Sweet & Sour September, Part 5: Yoshiko Wada Workshop - My Difficulties

*** Warning: Serious Self-Pitying Confusion and NOT a Lot of Dye Stuff ***

There were a lot of things I was unaware of, or not aware enough of, that made me uncomfortable.

I wasn't aware the degree to which the Japanese textile is in vogue now, presumably in the US, and what kind of prices they fetch. I did not have the social background to understand Yoshiko's frustration (??) with romanticiz-ation of Boro.

I was unaware the existence of Kiwis who followed Yoshiko around the world, in our very classroom, who were very familiar with her work. This alone made me feel uncomfortable, or irresponsible, but we had one in particular who knew everything about Japan, because she had been there. (Yes, I'm being facetious!) I was genuinely appalled and dismayed by her disregard to symbolism and cultural reference, offset by her excessive willingness to share. Good lord. I couldn't help wondering what she heard while Yoshiko's lectured.

And yet, I knew also that such primal, instinctual, sensual (as in "of the senses") interpretation unencumbered by the usual intellectual baggage could potentially give great boosts to her art-making. As no doubt I do with other people's treasures.

To say that I had an identity crisis before and during the workshop is an understatement. I'm convinced the stressed caused my not-hear-attack the previous week. I was unsure of who I was or where I picked up certain knowledge, (because to me, the sum of my knowledge and actions I take as a result constitutes me,) but I knew what labels could be attached to me, and to what degree I felt responsible or irresponsible in not knowing certain things, particularly about but not restricted to things Japanese.

I didn't know if Yoshiko is Japanese, or an American of Japanese descent, and how she expected me to behave. (Turns out, it didn't matter, as she takes everybody at face value.) Until Monday afternoon, I was all to aware I was clueless as to what we were expected to do in the workshop, and though I had project ideas of my own, I was clueless as to what degree Yoshiko would prescribe our course. And having attended a few Kiwi workshops, I'm now all too comfortable with the "come up with someone of your own" style, but what would Yoshiko think of me, not anyone else in class, but me, the American-sounding, Japanese-looking me in a workshop in New Zealand. (Turns out, it didn't matter what we did.)

"Labels" are hard to stay away from. The aforementioned omniscient one accused of someone else for not knowing something; the accused is a Kiwi of Japanese descent. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike being "labeled" Japanese, because I am that, but it entails a lot of responsibility I tried to shed by choosing to live outside that country. Being called a "Japanese weaver", (and while I live in New Zealand, I don't have a hope in hell being labeled a "Kiwi" anything, so this cross is mine to bear,) even if it means I'm ethnically Japanese and weaving is what I do, to me it comes with a huge vine-and-leaf patterned futon-sized ooburoshiki full of responsibilities.

That's the extent to which I can explain my identity crisis. I look one way, sound another, but have learned to do things yet a third way. I have an easy life, and some would say it's a history of running away from the right things to do. Most times I get away with being the different one, though I'm not that different inside, but once in a while life throws me Truth Balls so I confront my choices. What's unique-ish about my case is that nationality is usually not something a person has to confront over and over again; it's usually a given, but if you are a Japanese female, there is a lot you can choose to run away from, and un-become one. I'm sure there are other groups and categories that are just as puzzling if you're not in the thick of it.

(I see your light bulb go on; yes, my BA on James Joyce; we're getting somewhere...)

On the occasion of this workshop, though, I unexpectedly encountered another side of me which I was vaguely aware was develop ping, but hitherto never met face to face. And for want of a better work, it's the unassertive, overly sensitive side of me. And this is possibly what frustrated me the most.

*** Mental Health Issues Cropping Up about Now - No Offense Intended, by there May Be Some ***

I couldn't stand the noise in the classroom and felt jumpy with the commotions over every little interesting idea or reaction. I thought the joy and commendation expressed were much too over-the-top. I was annoyed by assertive people butting in and taking up Yoshiko's time and wrecking her train of thought; I was even more angry with passive-aggressive questioning and hogging of her time. I became aware of the two tiers in the class - the assertive lot who asserted, and the unassertive lot who went about doing their tasks quietly. Yoshiko did her best to pay individual attention, or perhaps this is her nature, but I understood she was never going to get around to giving me the rest of her instructions, which was interrupted half a day at a time.

I had to be innovative, and quick. So I concocted this Idiot Savant Weaver personna; I imagined a dark gray cloud surrounding me, with a light gray glow on the inside that was me. I pretended everybody had knowingly left me alone to stitch ever so slowly, they knowing whatever I touched eventually turned to gold.

It didn't help much. At one point the aforementioned Omniscient one told me to get my hands out of the dye pot because I had been dyeing "the longest" and others needed the chance; the fact was, we had been there for the same duration, trying the same "katana" technique, which Yoshiko emphasized over and over needed opening up of the folds and dyeing throughly to get maximum contrast of white and blue.

Less intentional but as aggressive was a work-table-mate standing, with shoes on, on my projects-in-progress and dyed items, hanging her wet pieces on the clothes line above me, instead of clearing her area and hanging them above it, not to mention she was hogging well over half the table, while I and another shared the rest of the less-than-half.

Oh, the paranoia! It was a regular Animal Kingdom and the only thing that save me was Sir Richard Attenborough calmly narrating to me the ability of the strong to sniff out the prey. I felt powerless, and disappointed, but I didn't die.

It was a foreign experience, but I was aware that it wasn't new, this different side of me; I had picked up reflections of this person in the periphery of my mirror for the last couple of years.

