Noticed: Tomoko Ishida

By Regina M. Connell

It’s a riff on the age-old story about finding your calling. You’re in a new situation: perhaps you get married, move to a new town, assume a new role, start living a different life. And it’s hard. You’re trying to find your identity, trying to find what you mean in this strange new world. And then one day, you find it in the unlikeliest of places.

In Tomoko Ishida’s case, this change was a little more drastic than that.

Tomoko Ishida: Co-Twisted Detail

Born in Japan’s second city, Osaka, Tomoko Ishida’s life changed when she married a Buddhist priest and went to live in a Zen temple in the countryside in northeastern Japan. As the wife of a priest, she spent many hours at ceremonies, taking care of customers and guests, and cleaning and cooking for the temple.

There was little “me” time, and little time for the fibre art she’d been doing.

She found herself thinking about the fibre in her daily life: the papers used to wrap offerings to Buddha, and wondering what could be done with them. But a constraint loomed: she had no workshop, or really even much free time in which to work.

Tomoko Ishida: Otaisetsu

So she just started to use her free moments, folding those thousands of pieces of discarded paper, turning them into what she calls ‘koyori’. “With no particular plan in mind, I just worked at it, day by day, like keeping a diary. It only takes about 20 seconds to roll one paper for “koyori”, and they don’t take up much space, so I could see that this method and material suited my living conditions quite well.”

Tomoko Ishida: Collective Unconscious

And eventually, she turned these pieces of paper into sculptural installations that are some of the most ethereal, meditative, and deeply moving I have seen.  These  installations fill entire rooms, creating shadows that become part of the installation. By embracing shadows and light, she extends the power of the humble material she employs.

Her work’s been seen in galleries and museums in from Japan to Poland. And her Co-Twisted sculpture in the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York where it was part of the 2012 Beauty in All Things exhibition.

To create her installations she painstakingly cuts each piece of paper into small strips, rolls, twists, and combines them, typically using starch to secure the pieces.

Tomoko Ishida: Purified Naked Mind

“For most people, it is not necessary to make art in order to live. However, for me, it is the only way to make sure that I am living.”

If that isn’t the essence of finding your calling, I don’t know what is.


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