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STUDIO STORIES 2020

STUDIO STORIES 2020 is a collection of short interviews with artists who have been making contemporary work during the Covid 19 pandemic. It introduces readers to the ways in which artists continue to create and adapt their practice today.
curated BY Lilach Schrag

ABOUT STUDIO STORIES 2020 - As the global health pandemic changed artists' lives and practice, Chicago-based artist Lilach Schrag found herself drawn to stories of how artists were adapting to lockdown and the new reality. The result is Lilach's curated presentation "Studio Stories 2020", hosted by Kol HaOt. "When I realized it would be impossible to have my scheduled June residency at Kol HaOt's gallery in Jerusalem, I reached out instead to colleagues and friends around the world who make contemporary art and started collecting their stories. I asked them to provide a glimpse into their mission, their methods, and their hearts. They spoke about their work, altered daily routines, challenging moments, uplifting realizations, and the ways in which they continue to create and adjust their practice during the pandemic. Individually, from their homes and their studios, they tell fascinating stories with thoughtful words and beautiful artwork. Collectively, they offer a snapshot of artists responding to the unprecedented reality of our time.” – Lilach Schrag, 2020

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Akemi nakano cohn

AKEMI NAKANO COHN CREATES CONTEMPORARY FABRIC AND PAPER ARTWORK USING TRADITIONAL JAPANESE PRINTING AND DYEING TECHNIQUES. BORN IN YOKOHAMA, JAPAN, AND RESIDING IN CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, SHE STUDIED TRADITIONAL JAPANESE DYEING TECHNIQUES IN JAPAN, AND HAS AN MFA IN FIBER ART FROM CRANBROOK ACADEMY OF ART IN MICHIGAN. SHE HAS TAUGHT AT THE SCHOOL OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO AND OVERSEAS, AND EXHIBITED ARTWORK IN MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES ACROSS THE US.

My artwork is based on impressions and expressions of my personal journey. I immigrated from Japan to the US in 1985. I encountered cultural differences and had to adapt.
I come from a Zen Buddhist family, and I married a Jewish man. We have many discussions about these two ancient religions. While I follow Jewish traditions like keeping kosher and celebrating Jewish holidays, the Zen Buddhist way of relating to the cycle of life is central to my life and art.
I was wondering how animals adjust to different environments, especially in urban settings like Chicago. As I took walks in the prairie around me, I observed wild plants and animals, and started thinking about the traces and impressions they leave behind.
Broken Circle #1 - Nassen Katazome printing on silk; hand painted polyester; hand stitched, 43”H x 89”W
I noticed footprints that squirrels, birds, deer, and rabbits LEFT on the snow-covered ground of the forest. These traces remained in the snow long after the animals were gone, like an indication of their existence and a memory of their presence.
I realized that even footprints in the snow eventually melt away and only remain in our mind, just like the memory of a warm handshake or a certain scent that might fade away.
Trace #1 - Nassen Katazome & Tsutsugaki printing on silk; patched and hand stiched, 36”H x 93”W
I translated these observations into my work. For the last ten years I have been exploring and using natural dyes exclusively in my pieces, allowing the materials to represent my thoughts.
Memory of Marigold #1 - silk dyed with natural dyes (Madder, Apple, Marigold, Cutch, Cochineal, Osage); Katazome printing; Japanese rice paper with scroll making technique; hand cut-out and constructed, 34”H x 48”W x 20”D
I extract dyes from live flowers, plants, and roots, such as Marigold, Apple tree, Osage, and Madder. I use the color solution to dye silk fabrics. Even though flowers are ephemeral and only live for a short time, the color extracted from them will stay on the fabric after they are gone, preserving their memory.

WHEN I WORK ON A COMMISSIONED PIECE, I MAKE A PLAN CONSIDERING THE THEME, SIZE, MATERIALS, LOCATION, AND BUDGET.

