For people within striking distance of Seattle, there are still a few more days to to see “Chado: The Way of Tea,” an exhibit of work by Miya Ando at ArtXchange Gallery in Pioneer Square. Sculptor Ando is descended from Japanese sword makers and has embraced her heritage of fine metal-working, along with a large portion of the attendant philosophical approach to the arts.
This particular show of her work is themed around Chado, the Japanese tea ceremony, using the traditional practice as inspiration for the stark metal forms of her abstract steel and aluminum works, and more directly in the pieces that take the form of actual implements of the ceremony.
The tea tools, as re-worked by Ando, become something less and also more than their utilitarian counterparts, made more stark through a shift in their materials. One set has received a coating of graphite, creating a dramatic, fragile black sheen. Another set of pieces is recast in aluminum, replacing the warm organic bamboo with cold metal. In both cases the beauty of the forms of the tea tools is illuminated, while the functionality is absent, which is a curious transformation.
What does it mean for a tool – in this case one designed and crafted for the express purpose of preparing tea using a very specific and measured set of behaviors and protocols – to be reduced to pure symbol and aesthetic object? Does this allow for a more objective perception of the beauty of the object, or does it somehow lose a part of its meaning? It may not be so simple to determine, and it is possible that the symbolic aspects of the tea tools bear the greatest weight for Ando in their place in the traditional art forms of Japan, not in any contemporary application of tea practice.
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