Noriko Narahira was born in 1948 near the tragic war zone of Hiroshima. Everyone there had experienced loss, and this underlying horror must surely inform her work although she never refers to it. Instead she speaks about the influence of nature.
When she was a student Noriko Narahira lived and worked very close to an unspoiled natural area. Aware of the rhythms and cycles of nature, the sounds of rustling grasses, leaves and birdsong, those feelings of soft air has never left her.
“My perception of nature has been the main inspiration for my work.”
Eastern meditation practice informs her work, demonstrated in the attention Narahira pays to intervals, small differences, and breath. The physical repetitive activities of wrapping and stitching do not attempt to conquer time but instead allow her to be at one with its flow. The repetition is meditative.
Some pieces marry elements of Japanese daily life such as the colourful printed kimono, obi and koinobori, (hanging streamers that catch the breeze) to the elegance and fragility of European lace. As in lace, it is the voids and spaces in her work that are the most important design elements. sound of nature, printed cotton, organza, polyester thread, 1994
“There is no tradition of lace making in Japan, but my perspective is Japanese. I wanted to bring this to my work in lace.”
In her installation, sound of nature, twig-like rolled and stitched pieces of printed cloth are collected loosely together as if from the forest floor into airy panels held together with delicate threads. There is as much open space as connecting thread. The small linear elements outline large circular voids or mass together to form large leaf or ark shapes. Everything emerges organically from a chaos of seemingly unorganized threads in an all over composition of emptiness and slender broken lines. Human sized, the work hangs from the ceiling and casts mysterious and ephemeral shadows. scene of white, felt, organza, polyester mesh, polyester thread, each dress life sized, 1999
hanging in the air
white wind of the atomic bomb
Noriko Narahira also stitches into wool felt, distorting the fabric by covering it completely with stitch and pierced or slashed holes. The intensive stitching activates and distorts the surface and connects her work to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi which teaches the acceptance of transience and that beauty is in imperfection, impermanence, and decay. In Scene of White a series of five white dress-like shapes hang in a semi circle from the ceiling. They hover. They seem like angels, each different. One has zigzag points coming out of one side, others are longer, curvier, another has a large ellipse made of unstitched sheer organza where the chest would be. All have been slit, slashed or punctured with holes.
It is the central dress shape in this series that drew me to Noriko Narahira’s work. A mummy shape, wrapped and with a useless arm, rent and slashed through the torso, it is full of holes. Punctured, some flesh coloured areas of stitch are revealed in the middle area.
With its own death
Personally, this piece is one of the most emotional pieces of stitched art I have ever experienced. It recalls for me a vision of my mother when she lay dying. So still, propped by pillows, wrapped in sheets, her bones so brittle that they broke for no reason, her closed face and the emotions of that time in my life resurface Yet, at the same time, this piece makes me think about what it must have been like in Hiroshima at the end of the war. What was it like for the maker of this piece? I go back and forth, distracted and spell bound, lost in the surface and shape, perfect just as it is.
While the maker may have had a conscious intent, art quite often has a completely different message for the viewer. Each of us is unique, sustained by our own experiences. When art touches something buried deep in the memory of the individual viewer, it connects on an emotional level. Ephemeral, fragile, unsettled, hanging free, Narahira’s work connects with the viewer’s psyche enabling contemplation and accessing of the inner self.
However, it is prudent to remember Lesley Millar’s advice to Western audiences about the Japanese aesthetic before finding metaphor.
“Japanese artists are very concerned with structure and materials. Their concerns lie with respecting the harmony of nature and creating something which is very beautiful but which contains no other meaning. The context is purely the harmony achieved, whereas for many western textile artists the context is much more concerned with contemporary debate” Lesley Mllar
The images in this post are all taken from Telos Art Publishing's excellent
Textiles of the World Japan Volume 2.
The text is from my December 2010 B.A. dissertation for Julia Caprara School of Textile Arts.