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BLUE HANDS

From bookazine no. 2, which has long been sold out, I have put all the articles from this issue online. You can find the full-text articles here #bookazine2

March 2020

 

If one were to point to one country in particular whose craft and design practice is an inspiration to Nordic craftspeople, artisans, makers and designers, Japan would be an obvious choice. We feel a kinship with the Japanese aesthetic, and the Nordic expression finds resonance in Japan.

 

One textile craft area that is currently attracting particular attention is printing and dyeing. An understandable and reasonable development in light of our growing awareness that the textile industry is one of the leading polluters worldwide, with the dyeing process as a key contributor.

Industrial production is slowly but surely transitioning to more eco-friendly methods.

In the small local productions that are playing a growing role, and for the craft makers who use textile as a material in their artistic creations, dyeing is similarly a key focus area, and the interest in vegetable dyes is steadily growing.

Vegetable dyeing 1.0 has been around since the beginning of human history. The love of finery is no modern invention. Throughout all cultures and all ages, human beings have sought to look their best, using whatever they had to hand. The main sources of dye were local plants, fungi and insects, which were applied to fabrics made from locally sourced materials. That remained the case until the mid 19th century, when industrialization transformed textile production.

Vegetable dyeing 2.0 emerged during the 1970s along with batik dying and many other developments, which were positive because they took a curious and explorative approach to the craft. It was a time of ‘anything goes’. A less positive aspect was that both vegetable and, in particular, batik dyeing used harsh chemicals and were not nearly as natural as the name might suggest.

Vegetable dyeing 3.0 is unfolding as we speak. The process still includes chemicals, but there is an awareness now of their harmful impact on our planet, and there are efforts underway to rediscover and develop methods for intensifying and stabilizing the colour without the use of harmful chemicals. The most experimental practitioners are even willing to accept a lower degree of colourfastness and thus a product that changes over time. If you can dye your own fabrics, you can always refresh the colour over time. That was how people did it in the past – maybe we can embrace that practice again?

Indigo without chemicals

Japanese makers master the art of dyeing with indigo without using chemicals and without compromising on colourfastness. They have been perfecting the skill since the 10th century.
As with many other crafts, young people have shown diminishing interest in learning the trade and in living the life of farmers and craftspeople, just as consumers have become less and less inclined to pay for hand-crafted quality. The interest in the colour blue, on the other hand, has remained stable, although synthetic indigo has largely cornered the market!

The island of Shikoku in the Tokushima Prefecture in south-eastern Japan, has traditionally been known for its indigo production. During the 19th century, when the indigo production peaked, there were 1,800 indigo growers. Today, there are fewer than 10, and indigo dyeing is classified as a ‘national treasure’ (a cultural legacy that is worthy of preservation).

 

BUAISOU

Environmental awareness is a megatrend, while vegetable dyeing is a microtrend, as is the interest in establishing small local productions and moving out of the big cities in favour of fresh air, affordable rent and a more holistic lifestyle. That is the case in the Nordic region as in Japan and in many other countries around the world.

The production collective BUAISOU was established in 2014 with support from the Japanese ministry of education, and its ‘from farm to closet’ indigo company Shikuku is mega-micro-trendy!

The company is a professional enterprise consisting of five young men and a female director who work 360 degrees, 365 days a year, doing everything from growing the indigo plant to harvesting and processing to dyeing and making the finished dyed items of clothing and accessories.

 

Insta-friends

Helle Rude Trolle encountered BUAISOU through Instagram.

Helle is a textile designer and teachers at Design School Kolding and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design, in Copenhagen.

She works with dyeing, both in relation to her teaching practice and, very much, to her craft practice. Currently, she is working on a project titled ‘Atlas over himlens blå’ (Atlas of the blue of the sky).

For one year, she has photographed the sky every day at noon, and she is now translating the colours into a colour scale applied to wool and silk yarns.

Helle dyes the yarn with woad (Isatis tinctoria), which she grows on the Danish island of Samsø. Woad is the plant that has traditionally been used to produce blue dye in Europe. It is reminiscent of the Japanese indigo plant (Persicaria tinctoria). The colour too is close to indigo, but although it is absorbed well by wool, the colour does not get quite as deep as indigo. With the dyeing method Helle is familiar with she can only use woad for dyeing during summer, when it is freshly harvested. ‘There’s a certain charm to that,’ says Helle, ‘I can dye things blue while strawberries are in season. What’s less charming is that I need chemicals to extract the dye.’

