The world is full of wonder—so begins the website introduction to Wonder Full Life, a project that has begun taking small steps seemingly with a life and mind of its own.
The originator, Chikako Owaki, aka Chiko, was at the helm of her own fashion brand for ten years before launching Wonder Full Life in 2016 as a new platform for her creativity.
In the early days, Chiko was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of her new enterprise Through a friend, she met a yuta, the name for shamans on Amami Oshima island, and once asked for advice on her path ahead. The response was short and simple: It will be okay.
Masako Nakagawa, a photographer who has documented the creative process of Wonder Full Life in the photo book Rippling, compares the project to a ship carrying a jumble of people and goods that are linking up simultaneously by coincidence across national and temporal boundaries. The links are expanding organically, constantly, even right now in this very moment: “It brings to mind the image of a ship that is sent out to sea by the pure, pristine will of one originator. The ship then crosses paths with others who sympathize with the originator’s will, and one by one, those sympathizers jump on board without reservation.” (Excerpted from Rippling)
Kantha quilts embroidered on old cloth by Indian women praying for their family’s happiness and prosperity, deer horn, plumage, potsherds, stones from Africa and Afghanistan, silver jewelry made by the Karen tribe in Thailand and the Rabari tribe in India, dyed fabric, Chinese fan palm, petals, fancy yarn, various scrap materials.
Traditional textile studio in India, traditional textile dyer in Amami Oshima, silk mill in Aichi Prefecture, ceramic artist, brass artist, lacquer artist, Chinese fan palm craftsman, cultural anthropologist, painter, photographer, musician, florist—the list of Chiko’s collaborators doesn’t end with creators who use their hands, but extends to art director and designer to express her world view, communicator to spread her message, and writer to pen the words that connect the dots and help her weave the unweavable.
“There’s nothing that we do that any of us can do alone. Co-creating involves taking our time and entrusting various processes to one another. I believe some things can only be made that way.”
The first pair of creators dedicate a moment to sharing and swapping their sensibilities. Then, they take the outcome of their collaboration and let it go, entrusting it to another creator, and another. No one is sure what will turn up in the very end, but that’s what makes the project exciting. Each creator knows that trusting one another to contribute to the product is the key to finding the path that is their next new direction.
“Some people see me as a coordinator orchestrating the project, but when I’m spending time with my collaborators, I consider myself a receptacle for the voices of the materials, the objects, and the creators.”
When Chiko sets about working, she doesn’t work toward an end goal, with an image in mind of the beautiful shape to be, and all the materials in the world at her disposal. What she does is combine and link the materials that come her way at that time and that place. Ultimately, she’s searching for a form that can be created only with whatever materials are at hand. She’s searching for a sound home, a place where those materials belong.
“When I weave, I’m not only weaving the materials that I can see but also connecting people and time and the elements that I can’t see.”
Chiko half closes her eyes, forming a mental picture.
“Even if I form an image in my mind beforehand, it doesn’t mean I will arrive at that perfect shape. When I simply go about weaving, searching for the possibilities from one moment to the next, the materials I’m working with speak out and offer a solution.”
The flow could break up and vanish in the blink of an eye. Chiko works away so as not to lose sight of the creation in progress, giving it her all, leaving no strength to spare. Her hands keep on moving, and she focuses only on the process of creation. Who could dare ask what drives her to keep on weaving? She acts from a pure, dedicated, and frantic will.
“My collaborators are creators who work with their hands, and we communicate with one another through our creation. I realize the creators and the creation aren’t one and the same, but I deal with both equally, in a sincere way, and work to build our relationship.”
Chiko broods over the complex task she has put in motion, and yet she is smiling because she knows better than anybody about the challenges and rewards of working together with others who use their hands too.
“It’s hard to trust a stranger and welcome the unknown. But if you keep at it, at the end of the day, you figure out that your greatest obstacle was you. The amount of trust that you place in your collaborator determines the outcome of that process and what happens next. In that sense, this is the scariest project. It’s also fun and wonderful and filled with the gift of moments you could never find anywhere else. It’s a pain, but it’s also my greatest joy.”
Isn’t it fun—this is Chiko’s favorite phrase. She says it about people, about materials and objects, and about signs of a breakthrough on the horizon.
She’s an expert at finding the seeds of the promising unknown and watering them and making them bloom. Growing brings both pleasure and unexpected burdens, but Chiko embraces it all.
Wonder Full Life will go on for as long as the artists here today keep their craft alive and the dialogue going via the wonderful Chikako Owaki.
Wonder Full Life exhibition
Tsuzuru: Weaving the Path of Wonder Full Life
Dates: Fri., June 30–Sun., August 27, 2023
Venue: Muji Ginza 6F Atelier Muji Ginza Gallery 1&2
Wonder Full Life
Listen to the voice of the material, and it brings back the memories rooted in the land and the wisdom passed down through time. Honor each of them, work them with the hands, feel their vibe, and amplify it. Wonder Full Life welcomes the world’s encounters and weaves them into rich, beautiful products. We engage in continuous dialogue with creators in various fields, transcending fashion, traversing the past, exploring the present, and envisioning the future.
Chikako Owaki is the originator of Wonder Full Life. She launched her fashion brand Kitica in 2005, followed by the children’s wear brand Cokitika after childbirth. Having discontinued her brand activities in 2016, Owaki started Wonder Full Life as a new platform for her creativity. The project produces fashion, products, and art in collaboration with Japanese creators in various fields—dyeing, ceramic art, brass, lacquer, and textile—and organizes exhibitions and events, produces original artwork, publishes books, and holds live concerts in which to showcase the creations.