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Holland The Pulitzer Collection, St. Louis, USA Passage de Retz, Paris, France The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel


Exhibition / Installation,
2001 ‘Textural Space’, contemporary Japanese textile art, Foyer Gallery and James Hockey Gallery, Surrey, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Brighton, and Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, UK 2000 ‘120th Aniversary of Founding of Kyoto City University Exhibition’, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art 1999 ‘70 Designers in Tribute to Issika Gaon’, the Israel Museum, Israel 1998 ‘Structure & Surface – Contemporary Japanese Textile’, Museum of Modern Art New York and tour 1998 ‘Imaginations ´98´ Gastuiskapel, Poperinge, Belgium 1998 ‘Folding´ Japanese Miniatures’ Canberra Museum Australia 1997 ‘The 10th Wave: A Celebration’, The Brown/Grotta Gallery CT. USA 1996 ‘Textile Wizard from Japan’, The Israel Museum, Israel 1996 ‘Textile Magicians in Japan,’ Passage de Retz, Paris France 1996 ‘Mini-Drawing Exhibition – Beginning & Ending’, Gallery Gallery, Kyoto 1995 ‘Sheila Hicks joined by Seven Friends and Colleagues from Japan’, The Brown/Grotta Gallery, CT USA


Exhibition / Installation,
1998 Gallery Gallery, Kyoto, Japan 1995 Gallery Gallery, Kyoto, Japan



Bronze Prize, 6th International Tapestry Triennale, Lodz, Poland


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Textural Space

Contemporary Japanese Textile Art

(01 April 01 - 31 December 01)


Textural Space

Website of ‘Textural Space’ project originated by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College, UK
Ochre No. 300