In 2018, Trolle went on a research trip to Japan. She and her travel companion, the illustrator Helle Vibeke Jensen, had decided to visit BUAISOU. They wanted to learn the secret of dyeing with indigo without using chemicals.

Ambassadors

It was an amazing experience, on a personal as well as a professional level, and once they had returned to Denmark, Helle and Helle decided to become ambassadors for the craft by inviting BUAISOU to give a Nordic master class in indigo dyeing in autumn 2019.

To make that possible, they embarked on a successful fund-raising effort, receiving support from Tage Vanggaard og Hustrus Fond, Danmarks Nationalbank’s Anniversary Foundation of 1968, the Danish Arts Foundation and the Nordic Culture Fund, while the Danish Art Workshops provided the setting for the event.

BUAISOU accepted the invitation, on the condition that the master class, with 12 invited craftspeople and teachers from the Nordic countries, was supplemented with two open workshops.

As everywhere else that BUAISOU has held workshops, the three workshops in Copenhagen attracted huge interest, both among Nordic architects, designers and craftspeople and among professionals throughout Europe who came to Copenhagen to get access to this sought-after knowledge.

The final workshop day

I met the group on the last day of the workshop. One group of workshop attendants was leaving, while another group was arriving, and during a break I was given an introduction to the process from BUAISOU’s manager, Kyoko Nisimoto.

Kyoko is a trained architect and began her career in Thailand after graduation. Later, she worked as a manager for a high-profile artist. Since 2014, she has worked with BUAISOU as a strategic partner and manager.

It all began with Kenta Watanabe, who is no longer part of the group. He had a boring job and was looking for something rewarding to do in his spare time and became interested in dyeing with indigo. Over time, his interest became a passion, and he realized that if he wanted to make a living of it, he would need to establish his own company, which he did in 2014, together with his friend, Kakuo Kaji. At the age of 17 years, Kakuo moved from Aomori to Tokyo to study textile design. Here, he fell in love with the colour of indigo, with dyeing with indigo and with the painstaking process it requires. Since then, the group has grown and it now numbers five members in addition to Kyoko.

 

A modern approach to preindustrial production methods

‘One thing that sets us apart from the old masters,’ she explains, ‘is that we handle the entire process, which means we work all year round. Every day has a routine. Every working day is long. The old masters were either farmers, who grew the crop, or master dyers, who oversaw the dyeing process.

Another point where we differ is that, unlike previous generations, we are not making a secret of our knowledge; on the contrary, we are happy to share knowledge in a global community.’

She adds that her first act was to set up an address for BUAISOU in Brooklyn, New York. ‘That was helpful for our entry onto the design scene,’ she says. ‘Today, we no longer need it, so we closed it down, and now we only have our location in Japan and our workshops.’ BUAISOU is certainly an established name today, with prominent collaboration partners who dyed the iconic Aalto Stool 60 for Artek for the Design Week in Milan. The group also recently made an appearance as part of the London Design Week.

Every day Kyoko posts a picture on the group’s Instagram profile, which at the time of writing has 33,000 followers.

The pictures tell a story of hard-working people who are busy round the year, sowing, harvesting, processing (fermenting), dyeing, dewing and distributing.

They dye customers’ own clothes and also collaborate with a workroom that produces new clothes which they then dye and produce a range of small items that they bring along and sell when they do workshops. Thus, they also had a small stall in a corner at the Danish Art Workshops.

 

All in all

The dyers have left, the guests have left, so what’s next? I asked Helle Trolle:

Did it go as expected?

‘It surpassed our wildest expectations, the atmosphere was great, and the combination of the cultural and the professional craft encounter was really stimulating.’

What was the biggest surprise?

‘The same thing, which was also the biggest delight: the meeting of different cultures. The event clearly showed how differently we approach the same material. There is a difference between our approach and the Japanese, but I also realized that internally in Scandinavia, we have different cultures when it comes to our craft practices.’

Could you elaborate on that?

‘The best way for me to describe is to look at our own practice. In Denmark, we don’t take no for an answer, and if there is something we haven’t tried before, we think, that might be a good idea, or at least, we don’t mind giving it a go. We have an unorthodox approach to our practice. We involve traditional methods but we also like to incorporate new methods into our work. Patience is not our strongest virtue. Others, in contrast, have patience in rich measure.’

