Gallery Tour With Dear Art Vol.1
KOSAKU KANECHIKA – Noritaka Tatehana
“How is the Japanese art scene progressing right now?”
“How are the artists we love inspired when creating their work?”
In order to respond to the curiosity of those with an interest in Japanese art, Dear Art has partnered with galleries exhibiting our pieces to begin publication of the “Gallery Tour With Dear Art” series.
We will be introducing current must-see artists, curated pieces and ways to display them, along with highly recommended pieces to keep. With select pieces available for purchase via Dear Art, this is ideal even for those starting out and feel unsure as to how to buy art, or hesitant to inquire about artists they are interested in.
“Through my work, I hope to broaden the opportunities one has to further understand Japan.”
KOSAKU KANECHIKA - Interview with Noritaka Tatehana
Inspired by the elevated wooden sandals (‘takageta’) worn by Japanese courtesans (‘oiran’), his masterpiece “Heel-less Shoes” have been made famous by the likes of Lady Gaga. It is through combining traditional Japanese craftsmanship and wisdom with modern elements and values that Noritaka Tatehana has become well-renowned throughout Japan and the world for his works which present a unique perspective and worldview.
Announced via the online exhibition “EDO TOKYO RETHINK”, of which Tatehana worked as exhibition director, organized by the city of Tokyo to give birth to works showcasing the historic industries of Edo period Tokyo, the “RETHINK” exhibition provides a platform to view these pieces in person.
Whilst viewing these pieces at the venue, we discussed the process of expressing Japanese tradition and culture, the thinking behind his work and hints to more richly experience it. Please enjoy these thoughts in conjunction with the exhibition itself.
Photo by Keizo Kioku
Noritaka Tatehana “RETHINK” exhibition March 6th (Sat) - May 5th (Sat) 2021
11:00-18:00 (Closed Sundays, Mondays and National Holidays)
TERRADA Art Complex 5F 1-33-10 Higashi-Shinagawa Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 〒140-0002
A special exhibition of new works which focus on the traditional industries of Edo period Tokyo, announced via the online exhibition “EDO TOKYO RETHINK'' organized by the city of Tokyo. Originating from the process of “re-evaluating past Japanese culture and expressing it in a modern context”, Noritaka Tatehana’s “RETHINK” presents the value and charm of traditional Japanese industries in a contemporary form.
Developing work through using a singular theme as the basis for a project.
- Firstly, if you could in your own words, tell us about your recent activity as an artist.
Tatehana: Lately, I often find myself working on projects which are formed around a theme or message. As a student my focus was mainly on creating singular pieces, although with a project like the current "RETHINK" exhibition I hope to work with an overarching theme and allow viewers to understand this by forming a story when viewing the work. My work is created as part of a team and in also collaborating with many involved with traditional industries, I hope to actively create bodies of work that give shape to my thoughts.
- Such as with the “NORITAKA TATEHANA RETHINK” exhibition at the former Yamaguchi Mankichi residence (kudan house), I feel you are exceptional at presenting a worldview within a space. Upon viewing a display which showcases a certain worldview, it is enjoyable to get a sense of what is happening in the mind of an artist, and when first experiencing the artist’s work at a gallery rather than separately or individually, it becomes easier to gain a fuller understanding of the context behind it.
Tatehana: Definitely, like in a White Cube* gallery, presenting in a simple space can feel like works are competing from a point of commercial value, but in a residence such as kudan house an exhibition can take on a life of its own and I believe it is essential to have a sense of amusement which allows the exhibition itself to be enjoyed as an attraction. (* A space which aims for a pure experience of appreciation through blocking all information outside of the work, White Cube has become synonymous with exhibition spaces composed of white walls and ceilings. Established in 1963 at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York.)
Photo by GION
The creative process originating in fashion
- I also feel that you have a rare talent as a storyteller. Your relationship with JT and the exhibition space at kudan house, which developed collaborations with a host of industries and craftsmen such as that of the traditional courtesan pipe (‘kiseru’) is particularly noteworthy. Where do you believe such a talent came from?
