Review: Designart 2020 – Reboot
In this year of the pandemic - with most of the exhibitions and trade fairs cancelled or virtualized - Designart Tokyo could still reach its fourth edition. This happened thanks to a smart and hybrid approach, as well as a lucky schedule, right before the third wave of infections that occurred recently. The hybrid system consisted mainly of holding most of the talks and presentations online, while maintaining the exhibitions thanks to attentive precautionary protocols. In the end, this challenge has proved successful, with the general public tired of attending only webinars and online presentations.
For all these reasons, this year Designart has never been more welcome from all the word of architects, designers and creatives. Hybrid was also the approach in the design of the venues, with digital contents spread alongside physical locations and fully connected to the global audience through social networks. Furthermore, Designart included in its program some international events (like Milan Design Week, the world’s largest furniture trade fair) that couldn’t be showcased at their original venues, so offering to the creators an opportunity to reach the global stage starting from Tokyo.
I could visit almost all the exhibitions spread around Tokyo, and I found many inspiring projects and artworks. However, this article focuses only on the exhibition “Reboot” held at Jasmac Aoyama, the building designed by world-renowned Italian architect and Pritzker Prize winner, Aldo Rossi. This architectural work - an avant-garde expression of Italian postmodern design - was indeed the perfect venue for an exhibition aiming to “restarting the culture of art and design” and to give “Power to the Creatives”. According to Designart’s co-founder and creative director Akio Aoki, “The most important motivation for people in this climate is the power of creating — it helps us move forward. There are so many things going on in the world. I think it's made people focus more on the emotional value of design, and things that move us and inspire us.”
Stimulating experimental works – as well as furniture intended to be showcased in the Milan Salone - were displayed in the exhibition Reboot at Jasmac Aoyama. The flowing and measuring of the time were the most common topics shared by almost all the participants. Besides, tech and innovation integrated with traditional craftsmanship and monozukuri. Here, I have selected some of the most exciting projects.
9+1 is a multidisciplinary group of designers, artists, engineers, tailors and scientists devoted to re-imagining craft techniques in Toyama Prefecture, a place famous for its pharmaceutical industry. Starting from and inspired by this traditional heritage, the group presented a series of works that explores deep in the potentials of glass techniques between tradition and innovation. During my visit at Jasmac, Nanami Nakamura of Glass Studio GaZu guided me through her fascinating proposal and all the other exhibits of the group. Incidentally, I was impressed exactly from her project named Flex.
“Glass is a hard material and easily breaks when force is applied. What if the glass had ‘softness’?”. The answer is an experimental process able to creates a soft glass that moves when touched. Nakamura san asked me to feel the prototype and – almost a miracle! – it appeared truly smooth and elastic, similar to a soft cushion. Again, a project where technical innovation meets the traditional craftsmanship to create a product suitable for the modern-day.
Craft Prism is another stimulating proposal from Tomoko Sakamoto and Akihiro Kodera of the same group. The vase is faceted - by pressing the hot glass against a plaster mould - to refract light like multiple lenses. Time and movement are again the leading actors. The simple act of filling the vase with water generates unexpected and stupefying patterns on its surface.
Denis Guidone is a brilliant Italian designer based between Milan and Tokyo. His award-winning work merges the aesthetics and contrasts of the east and the west, aiming to achieve a synthesis that balance the two extremes. "To me, beauty is something that arises in between the different cultures – this is where I find my inspiration”, says the designer. Guidone also believes that simplicity is the result of a complicated process, and a good design must be functional and poetic. The exhibition at Jasmac consists of sketches, drawings, moulds, tools, mockups and the final products used in realized during his participation at the artist in residence project called Creative Residency Arita.
Besides the intrinsic beauty and refinement of the products, I got inspired seeing here the manufacturing process hidden behind. “These items are rarely accessible to the public. I intend to show the hidden parts that reveal the essence of creativity and design”, says Guidone. The Creative Residency Arita programme was launched in 2016 and offered the chance to artists and designers to work and interact with residents and artisans during their three months residency in Arita. While there, Guidone developed a new cutlery tableware set.
Even the design of the exhibition itself is a work of art. The products are placed on a white plastic sheet - printed with the images of products and their industrial moulds - with the finished products being the only touch of colour in the composition. This smart trick contributes significantly to enhance the spatiality and the overall quality of the display.
Giovanni Pellone is a talented Italian designer and creative director, heading a multicultural and multidisciplinary design studio in Tokyo. His long career span three continents and his works appeared in prestigious museums and exhibitions worldwide. When working in New York (1996 - 2005), Giovanni was also a pioneer in the use of computer-controlled processes and manufacturing of affordable design objects.
At Jasmac, he presented a collection of limited-edition timepieces under the title About Time, drawing inspiration from Alan Lightman’s novel ‘Einstein’s Dreams’. When Giovanni mentioned the book, I got immediately intrigued, and I bought it. The book demonstrates that we all have different interactions with time. The exhibit starts from this incredible but straightforward observation and proposes some limited-edition timepieces, each representing a diverse interpretation of the concept of time.
The fascinating description provides by the designer clarify this relativity of time. “I find the concept of time most fascinating” – Pellone states – “the way it measures civilizations, a child’s frailty, an elder’s wisdom, the freshness of food, the maturity of fine wine. How it defines our lives in precise increments of years, months, days, hours, minutes... The way it accelerates or slows down, depending on whether or not we are enjoying it. How there is never enough, and how it inexorably runs out. Its interpretation varies among people and cultures, or changes with age and experience. There is no way one can design a single clock to suit all people, all lifestyles, all interpretations of time. The possibilities are simply infinite”. Flexible Time, Exact Time, Unmeasurable Time, Sacred Time, Body Time, Soft Time, and Memory Time: these are the seven concepts that correspond to seven different timepieces. So, which one fits your idea of time?
YOY is a Tokyo-based design studio founded in 2011 by Naoki Ono and Yuki Yamamoto. Their work focuses on designing furniture, lighting, and interiors under the theme of "between space and things." This idea of in-between is intimately related to Japanese culture, primarily through the concept of Ma, a pause in time or emptiness in space that permeates many aspects of Japanese people's life. YOY's proposals at Jasmac explore Ma through elegant and minimal devices created to measure the flow of time.
For example, Unroll is a table lamp that reveals its real shape by unrolling a scroll and stands with its curl. Time changes the form, and the traditional shape of a lamp emerges in-between the transformation.
Revolve is a pendant lamp realized with an acrylic plate and a pattern engraved on it. Again, a simple movement in the time unveils something unexpected: a tridimensional shape floating within the light. YOY plays skillfully with traditional Japanese concepts and cutting-edge technology to deliver charming and minimal products, ready to become the next bestsellers.