iki (いき, often written 粋)


I've been trying to figure out how to better describe my approach to artcloth. Improvisational is OK, but taken. And all of my methodologies aren't precisely improvisational -- I intend to print an image at times -- I just like it to fuzz away under and over and beyond some of the other surface aspects. And I don't care a lot about how precise the placement or even the coverage is. Maybe its pure and simple laziness, but if so, I am trying to take the trait and push it into a positive attribute! And I am not so interested in making something elegant as I am in making it tell some kind of quirky story.

So I was taken by the discussion of a Japanese concept called "iki," on one of John Maeda's blogs (this a new photo blog on Technology Review).

"Nozomi and I chatted about the strange "fuzzy logic" fad in Japan of the early 1990s, when it was not uncommon to see a "fuzzy logic vacuum cleaner" or a "fuzzy logic rice cooker" on sale in the Akihabara electronics district of Tokyo. The premise is quite simple: instead of encoding values as numbers, ranges of numbers are tagged as having membership association with a word. Words are such great containers of knowledge.

Nozomi suggested that our conversation was essentially about iki (pronounced "ee-kee"). It's something to do with inexactness and openness but all in all "the right fit" to a complex issue. Although it's difficult to comprehend, I totally got it. I guess iki is iki too."


What do you think? I love the part about inexactness and yet, "the right fit." As the wikipedia link above shows, iki is related to wabi-sabi, but unlike that aesthetic term and concept, has more modern and current useage in Japan.


I love this part of the definition:

An iki thing/situation would be simple, improvised, straight, restrained, temporary, romantic, ephemeral, original, refined, inconspicuous, etc. An iki person/deed would be audacious, chic, pert, tacit, sassy, unselfconscious, calm, indifferent, unintentionally coquettish, open-minded, restrained, etc.

An iki thing/person/situation cannot be perfect, artistic, arty, complicated, gorgeous, curved, wordy, intentionally coquettish, or cute

I am not sure but that my life, not just my work, aims for iki. Course there is that unfortunate cross-meaning and slightly different pronunciation.

Looking and reading further reveals a whole host of information about iki, and it will be interesting to study further. Just a glance revealed that "I am iki" is an impossible statement, and the following in a Master's thesis by Yamamoto Yuji gives me pause -- I think my work is too complexly textured layered to adopt iki as a descriptor, even if I thought anyone would know what I meant.

Other examples of spontaneous manifestations of iki include the locution of casual conversation, a
certain posture, dressing in a gauzy cloth, a slim body, a slender face, light makeup, simple hairstyle,
going barefoot etc, suggesting how innocuous everyday phenomena emit iki. On the other hand, works
of art can be iki, but their “artfulness” makes them rather difficult to be iki.

At any rate it is an interesting idea to ponder. Tanslated concepts are a rich gift of living in such a connnected world. 


All three of the photos on this post are examples of some recent artcloth. Each of them is pretty small -- the largest is about 40" long and they were are created as demo samples during my recent workshops on scraps of cotton and old sheeting. Now the challenge will be to find the same feeling and get the same qualities on larger pieces of fabric, maybe even on silk.  The first two were monoprinted with dye and/or textile paint. Then soy wax batiked with both handpainted wax and with a soy wax silkscreen. The purple and yellow piece was first layered with brown and pale blue with a deconstructed silkscreen, then soy wax batiked with a soy wax silkscreen (the same screen used on the other two pieces). I really like the batik quality one gets with the soywax screen -- I think its an interesting faux batik look that goes well with a direct waxed process on top or under. One gets the repetition of the screening process, with the overall compositional quality and layering of color of the batik. Now, just finding time and emotional focus to do some bigger pieces! iki or not.

Another, less layers, but done with the soy wax screen and thickened dye: