Interview with Rieko Koga

*featured photos: A Wish for Eternity. 2018. Archives nationales, Paris, France. Hand embroidery on linen. Variable dimensions. Photo © Johanne DEBAS

Portrait. Photo © Catherine Mary-Houdin

Rieko Koga is a Japanese visual artist who has been living in Paris since 2004. After finishing her studies in fashion in Tokyo and then in Paris, she turned to the Arts. She expresses her universe with threads and needles. Embroidering by thread of her inspiration, Rieko improvises, creating works directly on the cloth, without preparation, allowing herself be freely guided by the movement of her hands. For Rieko, the act of sewing is a prayer, and she believes in the magical powers of her stitches. Her works are imbued with wishes buried inside the seams, wishes for everyone.

The Tree of Life. 2015. Installazione tessile. Chiesa des Célestins, Avignon, Francia. Dimensioni Variabili

Who is Rieko Koga, the artist?

Rieko is a Japanese artist who expresses her universe with threads and needles.

What are the themes and reflections at the origin of your works of art?

Embroidering is a prayer for me.

What is the thread for you?

It is a means of connection between spiritual and material.

Forest of Love. Eglise St Pierre-le-Vieux, Festival du Lin, 2017. Indigo textile installation. Variable dimensions

Words – together with textiles – are the material your works are made of. What value do words have for you, and what role do they play in your artistic research?

I love to write, read, listen, speak: I love words. I would like to keep what I hear, read, meet every moment, but unfortunately, I can’t keep them all. I forget; the words disappear. So maybe that’s why I embroider words: to keep them, not to lose them.

Some of your projects are participatory. What is the role of the public in these works?

It is essential to share something in my life. For example, sharing happiness and joy, sadness and loneliness… I am happy if I can share emotions with the audience through my artwork because the public is a precious part of my work.

P E A C E ( detail ). 2016. Hand embroidery on linen. 116cm x 150cm. Photo © Johanne DEBAS

Your last participatory installation was set up in a park. Can you tell us more about it? 

It is a participatory linen installation called « We Were Here ». This project was born during a solo exhibition: “Les Écritures du Monde: Never Starting Story” presented at the Champollion Museum, in Figeac, France, in 2020.

I wanted to create a collective work making the link between us (human beings), the act of writing, and words. Visitors are invited to write their names on a piece of fabric prepared in advance and attach the tag to a white fabric structure. The names are placed on the intertwined rings to abolish the hierarchy and restore equality between people. The circles have neither beginning nor end.

The first contact you have with writing comes when you learn to write your name. This act, a priori very simple, is proof of our existence, like a signature. It is a universal act, and at the same time, this awareness brings us back to our individuality and our uniqueness.

In Japan, Chinese characters are used, which are called KANJI. Each Kanji corresponds to one or more sounds. (There are several Kanjis that read WA. They are homonyms.) Many kanjis correspond to the WA sound, among which 和, which means: union, agreement, harmony, peace, concord, brotherhood.

輪 and 環mean: circle, ring, round, rotation.

The “WA” circles on which the pieces of fabric will be placed are an allegory of peace, harmony, union, and brotherhood.

With the health crisis we are going through, we must reduce physical contact and hide our smiling faces behind masks. And although limited, we remain connected mentally, spiritually to each other. We are not alone; we are not lonely.

By looking at the names forming the work: suspended, intertwined and superimposed; I hope that visitors participating in this collective installation can receive my message: “You are not alone; there is always someone by your side, someone is thinking of you

Making « Departure » 2014. Hand embroidery on linen. 317cm x 300cm. Photo © Catherine  Mary-Houdin

Your colour palette is essential; you use black and white essentially. Is it a purely stylistic or conceptual choice?

It is purely stylistic.

From modular installations to large works such as THE TREE OF LIFE (2015) or FOREST OF LOVE (2017), how does your work relate to the surrounding space?

Paying respect to the space is more important to me than anything else. Before making my installations or starting a project, I always hope (and pray) that the site accepts my artwork and me. I also try to listen to the voice of the space.

KODO-BEAT. 2009. Hand embroidery on linen. 123cm x 170cm. Photo © Gilles Desrozier

Japan and France: how do these two rich and different cultural heritages influence your work? 

Of course, I love these two different cultures and I am influenced by them. For example, if I was a tree, Japanese culture would be a root, French culture would be branches and leaves. Especially the French language gives me a lot of inspiration. I really love studying it.

It has been a year dominated by the pandemic. How has your work changed, and what considerations originated from this dark period?

I have been thinking that I want to make a magical fabric for the persons expecting me: to protect their heart with my stitches. Since the pandemic, this feeling has become stronger and stronger. So, if my artwork can be there for the emotional support of someone, I’m very pleased.

Barbara Pavan

English version Sono nata a Monza nel 1969 ma cresciuta in provincia di Biella, terra di filati e tessuti. Mi sono occupata lungamente di arte contemporanea, dopo aver trasformato una passione in una professione. Ho curato mostre, progetti espositivi, manifestazioni culturali, cataloghi e blog tematici, collaborando con associazioni, gallerie, istituzioni pubbliche e private. Da qualche anno la mia attenzione è rivolta prevalentemente verso l’arte tessile e la fiber art, linguaggi contemporanei che assecondano un antico e mai sopito interesse per i tappeti ed i tessuti antichi. Su ARTEMORBIDA voglio raccontare la fiber art italiana, con interviste alle artiste ed agli artisti e recensioni degli eventi e delle mostre legate all’arte tessile sul territorio nazionale.