What sort of feedback did you get from the attendants?

‘They almost unanimously praised this opportunity to exchange experiences with blue dyeing. For example, I learned that the Aalto University in Finland is doing a research project on woad, not isolated to the craft context but with a view to using the plant for industrial dyeing.

It was also rewarding that some of the attendants worked with indigo on other materials besides textile, as the group also involved architects and graphic artists.’

What did you take home from the experience?

‘I’m going to continue to work with woad rather than indigo. Woad is the natural choice in our part of the world. I have been introduced to new methods that I’m going to test, so that I can hopefully avoid the use of chemicals. I’m going to try moving past working exclusively with fresh woad, and I’m going to experiment with fermentation methods. In other words, I developed an even deeper love of the blue universe and renewed energy to continue my own project.’

Skal man pege på ét andet land, hvis håndværks- og designpraksis inspirerer nordiske håndværkere, kunsthåndværkere og designere, så er det meget oplagt at pege på Japan. Vi føler os beslægtede med den japanske æstetik, og japanerne er tiltrukket af den nordiske.

Et område inden for tekstilhåndværket og tekstilkunsthåndværket, som i disse år påkalder sig megen opmærksomhed, er tryk og indfarvning. Forståeligt, fornuftigt og i naturlig forlængelse af vores øgede opmærksomhed på, at tekstilindustrien i global sammenhæng regnes for at være en af de største miljøsyndere, og at farveprocessen bærer sin del af skylden.

I industriel sammenhæng transformeres der i disse år sagte, men sikkert, til mere miljøskånsomme metoder.

I de små lokale produktioner, som vi ser flere af nu end længe, og hos de kunsthåndværkere, som bruger tekstil som materiale i deres kunstneriske værk, er der også farvefokus, og interessen for plantefarvning vokser dag for dag.

Plantefarvning 1.0 har eksisteret til alle tider. Pyntesyge er ingen moderne foreteelse. Mennesket har i alle kulturer og til alle tider gjort sig umage for at smykke og udsmykke og har brugt det forhåndenværende. Man har primært farvet med lokale planter, svampe og insekter på materialer produceret lokalt af lokale råvarer. Sådan var det indtil midten af 1800-tallet, hvor industrialiseringen overtog tekstilproduktionen.

Plantefarvning 2.0 dukkede op i 1970’erne sammen med batikfarve og meget andet, som var godt, fordi det forholdt sig undersøgende og udforskende til det at lave håndarbejde. Der var fri leg på lilla stue. Hvad der var mindre godt var, at både plantefarvningen og i særdeleshed batikfarvningen var en krasse kemikaliesupper, ikke nær så naturlige, som navnene antydede.

Plantefarvning 3.0 er over os netop nu. Der er stadig kemikalier i omløb, men bevidstheden om, at de er skadelige for vores fælles jord, er til stede, og der er mange gode kræfter i gang for at genopdage metoder og finde nye måder, hvorpå man kan intensivere og stabilisere farven uden skadelig kemi. De mest eksperimenterende er endda villige til at acceptere en lavere lysægthed og til at acceptere et produkt, som løbende forandrer sig. Kan man farve selv, kan man jo friske farven op løbende. Sådan gjorde man engang, sådan kan man måske gøre det igen?

Indigo uden kemi

I Japan kan de farve med indigo uden kemi, så farven holder. Det har de kunnet siden det 10. århundrede.
Som det gør sig gældende for mange andre håndværk, så har interessen blandt unge for at lære faget og for at leve livet som landmand og håndværker været vigende, og interessen blandt forbrugerne for at betale for håndværkskvalitet været tilsvarende dalende. Interessen for blå har derimod været stabil. Blot har syntetisk indigo vundet de fleste markedsandele!

På øen Shikoku i Tokushima-området i den sydøstlige del af Japan, som traditionelt har været kendt for deres indigoproduktion, var der i det 19. århundrede, da indigoproduktionen var på sit højeste, 1.800 indigo-landmænd. Nu er der under 10, og farvning med indigo er nu at betragte som ’national treasure’ (bevaringsværdig og af kulturhistorisk værdi).

 

BUAISOU

Miljøbevidsthed er en megatrend, plantefarvning er en mikrotrend, det samme er interessen for at etablere små lokale produktioner og for at flytte ud af de store byer, ud til frisk luft og overkommelige huslejer, ud til et helhedsliv. Sådan er det i Norden, sådan er det i Japan og mange andre steder i verden.

