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Hiroko Takeda with "Blackboard,"

Hiroko Takeda’s Textiles Honor Tradition and Break Convention

Takeda’s studio work centers on material, exploring how their combinations and textures through various weave settings can realize sculptural ideas and create new possibilities.

Hiroko Takeda has loved creating with her hands since childhood. With a fashion educator mother and an architect father, the Japanese-born artist learned early the importance of material and design, first experimenting with drawing, painting, and ceramics. When she visited a school’s textile department just before college, the atmosphere of looms and works-in-progress mesmerized Takeda. It led her to train in Mingei, the Japanese arts and craft movement philosophy that emphasizes materiality, the relationship between function and beauty, and the elimination of the purely decorative. 

Today, Takeda’s studio work centers on material, exploring how their combinations and textures through various weave settings can realize sculptural ideas and create new possibilities. Often, her textile works hang on the wall, complex with large waffle squares or unfinished edges drawing us in, with fibers that are natural, deconstructed, or recycled. “My teachers would probably scold me today for breaking conventions, but that foundation has informed my art practice, too,” Takeda recently told Whitewall. The New York–based artist elaborated on how she considers traditional Japanese lessons when creating in a fast-paced world and what she’s working on next.   

Hiroko Takeda at loom Hiroko Takeda at loom, photo by Hiroko Takeda Studio.

Hiroko Takeda’s Painterly Approach to Weaving

WHITEWALL: Your practice embraces a sculptural and painterly form of weaving. When beginning a new project, what idea do you build from first? 

HIROKO TAKEDA: I have a vision for a work, and I choose materials and structures to help realize it. Volume, depth, texture, color, movement are all elements of my conception of a work and approach to composition. It is not a conscious decision to create something sculptural or painterly, but more of a natural result. I don’t like to stay within a two-dimensional world or repeat small patterns. I try to eliminate anything that is not essential. In my “River” series, for example, I use structures, techniques, and materials to realize a kind of painting on a surface of water. I use monofilament, hand-dyed tape yarn, linen, mohair, and cotton, and a weaving technique in which the weft yarns go partway across, pick up other yarns and return, instead of crossing to the other side. In the “Giant Waffle” series, I magnify the weave structure to emphasize dimensionality, and play with grid size, yarn thickness, texture, fluctuation, and shadow to amplify depth, create rhythm, and give individual character to the grid lines and channels. How a work is installed or mounted also plays a role. In “River,” the materiality of the wood supporting the work is part of it, and so is the space between and behind the panels. In the case of the mounted “Giant Waffle” pieces, I wanted to re-create the tension of the work on the loom by stretching it around a frame to add volume and depth.

Hiroko Takeda, Hiroko Takeda, “River” triptych, photo by Kenzie King.

“I have a vision for a work, and I choose materials and structures to help realize it,”

— Hiroko Takeda

WW: How did Mingei inspire you to think about the capacities of material and structure?

HT: In Mingei, materials are as central to the work as the maker. As part of my training, I learned how to work with materials at every stage—carding fleece, spinning, washing, dyeing, sizing, and various treatments for specific fibers. I learned the characteristics and potentialities of each material. This knowledge has informed my practice. I often work with materials in combination with one another, mixing them to create a palette of textures. I select and experiment with weave settings and structures to realize an idea and open new possibilities.

WW: What do your artworks tell the tales of? 

HT: It depends on the series or individual work, but if there is something that unites them, perhaps it is an invitation to the accidental, disorderly, or unexpected—even as I am working within the rule-bound world of weaving. For me, art is so much about observation, about slowing down and paying attention. It’s about tuning in to what I see and feel. The process makes me slow down, observe things from various vantage points, question myself, and break free from rigid conventions. But each piece has its own story, too. 

Hiroko Takeda’s “River” Series

WW: You mentioned that you envisioned “River” as a meditation on flow. What did you want to communicate here? 

HT: I wanted to reveal depth—what lies below—and the sky reflected on the surface, as well. I wanted to show distance and dissolve it. I wanted to weave the flow of time—to make it stand still even as it is moving—and to convey the emotional story a river represents. In some places it is calm, in some places dramatic, and it is all happening in one moment. 

Hiroko Takeda, “Ame” series Hiroko Takeda, “Ame” series, photo by Ori Harpaz.

“For me, art is so much about observation, about slowing down and paying attention,”

— Hiroko Takeda

WW: Most of your pieces have been wall hangings, although recently you created a chair named Ame, which means “rain” in Japanese, inspired by a Mino garment. How was this created?

HT: The Ame lounge chair is a collaboration with Canadian designer Paolo Ferrari. Paolo asked me if I would like to create an art fabric for a chair he had designed, which would be exhibited in a show called “Pas de Deux,” curated by Jean Lin at her design gallery, Colony. Paolo had seen a multi-panel artwork I had created, which had layers of shorter fringe, and wondered if this approach might work for the chair. This got me thinking of the Mino, an ancient Japanese raingear made of very long strands of thickly layered straw. It would be striking, I thought, to create a long-stranded garment for the chair, to turn the solidity of the sedentary chair into something that flows, that conveys movement. Paolo loved the idea and that is how it was born.  

WW: Many of your textiles are made of natural, deconstructed, or recycled fibers. What is the importance of using or reusing certain materials? How does environmental consciousness or themes of sustainability influence your work and choice of material?

HT: Sustainability for me is being mindful of resources and not throwing material away. I think this approach is influenced by my upbringing. I come from a place where fabrics are not discarded willy-nilly, but are often deconstructed, repurposed, or recycled. The Japanese boro tradition of mending and patching together cloth fragments is one that is highly treasured here, but it was a matter of home economics, too. The tradition of sakiori, or rag-weaving, is also a mainstay in the culture. 

Back to the Ame chair, for a moment—in this work, I wanted to construct a bridge between handweaving and a manufactured fabric. To achieve this, I would create a handwoven piece for the back and sides of the chair that incorporates material from a commercial fabric that would be used for the seat and front sections. For continuity, I deconstructed the commercial fabric, took out the threads, and wove them into my piece. And I used leftover end portions of warps from other projects—repurposing them rather than throwing them out—to create the long, hanging strands. 

WW: What are some challenges or joys of working with old versus new in today’s fast-paced society? 

HT: Whether old or new, it’s still working by hand, ultimately. Even with a computer-assisted loom, you are warping, threading, throwing the shuttle, et cetera. With a computer-assisted loom, you have only two pedals on the floor instead of maybe twenty or more. Society is fast-paced, but you can’t rush this stuff. At least I prefer not to. That is a challenge, I suppose.

Hiroko Takeda, Hiroko Takeda, “Ame” lounge chair, photo by Joel Esposito.

WW: What are you working on now? 

HT: A mix of projects—artwork for exhibition, commissions, and collaborations on art and site-specific design projects for Peter Marino, Dior, Ulla Johnson, and others. New work inspired by a return trip to the Tohoku region of Japan, which was devastated by the tsunami in 2013, and the fragility and resilience of the environment. I was recently invited to inaugurate an artist exchange program with Tatter, an amazing textile library in New York City. I’m researching ropework and local dyes as part of this and creating work that integrates what I’m learning. 

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