Floating World — The mesmerizing kimono sculptures of Karen LaMonte


I am fascinated by the way the human
body is both personal and universal. As MY body it is specific, imperfect but as THE body it is an object,
part of a cultural ideal. For 10 years, I worked with the
female nude as a timeless symbol of beauty. I contrasted the
fragile absent figure with an opulent cast dress to explore the tension
between private and public space exposing the personal layer under these
sumptuous expressions of culture As I made these sculptures I became aware
that my visual vocabulary was myopic wholly informed by
Western aesthetics and ideals I became captivated with
the idea that at their core clothing and bodies are neutral,
without inherent meaning and if viewed through a
different cultural lens they would appear completely differently I decided to test my
theory by going to Japan After working with the rich drapery of
Western dress, the kimono appeared austere. It fascinated me as the anti-dress. In 2007, I began a seven-month research fellowship through the Japan-US
Friendship Commission. I lived in Kyoto in the traditional kimono making
district of Nishijin which hummed with the sound of kimono production.
I studied all aspects of the craft and I loved it From dying the silk to weaving
the fabric and drawing the imagery it was a completely amazing experience. I was taken under the wings of people devoted to traditional methods. I immersed myself in the
culture of the kimono which involved among other things
joining my new friends on Friday nights for lessons washed down with
glass after glass of Shōchū In all cultures clothing is an unspoken language but the kimono
is perhaps the most codified Every element of its design,
the imagery, the sleeve length, the Obi type and the way it’s tied is highly significant Putting on a kimono
is assuming a role in society a role proclaimed by the
language of the kimono In place of the West’s
preoccupation with the self the Japanese idea of beauty is
focused on the idea of a greater group. When a woman
puts on a kimono she must create a cylinder, the ideal shape to
display the imagery Her defining curves are eliminated
through patting and binding Her specific body is irrelevant the beauty of the clothing supersedes
the beauty of its wearer Once I was back in my studio I grappled with the
concept of non-individual beauty Instead of the absent body I had
worked with in the past I was now faced with one which had been erased, incorporated into a greater group a body more significant than
any single individual Eventually I found insight in Mu, the
Buddhist notion of emptiness Mu is not a variant of the
Western nihilistic nothingness instead it is the empty sky
which contains the universe With this in mind I started working
with biometric data from NASA and fabricated a precise mannequin
of the median 40-year old woman an average every-woman or
an exact no-woman a female representation of MU As I started dressing my every-woman I realized more than
ever how fluent I was in the Western vernacular of
opulence and drapes and how the Japanese
expression of beauty was the radical
departure I had hoped for. It was extremely challenging I began to work in
a spare and minimalistic way. I became more attentive to materials Thinking of the kimono as a
vessel for an erased body I worked with clay for its humility bronze for its tradition rust for its transience and glass because it embodies
the contradiction of presence and absence I found that my thinking
parallels the aesthetic philosophy wabi-sabi which is centered on the
celebration of impermanence and prizes imperfection, asymmetry, simplicity,
and the marks of time I found particular kinship in Kintsugi
where broken objects are repaired with gold leaving scars visible
and highly valued From the beginning
I worked with Kintsugi by intentionally drying ceramic
in a way that caused cracks Once, a kiln error caused the
temperature to skyrocket and three sculptures inside exploded It was an opportunity for
an extreme repair I gathered all the pieces
of unglazed terracotta and spent months
putting them back together I spent a total of eight years building the whole body of work
I call Floating World It is a translation of Ukiyo the name of the pleasure
quarters in Edo Japan filled with geisha, maiko,
and kabuki actors floating above mundane existence It is a world that was made
famous by the Ukiyo-E woodblock prints it is these images of exotic beauty
which influenced the 19th century avant-garde in Europe and the United
States and gave birth to Japonisme But, what intrigued me most was the
Japanese homophone for Ukiyo meaning Sorrowful World This is the earthly plane of
death and rebirth from which
Buddhists seek release Even the name of the pleasure
quarters where people go to forget everyday worries and
indulge in bodily gratification uses a language that tempers beauty with an awareness of impermanence

3 comments

  • mitch sansiribhan

    They look absolutely incredible! I can't wait to see them up close at the museum in October!

    Reply
  • Gerry Phibbs

    A wonderful and wonder-filled presentation of Karen's incredible work.  What a change – seeing the fruits of her 7 years of experimentation and education, the dedication it had to require!  What an inspiration for any and all who follow their own artistic paths.

    Reply
  • Ernesto Sanchez

    Since we acquire your work Chado 2010 at the OKCMOA had always fascinates me your incredible work, but after seeing this video….WOW! You are an remarkable artist. Thank you

    Reply

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