A stitch in time: re-dressing our memories

by C.B. Liddell

Special To The Japan Times

The Renaissance and in particular Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists” (1550) played a key role in elevating the lowly artist — formerly regarded as a mere craftsman — into something far grander and godlike. Nowadays some art collectors seem to want the opposite, favoring artists who create their art the same way that bees create hives, termites build mounds and spiders produce webs — namely by a chain of small, cumulative acts, driven by instinct rather than vision. This seems to be the way that Kaoru Hirano creates her artworks.

Her artistic modus operandi is to meticulously pick apart the stitching of various garments in a laborious and time-consuming manner, and then to re-tie the threads to create odd, web-like creations. These have a delicate, ephemeral quality, as though they might disappear with the morning dew.

Following a solo exhibition at the Shiseido Gallery in 2007 and a group exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art in 2008, the 37-year-old artist, who is originally from Nagasaki, attracted enough attention in the art world to facilitate her move in 2009 to Berlin, where she now lives and works.

Her latest exhibition at SCAI the Bathhouse is titled “Re-Dress” after the main piece — a large installation, which is accompanied by some smaller works of compact balls of thread that are placed on the floor around it, rather like satellites orbiting the sun. If you try hard enough, you can detect all sorts of echoes, vibes, and resonances in Hirano’s de- and re-constructed dresses.

According to the gallery, her work is about transforming the memories and presence of the original wearers of the garments, whose essence she believes still remains in the fibers, into something more transcendent and universal. Not much point in sending things to the dry cleaners then!

The centerpiece is suspended from high above and occupies most of the gallery’s space. It is made from old wedding dresses obtained from wedding-gown rental outlets. Though aesthetically enchanting, it would clearly be cumbersome to display in most collections and would probably accumulate quite a bit of dust. But there is no denying its uniqueness, the main quality any artist is expected to have these days.

Like many of her pieces, the work resembles a giant spider’s web. The fact that it is made from old wedding dresses adds an interesting twist: the spider bride catching the fly groom, perhaps. But the lifeless, lacy elegance of the work, and the sense that this is an object that would inevitably collect dust, also evokes another less-obvious marriage association: the eternally jilted and deeply bitter Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”

“Kaoru Hirano: Re-Dress” at SCAI the Bathhouse runs till July 28; noon-6 p.m. Free admission. Closed Sun. and Mon. www.scaithebathhouse.com.