Japanese bamboo is drawing NGV art lovers outdoors,
writes Denise Gadd.
LESS is more may be a guiding principle of ikebana, but Master
Tetsunori Kawana has been inundated with volunteers working with
him to build a major sculpture in the garden at the National
Thirty volunteers, drawn from Ikebana International's Melbourne
chapter and various Sogetsu schools in Australia and New Zealand
have helped Master Kawana each day for the past 10 days to create
his work Five Elements - Water.
Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement, creating
organic and formal structures. A seasonal flower here, a few
organic branches there and a subtle minimal creation takes form.
The container, too, is a key element of the composition, with
pottery often chosen to display the arrangement.
Master Kawana's outdoor installation, on the other hand, is of
the modern era and therefore significantly larger than the
traditional ikebana sculptures that grace Japanese homes.
It comprises hundreds of seven-metre lengths of Madake bamboo,
split into thinner reeds for easier construction, then moulded
together to create a graceful waterfall pushing its energy towards
the gallery, a sign of good luck, according to Kawana.
A practitioner of contemporary Japanese bamboo sculpture and a
member of the modern Sogetsu School, he was invited to create an
outdoor exhibit for the gallery to complement the Melbourne
chapter's 50th celebrations. It was the first chapter to be
established in the southern hemisphere.
For the master practitioner, it's a chance to display his modern
interpretation of an art form that has been practised in Japan for
more than 500 years.
Traditionally an ikebana sculpture is put together by the lady
of the house, then displayed in the entrance hall as a welcome to
family members and guests for special events such as tea
Kawana, whose mother taught ikebana to young married women, says
the arrangement must adhere to the strict rules set down by
generations of teachers.
His mother, he says, was hard on herself when it came to
creating her own arrangements.
"I would see her every day doing ikebana in the house and I'd
say 'I don't like it' and while she never said anything I could see
it in her back all the time. Because of that I hated it. Now I'm
following my mother."
While the headquarters of the Sogetsu School is in Tokyo, Kawana
teaches around the world and recently attended a seminar in
He has exhibited in many cities, including Moscow, where he
created his large waterfall installation. It was well received, he
"Ikebana is very popular in Russia (also Germany and
Switzerland) as they are really interested in Japanese culture. On
opening day we get so many people it's amazing."
Originally for the Melbourne exhibit he had planned to create
the waterfall in water for more dramatic effect, but Kawana was
advised that May in this city can be cold, which is why the garden
space was chosen as more practical.
"I call it passage because life's work is a passage. Sometimes I
make a tunnel that people can walk through using the five elements
(fire, wood, water, metal and earth) and five senses, then my work
is complete. You can either walk through it or around it. Otherwise
my work is not complete. It's a pity people can't go through this
but they can walk around it."
From a seasonal perspective, as the trees in the garden display
more dramatic autumn tonings, so too will the bamboo settle in and
harmonise with its surroundings.
"The colours of the bamboo are perfect going into autumn, the
green going to yellow then gold, so people will empathise with the
timing," Kawana says.
The president of the Melbourne chapter, Gwen Delves, is
delighted that her approach to the gallery in 2007 to co-ordinate
an ikebana event with its 50th anniversary has been realised.
"It's a privilege and an honour to have Master Kawana here in
Melbourne to be part of our 50th anniversary celebrations," she
The deputy director of the NGV, Frances Lindsay, says the
sculpture is "an evocative, amazing work and more of an art
installation than what people would associate with ikebana".
"It gives a sensation of being a bamboo wave with these curly
elements that create the sense of foam on the wave, whipping up
into the air as the ocean might do."
Five Elements - Water is on display in the Grollo
Equiset garden at the National Gallery of Victoria until July
Master Kawana will demonstrate Sogetsu ikebana today at
2pm in the Great Hall of the NGV. The Melbourne chapter's floral
ikebana exhibition is on this weekend at Domain House Gallery,
Dallas Brooks Drive, 10am-4pm.