Friday, July 31, 2009

Wabi-sabi 侘寂

A comprehensive Japanese aesthetic comprised of two concepts, wabi (rustic simplicity) and sabi (beauty that comes with age). When applied to man-made objects, wabi also refers to the imperfections arising from the process of construction, which are believed to add uniqueness and an understated elegance. Likewise, sabi can be found in the patina and wear of aged objects. Wabi-sabi nurtures beauty with authenticity by recognizing that imperfection, impermanence and incompletion are facts of life.

The influence of the wabi-sabi philosophy can be glimpsed in many areas of Japanese craft, culture and the arts. Let me focus on something I'm familiar with- fashion. I shall use the labels Commes des Garcons, designed by Rei Kawakubo, and Aski Kataski (a Japanese brand, despite its Greek name) as examples. Characteristic features of Kawakubo's work include assymetry, misplaced garment details and an 'unfinished' look, as if to emphasize the imperfect quality of the garments. I find this perspective highly refreshing and consistent with the wabi aesthetic.

Aski Kataski clothes illustrate wabi in a slightly different manner. Made with raw-looking natural fabrics, they possess that rustic simplicity characteristic of wabi and, in addition, often come in shades suggestive of the patina that age brings (the sabi aspect). It is no surprise that deliberate rips, frayed hems and other forms of wear-and-tear usually induced by the passage of time are present in the garments as well. Each garment is unique and hence a work of art in itself.

In short, instead of striving to achieve a smooth polish like their Western counterparts, many Japanese designers embrace the anomalies of construction and the ageing process as design concepts, transforming that which is undesirable into something beautiful. I think the wabi-sabi philosophy deserves contemplation, as it helps us to appreciate the uniqueness of objects and to find beauty in imperfection. On a higher level, it may spur us to look beyond the material dimension of this world, for there is a Zen-like quality to wabi-sabi. What I find most illuminating is its emphasis on quietness. It reinforces the fact that things don't have to be loud to be worthy of attention, and that it is often the most simple and common things that escape our appreciation.
PS. 錆, the word for rust, is also pronounced as sabi. How apt, considering that sabi is associated with the natural process of aging.

1 comment:

Gold Sphere said...

I have always loved the thought of wabi sabi, I love when something ages beautifully to watch that process... that is the reason one should buy the best quality one can afford, because it's a beautuful thing to see happen.

I absolutely adore your blog.