Hiroko Takeda’s textile designs stretch the boundaries of what a textile is and what design is, simultaneously. As a weaver, designer, artist, and maker creating in her downtown Brooklyn studio for many years, Takeda has mastered handcrafted work that exemplifies a rare intersection of old technique and new vision.
Takeda studied textile design in Japan, at a school that embraced the philosophy of the Mingei Undou, the Japanese Arts and Crafts Movement. Core members of the movement had taught at the same school, including the Yanagi family and the great textile artist Keisuke Serizawa. “Mingei Undou emphasizes that with careful attention to material and craft, utility can enhance beauty and vice versa,” Takeda explains. “It was a good foundation for me.”
She worked at one of Japan’s oldest textile firms, both in Kyoto and Tokyo, after graduating. When it came time to move on, she traveled to London to study at the Royal College of Art. She apprenticed with Jack Larsen from there and ultimately became independent, establishing herself finally in New York, in Brooklyn.
When I asked Takeda why she became interested in weaving, she said that it must have been a cross between the influences of both her mother, who taught dressmaking, and her father, who was an architect. She grew up surrounded by fabric and blueprints.
“Weaving is a kind of architecture or construction with thread,” she states. “In my work as an artist and as a designer, I have been experimenting with and accentuating this architectonic aspect.”
This is especially apparent in her new work, now on display at Colony, a new design collective in lower Manhattan. Her textiles behave like fabric but they also behave like constructions that can be hung on the wall, like a painting, or woven seamlessly into architectural and interior designs, such as seating or wall coverings.
“Growing up (and still now), I loved making things with my hands,” she says. “I had a lot of friends who were interested in majoring in product design (such as designing cars) and graphic design, which were trends at that time in Japan. But I couldn’t associate or feel passionate about those fields. I wanted to do something more hands-on and also that had an application to everyday life. One night, I snuck with some friends into the studios of an art school. We found ourselves in the textile studio and saw some student work on the loom. I was fascinated by seeing the reality of thread becoming fabric.”
In her studio, Takeda has installed large mechanical looms, which she uses for art pieces because of their sturdiness, as well as a smaller computerized loom for experimenting with different woven structures. She pulls a full array of different materials into her creations and is particularly drawn to contrasts.
“I like combining and blending materials and elements to achieve rhythm and a harmony of contrasts,” she explains. “The combinations are endless: dry/shine, dark/light, rough/smooth, thick/sinuous, recycled/invented, synthetic/organic. The choice of materials also depends on the mood I’m trying to convey and the needs of the composition.”
Takeda’s location in downtown Brooklyn, on the top floor of a nine-story industrial building from 1906 (one of the few survivors next to the Fulton Mall) is particularly fascinating these days, as more and more of the older architecture is gobbled up by soaring glass sky-rises. “I have been watching this from my studio window and I feel it when the building shakes,” she told me. “I see the clear contrast of old and new.”
She likes to absorb her surroundings as much as possible. From that same studio window, she looks out on the façade of the Macy’s parking garage, an enormous concrete structure where text art has been painted in giant block letters. “[They are] statements that make you think about what’s important in life in this transitional time of massive development,” says Takeda. “‘Life is a fight for life’ is one of my favorites. I hope this public art survives. It has some power and gives some integrity to the area. I think being in that old building fits what I am doing in a way—the intersection of old and new.”
Photographs by Michel Arnaud and Hiroko Takeda
Post by Anne Hellman