“Kirikane Glass” is a technique of suspending Kirikane within a three-dimensional structure made of glass, developed by Akane Yamamoto.
The technique was born from Yamamoto’s desire to make the Kirikane levitate in space so that it can be the focus of the art piece.
Because this work requires expertise in both Kirikane and glass techniques, Yamamoto personally handles every stage of creating the work.
How to suspend Kirikane within a three-dimensional form? Yamamoto experimented with many different methods of embedding Kirikane within clear objects before finally arriving at “Kirikane Glass”. Today, art from over a thousand years ago continue to inspire us in art museums. What if this body of work could also remain intact to be enjoyed in its full beauty a thousand years from now? When Yamamoto considered this, it was clear that she could not use acrylics, adhesives, or any other material that might easily deteriorate, to mount the eternally radiant gold foil. Thus, a completely original method of trapping the Kirikane within melted glass was devised.
“Kirikane Glass” has transformed the two dimensional Kirikane into a three-dimensional form. The glass foundation makes various structures possible because it allows for the Kirikane within to layer and intersect. Additionally, the colors of the glass, the way the light bends to the cut, and the various shapes and forms, all add to its unique expression. The world of creation expands infinitely, allowing Yamamoto to incorporate imagery, storytelling, or psychological states. This was the Kirikane work that she had been imagining.
Although melted glass is fluid, once cooled it is hard and heavy. Working with it is extremely difficult, but as the Kirikane within a completed piece is released from its traditional role as a decorative element, it begins to express itself freely. Although the complex kaleidoscope-like refractions and the reflecting glare of a piece are all calculated beforehand, at times the finished piece is even more beautiful than imagined. This is when Yamamoto feels the most joy.
Kirikane is a method of creating patterns with gold foil, where several layers of gold foil are welded together for thickness, cut into thin strips or triangles and squares, brushed with glue and adhered to a surface. It is said to have originated in the Orient in 300 B.C. The technique of Kirikane travelled far on the silk road before arriving in Japan in 600 A.D., along with Buddhism, and was mainly applied to Buddhist paintings and decorations. This technique has been passed on to today as a unique Japanese craft.
Kirikane Glass is made by applying Kirikane on glass casted in an electric kiln. This is then topped with additional glass and reheated in the kiln and fused together, before it is finally taken out to be cut and polished.
If the temperature of the kiln is not right, the laborious Kirikane designs can warp or melt, and if the fired glass is not cooled slowly and gradually, it can shatter. This is why Yamamoto uses a computerized kiln which monitors the temperatures precisely. “Kirikane Glass” is possible only through the use of both ancient technique and modern technology.
At the base of Yamamoto’s work is the art of replicating historic artifacts, which she learned in college. As Yamamoto observed, studied, and replicated ancient paintings, she came to understand how the draftsmen of those times had closely examined and taken great care of their materials and methods.
It is a deep world into which one’s gaze is drawn deeper and deeper into the abyss; something one can look at forever in a daze. It is the result of the draftsman accumulating the best possible decisions for each dot and line, in order to create the most beautiful outcome.
When replicating Buddhist paintings, it is easier and faster to use gold paint to recreate the Kirikane area. However, the brilliance of the gold shines infinitely more beautifully when one uses the gold foil instead. The overwhelmingly tedious process of cutting the gold foil into thin strips and adhering one piece at a time to create the pattern is an act that comes out of the desire to honor the Buddha by making the image as beautiful as possible. Yamamoto’s respect for the draftsmen who created these deep worlds and desire to reflect their spirit in her work, is what brought her to work with Kirikane.
The process of making a Kirikane Glass piece has infinite steps, and completing one piece takes a very long time. It is the same accumulation of “infinite choices for the sake of beauty” that the draftsmen of ancient times experienced. Sometimes difficult choices must be made because of technical, schedule-related, or physical limitations, but throughout her career with replicating ancient paintings, Yamamoto never once witnessed any sign of compromise within any of the beautiful pieces she worked with. The art of replicating allowed her to soak up and have a visceral understanding of what it means to “make a work of art”.
“God is in the details”; this is why she too strives to make dignified work that is refined to every corner, without even a trace of compromise.
Creating accurate physical manifestations of an image and having the work speak for itself, is something Yamamoto has wanted to achieve through her Kirikane Glass work. This calls for true finesse of technique.
Yamamoto started a series based on each of the 54 chapters of “The Tale of Genji” as a body of work to represent her practice.
“The Tale of Genji” is said to be the world’s oldest novel. The elegant world of the Heian dynasty and the delicate beauty of Kirikane which was used often during this period, resonate in their expression of beauty. Thus, Kirikane Glass is the perfect method for expressing“The Tale of Genji”.
Ever since Yamamoto studied “The Tale of Genji” in middle school, her heart has been captured by its beautiful writing and refined dynastic culture, and it has been one of her favorite things to read. As she experiences more in her own life, Yamamoto discovered new things each time she read the tale. Perhaps she is on a quest of self-exploration through “The Tale of Genji”.
This series is created from abstract images based on memorable scenes from each of the 54 chapters, which Yamamoto then drafts out before physically creating the form. She drafted out the 54 images in 2010, and began making the series, starting with the pieces that she knew she could handle with the techniques she had already mastered. Each time she fails, she collects data and moves closer to success. Through this process of trial and error, Yamamoto discovers new techniques, which allow her to take on the more challenging pieces.
Thus, each chapter of “The Tale of Genji” lends discovery to a new technique, and through this work Yamamoto earns more variety and freedom in her expression of Kirikane as a whole. When she has completed all 54 pieces, she hopes to achieve even greater freedom in her work. “The Tale of Genji” is a fountain of images that urge Yamamoto to create new work, and it is also a great teacher of glasswork.
“The Tale of Genji” has been translated into many languages; it is a well known work of Japanese ancient literature world-wide. Yamamoto hopes that choosing it as a theme will spark an affinity for Japanese culture and craft for people around the globe, and that she can share the beauty of Kirikane Glass through this body of work.