When you step into the Schaefer International Gallery this week, you’ll be spun into the wild silken universe of Akihiko Izukura. It starts with a massive room-sized woven silk gauze throat, a marvel that was all hand-loomed by Izukura. Expect to take your shoes off, and feel the silk beneath your feet as you gaze up at three giant silk orbs. This enormous interactive exhibit piece is titled “Eternal.”
“I value nature in my process,” Izukura tells me through an interpreter. “In terms of materials, I use silk, mostly. This ball was created by 10,000 silkworms from the thread that they wove. That was over the course of four days. We used the thread directly from the silkworms on this one–they did not go into cocoons.”
The orb was literally created by the worms. A little shelf off to the side shows images of how Izukura had the worms hanging on the circular shape as it took form. It’s a new style of weaving that he discovered–letting the silkworms take off and weave the thread on their own rather than just using their cocoons.
“The silk used in these other two orbs are silk taken from the cocoons, but it is the same kind of silk,” he says.” The colors within the middle sphere are colors pulled from everyday life. Dyed using natural materials. This third final sphere I wove. I made it in competition with the silk worms creating their sphere, and it took me seven hours.”
Izukura likens his orbs to planetesimals.
“This sphere form is symbolic of nature,” says Izukura. “When you look at the planets and universe, so many things take on the spherical form as opposed to harsh sharp lines. The middle sphere has some sharp corners, and because it is constructed in a different fashion it can never replicate the spherical quality of the other two. I wanted to show the clumsy element of building things. When you look at the two round spheres, one I made and one the silkworms made, in my opinion the silkworms did the better job–they are naturally better weavers. Even though the shape is similar and we use the same weaving process, the worms have better craftsmanship.”
The outside of the tunnel is looped by hanging silk panels that Izukura created with a method called Jinin.
“This is tunnel is actually all hand woven over the course of three months,” he says. “I use a small hand-held loom, 1.6 meters wide and five meters long. I really want to feel nature when I work. This is all one continuous piece of cloth. There are no seams and it has been all woven by one loom. By creating something so continuous and spherical, it feels like being part of nature. The outer grouping of panels was done over the course of three years. The flatness represents the human way in the world; the need to flatten things out or make sense of things architecturally. Taking the cocoons and stretching and spreading them as netting together, it is called Jinen. Each of the threads is 1,300 meters long and I do not cut them.”
Izukura started working in his family textile business as a young man, and has been working with silk for a long time. I don’t think I’ve met a person more dedicated to textiles and their research.
“I don’t mesh well with ordinary life, or typical life in society,” he says. “I use almost all silk for my medium. It is the easiest fiber to work with for me. It is the cheapest material to work with. I actually cultivate the silkworms myself. Each silkworm will emit 13,000 meters of silk thread, which is about 10 square centimeters of fabric when flattened out. It makes it easy to calculate how many silkworms I need to create as much fabric as I want to create. The silkworms don’t mind being close. In that way, it is almost like society in Japan. Even if you have a lot of silkworms, they don’t fight for space, and they make their own cloth.”
Letting the worms weave their own cloth was a recent breakthrough in his work.
“To use cocoons, you do have to kill the pupae inside to get the silk,” he says. “Letting them weave the thread as they go is a way of creating the silk without having to kill the worms. Even from a young age, I have been interested in weaving, so instead of buying the silk I decided to raise silkworms myself. I have simplified my techniques since my younger days. Like letting the silkworms weave the textiles rather than working the fabric myself.”
Izukura has spent a lifetime working in textiles. His family has been in the textile business for four generations. He became CEO of the textile company his father created called Hinaya when he was a freshman in college. Izukura took over when the market was changing and western clothing was becoming a part of Japanese life. He desperately wanted to do something different with the company yet keep the competitive edge. He began researching textiles first in Japan, resurrecting some of the ancient styles of weaving and braiding in his company’s fabrics. There is a kimono in the show that demonstrates.
“This is a kimono from my work from 40 years ago in the textile industry,” says Izukura. “I could have become a living national treasure. I was not interested in that. This is a style of fabric that was done in 400 BC that I replicated by hand. It can only be done by hand. I felt that if I only created the textiles for my company, I wouldn’t be able to survive/live. By studying all of the textiles forms of weaving, braiding and netting and putting them together, I was able to piece together my life as an artist and businessman.”
Ultimately, life as a businessman did not fulfill him. He had to live his artist self, a desire not usually pursued by Japanese businessman.
“Even now the person that I am is unusual for society,” he says. “I do get invitations from galleries around the world to exhibit. It is because of the unusual quality of utilizing only the natural resources and working by hand. I don’t think I have anything more than that to offer.”
His most current work, “Sun,” shows the culmination of those different forms of fabrics, and his sun-dying techniques.
“This technique is called ‘netting’ and it was used in the 9th century,” says Izukura. “It is a very ancient technique and it can only be done by hand, not by machine. It has a lot of flexibility. It was used for catching fish in ancient times. This is a modern day technique of weaving in this section, and I have mixed it between netting and weaving. All of the technique used in the ‘Sun’ piece are covering the course of the last 20 thousand years in textile. [For] each of these techniques, in modern times we have built machinery to expedite our processes. But by doing this by hand I have the freedom to work between the techniques to shift between weaving, braiding and netting. Entwining, braiding, weaving and netting in one fabric.”
The show also features a couture line of clothing, dresses, shawls and tops. All are handwoven by Akihiko Izukura, and are the only items that will be for sale in this show. Several of the dresses are woven flat in their shapes and then seamed down the sides–the designs basically made without cutting.
“I use all the silk from the silkworm,” he says. “As opposed to taking the good portions and discarding the rest. I use everything. Even the irregularities I find beautiful. In a few of the sun-died pieces, the silk sat in rainwater and dye for two years before they were pulled apart and dried. With the garments I use more permanent dyes because that is what the women want. All of my work is an experimental process. Since I live life in a secluded way, I feel at peace.”
Coming to Maui to show his work has been a dream of Izukura’s. He met with Gallery Director Neida Bangerter to make it happen.
“Akihiko came to my office in 2012 to talk about doing an exhibit here,” says Bangerter. “He had exhibited at Honolulu Museum of Art and at Hilo. He wanted to do a body of work created for the Schaefer space. It was a dream of his to create a work just for this gallery. It really aligned with our goals to bring in works that make people just go “wow” when they walk in the door. It’s breathtaking, what art can make you feel like when you are surrounded. This affects me differently than anything that has come before.
“His place is beautiful in Kyoto, it was very hard to find it,” she continues. “I visited in 2016. It’s across from a bamboo forest. His father’s ceramic pieces line the pathway. There is silk with dye matter in the yard, silkworms under the house. The looms and staff in the main house. Everything is utilized with ultimate efficiency, which I respect so much. That is part of my philosophy, as all things will return to nature. At 74, it is amazing what he accomplishes with his day.”
There is a specific soundtrack for the show that reverberates softly around the silks. In addition to the indoor gallery pieces, there will be four outdoor exhibits on display.
“We commissioned San Francisco composer Christopher Willits to create a soundscore for Akihiko’s work,” says Bangerter. “While you’re in the gallery, you have a sensory experience. When you have a sound background, it creates the ambiance that something else is happening here, with a higher level of consciousness. Christopher Willits will be coming in March to do a live performance with the exhibition.”
Izukura has made a lifestyle of textiles, from the family business to his time as an artist. Ultimately, he’s always taken the road-less-travelled approach.
“The only thing to do in life is to do what you love,” says Izukura. “There is no other way. You may find yourself in perilous situations but you will just have to persevere. At this point in my life, I am very happy.”
AKIHIKO IZUKURA: THE WAY OF NATURAL TEXTILES
Schaefer International Gallery
Show runs Jan. 15 – Mar. 19
Open Tues-Sat, 10am-5pm, and before and during intermission for Castle Theater shows. FREE ADMISSION
Exhibit related events open to the public:
Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017
Yokouchi Pavilion & Courtyard/Schaefer International Gallery
Held in conjunction with the exhibit, the event will feature FUZZBOX Productions, DJ SOLE from Los Angeles and live performances. This event is Free and open to anyone 21 and over. Food and beverage will be available throughout the evening. Costume up, mingle, and connect to the arts. FREE ADMISSION
Observe and Play Family Day
This family day offers a walkthrough of the installation in the gallery with a live performance by composer Christopher Willits, and a fun hands-on art-making activity dyeing silk. FREE EVENT