As a venue devoted to creation, 21_21 Design Sight in Tokyo has hosted numerous exhibitions since its opening in 2007, passing from presenting very specific topics and creators to more educational and ludic approaches on how society and design intertwine, sometimes opening questions and others suggesting possible answers.
The current exhibition titled “The Fab Mind” has not sought neither to bring question nor answers but rather “hints to the future”, by tackling broader and fundamental aspects of what is design today. In that sense, fabrication is as primitive as our first tools, a built-in condition inherent to our very humanness. The social role of design in our contemporary cultures has conferred big responsibility in hands of designers, in an equation shared between man, objects and culture where fabrication still remains at the core.
Noriko Kawakami, a journalist and Associate Director of 21_21 Design Sight, has teamed with curator of art and design based in Stockholm Ikko Yokoyama, selecting 24 groups of artists and designers. In each of the works presented, the curators have given voice to individual practices by letting their designs tell the particular stories behind, displaying a varied constellation of ideas, places and materials overlapping with particular social circumstances and design strategies.
The first four introductory pieces in the venue serve as hints to the main message of the exhibition according to curator Ikko Yokoyama. Opening with PET Lamp, the awareness project initiated by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón is an exploration into the traditional craftsmanship around the world, where PET bottles are turned into lamps. The project introduces a hint about the contemporary design that emerges from very simple design solutions and does not necessarily require advanced technologies to be created.
Yokoyama points out that the future of the design is not to be mass-produced, but rather fabricated for individual needs. The project Story Vase resounds with such awareness by narrating intimate stories of women who cannot read or write but whose crafts “speak” through inscribed messages of their own stories in glass vessels.
The second hint, placed in the wall of the lobby, lies in the spinning hands of multiple watches that comprise the work by Humans Since 1982 A million Times where for a very short moment hands synchronize creating readable patterns. Yokoyama explains how it represents people interacting in the age of omnipresent big data and vanishing traditional cultures.
“Design needs to be critical and tell a story through which it can raise awareness about the construction of thoughts that we share and how we relate to our surroundings,” comments Yokoyama. Hence just at the opposite wall, the third hint is given by Slogans for the Early Twenty-First Century a collection of phrases in poster format by Douglas Coupland, author of renown novel Generation X.
The main galleries are introduced by a subtle fourth hint, making reminiscence to the sensible Japanese tradition of tsukuroi – the ancient art of mending broken ceramic objects with lacquer resin mixed with gold powder (kintsugi) or silver powder (gintsugi). It reminds us about the relevance of design understood as a fixing agent, not only physically but socially.
In the first gallery Makoto Orisaki’s work Line Works – The world changes when you draw lines differently features the idea of “connections” and design that has played a profound role to finding creative solutions to complex problems.
The second and larger main gallery, is organised from a bright open space displaying objects dealing with low-tech design to a dimmed light area at the bottom of the gallery showing more technology-oriented design strategies. As introduction to the main gallery Sweaters by Loes by DNA Charlois & Christien Meindertsma / Wandschappen exhibit over five hundred tiny pictures of knitwear pieces created over 60 years and accidently found by the Rotterdam Museum.
The project Living Archive of experience-designer Josefin Vargö is placed at the centre of the gallery, recording the vanishing tradition of making sourdough across the world and intending to design intangible knowledge. Also the work of renown Japanese photographer Takashi Homma Camera Obscura Study – Aoyama – Roppongi, building by building comprises a series of photos that evoke nearly kinaesthetic experience, when the body becomes an extension of the camera.
Some hints to collaborative design and technology-data driven visions of future is present through the work of an international team of scientists and artists that have come together for the first time to create the project ALMA MUSIC BOX: Melody of a Dying Star which converts big data from billions of light years away into audible sound. The project Professional Sharing by Yosuke Ushigome has envisioned the act of sharing energy as a possible professional occupation of the future, equipped with a wearable jacket‑device to trade energy produced by the body. With the idea of extending capabilities of the body through prosthetic devices, this work echoes with the photos by Homma. Also Shenu: Hydrolemic System by Takram design Engineering deals with altering body’s adeptness to the surrounding by featuring the new “prosthesised” human being in five hundred years distant future of limited resources and polluted environment.
Galleries conclude with two works that once again remind us about the parallel coexistence of handicraft and technologies. Can City by Studio Swine offers portable low-technology manufacturing device to recycle waste into new design items. In contrast, the ubiquity of technological surveillance machines in the near future, investigated in the Drone Aviary (2014) by Superflux, concludes the exhibition with questioning ethics of immensely extending human capabilities. Finally, Spook of Telescope / Long Telescope by Maki Onishi + Yuki Hyakuda and o + h Japan offers the viewer a different point to see the exhibition, where the new experience of “gazing” is intended to be playful yet rethinking our tendency to accept anything we see.
In “The Fab Mind”, Fab stands as an opportunity to re-evaluate our nature beyond the “homo-faber” rather as “homo-usus”, embedded in cultures where we inevitably have to interact with a myriad of objects everyday but rarely knowing some of the Fab-ulous stories behind their designs. As another acclaimed Japanese designer Kenya Hara has well stated, design is not only about self-expression and has ultimately its origins in society.
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until 1 February 2015
The Fab Mind
21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo