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This three-year artist residency at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, offers the opportunity to explore the integral relationship between natural world and culture. A focus will be on two historical Japanese collections of international significance that form part of the Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - the John J Quin collection of urushi (Japanese lacquer) and the Harry S Parkes collection of washi (Japanese handmade paper). The collections are rooted not only in remarkable artisan skills but also in the plant oils, saps, dyes and fibres from which their materials originate. Crucially, sustainability remains at the heart of the cultivation and extraction of native plants which continue to be used.


Objects which form these two collections provide an insight not only into 19th. century Japan in relation to visual art, botany and sociology; they also offer a platform from which to investigate, from both historical and contemporary perspectives, certain rare and complex processes of Japanese handmade papermaking and lacquer application. A further artist residency in Kyoto, Japan, is planned for 2023.


In Junichiro Tanizaki’s seminal essay, In Praise of Shadows, the author repeatedly returns to the characteristics of paper and lacquer in relation to real-time events and specific environments and rituals; paper being a material that absorbs or diffuses light, lacquer being one which illuminates or accentuates darkness. Bringing these two collections together for the first time, and with Tanizaki’s position on aesthetics at the fore, will provide a springboard for an investigation of the role of light in relation to a new body of drawings and video works.

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