WHEN I CREATE MY OWN PIECE, I LET MY THOUGHTS ABOUT TRACES AND MEMORY SPONTANEOUSLY GENERATE IDEAS FOR WORK.

AN IDEA MIGHT HIT ME WHILE READING A BOOK, TALKING WITH AN ARTIST FRIEND, OR TAKING A WALK.

AFTER EXAMINING IT, I DRAW MY IDEA IN A SKETCH BOOK AND TRY TO EXECUTE IT. SOMETIMES IT FAILS, BUT SOMETIMES I AM ABLE TO PROCEED.

I employ the process of traditional Japanese printing and dyeing techniques such as Katazome and Nassen to serve and enhance my interest in themes of cycle of life and tracing memory.
When I use these rice paste-resist techniques to print on fabric, the paper stencils I make in the process actually functioned as a “negative space” that records the memory of the shape that existed before.

Cycle of Renewal #1- Japanese rice paper dyed with indigo, hand cut and constructed, 4 panels, each panel 29”w x 58”H

Sunrise, Sunset #2 - Katazome technique with natural dyes on silk organza; dyed silk with natural dyes (madder, lac, weld, apple, cochineal, marigold, indigo); traditional Japanese rice paper with scroll making technique; hand cut and constructed, 86”H x 68”W x 24”D (structure by Steven Marvin) Cycle of Renewal #6 - handmade paper and silk dyed with natural dyes (Indigo, Kihada, Madder, Walnuts, Cutch, Lac, Osage); traditional Japanese rice paper with scroll making technique; hand stitched and constructed, 32.5” x 26”W x 14”D
From mid-March through July 2020, I stayed home. All my classes, workshops, and artist’s presentations were cancelled or rescheduled because of the Corona pandemic. Suddenly I wasn’t able to meet in person with friends or with my family in Japan.
Although I usually work alone in my studio, I felt isolated. I missed friends, galleries, museums, and theatres that give me artistic stimulation. With no visitors or interruptions, my surroundings have been too quiet.

Assimilation - Nassen Katazome & Tsutsugaki printing on silk; interlaced and hand stitched, 43”W x 45”H

I STARTED DYEING FABRIC USING NATURAL INDIGO DYE VAT. I CREATED VARIOUS SHADES OF INDIGO BLUE TO REPRESENT SKY, WATER, AND OCEAN, AND FELT INFINITE SPACE AND FREEDOM.

AT THE SAME TIME, BLUE HAS A MELANCHOLIC CONNOTATION, AND IT MADE ME THINK OF PEOPLE WHO SUFFERED FROM THE CORONA PANDEMIC.

Cycle of Renewal #2 - Japanese rice paper dyed with indigo and painted with natural dyes; hand cut and constructed, 40” H x 60”W

I STITCHED ON CLOTH APPLYING TRADITIONAL JAPANESE BORO MENDING AND REPAIRING TECHNIQUE WITHOUT ANY SPECIFIC DESIGN IN MIND.

I USED A SIMPLE STRAIGHT STITCH, IN AN EXTREMELY SLOW PROCESS, WISHING TO REPAIR AND RETURN OUR PEACEFUL LIFE.

Boro stitching in progress 2020 - hand stitching on natural dyed cotton and ramie fiber cloth, Various sizes.
As the act of stitching is like breathing, the repetitive action calmed me down and made stress and frustration go away.
I felt I am meditating in search of peace of mind. I made several small pieces. It is a perfect way to relax during the difficult time.
Cycle of Renewal #4 - Japanese rice paper dyed with indigo and natural dyes, and Kakishibu; hand cut and constructed, 28”H x 50”W x 7”D . Remembrance #B - Japanese rice paper dyed with indigo and painted with natural dyes, Kakishibu, and Sumi ink; hand stitched cut and constructed, 5 pieces each 13”H x 10”W x 7”D . Taking Root - Nassen Katazome & Tsutsugaki printing on silk, interlaced and hand stitched, 91”W x 47”H
Created By
Lilach Schrag
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All images are courtesy of the artist