All posts in “Norbert Herber”

10 Things Unseen in Mood Indigo

Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World is more than meets the eye. Pam McClusky, curator of the exhibition now on view at the Asian Art Museum, shares ten bits of insider information that reveal the multi-layered meaning of indigo across cultures, the process of mounting a large-scale exhibition, and some surprising contemporary inspiration. You’ve got less than a week to put this knowledge to work with a visit to see Mood Indigo in person—it closes October 9!

1. The AV master’s work

Norbert Herber's audio configuration for "Mobile Section"

Hidden from view, this monitor was installed by Norbert Herber who created a unique sonic landscape for the entry gallery. He recorded sounds of indigo processing which algorithms organized to create what he calls a “gauzy” effect that compliments the large enclosure of cloth that shares the space.

2. The deluxe “spa” treatment the tapestries received in Belgium

The tapestries got a bath and repairs were made

Large looms held the tapestries during repairs

The magnificent colors of three tapestries were enhanced by their trip to the Royal Manufacturers de Wit, the world’s leading restorer of European tapestries which was founded in 1889. Each tapestry was cleaned with aerosol suction, a patented process, and then all stray threads were carefully repaired.

3. The inspiration that comes from living artists

"Broken Star" by Anissa Mack, 2008.

The force is with us . . . as the opening of Star Wars are a point of departure for the denim quilt by Anissa Mack. She attests that “I wanted very much to stress the Americanness of quilts . . . and to marry the concept of a backward/future narrative with the idealism of American frontier denim.”

4. Impeccable installation coordination

Exhibition map and a familiar face still wrapped from storage

The SAM team hanging tapestries

When exhibition plans are posted by the designer, it sets off an intricate chain of steps taken by installers. They manage to get art into place while never forgetting how delicate and fragile it can be.

5. The back sides of textiles

The back of a tapestry can be just as fun to look at at the front!

Front views of textiles can be deceiving. Precise compositions are seen, while the underside may be an explosion of threads that showcase the job of the weaver. Putting on this shawl from the Kashmir region of India would envelope the wearer in lovely, soft goat hair.

6. Details hidden in plain view

Space Age Inspiration

Nature Inspiration

Focusing can encourage imaginary connections. In the bold geometry of a Laotian ancestor or Japanese trees, there is an affinity with space age imagery. In the swerving curls of cloth from Uzbekistan and China, you can see tendrils of vines and leaves that burst out of the deep dark blue.

7. The original owners of the textiles

Japanese Firemen

Batak of Sumatra

Photographs of indigo wearers can be revealing. Edo firemen of Japan wore garments soaked in water to protect themselves as they attacked flames. A shawl among the Batak of Sumatra can carry a blessing that is read by a priest who suggests ways to enhance the wearer’s future.

8. Conversations with researchers about the ups and downs of indigo

Indigo vats in India

During an exhibition, one hopes that great conversations emerge. For this, numerous scholars and artists have come to offer perspectives on the labor history of indigo in India and America, and often point out the fact that the rebellion in India led by Mahatma Gandhi was a major factor in changing the course of that country in the 20th century.

9. Stories about rabbits in the moon

Rabbits pound mochi on this vest

Japanese rabbits abound over several textiles on view. On this vest for an actor, a whole group are gathering what is needed to celebrate the full moon, including a mound of freshly-made rice cakes (mochi). Why rabbits do this is best explained by a view of the moon, whose silhouette is thought to resemble a rabbit pounding the rice for this very purpose.

10. A theory about indigo fascination

Indigo vat

Indigo dye vats offer a magical transformation of cloth in many parts of the world. Also around the world, the color of indigo emerges each morning and night, and is often found in water and in moods. From space, the earth is said to resemble a blue marble as water covers 70% of the planet’s surface. One could say that blue is the earth’s signature color.

– Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Images: Photo: Stephanie Fink. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Manufacturers de Wit. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Manufacturers de Wit. Photo: Courtesy of Royal Manufacturers de Wit. Broken Star, 2008, Anissa Mack, American, born 1970, quilted denim, 84 x 144 in., Patricia Denny Art Acquisition Fund, 2009.11. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Pam McClusky. Pam McClusky. Pam McClusky. Ceremonial shawl (Pa Biang) (detail), ca. 1920, Laos, cotton weft, silk brocade, metal toggles, 14 1/2 × 96 1/2 in., Dr. David and Marita Paly, T2015.54.5. Bedding cover (futonji) (detail), 1900-1912, Japanese, cotton, hand-woven plain weave, resist dyed (kasuri) with indigo dye, 76 5/8 x 59 3/4 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.442. Furnishing fabric (detail), ca. 1860, Central Asia, Uzbekistan, silk warp, cotton weft, resist dyed warp (ikat), natural dyes including indigo, 40 1/2 × 74 1/2 in., Loan from Dr. David and Marita Paly T2015.54.7. Hanging (detail), ca. 1750-1800, Chinese, silk with embroidery (satin stitch), natural and synthetic dyes, 30 in., L.: 41 1/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 37.32.1. Fireman’s coat (hikeshi banten), mid -19th century, Japanese, quilted (sashiko) cotton cloth with freehand paste-resist decoration (tsutsugaki), indigo dye, 34 3/8 x 46 7/8 in., Gift of the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, 89.81.1, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Courtesy of Pam McClusky. Sacred Shawl (Ulos Ragidup) (detail), ca. 1900, Indonesian; Batak, cotton, warp resist (ikat), supplementary weft, natural dyes including indigo, 44 × 96 in., Dr. David and Marita Paly, T2015.54.4, Photo: Pam McClusky. Photo: Courtesy of Pam McClusky. Photo: Oscar Mallitte. Kyogen Theater Vest (kataginu) (detail), 19th century, Japanese, hemp fiber, paper with paint (applique), indigo dye, 30 3/4 x 27 3/8 in. with ties, 59 x 28 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.403, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Rowland Ricketts.
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Norbert Herber on “Mobile Section”

“Everyone has a part to play in this tradition, whether you work with indigo or not. Anyone who wears blue jeans has a part to play in this tradition.” – Norbert Herber

What sound does a seed make? How about compost? Experience how digital images and color can translate to timber in the hands of Norbert Herber.

As you enter Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World you encounter a contemporary compliment to the historic scope of the exhibition exploring this vibrant dye. A collaboration between textile artist Rowland Ricketts and sound artist Norbert Herber, “Mobile Section” is a responsive and immersive installation combining a large-scale, hanging textile and field recordings of Ricketts’ indigo dyeing process synthesized using data from various conditions that produced the dye and color gradations of the cloth in the installation. Sensors in the gallery register people as they move around the installation and accelerate or decelerate the sound mix so that the audio element on “Mobile Section” will never sound the same twice.

See this work before it’s too late—it will be on view through October 9 in the exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.

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Rowland Ricketts: The Extended Interview

In our February-May 2016 issue of SAM Magazine, our member-only publication, we featured an interview with indigo textile artist Rowland Ricketts in anticipation of our upcoming exhibition Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World. Our space was limited in print, so we’re featuring the whole interview here on the SAM Blog.

Setting the Mood

The upcoming exhibition heading to the Asian Art Museum, Mood Indigo, honors the unique ability of the color blue to create many moods in cloth. Drawn primarily from the Seattle Art Museum’s global textile collection, Mood Indigo illuminates the historic scope of this vibrant pigment. The exhibition features a set of tapestries from Belgium, a silk court robe from China, a vast array of kimonos from Japan, batiks and ikats from Indonesia and Africa, and ancient fragments from Peru and Egypt. An immersive contemporary installation devoted to indigo by Rowland Ricketts will be accompanied by a soundtrack by sound artist Nobert Herber that unveils the musical nuances indigo can suggest. From the sultry darkness of midnight to the vitality of a bright sky, come let the myriad blues in their multiple forms surround you.

Fields of Indigo by Rowland Ricketts

Rowland Ricketts’s Historical Processes For Creating Contemporary Textiles

Artist Rowland Ricketts adapts historical processes to create contemporary textiles. He came to indigo by way of a two-year apprenticeship in 1996. Today, Ricketts works with his wife and fellow artist, Chinami, as they handle indigo in all the stages of its inception: growing, processing, vatting, and dyeing. Read on to learn about this artist’s journey with indigo, from seed to cloth.