Tatehana: My interest in creating things originally came from fashion, however as I worked in the fashion industry I also grew to think my creativity should be expressed as art. Taking my own identity of having been born and raised in Japan, I wanted to express the ‘crossover’ of my culture and so studied traditional Japanese crafts at Tokyo University of the Arts, becoming drawn to the world of art itself in which the values of the past are brought into the present through context and cultural aspects. However, studying traditional craftsmanship techniques did not necessarily mean being content with them as they were. For example, although in this case I used plaited cords (‘kumihimo’) in my heel-less shoes, it is also fine for these to not appear as such at first glance, as one of the duties of an artist is to create new forms and patterns.
Collaboration with Ryu Kobo, which has been preserving the culture and technique of ‘kumihimo’ for over 130 years since its establishment.
Kumihimo has a long and storied history, having come to Japan in the form of Buddhist religious artifacts, ‘makimono’ scrolls and associated fittings.
Combined with the modern format of the heel-less shoes, the result is the birth of a new form of expression.
《 Baby Heel-less Shoes 》 2021, Dyed cowhide, Japanese plaited cord, metal fastener, h.17.7x w.8.3 x d.13.2 cm each / Noritaka Tatehana
- The idea of combining new forms of expression with a deep understanding of traditional culture seems very connected to your work, though this being the case you now also have your own company and are working as part of a team. I get the impression that careful consideration is taken with each member, and would like to ask why such a system came to be, and how many members are currently active?
Tatehana: Including the students, I am currently working alongside 6 staff members. In my opinion, I would like to create a system which allows me to work by utilizing what I have been engaged with since my time as a student. Whilst in the art department of my alma mater, Tokyo University of the Arts, I would often think about there only being the path of artist or a backup plan to follow, such as teaching at an art college. Even after studying art at university and learning the amazing craftsmanship techniques present in Japan, many graduates are left with no choice but to move into completely different fields. I always felt a desire to change the feeling that going to university and studying art could mean wasted effort, and decided to establish such a system to create this change myself.
The difference between craftsmanship and art
- Though I am particularly drawn to the way in which you incorporate Japanese craftsmanship through the context of culture, I would like to ask what you feel is the difference between craftsmanship and art?
Tatehana: Though I place a heavy focus on artisanry and craftsmanship, this is not what I am aiming to specialize in. However I do think the outstanding methods and techniques present in traditional Japanese artisanry have the potential to find a sense of originality within a low-context society. In regards to the difference between craftsmanship and art, if craftsmanship can be seen as synonymous with the English understanding of the word “craft”, I think it would most fit into the field of design. For example, from a Western perspective, industrial designs such as Dyson’s vacuum cleaners or the textiles of William Morris* are exhibited under the sphere of design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Although, the Japanese way of thinking is slightly different, and I think there is a sense of the extraordinary present in craftsmanship techniques that brings it close to art, and the word “craft” in Japan may be more inclusive of such concepts. Despite these differences in sense and feeling, the main fundamental difference lies in the idea that “design solves a problem” whereas “art calls attention to the problem itself”. As art is inclusive of context, I think it is possible to convey thought and meaning without words and beyond borders. (* A philosopher and designer born in London 1834. Known for characteristic textiles featuring natural motifs such as flowers and trees, William Morris is also said to be the founder of modern design. A central figure in the Arts and Crafts movement which presented the idea of “integrating art, work and daily life”.)
Re-experience the RETHINK of the artist through viewing the work
- Please share with us the context for better understanding your work
Tatehana: In a sense, I think that viewing the work allows a viewer to experience my RETHINK (re-examining) of Japanese culture. For example the thundercloud motif in this work can be interpreted such that the shrine’s ‘shimenawa’ (sacred shinto ropes) act as the cloud and the ‘shide’ (jagged white paper) beneath acts as the thunder. Acting as a form of ‘kekkai’ (boundary), the shide also serves to signify a sacred place. Living in Japan, shrines and temples are plentiful giving countless chances to come across them, though the rich history of the architecture and motifs behind them being constantly passed down are points which I wish to express with re-interpretation through a contemporary lens.
