The potency and inherent beauty of the handmade object is made manifest in the meditative practice of Hawaii-based artist Wendy Kawabata. Through her repetition of simple actions, each work becomes an accumulation of forms – gathering to reveal the significant act of making. While process and media frequently shift, Kawabata’s practice is always conducted within a space that is traditionally seen to reinforce feminine, maternal, and domestic roles.
Kawabata’s methods are overtly mundane, referencing historically practical treatment of handicraft. Employed in a domestic context such techniques describe insurmountable household tasks that can never be finished; Kawabata, however, offers resolution to these gnarly endeavors. This conflict is evident in installation Preoccupation (2009), as Kawabata provides tiny knitted jerseys for an assembly of wooden logs. Each sweater is tailored to its bearer, accommodating individual branch forms; logs come to resemble misshapen orphans, their treatment conveying an obsessive love associated with various maternal acts. Rather than subverting or bluntly addressing any feminist agenda, Kawabata deftly reworks the function of female craft objects.
Acts (2012) is a series of drawings of imagined yet plausible crocheted forms. Astonishingly intricate while revealing patent flaws, haptic threads come to embody the rhythmic focus required in producing the implied objects. Like gratitude for the gift of a mistake-riddled first-attempt craft project, these works highlight the value of the imperfect artefact; produced with devotion and steeped in tradition, anomalies become value-loaded representations of the loving act of making.
Despite robust, methodical construction, Kawabata’s work seems to possess an overwhelming fragility. Intricately folded book pages tentatively cling to a gallery wall; threads appear loose and vulnerable; delicate perforations weaken a paper’s surface. The viewer is tangibly aware of the care taken in navigating these delicate procedures.
This dedication to process is constantly evident in Kawabata’s work; a sense of immersion in the minute tasks which make up her art-making. Produced for both maker and viewer, Kawabata’s repetitive acts take on a ritualistic quality that invites careful consideration and attentiveness. Kawabata’s preoccupation with these small productive operations becomes a quiet protest: an exercise in control in a world that otherwise curtails and oppresses.
Extending beyond the domestic, recent works like Grow In Light (2013)have addressed specific environments. Begun during a residency in Iceland, the installation responds to the constant daylight of the extreme north. Its hundreds of crocheted flowers are painted various greys to return the raw intensity and displacement of the night-less day. Sprawling the wall with organic arbitrariness that resembles mildew, the work obstinately retains its origin as a series of labouriously handmade objects.
Careful reiterations of mark-making, folding, and stitching reinforce the value and the credence of Kawabata’s work; she is an artist who harnesses her hours in the creation of something precious.
Essay by Jane Apperley
Born: 1966, Michigan, USA
Lives: Honolulu, Hawaii
Education: Associate Professor of Art, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Honolulu; Master of Fine Arts (Magna Cum Laude), University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA; Bachelor of Fine Arts, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, USA
Awards/Distinctions: Pollock-Krasner Grant, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York, USA (2012); Travel Award, University Research Council, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Honolulu (2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2006); Nes Artist Residency, Skagastrond, Iceland (2011); Award for Innovative Creative and Scholarly Work, University Research Council, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Honolulu (2011, 2006)
Collections: Public Eastern Washington University, Cheney, USA; College of Notre Dame, Baltimore, USA
Public Exhibitions: In the Land, Honolulu Museum of Art, Hawaii (2015), I AM: Money Matters, ArtPrize, The Fed Galleries, Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Rapids, USA (2014); Cutting Edge: Contemporary Paper, Visual Arts Center at Boise State University, USA (2012); Acts, Haas Gallery of Art, Bloomsburg University, USA (2011); SUBStainability, Texas State University Art Gallery, San Marcos, USA (2011); Pull, Poke, Fold, Corban Estate Arts Centre, Auckland (2010); Frame 301, Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, USA (2009); Pull, Mark, Fold, The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center, Honolulu (2009); SMARTt Art - Trash into Treasure, Lincart Gallery, San Francisco, USA (2009); Mapped, The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center, Honolulu (2008); Tattered Cultures, Mended Histories, The Linekona Gallery, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii (2008); Triennial 2008, The Center for Book and Paper Arts, Columbia College, Chicago, USA (2008); Loyola National Works on Paper, Loyola University, Chicago, USA (2007); Absence/Excess/Loss, Rochester Contemporary, New York, USA (2007); Island to Island, University Sains Malaysia, Penang, University of Tasmania, Australia, University of Hawaii Art Gallery, Honolulu (2007); Burning Green Wood, Emerson Center for Art, Bozeman, USA (2005); 3rd Drawing Biennale, Steps Gallery, Melbourne, Australia, Benalla Regional Gallery, Victoria, Australia (2005); Pleasurework, SCA Gallery, Pomona, USA, Fort 508 Gallery, Albuquerque, USA (2004)
Publications/Articles: Prompt 1, Iowa City, USA: Prompt Press, 2014; ‘Internet Book Fetishists versus Anti-Fetishists’ by Rachel Arons, The New Yorker, Jul 2013; Piecrust Magazine, Etiquette Issue, Fall/Winter 2012/13; ‘From the sublime to the meticulous’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Mar 2012; ‘Cutting Edge Explores The Fold Between Paper Fine Art and Craft’ by Sarah Masterton, Boise Weekly, Feb 2012; Pull, Mark, Fold Exhibition Catalogue, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2009; ‘Wendy Kawabata: The Contemporary Museum’ by Marcia Morse, Art in America, Sept 2009, pg 156; Mapped Exhibition Catalogue, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2008; ‘5th International Book & Paper Arts Triennial’ by Lauren Weinberg, Time Out Chicago, Issue 183, Aug/Sept 2008; ‘Mapped’ by Ara Merjian, Modern Painters, Jul/Aug 2008, pg 83; Absence/Excess/Loss Exhibition Catalogue, Essay by Patricia Mathews, Rochester Contemporary, New York, 2007; ‘Wendy Kawabata and Lisa Solomon at Kruglak Gallery, Mira Costa College’ by Victoria Reed, Artweek. Vol. 38, Issue 1, Feb 2007, pg 22