SAM: Hi Rowland! Thanks for speaking with us.

Rowland Ricketts: No problem!

SAM: What would you say your work is about at the heart? What are the central themes inherent in it?

Ricketts: On some level, it’s awe and wonder. That is a huge, meta-interest for me. Indigo is imbued with mystery. It’s an enigma of sorts in that it is a dye found throughout the world, and a dye found in synthetic forms. People have been drawn to it for millennia, working with it for millennia, and the end of the day, the color is immaterial, a wavelength of light. There are myriad connections indigo, from history, to plants and the environment, to art, time, etc. We (indigo makers) create these connections and at the end of the day, we’re making something immaterial. Part of the human condition is the drive to create beauty, and yet it is so immaterial. It’s all part of the bigger picture. On a smaller scale, planting, harvesting, and dye-making are all central to what I do.

Installation by Rowland Ricketts, Sound by Norbert Herber Museum of Fine Arts Boston August 28, 2015 - January 8, 2016. Dried indigo plants, indigo dyed hemp, interactive sound.

SAM: What inspired you to work with indigo? When did you start?

Ricketts: In 1996 I did a two-year apprenticeship in Japan, and spent one year working with a farmer and one with a dyer making indigo out of composted leaves. What inspired me was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet. I did photography, taught high school, and was developing black and white photos. I stopped eventually, pre-digital photography. I thought that there’s got to be more ways to create. I met people who were very conscious of their environment, very direct with it. I met them folks who dyed indigo, and worked with them on plants. They first told me about indigo and said to visit the Folk Art Museum in Osaka. When I went, there happened to be an indigo dyer exhibit up. I just started gardening and thought, “Wow, this is what I want to do.” It brought together my interests: working in a sustainable way with the environment, gardening, and farming.

SAM: Tell us about the work that you’ll have on view as a part of Mood Indigo.

Ricketts: The installation was a part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (Crafted: Objects in Flux, which was on view through January 10, 2016) and it will be reconfigured to fit the space. It’s coming SAM’s way next. It’s called “Mobile Sections.” For it, I collaborated with a sound artist, Norbert Herber, for an audio component. It’s made up of a large, indigo-dyed textile, 11½ ft. tall by 30 ft. circumference, dried indigo plants, and possibly a video projection. The inspiration for it was drawn from the process: field recordings of the harvesting, planting, drying, and positions of sound. It is playing with materiality and immateriality and it’s a thing that’s so much bigger in person.

SAM: For those of us who have yet to dye things with indigo, can you walk us through your indigo-making process?

Ricketts: Sure. There are four main steps:

STEP 1: GROWING
I plants seeds in late March, and transplant seedlings in early May and tend them, then harvest them in early July by cutting at the base to allow the leaves to dry.

Growing Indigo

STEP 2: PROCESSING

In the fall, these dry indigo leaves are put in a special shed, mixed with water, and composted for one hundred days to make the traditional Japanese indigo dye-stuff known as sukumo.

Processing Indigo

STEP 3: VATTING

By January, a concentrated compost with dye is left behind.

Vatting Indigo

STEP 4: DYEING

To dye cloth, I take the composed leaves, add wood ash lye, and mix them. Indigo bacteria removes oxygen to make the dyeing possible. The dye lasts from four months to a year, and the leaves used to make the dye are returned to the fields to nurture the next planting. With this process, the only thing taken from the leaves is the dye.

Dyeing Indigo

SAM: Okay, last question: What do you think people should know about indigo?

Ricketts: One connection people should definitely make: that the color they’re seeing comes from plants. I grew up in suburban America, and was driven by cars. I only became interested in plants after living abroad. People have been making indigo for millennia! I hope that after they leave the installation visitors think about what the color is, where it came from, and how it got there.

Mood Indigo will be on view at the Asian Art Museum April 9–October 9, 2016. Don’t miss it!

Images: Photos: Rowland Ricketts.
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