Design Ah!

Curated by Taku Satoh, a new exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight seeks to restate the miracle of the everyday through a basic ludic perspective, turning Tadao Ando's building into a magical playground, not only for adults but also for children.

There is a long story between how sounds evolved into language. While none of the multiple theories is absolutely certain, the vowel order in most countries — "a,e,i,o,u" — varies from the one in Japan — "a,i,u,e,o". However, this order always starts with an intriguing "a". Once an "h" is added, "Ah!" becomes the most genuine expression of our inner child discovering the world with surprise. In that discovery there is always a ludic-cognitive experience which links us with our most primitive instinct of play and astonishment. Seeking to restate the miracle of the everyday through this basic ludic perspective, Taku Satoh , one of the four directors of Tokyo's 21_21 Design Sight , has recently curated an exhibition titled Design Ah! .

The wide scope of exhibition visitors that has followed has turned Tadao Ando's building into a magical playground, not only for adults but also for children. Satoh, who is also general director of the Design Ah! children's program, which has since April 2011 been broadcast at the Japanese National Broadcasting Television (NHK), explains that idea to physically present the program beyond television surfaced one year ago. The exhibition's curator believes that this was the right moment to foster children's curiosity towards a "design mind", through an actual experience that would bridge the digital and analogue worlds. Much like the television program, the exhibition was born out of a collaboration with interface designer Yugo Nakamura and musician Keigo Oyamada (a.k.a Cornelius), alongside many other creators.
Top and above: <em>Design Ah!</em>, installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Top and above: Design Ah! , installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
The layout of the exhibition is defined through thirty-five related ways of expressing "Ah!", respecting the level of a child's view, and allowing visitors to surround the items and enjoy the world from a child's curious and playful perspective. Following the principle of learning by playing, visitors are invited to stand in front of the interactive screen where a moving "Ah!" invites them to dance along with the Japanese character "a". On the other side of the lobby, visitors can draw and submit their own "Ah!", much like in the television program.
<em>Design Ah!</em>, installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Design Ah! , installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Before accessing the first gallery, a distant echo of the sound inside announces a new section of the exhibition. Titled Room of objects, sounds and movies , each exhibited "masterpiece" is no more than an everyday object. Whether the work before one's eyes is an item of art or object people are confronted on daily basis, what matters here is how such "dailyness" can surprise you when experienced through other senses. The four walls of the room become displays to indulge visitors into the unique colourful images and music related to the everyday items, such as spheres, chairs or slippers, thus removing divisions between art, design and daily objects.
The layout of the exhibition respects the level of a child's view, allowing visitors to surround the items and enjoy the world from a child's playful perspective
<em>Design Ah!</em>, installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Design Ah! , installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Inside the main gallery, the exhibition goes one step further, "breaking up" the sensation of dailyness: each object on display minces into sub-layers the component elements of essential things in Japanese everyday life. By playing with them as children would have done when encountering new things, "5 themes" are displayed on posters and thematic tables. Hence, sushi gets a savoury deconstructive makeover, one can count the number of rice grains in one piece, or evaluate the "right" size of things. Issey Miyake's futuristic Pleats Please clothing line allows for inspection of how many different colours and unexpected combinations such a simple item may offer. Complementary areas introduce Furoshiki and origami , where visitors can learn about folding techniques that Japanese people have long been using. The main gallery's last section, Dessin Ah! invites us to look carefully, from diverse viewpoints, at one object by sketching the sculpture of a penguin (a motif Satoh has explored previously in his earlier creations) in a digital display. All drawings are immediately projected on the wall and presented as one single story. Satoh concludes that there are things one can learn individually, yet only through the collective sharing and interaction human mindset can move towards creativity.
<em>Design Ah!</em>, installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Design Ah! , installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
The following sections of the exhibition bring visitors closer to the idea that digital and analogue processes can be considered equivalent parts of the same story. In Penguin Story , Satoh experiments with the futuristic surface of three-dimensional packaging, stretching the static condition of the object into a mediatic-digital envelope. In Sound monocle , what first appear to be white screens reveal vivid images, accompanied with music samples when viewed through a special filter. The outdoor patio, which is often object of special care in 21_21 Design Sight's exhibitions, has accommodated a giant "Ah" (in the Japanese hiragana alphabet) which takes the shape of a plant container a symbol that can gradually grow and change over the exhibition's duration, restating the central idea existing between Japanese culture and nature.
<em>Design Ah!</em>, installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Design Ah! , installation view at 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Finally, Taku Satoh remarks that "a" is also the first vowel for "arigatou" ["thank you"], which in Japanese embeds two kanjis: "existence" and "difficulty". Such is the human condition when confronted with life, intensified by an exhibition that not only celebrates the everyday but has created a modest ode to the miracle of life through design. Rafael A. Balboa & Ilze Paklone

The authors would like to thank Exhibition Director Taku Satoh for his generous time and comments, and the kind support of Italian Press Office for Issey Miyake Giorgiana Ravizza, Public Relations of 21_21 Design Sight Miryon Ko, and Kazumi Iwase for translation support.

Through 2 June 2013
Design Ah!
21_21 Design Sight
9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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