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Q&A: The art of Ikebana with Toshiro Kawase

Kawase, who is one of the most influential masters of the art of plant arrangement today, comes from Kyoto, where the oldest ikebana school, Ikenobo, is based.

By Architectural Digest Germany | August 9, 2021 | Category

Kogei-seika/Shinchosha
Kogei-seika/Shinchosha

Toshiro Kawase laughs. It gets down to business quickly, the 70-year-old cunningly asks counter-questions: “Now please tell me why this traditional vase is flat! So that she doesn't fall over? Not correct! So that flower masters like me can more easily sip green water to taste the degree of purity. ”Kawase, who is one of the most influential masters of the art of plant arrangement today, comes from Kyoto, where the oldest ikebana school, Ikenobo, is based. Three lines, which symbolize heaven, earth and humanity, provide orientation: shin, soe and tai. Kawase pursues a free style that does not strictly adhere to the two main currents: Tatehana, with emphatically strict, upright arrangements, and Nageire, with flowers loosely placed or placed in the water.

In the 1970s you studied art and film in Paris and never wanted to go back to Japan. Why did it turn out differently?

I was overwhelmed by the individual freedom of the West. Suddenly I had a room to myself and thought, how did the Japanese endure it: no privacy, no retreat except maybe a room for tea ceremonies and flower arrangements. But after a few years I realized that this individualism lacks the spiritual breeding ground for ikebana, to which I had dedicated my life.

What does this breeding ground consist of?

In the West one god fills, one single god, the spiritual vacuum, claims everything. Altar flowers too. They have to shine brightly, upright and splendidly towards him. And if they wither, then they have had their day, end up in the trash. In contrast, innumerable gods animate Japanese life. Every waterfall, mountain, tree, property and car is inhabited by a heavenly being. The West has given its god a human appearance. We, on the other hand, abstract spirituality, try to express it with grace and beauty in everyday life. And with it the ephemeral, such as the seasons. Hence our fascination for cherry blossoms.

Kogei-seika / Shinchosha
Kogei-seika/Shinchosha

The flower arrangement doesn't end up on the compost with you?

As the work of art nears its end, I remove it from the outside, layer by layer, and distribute the remains in nature. Not only withered flowers and leaves, but also grasses and branches that were already withered when I met them for the first time. Finally, the trunk, the supporting axis, the connection between the divine and the earth. This dissolution ritual reminds me of actors when they leave the stage, remove their make-up, take off their theater clothes to return to themselves.

If a plant installation has dried up right from the start, how do you know that it is coming to an end?

There is no standard for this. The magic of a moment, a room fades together with a piece of nature. I can feel that Similar to eating. At some point you will be full. For some foods, one bite is enough, for others you need a full meal.

They often refer to the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. How come?

Because of him, I literally lived in the Parisian cinemas, studying the same films as “Solaris” and “Andrei Rublev” for weeks. Tarkowski positioned actors in magical room atmospheres, filming with lengthy shots. I still think he just had to swap people for flowers in the sets and become an ikebana master. Unfortunately, the West often only admires the flower arrangement, detached from the environment, the emotional world, the seasons. Says pretty, graceful, graceful. But that's what I call exhibition hall ikebana, it has nothing to do with my art.

Can you even transport the environment, the world of emotions abroad?

So, I don't have to bring Japanese flowers to Europe for an Ikebana presentation. The nature on site is enough. And I can also build a tea house there, the traditional admiration room for flower arrangements. It becomes difficult when the idea of ​​beauty does not go beyond a freshly cut, colorful bouquet of tulips. When wild grasses are perceived as weeds and dead leaves as ugly.

When did ikebana become your meaning in life?

When I was just four years old, I suspected that there was a universe of its own hidden behind flower arrangements. No wonder, because my family in Kyoto has been close to the oldest ikebana school for generations. Ikenobo was founded 1300 years ago. Still - even if you graduate successfully from such a school, it does not mean that you can master the spiritual level in addition to the formal rules.

Do you meditate? Do you agree? Do you need preparation time?

I never prepare for projects. But I keep imagining new worlds in my head that nature later brings me unexpectedly on walks. I collect the rotten piece of bark with the fragile fern leaf, then the moss stain on the roadside and finally a crooked twig behind the parking lot. They unite in the studio, but existed together in my imagination long before that. I know that sounds irrational. The work itself doesn't have to be meditative. My publisher often photographs me. We're talking. To discuss. To kid. And yet a small, wondrous cosmos emerges again.

If you come across a perfect plant setting in nature on your forays, do you take it with you to the studio?

That happens to me a lot, but I don't care, as paradoxical as that sounds. For one simple reason: perfection precludes imagination. As an artist, I want to lead to a new world of ideas. The imperfect is part of my art, and it’s blooming, dying and crooked, as well as symmetrical, tangled, pastel-colored and gray. Nevertheless, there is order in it, it emerges like a house with foundations, girders and roof, until all parts return home to nature from which they are borrowed.

This originally appeared on AD Germany.

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