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6 April — 7 May 2016
Satoru Aoyama 2016
Private View 6 – 8pm, Tuesday 5 April 2016 47 Mortimer Street London, W1W 8HJ
Reflections on Alighiero Boetti
Satoru Aoyama Division of Labour
Satoru Aoyama Division of Labour
This long term project is a tribute to Mappa, the series of embroidered maps of the world by Alighiero Boetti, a key member of the Italian avant-garde movement, Arte Povera. Boetti has been critically reassessed in recent years through a retrospective exhibition at London’s Tate Modern and through his participation in dOCUMENTA 13. However, my own initial impression of Boetti’s Mappa series was that they are well-executed works of craft. I don’t mean this only negatively. When Mappa was first shown to the public, it was criticised for being too craft-like. At the time, art was supposed to be something lofty and conceptual, and crafts that signified technique were regarded as functional everyday objects. Art and craft were segregated: between the two there was a hierarchy of value. Boetti was a conceptual artist who produced his work using methods widely seen in contemporary art today, and hired craftspeople to implement the technique necessary to realise his ideas. Mappa came about when Boetti was renovating a hotel in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and commissioned a group of artisans to produce embroidery for him. The commission was conceived as an embroidered map of the world showing national territories coloured with the designs from each of the hired craftspeople’s national flags. In line with the times, Mappa contains almost no trace of the artist’s personality. Boetti would also occasionally entrust important decisions about the work to the embroiderers, such as the colour of the sea. However, the ultimately collaborative nature of the Mappa project is one of the major reasons why Boetti’s work is being reevaluated today. Having majored in textiles at university, and since then continued to exhibit works of embroidery, the relationship between art and craft is a long-standing concern in my work. The more I consider Boetti’s work, the more my interest in the Afghan women who actually embroidered Mappa deepens. I wondered whether it was possible for me, as someone who does not live in a Western country either, to gain a deeper understanding of their techniques. Boetti’s name as an artist and his Mappa series are an already recognised part of art history. However, I wanted to shine a light on the activity of those nameless embroiderers who have never had light shone on them before. My experience of being an artist in residence in Aomori in northern Japan during the autumn and winter of 2012 also significantly influenced this new work. In Aomori, I undertook research into kogin-sashi, an embroidery technique that had been handed down to the people of Tsugaru, as a way of exploring the significance of producing works of embroidery on site. Kogin-sashi is a technique
in which geometric patterns are used to decorate kimonos with the patterns of talismans in order to protect against evil. Originally, at a time when farmers were prohibited from using cotton, the choice of coarse linen to make kimonos was geared towards keeping out the wind, and thus had a functional purpose. In kogin-sashi, there is a history of both hardship and ingenuity by the women of the Tohoku region as a way of withstanding the severe cold and economic deprivation. During my stay in Aomori, I had an opportunity to talk with the craftspeople who still use the traditional kogin-sashi technique, as well as with the young craftspeople who are bringing a new approach to traditions. It became a chance to rethink the significance of embroidery in different historical periods and locations. At the Hirosaki Kogin-sashi Research Institute, I was able to pick up and examine old pieces of embroidery made by unknown embroiderers. At the culmination of my residency in Aomori, I presented works of embroidery on what looked like a pure white surface, but from which traditional needlework patterns emerged in the darkness. In this work, the extinction and revival of tradition in the city was a major theme, and this is what led to my interest in the women who continue to embroider maps in war-torn Kabul. I am left to reflect on what would happen if Map of the World (Dedicated to Unknown Embroiderers) were to live on as something left behind by a ‘nameless embroiderer’ long after its creator has ceased to exist.
6 April — 7 May 2016
Keith Whittle 1. L. CERIZZA, ALIGHIERO E BOETTI: MAPPA, VOL. ONE WORK SERIES, AFTERALL, 2008, P.1
Division of Labour by Satoru Aoyama extends the artist’s ongoing enquiry into craft as an artistic practice, and the distinctions between the fine and applied arts; a thematic blueprint for his work.
3. T. SMITH, BAUHAUS WEAVING THEORY: FROM FEMININE CRAFT TO MODE, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA PRESS, 2014, P. 14
The exhibition encompasses four world maps, along with a map of Europe. Collectively titled Map of the World, the series of work references Italian artist Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa del Mondo [Map of the World] (1989), and Mappa [Map] (1971-1994). Mappa was Boetti’s most complex and extended work: a series of embroidered maps of the world produced over a period of two decades by Afghan artisans in places ranging from workshops in Kabul, Afghanistan, to refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan.1 Meticulously embroidered onto sheets of fabric using an old Singer sewing machine, Aoyama’s Map of the World series explores the conditions of Mappa del Mondo’s production, and its tension between shared labour and authorship. Informed by a desire to at once illuminate and challenge, Aoyama’s maps are embroidered using a fluorescent thread. In daylight, they reveal little detail, but when shown in a darkened space each country and border is revealed. For Aoyama, revealing the process of his craft as thinking, as work, and as a network of ideas and conceptual connections, is central to his practice. Simultaneously mapping intellectual and physical territories, and tangible borders, Aoyama counters the assumptions that place craft at the margin of the fine arts, and questions his own role as both artist and craftsman.
