Friday 10 November 2023

Japanese Aesthetics of Recycling - Brunei Gallery SOAS London

Boro Coat from Kanto Area of Japan - Late 19th Century-Early 20th Century

This exhibition, at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS in London, focused on the Japanese techniques of boro, washi and kintsugi, embodying the Japanese principle of mottainai which is the mindful use of resources to avoid waste.  The term mottainai includes a sense of regret when things are wasted because it shows that these resources have not been properly appreciated and valued.

Boro Shikifuton (mattress cover or padding for a futon)
Late 19th Century/Early 20th Century

Stitch and patching detail from Boro Shikifuton above

Boro are Japanese textiles that have been patched and repaired.  They are made from worn clothing and scraps.  Historically, they were  made by poor, working people with few resources, showing their creativity in making items they needed. The stitching is often quite large and not especially neat.  They have become very collectable over the last 20 years and are often seen as abstract art.  I think they are most beautiful.

Various Boro, Kasuri and Sakiori Items

Detail of sashiko (little stab stitches) mending on an indigo jacket

Kasuri is a Japanese word for fabric that has been woven with fibres dyed specifically to create patterns in the fabric. It is an ikat technique. Sakiori is a woven cloth with a cotton warp and ripped cloth as the weft, often known as rag weaving.

I loved all the shoes on display...

White Cotton Japanese Tabi (Shoes)
Mid 20th Century

Patterns for Boro Shoes

Woven Shoes/Socks
Early 20th Century

Horn bags were used to store balls of cotton rag yarn made from recycled cotton garments.  The rope was thought to be used for equestrian purposes...

Horn Bags & Boro Rope

Hemp Storage Bags Including Kasuri Patches
Late 19th - Early 20th Century

Undergarment Known as a Sweat Repeller (Asehajiki)
Made from Cotton (warp) and Paper (weft) Thread
Early 20th Century

This "sweat repeller" undergarment (below) is being made by Sian Bowen, artist in residence at Kew Gardens, from abaca fibre to understand how the original was made.  The original is in the Harry S Parkes Collection at Kew.  It has no seams.

Replica 19th Century Undergarment by Sian Bowen Currently Under Construction

Undergarment on a Light Table to Illuminate Patched Repairs & Sashiko Stitching

There were a number of balls of sakiori yardage (yarn made from thin strips of ripped cloth - cotton rag yarn) on display which looked amazing.  Here is an obi - the belt worn with a kimono made from sakiori...

Sakiori Yardage and Obi
Late 19th Century

Washi is Japanese paper.  When it is discarded it can be recycled into a number of different things.  As it may consist of packaging, documents or books, this often leads to the recycled washi having interesting patterns from the printing or script on the original washi papers.  Sometimes this can reveal what the original paper was used for.  The recycled washi is used for packaging or wrapping materials, bags, floor coverings and even clothing.  It is eco friendly.

Washi Tatougami - Folding Paper Cases for Wrapping Items
19th Century 

Washi Floor Covering (on wall)
Late 19th/Early 20th Century
& Boro Floor Covering below
Mid 20th Century

Kin-tsugi (gold) and Gin-tsugi (silver) are methods of repair for pottery using gold and silver joinery to embrace the imperfections of repair and transform them into a thing of beauty. The repaired pottery has gold or silver visible scars that are striking to see.  It is a skilled process and the repaired pieces are often considered more valuable than the originals.

Repaired Pottery

At the Brunei Gallery there is also a Japanese Roof Garden where an exhibit of found calligraphy was on display.  The phrase - Unfit to mend the sky - is taken from an 18th Century novel "The Story of the Stone" which is important in Chinese literature.  The display is formed from stones whose markings resemble the letters of the English alphabet which make up this phrase. They have been arranged and rearranged by Qu Leilei, a leading contemporary Chinese artist, based in London and Caroline Deane, a London based artist inspired by Chinese art and philosophy... 

Unfit to mend the sky - Qu Leilei & Caroline Deane

The exhibition was fantastic.  I only got to see it shortly before it closed so unfortunately you can no longer go but hopefully this blogpost will give you a flavour of what was on display.  The items in the exhibition were part of the Karun Thakar Collection.

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