Ikenana? Ikebanana? Ikebana?
For this project, I’m excited to learn about the art of ikebana and explore ways that I can incorporate curvilinear volumes, food and industrial objects into it, all according to a season! Once again, this will be a content-heavy entry since I will be compiling all my research and processes into it.
Here’s the entry outline:
- Ikebana Research
- Spring Mindmap
- Final Work
- Final Thoughts
Part 1: Ikebana Research
Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.
More than mere flower decoration, the heart of ikebana is the beauty resulting from colour combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the meaning latent in the total form of the arrangement. What sets ikebana apart from other flower arrangements is its asymmetrical form and the use of empty space as an essential feature of the composition. A sense of harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting is also crucial.
Moribana is known for its distinctive use of shallow containers, or utsuwa. Kenzan, which are similar to floral frogs, must be used in conjunction with these containers to allow flowers and branches to be placed in upright and angled positions.
- Longest branch (shin): heaven
- Medium branch (soe): man
- Shortest branch (tai): earth
Looking at these three layers, we can incorporate the concept of dominant, sub-dominant and subordinate into them.
These arrangements pay a lot of attention to the organic lines since these lines guide the eye through the entire composition.
Part 2: Spring Mindmap
When the topic of spring in Japan is being brought up, the first thing that comes into one’s mind is cherry blossoms. This beautiful and whimsical flower has unofficially become Japan’s official flower. It has been celebrated for many centuries and holds a very prominent position in Japanese culture. The seasonal spectacle is celebrated with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the trees.
Food is often a good representative of the season since there are specific food that are for specific seasons. In the case of spring, some seasonal food include strawberry, ichigo daifuku, sakura mochi, sanshiku dango, hishi mochi, shirozake, chirashizushi. Aren’t these food too pretty to eat?
As you can already see, this simple colour palette is based off the sanshiku dango and hishi mochi. When one sees this colour palette, they will be reminded of the dango immediately and spring will come to their mind. Pink is definitely the dominant colour, followed by white and matcha green which are both the sub-dominant in this case.
Part 3: Ideation
Concept 1: 春/Haru (Spring) [Rejected]
- Translate the kanji word for ‘spring’ into ikebana
- Manipulate word form into physical form
- [x] Too literal
- [x] Limiting as I will be constrained to the form of the word, leaving me with little room to explore with other forms
Concept 2: 花見/Hanami (Flower-viewing) [Rejected]
- Emulate the experience of having a picnic under a sakura tree
- Incorporate Japanese sweets such as hishi mochi and sanshoku dango
- [x] Cliche and common concept
Concept 3: 梅見/Umemi (Plum blossom-viewing) [Chosen]
梅/Ume is the word for Japanese plum. They are an important part of history, hence they are often represented in traditional art and poetry.
Plum blossoms are flowers are just as beautiful but often forgotten about due to the hype around sakura blossoms. They are associated with the start of spring because they are the first blossoms to bloom during the year, some weeks before the sakura blossoms bloom. Ume matsuri (plum festivals) and umemi (plum blossom-viewing) are celebrated to commemorate this event.
The most popular way of consuming the Japanese plum is in its sour and pickled form known as umeboshi. Umeboshi is one of Japan’s most iconic flavours and is commonly served with rice.
- Civilization and high culture – Favourite tree of the classical Chinese poets, who were admired by the Japanese nobility at that time
- Auspicious – Bloomed early in the year, plum tree can live many years and still bear blossoms at a great age
- Passing of entrance examinations – Favourite tree of a famous scholar named Sugawara no Michizane
Why choose this concept?
- Give ume some love! I personally have a preference for sour food too.
- Plays an important and significant role in the Japanese culture, but hardly ever talked about
- Not as cliche as hanami
Part 4: Execution
Food items (sphere):
It wasn’t easy finding authentic umeboshi in Singapore and I didn’t have high hopes of finding them actually. I resorted to using plum candy or dried plums as substitutes, but they don’t carry the same significance as umeboshi itself.
Piercing the tree branch through the plate:
Temaki sush (cone):
Finding the temaki sushi was a challenge as well. Many stores merely sell normal cylindrical sushi or onigiri, but there was no temaki sushi in sight. The only places selling temaki sushi that I can think of are restaurants, making it extremely inaccessible.
What to do when I can’t takeaway any? I guess I’ll just have to make my own! Making a real temaki sushi would be challenging and troublesome since sushi rice would be require and the seaweed would get soggy over time. Therefore it would be practical to make a fake one instead.
The main components that needed assembly were the branch and the plate. Other elements such as the sushi and umeboshi still had the flexibility to be shifted around.
My compositions went through many revisions because I wasn’t satisfied with the positioning of the sushi and plum candy. Here is one of the discarded compositions.
Reasons for discarding this composition:
- Positioning of the sushi and plum candy were too random
- Sushi took the charm away from the umeboshi, since the colours blended into one another
- Umeboshi, rather than the plum candy, deserves its own spotlight
- No sense of rhythm throughout the entire composition
Part 5: Final Work
- Cone: Temaki sushi
- Cylinder: Plate
- Sphere: Umeboshi
- Dominant (D): Tree branch [blue arrow]
- Sub-dominant (SD): Plate, sushi [red arrow]
- Subordinate (SO): Umeboshi, thin wires [orange arrow]
This ikebana composition is inspired by the moribana style, featuring a shallow plate as a base. It centers around the theme of spring, specifically 梅見 (umemi) which means plum blossom-viewing. 梅 (ume) means plum in Japanese. Umemi is a lesser known aspect of the Japanese culture due to the hype of 花見 (hanami), which means flower-viewing and it refers to the popular sakura season. The aim of this ikebana composition is to shine light on umemi and give it the spotlight that it deserves. As this composition is based on the Japanese culture, all the elements in it have Japanese origins.
Ume is associated with the start of spring as the plum blossoms are one of the first flowers to blossom at the start of the year. Hence, the minimalistic look of my ikebana depict the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The green but bare wires represent the beginning of the renewal of nature, slowing coming back to life after a lifeless winter. The wires are moulded in such a way that they form infinity loops. This represents longevity, as plum trees can live for many years and can still bear blossoms at a great age. The wires also play a part in creating rhythm in the composition.
The tree branch is pierced into the plate, causing the plate to be tilted. As the foundation is now tilted, the composition becomes more dynamic. The chosen branch is seamless and has interesting angular turns that lead the eye upwards. It also makes the entire composition asymmetrical, staying true to the essence of ikebana. The plate is of an off-white colour with baby pink around its edges. These subtle colours hint towards the spring season. More than just a base, this plate is also a platform on which umeboshi are often being served on.
Now, moving on to the highlight of umemi – the umeboshi, of course! This fruit may be small, but it is packed full of sour and salty flavour. It is an important aspect of the Japanese culture as it has many positive connotations associated with it. Moreover, umeboshi is one of Japan’s most iconic flavours that is often served with rice. A temaki sushi is incorporated to further emphasise on the way umeboshi is served.
The scents that this composition gives off are sour, salty, and sweet. The sour and salty smell comes from the umeboshi itself, whereas the sweet scent comes from sakura incense, which are hidden in the composition itself. The sakura incense is added to enhance the smell of spring.
Let’s not forget about the setting that this ikebana composition is supposed to be viewed in. As this composition is also heavy influenced by Japanese food, it is only fitting to present it on top of a bamboo mat to complete its look.
To conclude, my composition does not take a direct approach to represent spring. One may expect a spring composition to be blooming with colourful and bright flowers, the total opposite of a minimal one like mine. The approach that I chose to take is definitely more indirect and subtle, presenting a different aspect of spring to my viewers.
Part 6: Final Thoughts
This is probably one of the most challenging yet intriguing project I’ve ever received! I know for a fact that flower arrangement is an art form, but I swear that the Japanese take it to another level (why am I not surprised?). As you can tell from my process, this project was filled with many trial and errors. There were many elements and ideas that were discarded before I derive my final product. It is also a risk to create a model that is different from a conventional one, I still stand by my concept nonetheless. Overall, this project is way more difficult to execute than the Pandora Box project, but it does exercise my creativity and push me to think of a versatile concept that is able to tie all the vastly different elements together.
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