JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles
LIFE CYCLES : A Bamboo Exploration with Tanabe Chikuunsai IV
July 28, 2022 – January 15, 2023
Hours: Mon. – Fri., 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM (PDT), Sat. – Sun., 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM (PDT)
Location: JAPAN HOUSE Gallery, Level 2 in Ovation Hollywood (Former Hollywood & Highland Center) 6801 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029
The Main Gallery in the JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles features a large-scale, immersive bamboo installation “LIFE CYCLES” by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, made especially for the JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles space.
Constructed through weaving about ten thousand bamboo strips, it is held together with tension. The fluid, organic form winds and twists across the gallery, allowing visitors to approach and view it from multiple angles.
The exhibition invites study and contemplation of the bamboo material, Chikuunsai’s technical artistry, and concepts of connectivity, continuity, and cycles that form the core of the artist’s work.
A video projection of the bamboo forests, or chikurin, of Kochi prefecture in Shikoku, from which Chikuunsai has traditionally harvested bamboo, accompanies the installation. An artist statement and a video of Chikuunsai’s art-making process explain his efforts to preserve these bamboo forests for future generations.
A fourth-generation bamboo artist, Tanabe Chikuunsai IV (b. 1973) dramatically pushes the boundaries of the artform. While continuing his family’s tradition of weaving bamboo flower baskets and smaller sculptural works, he is also renowned for using bamboo as a material for large-scale contemporary artworks and installations at museums and other venues around the world.
The exhibition LIFE CYCLES examines the Chikuunsai artistic lineage, Tanabe Chikuunsai IV’s creative process, and the life of Japan’s bamboo forests.
Born in Sakai in Osaka, Chikuunsai trained in sculpture at Tokyo University of the Arts. He then studied traditional Japanese basket weaving in Beppu in Oita prefecture and with his father, Tanabe Chikuunsai III.
Keenly aware of artistic life cycles, Chikuunsai is passing down to his children the skills and knowledge he inherited from earlier generations. He is also conscious of the life of the bamboo he uses in his work.
As he harvests bamboo from the woods of Kochi in Shikoku, he also strives to nurture and preserve the forests.
For his site-specific installations, Chikuunsai previously used torachiku, or “tiger bamboo,” which has now become scarce.
For this installation, he employed two other types of bamboo—madake (“Japanese timber bamboo”) and kurochiku (“black bamboo”), which is also disappearing.
The exhibition highlights the importance of conserving the bamboo forests, or chikurin, for future generations.
As he weaves the bamboo strips, Chikuunsai reflects upon connections, or tsunagari, between humans and nature, present and past generations, and the cultures he brings together through his installations.
When an exhibition closes, he dismantles each installation and saves the bamboo strips to use in his next work—creating a generational connection between his works, deliberately avoiding waste, and extending the bamboo’s life cycle.
The Tanabe Chikuunsai Lineage of Bamboo Artists
Tanabe Chikuunsai IV is the fourth in a lineage of bamboo artists based in the Kansai region of Japan, specifically the city of Sakai in Osaka prefecture.
For many decades, the artists have woven strips of bamboo into elegant baskets used for flower arrangements, particularly for display during both the chanoyu tea ceremony (in which powdered and whipped matcha is served in bowls) and sencha tea practices (in which tea leaves are steeped in hot water and served in small cups).
As with many Japanese cultural traditions, skills and styles are passed down from one generation to the next. With artists, lineage names are also often passed on, as with Tanabe Chikuunsai IV.
The lineage name is made up of the family name, Tanabe, and the art name, or gō, Chikuunsai, meaning “Bamboo Cloud Master.”
Each generation of artist is given a personal name at birth, for example Takeo in the case of Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, then they work for a period of time with a junior artist name, such as Shōchiku. Upon the retirement or death of the artist’s father, they inherit the prestigious art name Chikuunsai, becoming Tanabe Chikuunsai, followed by a generational number.