boro - the fabric of life
Samantha Allan is a UK-based artist, curator and co-founder of The Shop Floor Project, an award-winning space which works with contemporary designer/makers and museums to develop collections, exhibitions and workshops.
Mottainai and boro boro are two terms in Japanese philosophy which seem to perfectly contextualise Boro: The Fabric of Life, exhibited at Domaine de Boisbuchet. Mottainai is a term which conveys a deep sense of regret concerning waste whilst the phrase boro boro celebrates the beauty in something frayed, decaying or repaired and provides the exhibition with its title.
Boro: The Fabric of Life contains fifty fragile pieces of endlessly repaired and patched futon covers, kimonos, work garments, and other household textiles which were created by Japanese farmers between 1850 and 1950 using leftover, indigo dyed cotton.
The majority of the textiles are sourced from the collection of New York based gallerist Stephen Szczepanek who also co-curated the exhibition. His gallery, Sri Threads, is an ever changing collection of astonishingly repaired antique Japanese folk textiles.
There could be a tendency to romanticise these textiles yet, as Szczepanek explains, this art of repair did not begin as an abstract philosophy but was born of necessity: “Boro textiles were the domain of the ordinary man and represented a collective, impoverished past.
They were largely forgotten after the mid-twentieth century when Japan’s society shifted towards mass-scale modernization and urbanization. However, they are the tangible embodiment of a cultural legacy which has only recently been accorded a formal name and has received critical consideration”.
These textiles may have their origins in austerity and utilitarian design but the sophistication of the repeated repair, often by several successive generations, means each piece is completely unique and as such gives the fabric a sculptural and considered presence.
It may seem strange to see these frail pieces of Japan’s rural history within the context of a 19th century French chateaux, yet each piece of fabric is sparsely and elegantly displayed throughout the exhibition’s empty and fragile rooms. The walls, which reveal years of historical repairs, are preserved and celebrated just like the boro boro textiles that Boisbuchet is playing host to.