AIKO TEZUKA, Certainty / Entropy (Peranakan 1), 2014, fabric, 25 m. Photo by Edward Hendricks. Courtesy Third Floor – Hermès, Singapore.

Certainty / Entropy

Aiko Tezuka

Third Floor–Hermès
Singapore Japan

The works of Japanese artist Aiko Tezuka are beautiful mutilations. Her fastidiously conceived swathes of fabric are intricately spun, measured, then deliberately cut to shreds, in a quirky allusion to the three mythological Fates of Greek mythology. But while the shear-wielding Atropos snipped the threads of life, Tezuka incises the warp and weft, altering the essential composition and structure.

Tezuka’s “Certainty/Entropy” at Hermès’s Third Floor gallery is a site-specific exhibition of four works rooted in the foundation—and transformation—of Singaporean heritage. The artist researched textiles at local museums and identified specific pieces that embodied Singapore’s historical, cultural and aesthetic elements. These fabrics were reproduced and adapted to Tezuka’s specifications, which involve discreetly injecting the cloth with contemporary generic symbolism—not as superficial embroideries, but as integral, interwoven elements. These included familiar imagery such as radiation hazard signs, DNA helices, credit card logos and recycling marks.

AIKO TEZUKA, Certainty / Entropy (Peranakan 2), 2014, fabric, wooden frame, 76 × 71.5 cm. Photo by Edward Hendricks. Courtesy Third Floor – Hermès, Singapore.

AIKO TEZUKA,  Certainty / Entropy (England 1) (detail), 2014, fabric, wooden frame, 180 × 239 cm. Photo by Edward Hendricks. Courtesy Third Floor – Hermès, Singapore.

But this regeneration is only the first step. Tezuka then proceeds to partially unravel her exacting creations by “untying and unwinding” the cloth, in order to recompose “structures and stories hidden within the material.” The artist disassembles cloth in various ways. One is by merely extracting threads: her 2007 installation Extracting Warp Thread (Cut and Mesh) (2007) features blood-like rivulets of red thread streaming onto the floor from a wall-mounted piece of cloth. Then there is her untying or “peeling” approach, which she applies to her pieces at Third Floor (all dated 2014). This involves culling threads from a carefully delineated area of fabric, allowing its viscera to spill onto the floor or sag in place.

One of these works, Certainty/Entropy (England 1), replicates a 16th-century table covering. It appears as worn and velvety as the original, but its heavy floral and fruit motifs are ignited by the gold threading of Tezuka’s modern icons, which hover within the fabric. A large central portion of the piece is neatly expunged where Tezuka has plucked out a perfect circle of threads, reducing the original design to a blurred shadow highlighted with shiny gold filaments. Other pieces included the reproduction of an ornate 18th-century Indian bedcover suffused with gleaming hot-pink strands, whose unraveled fibers hang heavy as melted wax.

AIKO TEZUKA,  Certainty / Entropy (England 1), 2014, fabric, wooden frame, 180 × 239 cm. Photo by Edward Hendricks. Courtesy Third Floor – Hermès, Singapore.

The show is dominated by Certainty / Entropy (Peranakan 1), an expansive fabric that swathes the length of the gallery. Derived from an early 20th-century beaded Peranakan tablecloth, the 24-meter-long piece meanders along the walls, artfully draped against mirrored pillars. Tezuka chose this textile as particularly evocative of Singapore; Peranakan refers to the mixed-race Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures that embody the “warp and weft” of the nation’s history. The artist painstakingly redesigned the piece to reverse the warp and weft; the colored threads that are typically used to create the design run horizontally, rather than vertically. The colors in this massive train of cloth therefore appear richer; and in those segments where Tezuka has removed threads, the fabric has the transparent color and mobility of chiffon. Peranakan 1 pulses from rigid design—flowers and birds on a turquoise background—into drifts of sheer color before regenerating back to its formal woven state and then disintegrating again in a swoon of threads. Throughout its length, the artist’s stealthy logos rise and fall within the prim traditional pattern.

Textile art often revolves around layering or embellishment, rather than reduction. But Tezuka works with textiles from the past, whose motifs and designs spring from previous aspirations. The banality of her symbols of technology, consumerism and ecology reflect more urgent, contemporary needs. By disrupting the subtext of these hybrid compositions, Tezuka reveals the essence—or is it the artifice?—of their narratives.

Aiko Tezuka’s “Certainty / Entropy” is on view at Third Floor – Hermès through July 27, 2014.

Marybeth Stock is a writer, researcher and editor based in Singapore and Japan.