- I see, based on that kind of context it would be great to showcase a work with a lightning motif, almost like a boundary, at the entrance to an exhibition! It’s great that the more you can deepen your understanding of a work, an attachment grows with it to expand into even more ideas and concepts.
For the clouds and thunder inscribed in the mirror, the crimson color used in ‘mayoke’ charms is used as the color of a boundary. Inspired by the ‘Komachi-beni’ safflower red color of Isehan-Honten, which finishes a traditional Japanese lipstick using secret manufacturing processes passed down from the Edo period and featuring cloud and thunder motifs present in various other works.
《 Descending Layer 》 2020, Safflower pigment, glass, stainless steel, h.120.0 x w.120.0 x d.6.0 cm / Noritaka Tatehana
Inspired by ‘Hosoe’ (smallpox painting) red colored woodblock prints which acted as talismans against the disease during the Edo period, this work features a lightning motif which acts as a boundary. Perfectly sized for the home or office.
*Please note that this work cannot be viewed at the “RETHINK” exhibition.
Left: 《Thundercloud Painting #81》 2020, Acrylic on panel , 19.3 x 20.2 cm, ¥220,000（Tax in） / Noritaka Tatehana
Right: 《Thundercloud Painting #88》 2020, Acrylic on panel , 19.8 x 20.2 cm, ¥220,000（Tax in）/ Noritaka Tatehana
- Moving on, it would be great if you could tell us more about the background behind creating heel-less shoes.
Tatehana: As we touched on earlier, I originally hoped to make a name for myself internationally as a fashion designer. However, when thinking about going to a place known as a birthplace of fashion, such as France, to study, I think that rather than trying to go match those which have been born and raised in that culture, in order for me to engage on a global scale it would be better for me to create opportunities through gaining an understanding of the rich traditions and culture within my home country of Japan. As such, rather than studying fashion abroad, I decided to study traditional artisanry behind Japanese kimono and footwear, and it is the inspiration from these techniques and ideas that lead to the creation of heel-less shoes.
If you perceive expression as communication, the fashion I originally strived towards can have the ability to create shifts in its respective time, with music also having the power to elicit strong responses in listeners. I think the path of art which I chose, while maybe lacking the same immediate power, can continue to send a message of a constant power perpetually.
The importance of change in tradition and oneself
- I have come to understand that you greatly value story and context in your creative pursuits, and would love to hear more about the story you have expressed so far.
Tatehana: I have personally, since childhood, not been strong in the area of communication, and feel that I have been saved, or provided a stage, by the idea of ‘monozukuri’ (craftsmanship), and it is in the spirit of giving back that I like to be involved in creative pursuits. Within this creation, I believe it is important that I continually undergo more and more change. Traditions thought of as unchanging do not necessarily remain as in the distant past, but rather accumulate for posterity whilst constantly changing, and come to be known as traditions. For example, it is said that in the past the feathers of the Crested Ibis were used in the offering of 3000 bows and arrows for the Shikinen Sengu ritual of the Ise Grand Shrine, with the reason being there were many Crested Ibises at the time. I have heard that nowadays, for the same reason, crow feathers are sometimes used. It is in this sense I believe tradition is that which is passed on whilst changing with its respective time.
A work of personal sentiment linked to one’s memories
- If you could choose, which pieces of your own work would you think you are particularly interested in?
Tatehana: Aside from heel-less shoes, maybe “Camellia Fields” shares a link to my memories and had a different thought process going into it compared to my other work. I grew up in my hometown of Kamakura, and it was natural to have a house with a garden where camellias and plums were planted, my family’s included. In the past, camellias were planted at samurai residences as it was believed the appearance of falling flowers was connected to the honor of the samurai. “Camellia Fields” is a work with which I wanted to reproduce the sight of bright red camellias falling from the large tree when I visited Kakunoji Temple during university. Japan’s unique view on life and death forms the theme, and I feel that death is the goal, or rather, I feel that in measuring the distance from death, you feel life in contrast.
