Over the last fifteen years I have been fortunate enough to visit Japan a number of times and usually with the goal of researching and finding textiles for exhibitions. There have been many textile discoveries, but more important has been my privilege to meet the extraordinary textile makers. These encounters with the artists and designers at their studios, factories or homes have helped me to understand the context for their work and to appreciate what inspires them and why they chose textiles as their medium of choice.
Hiroyuki Shindo lives about forty miles outside of Kyoto in the hills of Miyama – a beautiful village filled with 200-year-old thatched-roof houses and where life revolves around the natural environment. This is where Shindo grows his indigo, laboriously processing it according to traditional methods. In his workshop ceramic dye pots are sunk into the earthen floor and dried indigo leaves are combined with lye, lime, wheat bran, sake, and a microorganism. The fermentation of this mixture takes seven to ten days, and the indigo dyestuff must be stirred regularly. The pots are heated with charcoal to maintain a temperature of 20°C (68°F). After the indigo is ready, Shindo begins the dyeing process and with indigo, the full intensity of the color is achieved by repeated dipping and subsequent oxidization rather than how long the fabric is submerged in the dye. Shindo is considered one of the master indigo dyers in Japan and has helped resuscitate this ancient dyeing technique. In fact he is so closely associated with the craft that his work and name have morphed into the word, Shindigo.
In Space Panel No. 5, Shindo not only uses indigo, but also a type of shibori or tie-dyeing called okkochi which means “the eastern wind”, and when spoken also suggests “to let fall.” It describes a kind of dyeing technique developed in Arimatsu about 300 years ago during the Edo period. The story of the origin of shibori claims that a wind from the east blew just a corner of kimono fabric into a vat of indigo. From this incident, a new kind of shaped dyeing was born that was less methodical than traditional shibori tie-dye resist and more reflective of the patterns of nature. In Shindo’s okkochi interpretation, he makes a wooden trough about four centimeters deep and scatters small stones and pebbles on the bottom and at the edges. Laying the cloth in this shallow trough he carefully pushes it into the concave shapes between the stones. Dye is ladled many times into the depressions of the fabric, and he constantly changes the boundary of the well and the depth of the stones to make gradations of color. The final panel has a composition that results from the dyeing process, making a beautiful tribute to the color blue.