2. H. UNIVERSITY, JUDY CHICAGO, [ONLINE]. AVAILABLE: HTTPS://WWW.RADCLIFFE. HARVARD.EDU/ SCHLESINGER-LIBRARY/ EXHIBITION/JUDYCHICAGO-THROUGHTHE-ARCHIVES
Embroidery has a rich history and long-standing presence in the ideological and formal concerns of 20th century art, most notably in the work of artists such as Janine Antoni, Judy Chicago, Patsy Norvell and Miriam Schapiro; a generation of female artists who rebelled against the male-dominated art scene of the 1960s. Embracing artistic media often dismissed in art historical scholarship as womens’ crafts, these artists challenged the boundaries separating them from their high-art, predominantly male, counterparts.2 Aoyama’s inquisitive approach is informed by specific art historical and ideological frameworks, and his practice absorbs him in a constant process of examining the positioning of his own work in the context of art, while at the same time affirming his craft-like techniques. Aoyama’s approach is a vital way to pose questions such as ‘why embroidery?’ and ‘what is the relationship between the history of fine art and the process of making these works?’ In bringing together material and technique, Aoyama highlights the longstanding connection to artistic production and intellectual labour in Western culture dating back to the Renaissance in treatises
such as Alberti’s On Architecture, or Leonardo’s On Painting.3 Within this tradition, craft’s relationship to theory and thought has historically been more tenuous. Craft is frequently defined in relation to technique rather than to intellectual labour. Though John Ruskin and William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement theorised craft in connection with Modernism, their conviction remained that artistic labour should be placed above craftsmanship. In the context of the Industrial Revolution, their main preoccupation was separating the fine artist from artisan.
4. M. G. C. R. LYNNE COOKE, ALIGHIERO BOETTI: GAME PLAN, TATE PUBLISHING, 2012, P. 166
For Aoyama, his intricate and traditional craft of embroidery marks a difference from the current world economy of mass production, outsourcing, unskilled labour and automatisation. In his accompanying series of new work, Dedicated to Unknown Embroiderers, Aoyama further explores the concept of artistic labour and the connection between the artisan and collective work. Having sewn over selected found images of craftswomen, Aoyama contemplates the perspectives of the individual artisan, such as the Afghan craftswomen behind Boetti’s maps, and brings them into the foreground. In re-performing Boetti’s seminal works, Aoyama inserts both himself and the unknown embroiderers of Mappa into the work. This conceptual gesture retrospectively proposes a new possible interpretation of Boetti’s work: that the unknown craftswomen had an intrinsic role in the trajectory of the work, and, by extension, Mappa’s place in art history. As a metaphorical site of investigation, Map of the World advances important questions about Boetti’s role as an artist, who was shaped by political, economic, cultural and social systems of Western origin and by European colonisation. The creation of new territories – in particular through cartography – was central to the formation of these historic processes. For Boetti, this world – constructed of boundaries and divisions – could be playfully explored and redrawn. These new cartographies of colonisation represented an interpretation of reality, an image and ‘world view’ informed by a specific understanding of historical, ideological and geopolitical contexts. Boetti’s interest in the idea that an artwork might be produced by different parties is clearly evident in Mappa; a series of work in which only relatively recently have the actual ‘others’ making the work been recognised as co-contributors. As such, Map of the World offers an important counterpoint to Boetti. Aoyama’s work illustrates the living conditions of different people and continents, but gives only
a fragmentary representation of their labour across different places and times. The partial outsourcing in Boetti’s work could be seen as a precursor to the practices of major multinational corporations and clothing manufacturers of today, which, through the economics of globalisation, have led to a new global division of labour.4 In working with maps and postcolonial analyses of cartography, Aoyama highlights that there are those who map, and those who are mapped. Maps shape the vantage point from which we view global society. The underdeveloped relationship between craft and shared production – together with certain modes of art criticism that push craft to the periphery – reflect classifications, hierarchies and systems that emphasise and reinforce existing social and economic structures in particular. Aoyama’s Map of the World series calls for new social cartographies and a reappraisal of the art/craft hierarchy; a binary that restricts the multiplicity of contemporary artistic practices. Further, this existing form of categorisation fails to address the importance of factors such as place and cultural identity in the definition of the subject and in the understanding of the artwork. Aoyama unpicks these classifications – highlighting their status as neither objective nor universal in representing prevailing art traditions and history – in order to work towards a more integrated contemporary art.
A. SATORU AOYAMA, MAP OF THE WORLD (DEDICATED TO UNKNOWN EMBROIDERERS), DETAIL, 2015. EMBROIDERY (POLYESTER AND LUMINOUS THREAD) ON POLYESTER. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND MIZUMA ART GALLERY, TOKYO. B. SATORU AOYAMA, PHOTOGRAPH OF MAP OF THE WORLD (DEDICATED TO UNKNOWN EMBROIDERERS) UNDER CONSTRUCTION, 2016. COURTESY THE ARTIST. PHOTOGRAPHS A, C, D © KEI MIYAJIMA
C. SATORU AOYAMA, MAP OF THE WORLD (DEDICATED TO UNKNOWN EMBROIDERERS), 2015. EMBROIDERY (POLYESTER AND LUMINOUS THREAD) ON POLYESTER. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND MIZUMA ART GALLERY, TOKYO. D. SATORU AOYAMA, EMBROIDERERS (DEDICATED TO UNKNOWN EMBROIDERERS) #11, 2016. EMBROIDERY ON INKJET PRINT. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND MIZUMA ART GALLERY, TOKYO.