Siân Bowen: A Journey Within A Journey (2006 – 2008)

Siân Bowen shared her discoveries, experiences and insights through three year V&A residency, co-hosted by the Paper Conservation Studio, during which she made new work in response to her explorations of the V&A’s collections, conversations with curators and conservators, and her use of historic drawing tools such as a Claude Glass.

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“The True and Perfect Description Of Three Voyages”

Now that my residency, co-hosted by Word and Image Department and Paper Conservation, has come to an end, I wanted to write one last entry. The experience has been an extraordinary one, not least in terms of the generosity that Curators in WID and conservators in Paper Conservation have shown in sharing their time and expertise. I have been led into stores rooms holding miniature stage sets, Indian hand painted flower albums, daguerreotypes, wardrobes of 16th Century gowns, intricate lace patterns from Venice and kimono stencils from Japan. The list could go on and on.

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Submarine Twilight

Guest posting by Frances Rankine, Curator, Word & Image Department‘I was fortunate enough to be in the Daiwa Foundation gallery on my own when I went to see Sian’s exhibition for a second time. The objects were hung in a lovely sunny room and it added to the wonderful sense of stillness and quiet that the images bring to me.When I sat down to write my contribution to Sian’s blog I was re-reading Tim Travis’ essay in the exhibition publication ‘Of Dust’.

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‘Of Dust’ – the works

Below are some of the works resulting from the second phase of my residency and which are currently on show at the Daiwa Foundation, London. Of Dust: No 9, 2008. Powdered gold, black Japanese lacquer on paper, 17 x 24 cm

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“Of Dust” – Exhibition at the Daiwa Foundation

Works from the second phase of my residency opened recently at the Daiwa Foundation, London – the exhibition entitled, “Of Dust”, comprised small-scale pieces which both draw together threads of ideas and experiment with processes which have been touched on in my previous postings. Images of the “Okoshi-ezu”, or folding teahouse designs, were transposed onto lacquered papers using different photographic and print processes.

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Okoshi-ezu

I first heard about “okoshi-ezu” when I visited an elderly book-seller close to the Heian Shrine in Kyoto. That was over three years ago now when I was making a large-scale installation, “Shift”, based on an 18th century folding paper teahouse. The book-seller told me that once he had seen a series of volumes which contained folding models of teahouses – something between origami and popup models and difficult to find. Dating from the Edo Period, they were used as architectural designs.

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Back in Japan again… In Praise of Shadows?

Back in Japan again… I stepped into the workshop of one of the country’s most respected lacquer artists, National Living Treasure, Shosai Kitamura. The walls were lined with shelves on which were placed examples of his workmanship. Draped across the length of one wall was a knotted straw garland sent by Ise Shrine – to bless the artist’s current inlaid mother-of-pearl lacquer work. He opened drawers slowly to reveal cut shells.

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Notes on Urushi/ Japanese Lacquer

A translucent material – but innumerable layers create a surface of seemingly impenetrable darkness.The tiniest speck on the skin capable of causing violent physical reactions – yet of extreme beauty.Images are ‘trapped” between layers – like forms in amber, prints in ice.Used to illuminate dark spaces – damaged by the brightness of natural light.

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Layers of Lacquer and of Ice

The stacks of Renaissance prints that were held in the Arctic ice for three hundred years (see previous posting), led me to think about the possibility of using of Japanese lacquer (urushi) as a medium for new drawings. This was for a number of reasons -At about the time that the attempt was being made to carry the prints to the Far East, cultural artefacts in the form of export lacquer were being brought from Japan to Europe.

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The Temporary Refuge – Again

Amongst the thousands of books and albums held by the V&A, I have discovered that there is one in particular that I have been searching for. “The True and Perfect Description of Three Voyages, so Strange and Wonderful That the Like Hath Never Been Heard of Before,” was written at the end of the 16th century and relates three attempts by Dutch explorers to reach China via the North East Passage.

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The Temporary Refuge

The temporary refuge as a metaphor for the fragility of the human condition. I seem to keep returning to this idea in my work – during the 1990s I explored cocoon and hive forms and, more recently, the 18th century Japanese paper folding teahouses that I have mentioned in previous entries. So an appropriate starting point for the second phase of my residency period seems to be Herbert George Ponting’s photograph “Cavern in an Iceberg” (Museum no. E.1320-2000).

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