When I studied interior design many moons ago, one of the program components included a section on Japanese design. Using simple natural materials constructed without nails, traditional Japanese design involves both an appreciation of the properties of one’s chosen material and a keen sense of precision in marrying parts to make a whole. In the case of Reiko Ishiyama, her chosen material is sheet silver. Now, sheet silver to me is just something to saw up to make something else. It scratches easily and it’s kind of boring. But in Reiko’s hands, it becomes…minimal and organic, with lines and folds in nearly imperceptible textures and shades. Oh my, I love her work. I’m usually not one to delve into a makers’ modus operandi because they all start to sound the same after awhile…’i’m inspired by nature and sea shells and…’ but you have to read her thoughts below to understand how mind, hand and memory come together in her work.
Taken from Ishiyama’s website – A Talk to AJF members at New York SOFA show and Craft Boston Show-
When I was a child I played with grasses, stones, soil, broken pieces of ceramic, and rusty nails. Now as an adult I am still playing with my hands except now it is with pieces of metal and silver. As I sit at my workbench these early memories and experiences come through my hands.
Unfortunately, my approach is not as clear as other artists. They talk very directly about what lies behind their work. But I am inviting you into my maze, my labyrinth. I had a passion and force when I played as a child. For me even though play was not much effort, still it had a kind of fever or enthusiasm. That passion is much quieter and calmer now; its pace is slow. So through this playing with metal I find how I see and what I like as it comes through my hands.
* * *
When I was a university student I often stopped at a tea salon to avoid summer heat in Kyoto. In this place I always had one particular sweet called kuzu kiri. Kuzu is made out of plants. Kiri means to cut. This sweet came in the shape of fettucine, in an opaque color. We dipped the kuzu kiri in a black sugar syrup. It was served in a black cylinder shape made out of lacquerware with a deep lid.
When I lifted the lid the kuzu kiri was floating with ice cubes in the black water at the bottom like a slice of moonlight. I quietly stirred the inside with chopsticks. A slight, cool air rose to my nose. I enjoyed the texture of this smooth, slippery treat as it went down my throat. Instead of eating right away these steps provided a psychological effect to shut off the heat for a moment.
* * *
When I was small my family had a house next to a silkworm farm. The owner of the farmhouse was an aged, single woman. She was not sociable, just working all day in the house and out in the mulberry fields. I was the rare visitor for this house. Ninety percent of the space in her house was for the silkworms.
She kept her field clean, too; there were no weeds on the grounds and well-pruned trees were standing in a straight line.
One late afternoon we were sitting around the irori, which is like a sunken fire place. She was smoking a long pipe and I was listening to the silkworms eating the mulberry leaves . . . sac . . . sac . . . sac. She asked me if I would like to go inside the shop. So I opened the heavy wooden sliding door and stepped in. The space was filled, packed with about twelve long racks, neatly lined up, side by side. Each rack had a shallow basket a couple of inches deep, each about 4 feet by 4 feet. Every basket perfectly fit the width of the shelf. Three sides of the room were wooden paneled walls. The front wall was a shoji screen, which let a dim light in, especially as the overhanging eaves outside reduced even further the amount of light that could enter.
The floor was polished like a dark mirror.
There was nothing else in that room. It had the cleanness of a Shinto shrine. The chalk white worms were constantly eating and moving over the mulberry leaves in the baskets on the shelves. Even though I heard the sounds of the worms eating the mulberry leaves, I felt so quiet being there. I didn’t touch the worms. I put my fingers on the side of the racks and walked slowly between the aisles. And I returned back to our world.
After that, I knew there was a different world in this farmhouse.
* * *
A kimono is made from a single sized roll of fabric, which is used for all shapes and sizes of the body. The kimono is cut into various rectangular shapes. There is no extra fabric left. There are no waste scraps from the cutting. The kimono has no curves; it is composed only of straight lines sewn together. When a kimono is folded it returns to a rectangular shape around two inches high. At that point it is simply a folded panel of fabric.
When the straight line of the kimono meets the contour of the body, the kimono finally gets its own full life like a flower opening from a bud.
* * *
Through these three stories what I’d like to say is like the worms moving through the dim light, the kuzu kiri floating in the black water and the kimono floating over the body, these are the kinds of factors or images I want to bring to my jewelry. Floating. Also, the flatness. I’m trying to let the layers of flatness breathe or to find space. Then flatness can stand up. It can move. I want to blow air between the sheets and lift them up momentarily. It’s really momentary. That’s why floating is so essential to my aesthetic.