This year in April, when visiting Mori no Tenjishitsu, the art exhibition held in the Forest Park and Wachiyama Park in Kyoto, I came across Satoko Taniguchi’s work. Thin threads were woven into an intertwined web hanging from a tree that went all the way down touching the fallen leaves on the ground. In the breeze and drizzle, the web appeared to be a window that brought the movement of the ancient people to our time and let them wander in the mountain. It was a magical piece of artwork.
Apart from making knit installation art, Taniguchi also makes accessories and clothes. Be it artworks or wearable arts, her design always demonstrates a vulnerable charisma that appears so weightless and serene. I was so impressed by how artificial work can so seamlessly assimilate into nature. Residing in Tokyo, Taniguchi can surprisingly enjoy the privilege of having rivers, woods, and ponds near her flat. When I asked if there was a thing that influences her the most, her answer was spider webs. Perhaps all her artworks and designs were bred by nature.
R：When did you first start knitting? Why did you choose knitting as your artistic medium among all the different types of arts and crafts?
T：When I was a child, I learned various arts and crafts techniques such as embroidery, patchwork, bead crafts, and knitting. During my time at Musashino Art University, I tried to express myself using fine art as a medium. Later on, the encounter with my teacher Michiko Kuwata led me to understand the possibility and liberty of expressing oneself through knitting. Since then, I became an apprentice of Kuwata. I think knitting is a very subtle expression that suits my personality pretty well.
T：Knitting is simply pulling the thread together with two pins. I find this action very primitive; this can easily reflect my real mentality. Life is ever-changing, knitting is the same. Even for a skillful and experienced knitter, the result can look different for the same thing they knit. These slight physical changes allow me to observe the changes in myself. There are millions of ways to knit with various types of yarn, that can lead to unexpected results. I would never be bored of doing all sorts of experiments every day.
R：You make a huge variety of products, apart from practical items like clothes and accessories, you also make installation arts. Could you tell us more about your earliest design?
T：My first design was made when I was in university under the guidance of Kuwata. Since she did not give me any restrictions, I decided to theme my work around Napa cabbage. When biking to school during wintertime, I could see vegetable fields lining both sides of the road. The way the Napa cabbages scattered in the fields looked as if the farmers had forgotten to pick them up. The Napa cabbages looked so beautiful — the texture, magical color gradient, and the sense of tranquility they give. Discovering this stunning image in my neighborhood, I was so eager to show it to the world. I tore apart my old blankets and sewed them up with used threads; as if being possessed by some spirit, I had my mind completely dedicated to representing the texture of Napa cabbage with fabrics. Afterward, I hung my final work on a tree for a photo shoot. I still remember how vibrant it looked hanging on the tree.
R：Your exhibition at Mori no Tenjishitsu left me with a vivid impression. Was that your outdoor exhibition? How did you prepare for the exhibition?
T：Many of my photos were taken in nature. Apart from how nature is captured in my photo documentation, I also want to see my work being shown in a natural environment. There were a lot of concerns when having an exhibition in the woods. Thanks to everyone who helped with the exhibition, including the volunteers and the people who manage the forest, I had a chance to visit the venue two months ahead of the exhibition. There, I saw a mountain slope that formed a triangular shape with trees nearby. I was deeply intrigued by the vibe it created, which prompted me to create my own “vibe” there. After the field trip, I reserved the spot for my exhibition and began to create a work that could fit into the environment.
T：Vintage Japanese linen thread, Vietnamese silk thread that I either bought or obtained from textile workshops, cotton from fields in India, washi paper thread from Kyoto, as well as all sorts of wool… These are the materials that I would use. None of them are conventional knitting materials, so I am curious what I can do with them.
R：I always choose the elastic thread; even if they are thin, elasticity is essential for knitting three-dimensional items. My another preference is the handmade thread with uneven thickness. As for dyeing, I prefer to use easy-to-find items like onions as a dye.
T：In your blog, you write “To create while observing nature”. Could you tell us how your works are connected to nature?
I go running in nature every morning. Afterward, I would spend some time picking up leaves or observing the insects and plants before going home. This does not only help me to relax but also awaken my senses so that I can be more sensitive to the minute details around me. This is how I begin my day before starting to work. I would say it is rather natural for me to be integrated into nature because of this habit of mine. However, I would not try to imitate nature when designing, I would rather have the sense of naturalness in my work in a more abstract way.
R：Can you talk a bit more about your recent works?
T：Recently, I tend to actually put the common things I see in my daily life into my design; knitting on hay is a good example. The grass would turn into a beautiful milky white color when dried up. I want to make use of this natural color and match it with various types of white threads to create a two-dimensional work that resembles a dancing movement. After making a few items that are white in color, this is a work that takes all the best qualities of my previous works. I wanted to find out what I am capable of making now.