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Good design is second nature

by Edan Corkill

The problem with a lot of exhibitions by designers is that they seem to approach the project as though they have suddenly turned into artists. You just want to see their latest cellular phone or chair or poster; they just want to show off their newfound penchant for installation art. It’s like going to a Rolling Stones concert and being told at the door that Mick will be conducting the London Philharmonic. Who would be satisfied with that?

The good thing about “Second Nature” is that its creator, the prodigious Tokujin Yoshioka, clearly doesn’t feel the need to put on airs. His design work — all the chairs, interiors, lamps and phones for which he is famous — is itself so absorbing, and the process by which it is made so bizarre, that it’s more engaging than a lot of installation art itself.

That’s not to say the current show catalogs all the 41-year-old’s design classics: missing are the Media Skin mobile phone and the ToFU lamp that have found their way into the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. The central piece here demonstrates the process by which the designer’s latest work, his “VENUS — Natural crystal chair,” is made. As part of his long-running attempts to foist part of the creative process onto Mother Nature, Tokujin, as he is usually called, hit on the idea of making a loose polyester fiber frame and then dunking it into a specially prepared pool until crystals formed around it and the chair is made solid. You wouldn’t want to touch, let alone sit on, its jagged surfaces, but the bubbling tubs are a wonder to behold — and the finished chair is a gleaming mass that’s straight from Superman’s North Pole hideout.

The rest of the exhibition is given over to kindred-spirit creators. My favorite was a piece by the Brazilian Campana brothers, in which a curving wicker frame had been built around a tree branch. It’s really just a sofa, but, like Tokujin’s work, it’s also a startling example of collaboration between man and nature.

“Second Nature” continues at 21_21 Design Sight, within the Midtown complex in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, until Jan. 18. For more details, call (03) 3475-2121 or visit www.2121designsight.jp