Tanabe Chikuunsai IV wraps Casa Loewe Barcelona in 6,000 strips of tiger bamboo
Inside the newly renovated Casa Loewe Barcelona, Japanese artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV reflects on family traditions and environmental destruction with a staggering bamboo installation
A twisting mass of woven bamboo winds through the interior of the newly renovated Casa Loewe Barcelona, stretching across the ceiling and along a series of pillars. Yugo (or Fusion), as the ethereal installation is called, is the work of Japanese bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, who took the family tradition and went wild with it.
Chikuunsai IV used 6,000 strips of tiger bamboo (torachiku) – a valuable variety with a decorative band that only grows in a valley in Kōchi prefecture on the Japanese island of Shikoku and is becoming scarcer every day.
“Climate change is casting a shadow over these groves of tiger bamboo,” says the artist, known for creating extensive installations for art institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Odunpazari Modern Museum in Turkey and the Guimet Museum. in France. “The soil there has been affected by environmental pollution and global warming, which has adversely affected the beautiful outer layer of tiger bamboo.” Once around a hundred families tended the bamboo grove, but now there are only three people left – a decline in the trade that Chikuunsai IV wants to reverse while raising awareness of the fragility of nature. “My hope is to preserve such beauty for future generations,” he adds. If left unpruned, the bamboo does not develop its distinct stripe, it just turns green.
Above: Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, Bamboo2022. Photography: Adrià Cañameras. Above: Portrait of Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, courtesy Loewe
Normally, Chikuunsai IV would visit a site to learn about its history and soak up its atmosphere before working on a design, but Covid-19 restrictions meant he had to work on the fly when he arrived in Barcelona. Her diaphanous installation for Casa Loewe Barcelona is a fusion of the natural forces and flowing forms of Loewe’s bags and garments. As with all of his installations, he made it without using glue, instead relying on the high tensile strength of bamboo to support the structure. The bands can be disassembled and reused later.
Yugo is joined at Casa Loewe Barcelona – one of the brand’s galleries bringing together craft, art, design and fashion – by other artisanal feats, including a large macrame sculpture by Catalan artist Aurelia Muñoz, which plunges from a ceiling downstairs, and an amorphous Hairy hug during by South Korean artist Haegue Yang next to the entrance. Other design successes inside the building, built by Catalan modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, are chairs by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld and tables by Axel Vervoordt, offset by 16th-century furniture and a staircase with railings inspired by the Arts & Crafts creations of William Morris. Works by Loewe Foundation Craft Prize finalists abound, including Japanese ceramists Sakiyama Takayuki and Tomonari Hashimoto.
Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, Bamboo2022. Photography: Adrià Cañameras
Like many designers supported by the Loewe foundation and brand, Chikuunsai IV expands the possibilities of his medium. Bamboo craftsmanship dates back at least 1,000 years in Japan, and his great-grandfather, Chikuunsai I, was the first in the family to adopt the art of weaving it 120 years ago. Each generation has pushed the medium in new directions. Chikuunsai IV, who was born in 1973 and works in a studio in Sakai – a port city in the Osaka region – started learning basic weaving techniques even before going to elementary school, then studied sculpture at the University of Tokyo and apprenticed with his father. Like other members of his family, he made baskets and table sculptures, but he was the first to work on coin-sized pieces.
“Tanabe Chikuunsai IV is a one-of-a-kind artist on the Japanese bamboo art scene,” says his gallery owner Philippe Boudin. “He carries on a tradition but imbues it with an avant-garde approach and creates installations on a monumental scale.” With his daughter Zoé Niang, he runs Galerie Mingei in Paris, which facilitated the installation of Casa Loewe Barcelona and exhibits smaller works in its space at 5 rue Visconti (until May 28, 2022).
For the Japanese, bamboo is more than just a material – and a highly renewable material. It has strong cultural roots and an inherent spiritualism, says Chikuunsai IV. “It gives the Loewe store a sacred quality,” he adds, which is perfectly fitting for a recently reopened temple of craftsmanship and fashion. §