IEMOTO IKEBANA LIVE: Star of Japanese Flower Arranging Rocks Los Angeles

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Five years ago architect Ravi Gunewardena took up Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Now he eagerly anticipates a performance by the school’s highest master, the Iemoto, Akane Teshigahara, whose trip to LA this week is being treated like a papal visit.

Salvador Dali. Joan Miró. Michel Tapie. Sam Francis. Niki de Saint Phalle. Shusaku Arakawa. John Cage. David Tudor. Jasper Johns. Merce Cunningham. Robert Rauschenberg. Isamu Noguchi. Yoko Ono. It’s difficult to imagine how all of these artists could end up on one list, and in one place, literally. But throughout the 85-year history of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, they were among a select group of artists who collaborated with Sogetsu in sharing their work with the cultural milieu of Tokyo at the school’s Kenzo Tange-designed headquarters.

no.8-2011.5-KOKOROsmlSam Francis installed a mural in the school’s auditorium and Noguchi realized his largest and perhaps most impressive sculptural work, Heaven, in the ground floor plaza of the school. While none of this activity may have had an obvious influence on the practice of the floral art, it reflects the school’s openness to the thinking of contemporary artists, and characterization of itself as a contemporary art form.

Departing from the strictures of traditional ikebana in 1927, Sogetsu’s head masters began rethinking the practice in more abstract terms of line, mass, color and form. The school has embraced self-expression and encouraged use of new material and techniques as it evolved.

My relationship with Sogetsu began five years ago with a birthday present of five beginner’s ikebana lessons from local instructor Haruko Takeichi, arranged by my partner Frank. As an architect, I was drawn to the spatial qualities of ikebana and the sly satisfaction of immediately realizing a work which would then be dismantled.

I soon realized that the skill needed to spontaneously create an ephemeral work, requires years of training, much like in making good music. Playing your Bach Well-Tempered Clavier as for the hundredth time, sounds and feels different from playing it as a beginner. And to get to improvisations, is entering another realm all together. In ikebana, as with any art form, there’s great pleasure to be had in the voyage of learning.

Next week, Los Angeles will have an opportunity to experience the art form firsthand from the school’s highest master, the Iemoto, Akane Teshigahara, as she presides over a five-day ikebana seminar. The arrival of the Iemoto, anticipated for the last four years (since the selection of Los Angeles as the host city for the seminar) has been treated like a papal visit by the local Sogetsu teachers.

Venues for the seminar public events were systematically explored and exhaustively examined for suitability of location, design, comfort of guests, and holding of master classes. Training local acolytes, who will assist the Iemoto, was instituted in the form of technique workshops in bamboo construction, large scale ikebana installations, and review of the school’s cannon of ikebana exercises.

Monthly planning meetings have taken place for the past several years to perfect every detail of the attendees experience. At last, all is in place for the visit, including the high mass of IEMOTO IKEBANA LIVE, a nearly two hour choreographed theatrical performance by the Iemoto culminating in a stage-sized flower arrangement created before your eyes, which will take place next Saturday, April 27th, at the Aratani Japan America Theater in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. This international seminar, for me, is another rite of passage.

Ravi GuneWardena is co-principal of the architecture firm Escher Gunewardena, based in Los Angeles.