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Japanese Art Experience Arrives at Kennedy Center

March 19, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A massive bamboo dragon is taking shape in the Kennedy Center’s atrium, enveloping the room and exciting the senses.

It’s art, but it’s not sculpture, explains artist Hiroshi Teshigahara of Japan.

``A sculpture is to be seen, but mine is to be experienced,″ he says.

Makito Aizawa, the project’s Japanese director, guides a visitor through a tunnel made entirely of bamboo shoots.

``Smell and touch,″ she says in halting English. Then, stomping on the bamboo platform that snakes below the structure, she adds, ``Legs.″

Teshigahara’s environmental work fills the atrium of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Its bamboo shoots recall a grassy field on a spring day. The splintered bamboo feels rough on one side, smooth on another.

Teshigahara likens the snaking, hollow structure to a fire-breathing dragon _ and indeed it does resemble one.

Lights shine and Japanese music plays as people walk through the smooth, tall bamboo stalks that form the dragon’s body _ the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. The crush of bamboo shoots is audible with each step.

One of Japan’s leading artists, Teshigahara began with 1,800 pieces of bamboo _ a strong, hallow member of the grass family. Each piece is 30 feet long, and the stalks are used as pillars in a long tent-like formation that supports the work.

Other bamboo pieces are splintered and splay out, creating large bouquets of bamboo shoots across the top of the winding formation.

``Previous, traditional art works are to be appreciated from a distance by the viewer,″ Teshigahara said through an interpreter. ``I want to break that rule. I want people to experience my work organically, through their whole bodies.″

This is Teshigahara’s first large-scale exhibition in the United States, though he has created similar pieces in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan; Paris; and Seoul, South Korea.

The exhibit, part of this year’s ``Something New at the Kennedy Center″ series, is funded through the center’s $7 million Japan Endowment, which earmarks money to bring Japanese artists to Washington. The center worked for three years before it persuaded Teshigahara to bring his work here. The program is costing the center about $250,000 to produce.

The exhibit is free and open to the public March 25 through March 30, and center officials expect up to 20,000 people to view it. On Monday and Tuesday, there will be demonstrations of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Tickets are required for those performances.

Teshigahara is headmaster of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana, founded by his father. In his work, he expands on the art.

Chiaki Kato, his assistant and translator, explained that Teshigahara takes the traditional concept of ikebana a step further.

One winter, she explained, he noticed that bamboo was strong enough to resist the weight of snow, yet it was an incredibly flexible. He applied the idea of flower arrangement to bamboo, creating large-scale arrangements.

After the exhibit closes, the creation will be dismantled, and Teshigahara will have to begin again the next time. That is how it should be, he says.

``My material, vegetation is supposed to return to earth,″ he said. ``The best thing is for it to be experienced in its best condition, and when the time comes, it will be dismantled and disappear. So in a way it’s very dramatic. It only remains in people’s minds but itself disappears.″