19 February 2008

Rinpa Eshidan

Collaborative art has a long history in Japan. Woodblock artists like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro have garnered international acclaim as individual artists, but their art actually involved a team that included an artisan block carver, a printer and a publisher. Similarly, film directors like Hayao Miyazaki tend to get all the credit in the press, but I’m sure Miyazaki would be the first to tell you that his films would not be as successful as they are without the team of animators working behind the scenes at Studio Ghibli.

Rinpa Eshidan is an exciting team of artists who, according to their website, were brought together by common interest in creative expression. Rinpa (輪派) is a term they have created from 輪 meaning wheel or ring and 派 meaning group. On their website they define rinpa as meaning “to bring people together”, while eshidan (絵師団) means an art team. The term rinpa may also be a reference to the rinpa (aka rimpa; same pronounciation, different kanji: 琳派), the school of decorative painting founded in the seventeenth century by the artists Honami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatasu and brought to further prominence half a century later by Ogata Korin and Kenzan.

For me, this reference to rinpa (琳派) suggests that the members of Rinpa Eshidan wish to emulate the way in which these early artists staged a revival of a certain style of traditional Japanese art. Some of the art that they have featured in their online gallery such as 松波 (possibly pronounced matsuba or ‘pine wave’) does have some resemblance to a traditional rinpa (琳派) aesthetic.

Rinpa Eshidan was formed in November 2005 by Noiz-Davi (the nom de plume of Yoshiaki Kusunoki) and Daisuke Yamamoto. The team of artists work together on video projects that document the process of artistic creation. They believe that the creative process is “where art come to life” and they want to use their videos to engage the spectator in that process. They post their videos online rather than display them in galleries in an act that democratizes art. They cleverly brought attention to themselves online with their video ようこそ、Youtube Japan へ (Welcome, to Youtube Japan) which was featured on the Youtube Japan homepage and is quickly approaching the three million views mark after only being online for eight months.

Several English bloggers have referred to Rinpa Eshidan’s videos as examples of time-lapse photography, which is not accurate. In time-lapse photography, each film frame is captured at a rate much slower than normal playing speed. To my eye, what Rinpa Eshidan have actually done is either shoot frame-by-frame or to remove frames from a video-taped painting session. This results in examples of stop motion animation and pixillation. Stop motion, such as when the clay becomes animated and changes form, consists of individually shot frames that together give the impression of movement. Pixillation, an animation technique pioneered and named by my all-time favourite animator Norman McLaren, also involves shooting one frame at a time objects or characters (people) whose movement is entirely controlled by the filmmaker. Rinpa Eshidan do not use these animation techniques ‘purely’ – I have a feeling that they shoot at regular speed, then choose certain frames to use rather than shooting frame by frame – but the resulting films certainly do foreground process over product.

Some discussion online has also referred to them as street artists, but from their website I had the impression that they also do display their art in more traditional gallery spaces. I think what is exciting about Rinpa Eshidan is that they are clearly interested in creating a bridge between traditional art forms (painting, sculpture, pottery, animation, rimpa, Nihonga), avant-garde art (expressionism, street art) and contemporary modes of representation (music video, online video).

For more information about Rinpa Eshidan check out their homepage and their Youtube Channel.

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2008