The first philosophical encounter that challenged my concept of beauty was with a found object discovered on the street after a storm –- a discarded black umbrella, broken ribs askew, its canopy ripped and tattered by battering winds while its elegantly curved wooden handle still held intact. There was something compellingly poetic and beautiful about this abandoned umbrella’s deconstructed state. For weeks, I was perplexed as to why I had thought about this object so deeply.
I am reminded of this memory in reading the musings of Leonard Koren in his book, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. Koren describes the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi as:
“A beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. …It is a beauty of things unconventional.” In exploring how one experiences beauty, he goes on to state that it is a “dynamic event that occurs between oneself and something else” and “can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.”
While recently searching the web for descriptions of umbrella anatomy, I discovered that I am certainly not alone in having a broken umbrella fetish. Just Google the topic and discover the many photographs taken of the “abandoned and the tattered,” including a group dedicated to “the once beloved.”
Searching further I uncovered the umbrella as artistic metaphor, such as in the work of Hamburg-based artist, Şakir Gökçebağ in re-imagining the concept of the deconstructed umbrella in his installation, “Tocatta and Fugue.”
In contemplating the metaphysical basis of wabi-sabi, Koren points out workings of the universe itself “while the universe destructs it also constructs” and that “things evolving tend to be a little lighter and brighter, a bit clearer, and slightly more eye-arresting.”
The forgotten umbrellas may also remind one of certain pieces in our exhibition Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion, for instance Rei Kawakubo’s folded dress, photographed as an abstract wall hanging by Naoya Hatakeyama.
With umbrellas in mind, check out the Harvest Dome installation created by design duo Amanda Schachter and Alexander Levi, using 450 discarded umbrellas acquired from New York City’s streets and trashcans.