- Until now, have there been any exhibitions, productions, or collectors which particularly enjoy your work, that stand out to you?
Tatehana: One collector of my work is English noblewoman Daphne Guinness (Guinness brewery and Guinness World Records), who has been a longtime supporter that has been kind enough to invite me to her home and owns over 30 pairs of heel-less shoes, not only to display but also to wear. Although seen as a highly avant-garde piece, she is always saying they are essential to her daily life.
Among the exhibitions I have conceived, I like those which display the work as part of the space, such as the window frames at the former Yamaguchi Mankichi residence (kudan house). I think I enjoy producing exhibitions in relation to the space they are in.
Photo by Keizo Kioku
Heel-less shoes, until now developed under various themes, are adored by collectors the world over and part of numerous museum collections. A work from the current exhibition produced in collaboration with Isehan-Honten to create an iridescent red coloring. The shining iridescent side profile and deep crimson inner surface create a contrast reminiscent of the uplifting feeling former courtesans (‘oiran’) experienced when applying the crimson color to their lips.
Right《 Heel-less Shoes 》 2021, Dyed cowhide, safflower pigment, metal fastener, h.32.0 x w.8.5 x d.19.4 cm each / Noritaka Tatehana
As the name ‘Baby’ suggests, smaller than regular heel-less shoes and able to be displayed as objet d’art. Fully Swarovski lined surface which shifts in color depending on the angle of the light.
*Please note that this work cannot be viewed at the “RETHINK” exhibition.
《 Baby Heel-less Shoes 》 2019, Dyed cowhide, pig suede, glass crystal, metal fastener, h.17.4 x w.6.7 x d.11.7 cm each, Open Edition, ¥825,000 （Tax in） / Noritaka Tatehana
I would love for my work to help others understand Japan
- How do you wish for viewers and collectors to enjoy your work?
Tatehana: Like myself, I hope for others to, through my work, seek to know more about Japan and the rich Japanese culture which continues to be passed down. In previously collaborating with Shoyeido, a longstanding incense brand from Kyoto, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about fragrance. It would be great if anyone that appreciates the work comes to learn more about Japan and discuss this with their family and friends, creating a ripple effect. Art is universal, so even without understanding language, communication is possible through the medium of creation.
Self re-evaluation in the wake of COVID-19
- During the COVID-19 state of emergency I understand you produced and presented your work remotely?
Tatehana: Inspired by ‘hosoe’ (smallpox painting) - red colored woodblock prints which acted as talismans against the disease during the Edo period and featuring lightning motifs which represent a boundary, we were able to create 100 pieces of the work “Thundercloud Painting” through the hard work of each staff member producing these at home. This was all made possible on the basis of our quality control cultivated through regular production of work at our atelier. In the wake of a pandemic where there is widespread uncertainty as to what will happen in the future, I believe it has been a great achievement to be able to protect employment and create work.
- Please also allow us to ask about the stories you will be telling from now on.
Tatehana: Influenced by the COVID-19 situation, things have changed drastically in the last 1 or 2 years, and I think the timing is right for much to be re-evaluated. It has had a large impact on any number of things including my own personal life, but I feel that rather than abandon these things completely, it is necessary for me to take responsibility in reviewing my livelihood, myself and Japan; my identity and surroundings. As part of this, I hope to focus on the ebb and flow of the axis of time, in “seeing Japan of the past through the lens of the present” and conversely “seeing Japan of the present through the lens of the past”. I still do not know how this will affect my creative work, although I would like to take the opportunity to think positively and share this way of thinking through my work.
- Lastly, what does art mean to you?
Tatehana: Since I was very young I have seen it as a communication tool. As a contemporary artist, I feel as though it is a device with which one can experience Japanese culture through creative work.
Photo by Keizo Kioku
Interview: Nanako Yamamoto
Text: Chikako Yamashita
Translation: Nathan Del Rosario