2021 NOTE: this article was posted in 2014 and reviews an event at that time
A multimedia artist and cantaor (flamenco singer), a flamenco dancer, and a tea ceremony practitioner all display their skills on the opening night of an art exhibition. Sounds incongruous, doesn’t it? How does fiery flamenco relate to the placid tea ceremony?
Multimedia artist Chiaki Horikoshi’s makes this connenction in his exhibition “Wabi Sabi Asobi” held in the lobby of the Park Hotel in Shiodome until May 18th. He paints, does installations, creates ceramics and sings flamenco. He divides his time between Japan and Spain. Horikoshi’s pursuit of the concept of wabi sabi isn’t some kind of cultural jumble sale but ties this eclectic mix together and in the process illuminates the concept of wabi sabi and its emotional range. Wabi sabi is one of the more difficult concepts of Japanese art. In a modern design context it roughly equates to Asian shabby chic. But it has deeper roots. It started as a religious concept in Zen. From that point of view it is about learning to live life as it happens, to engage life rather than passively observe it and avoid unnecessary stressors and distractions. To engage this as a practice, one embraces the imperfection of an object as beauty as opposed to fault, to appreciate the changes age brings. To that end, natural objects or materials have more value as they weather and exhibit change. So let’s examine the elements of this opening night and how they illuminate the concept of wabi sabi.
Sadou, The Tea Ceremony
Here we find the installation portion of the exhibition. Horikoshi constructed a cha-shitsu (a tea room) out of mountain trash—sasa branches, logs, rope and grasses. The idea of the installation was to create a respite from the urban world made from natural materials. Both the installation and the materials are impermanent, satisfying the essence of wabi sabi. Inside the cha-shitsu are the standard tatami mats, tea implements and a kakejiku (hanging scroll) painted by Horikoshi. He created the chawan (tea bowls) as well. The lighting at night was dim and relaxing but during the day, light could stream through the gaps in the leaves.
Fuyuko Kobori and Megumi Harada of the Kobori-Enshu school conducted the ceremony. Harada-san conducted the conversation element of the ceremony. During a tea ceremony one should avoid talking about daily hardships or stress. It’s not a place to talk about work. One talks about the seasons, the weather, art or good memories. Though I was unfamiliar with the few required responses and was unable to follow the topics as closely as I liked, I enjoyed the rhythm and flow of the conversation. Watching Kobori-san immerse herself in the motions of making tea was fascinating. The precision, grace and economy of movement while preparing the tea highlighted the experience of drinking bittersweet macha from exquisite bowls. The elegance of the ceremony complimented the oasis of the cha-shitsu.
The tea ceremony meets the ideals of wabi sabi through the natural materials, the creation of a room and an experience that allows one to focus on completely on the task at hand. Kobori-san and Harada-san will do many more tea ceremonies, but that moment, at that place will never happen again—wabi sabi. The Flamenco I admit, I was dubious about the flamenco, likely because I have a hard time relating to dance. I also thought flamenco was more about pageantry. I was so wrong.
As cantaor, Horikoshi sang two songs. The first was accompanied by guitar. The music was raw, emotional and seemed complete yet spontaneous. I could see how Horikoshi was immersed in his song and the moment. As the cante ricocheted throughout the central atrium of the hotel lobby, I felt keenly grateful that I was present for this moment, gifted with this song. http://instagram.com/p/m327wWuzJD/ The second cante was accompanied by a percussionist instead of a guitarist. This time, flamenco dancer, Yuri Matusmaru, performed. Her dance–no dress, no fan, just a pair of jeans and a long shirt–was flamenco pared down. This was no practiced routine. A friend of the artists told me the performance was improvised. With the song and the dance I was witnessing the artists’ immersion into their work, creating a singular moment never to be captured again. And so flamenco meets the wabi sabi ideals of transience and investment in the moment. We can see this in the final portion of Yuri Matsumaru’s dance in the video below. http://instagram.com/p/lY1376uzCo/
I’m fortunate to know a flamenco dancer, so I asked her if I was making the right connections. Did I see wabi sabi in flamenco? She explained to me that flamenco is at it’s best when an experienced dancer improvises, passionately engages in a moment never to be captured again. She led me to a concept in flamenco called duende. This is the moment where the “spirit of the dance takes over the dancer.” In Spanish folklore duende is a spirit (like Japanese kami I wonder?) that exists as an artist’s muse. Duende is an interesting concept that I’m just beginning to explore. Like wabi sabi, I may never understand “the” definition. But here is the part I find most interesting: with duende, one doesn’t simply surrender to the muse but battles it. I like this idea because that the artist remains in the equation. One surrenders but still retains control. Like the tea ceremony, you find a balance between owning the rules and following the rules. Duende seems to be on the same wavelength as wabi sabi, but on the other end of the spectrum. The concept of wabi sabi and duende exist on a continuum of artistic expression and immersion into the moment. Sadou exemplifies an immersion into the rhythm or rules and ritual to create a transitory moment of experience and flamenco has an immersion into emotion and self-expression through dance and song to create a different kind of transitory, a one-of-a-kind moment.
Note: Kobori Enshu will hold another tea ceremony on May 11th. There will be several sessions. Chiaki Horikoshi will participate in the evening ceremony and give an artist’s talk. The evening session costs a bit more but also includes sake! You can reserve a spot at http://fuyukokobori.com/category/upcoming-events/.