Produktionskollektivet BUAISOU, som i 2014 med støtte fra det japanske undervisningsministerium etablerede sig med deres ’from farm to closet’-indigovirksomhed Shikuku, er mega mikro-trendy!

Virksomheden er et professionelt setup bestående af 5 unge mænd og en kvindelig manager, som beskæftiger sig 360 grader 365 dage om året med alt fra dyrkning af indigoplanten til høst, forarbejdning, indfarvning og fremstilling af færdige indfarvede beklædningsgenstande og accessories.

 

Insta-friends

Det var på Instagram, Helle Rude Trolle stiftede bekendtskab med BUAISOU.

Helle er tekstildesigner og desuden lærer på Designskolen i Kolding og på KADK (Kunstakademiets Designskole i København).

Helle er optaget af indfarvning i forhold til sin undervisning. Hun er det i høj grad også i sin egen kunsthåndværkerpraksis. Aktuelt har hun et projekt, som hun kalder ’Atlas over himlens blå’.

Hun har gennem et år hver dag kl. 12 fotograferet himlen og omsætter nu farverne til en farveskala appliceret på uld- og silkegarner.

Helle plantefarver med vajd (Isatis tinctoria), som hun dyrker på Samsø. Vajd er den europæiske plante, som traditionelt har været brugt til blåfarvning. Planten minder om den japanske indigoplante (Persicaria tinctoria). Farven minder også om indigo, den farver godt på uld, men kan ikke blive helt så dyb i nuancen som indigo. Med den indfarvningsmetode, Helle har kendskab til, kan hun udelukkende farve med vajd om sommeren, når den er nyhøstet. ”Det har sin charme,” siger Helle, ”jeg kan farve blå i jordbærsæsonen. Hvad der er lidt mindre charmerende er, at jeg ikke kan udvinde farvestoffet uden brug af kemikalier.”

I 2018 rejste Helle Rude Trolle på studietur til Japan. Hun og hendes rejsekammerat, illustrator Helle Vibeke Jensen, havde besluttet sig for at opsøge BUAISOU. De ville lære sig hemmelighederne ved at farve med indigo uden brug af kemikalier.

 

Nu som ambassadører

Det var en fantastisk oplevelse både personligt og fagligt, og vel hjemme igen besluttede Helle og Helle at gøre sig til ambassadører for udbredelsen af håndværket ved at invitere BUAISOU til at holde en nordisk masterclass i indigofarvning i efteråret 2019.

For at det kunne lade sig gøre, skulle der rejses fondsmidler, og det blev der: Tage Vanggaard og Hustrus Fond, Danmarks Nationalbanks Jubilæumsfond af 1968, Statens Kunstfond og Nordisk Kulturfond bidrog alle med midler, og Statens Værksteder For Kunst og Design stillede lokaler til rådighed.

BUAISOU takkede ja til invitationen og betingede sig, at ud over den omtalte masterclass med 12 indbudte kunsthåndværkere og undervisere fra de nordiske lande, skulle der også holdes to åbne workshops.

Sådan blev det, og som det har været andre steder, hvor BUAISOU har afholdt workshop, så var det et tilløbsstykke, både blandt nordiske arkitekter, designere og kunsthåndværkere, men der kom også tilrejsende fra andre steder i Europa for at suge til sig af den dyrebare viden.

Ugens sidste dag

Jeg mødte gruppen på ugens sidste dag. Der var et hold workshopdeltagere på vej ud og et andet på vej ind, og i en pause fik jeg en introduktion af BUAISOUs manager, Kyoko Nisimoto.

Kyoko er uddannet arkitekt og arbejdede som nyuddannet i Thailand. Siden blev hun ansat som manager for en højtprofileret kunstner. Siden 2014 har hun arbejdet sammen med BUAISOU som strategisk partner og manager.

Det hele begyndte med, at Kenta Watanabe, som ikke længere er en del af gruppen, havde et uinspirerende job og ledte efter indhold til sin fritid. Han blev optaget af at farve med indigo. Han blev passioneret optaget af det og forfulgte sin passion og indså, at skulle det blive en levevej, måtte han etablere sin egen virksomhed. Det gjorde han i 2014 sammen med vennen Kakuo Kaji. Kakuo flyttede som 17-årig fra Aomori til Tokyo for at studere tekstildesign. Det var her, han forelskede sig i farven indigo, i det at farve med indigo og i hele den tålmodighedskrævende proces, som er forudsætningen. Siden er gruppen vokset, de er nu fem foruden Kyoko.