*** Back to Relative Normalcy - You May Sigh a Collective Sigh of Relief ***

One of the issues that exposed Yoshiko's passion, and one with which I strongly agree, is the decline of New Zealand wool industry. In the past decade, the "bottom line" brigade successfully moved New Zealand wool "industry" off shore, leaving the country as "a mere third world country exporting raw material", as Yoshiko so aptly described. She feels passionate that some of us, artists/crafters and academics, need to collaborate with the wool "industry", from farmers, the Wool Board, to the mills and fashion houses, to keep as much of the work in New Zealand as possible. The discussion may have come about from the fact Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin was excluding the weaving component from their textile program and our classmate Christine Keller therefore lost her job. I understood there is to be no weaving components in any of the tertiary institution in New Zealand from next year.

One of the best things out of the workshop for me was a new/renewed friendship with the Nelson coordinator Colleen Plank. She's always been a member of our loose textile group alongside Rose, Ronette, Rosie and Ali, but like Ali, I never got to know her as well as the three R's. I knew she used to be a weaver; I knew she now works with felts; I knew she had hilarious stories of her two successful sons; and that she worked at the Polytech for some years. I discovered she went to the Polytech weaving school; I got to see some samples she wove; and look forward to more time with her.

I volunteered to be on of the Indigo stirers while Colleen was away; indigo vat is a living thing and it needs to be stired approximately every other night, and three Nelsonians promised to keep the vat going, in return we were allowed to dye if we wanted to.

The problem was, the making of and caring of the Indigo dye vat was never explained to us in the workshop, at least not in an organized way I had hoped. For the workshop, the vats were prepared by Colleen and Deb, the Wellington coordinator, and were opened when ready to dye. We watched them stir from time to time, but many of us weren't exactly sure how to care for it. We were told the recipe is in one of Yoshiko's books. I talked to Colleen and Deb and look at my notes, and extracted the minimum information I thought we needed and shared with the other two. When I showed up for my first stirring duty, I discovered to my dismay Colleen had left us all kind of other packets, of dye and chemicals and whatever. I just hope it stays alive until Colleen gets back.

The workshop finished in like a bad party, people putting things away, loading their cars, and disappearing one by one. No official thank yous, no ceremony. I was left hanging around the periphery of the classroom. I also overheard that Colleen was having a pot luck dinner and was inviting a select few; the nosy, inquisitive side of me hung around just long enough to be invited, so I can make it my choice to not go. I didn't have the guts to approach Yoshiko and thank her personally.

Chances are, the pot luck was something Colleen thought up at the last minute so out-of-towners could be looked after. Chances are, she didn't mean to create an First and Second tier by selectively inviting people, because she is so not like that. But then, you know me, I hate any groups or gathering where only a few is invited, so I was determined not go to.

I had to wait for Ben to finish work, which gave me enough to time to mull over things and overturn my conviction and make except and go to the pot luck. Bottom line, I wanted my money's worth, the exact same reason that got me out of the car for three mornings when I felt like a tight ball of steel wire, while Ben repeated, "well, it's really up to you." We went to the supermarket, Ben made me a dip I could bring, and he drove me to Colleen's house, but he, being a genuinely shy person, chose not to stay.

We had a lovely dinner, around seven of us, but I don't remember what we talked about besides a brief discussion on the New Zealand wool industry's fate. Once again time came to leave, and I couldn't say thanks or good bye to Yoshiko, and I was left hanging around until Ben came to pick me up.


Meg said...

Suffice it to say, I would definitely categorize myself as having very assertive previously. This is what puzzles and frustrates me. Is it only that I'm getting older, more polite, softer, or what?

Anonymous said...

Well, In the past I've typed up two epic-length comments on your blog that disappeared before I could post them, so I don't want to tempt fate--which clearly doesn't want me to leave you epic length comments!--but I must say yours is one of the blogs I read even when I am too tired to read blogs, even if it means catching up in gulps like now, and it would give me pleasure even if I didn't care a fig about weaving.

Your descriptions of the workshop chaos really struck a chord with me--the hogged worktable, the sad feeling when everyone scatters without proper thankyous (as if they have stolen something and are making off with their loot), not being able to do handwork and take in information at the same time--all of it. And the Omnicient! *Shudder.* There's always one. You know what the whole thing reminded me of? Kindergarten classes. It sounds like Yukiko could have really benefitted from having a veteran kindergarten teacher as an assistant to keep order. Or a bodyguard/bouncer...

I did not know that about the off-shoring New Zealand wool industry. And here I was thinking it was going along as always, a gem and an example to the rest of the world. That is really a pity.

Anonymous said...

Yoshiko. Sorry. Got her name wrong!

Meg said...

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear you lost them; I love epic-length comments... Bad Blogger!

Tranpunto, I'm going with the bouncer. A big, hulky, scary, silent one with the ear piece. Though I might have been the one to get thrown out.

Thank you for taking the time to leave the third one, nevertheless.

Dianne said...

Thank you for sharing your workshop experiences. Too often we just accept whats going on rather than 'make a fuss'. How dare a fellow student shunt you out of the dye pot! I think I would have objected to the standing on my work though.
Did you dye with indigo on wool? I tried and it was a lovely dark shade but took it home damp and felted it and lost all the colour! Maybe I should have let it dry properly first.

Meg said...

It did a cashmere piece (the top one in the katana method) which dyed very well - possibly too well, as I can't see the stripes of the warp colors any more, but my fav kind of blue.