 

En moderne tilgang til de præindustrielle produktionsmetoder

”Det, som er specielt for os i forhold til de gamle mestre,” fortæller hun, ”er, at vi arbejder med hele processen og dermed hele året. Hver dag har sin rutine. Hver arbejdsdag er lang. De gamle mestre var enten landmænd, som dyrkede afgrøden, eller farvemestre som bemestrede indfarvningen.

En anden ting, som adskiller os, er, at vi ikke som tidligere generationer holder vores viden tæt til kroppen, tværtimod, vi deler gerne i et globalt fælleskab.”

Hun fortæller i samme åndedrag, at hendes første tiltag var at etablere en adresse for BUAISOU i Brooklyn i NY. ”Det var godt for vores etablering på designscenen,” siger hun. ”Vi behøver den ikke længere. Nu har vi lukket ned dér og er bare i Japan og på vores workshops”. Etablerede er BUAISOU, det svirrer i luften med navne på prominente samarbejdspartnere som fx har farvet den ikoniske Aalto Stool 60 for Artek til designugen i Milano, og de har fornylig optrådt på London Design Week.

Hver dag lægger Kyoko et billede på gruppens Instagram-profil, som i skrivende stund har 33.000 følgere.

Billederne bevidner det, som jeg får fortalt, at der er tale om flittige mennesker, som er i gang året rundt med at så, høste, forarbejde (fermentere), farve, sy og distribuere.

De farver på kundernes eget tøj, de har et samarbejde med en systue, som syr nyt tøj, som de efterfølgende farver og de laver en lang række mindre items, som de har med og sælger, når de holder workshops. Således var der også en lille bod i et hjørne på Statens Værksteder for Kunst.

 

Summa summarum

Farverne er rejst hjem, gæsterne er gået og hvad så? Jeg spurgte Helle Trolle:

Gik det som forventet?

”Det gik over al forventning, stemningen var fantastisk, og kombinationen af det kulturelle og det håndværksmæssige møde var meget stimulerende.”

Hvad var den største overraskelse?

”Det samme, som også var den store glæde, mødet mellem forskellige kulturer. Dagene viste med al tydelighed, hvor forskelligt vi går til det samme materiale. Et er, at der er forskel på, hvordan japanerne og vi gør, men jeg blev også opmærksom på, at vi internt i Skandinavien har forskellige kulturer omkring udøvelsen af vores håndværk.”

Det må du uddybe?

”Jeg kan bedst beskrive det ved at se indad. I Danmark tager vi ikke et nej for et nej, og er der noget, som ikke er prøvet før, så tænker vi, at det nok en god idé, eller rettere vi går i al fald ikke af vejen for at prøve. Vi har et uortodokst forhold til vores praksis. Vi involverer traditionelle metoder, samtidig med at vi går nye veje, når vi arbejder. Tålmodighed er ikke vores fremmeste egenskab. Det har andre til gengæld i rigt mål.”

Hvad er deltagernes tilbagemelding?

”De har næsten samstemmende prist muligheden for at udveksle erfaringer med blåfarvningen, fx blev jeg opmærksom på, at de på Aalto-universitetet i Finland er i gang med et forskningsprojekt omkring vajd, ikke bare i kunsthåndværkersammenhæng, men med henblik på industriel udnyttelse af planten til blåfarvning.

Det var også givende, at nogle af deltagerne arbejdede med indigo i forholdet til andre materialer end tekstilet. Der var både arkitekter og grafikere med.”

Hvad fik du selv ud af dagene?

”Jeg vil fortsætte med at arbejde med vajd frem for med indigo-materialet. Vajd er det naturlige valg på vores breddegrader. Jeg har fået nye metoder, som skal testes, så jeg forhåbentlig kan komme brugen af kemikalier til livs. Jeg skal forsøge mig med ikke kun at farve med frisk vajd, og jeg vil eksperimentere med fermenteringsmetoder. Jeg fik med andre ord en endnu større kærlighed til det blå univers og en fornyet energi til at videreføre mit eget projekt.”

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