The big hitters
It seems that every year, Nendo impresses the most when it comes to Japanese contributions to Italy’s Salone del Mobile Milano — and the 2017 event was no exception. Nendo’s “Invisible Outlines” exhibition — 16 projects that explore our perception of objects — included patterned fabrics derived from 3-D visualizations and installations that delineated movement with metalwork lines. The most talked-about work, however, was the “Jellyfish Vase,” an illuminated aquarium housing diaphanous vases made from ultra-thin transparent silicone that drifted and swayed to the controlled movements of water.
Another high-profile Japanese designer and Salone del Mobile regular won this year’s Milano Design Award. Tokujin Yoshioka‘s futuristic light display “S.F._Senses of the Future” — an expansive textured wall composed of small square LED panels facing a display of LED chairs that glowed in undulating prismatic colors — was awarded for its fusion of conceptual art, narrative and technology in a way that engaged emotional response from its viewers.
On a more practical level, the “Electronics Meets Crafts” showcase, which won the trade fair’s Best Storytelling Award presented a number of innovative ideas that combined the skills of Go On, a group of Kyoto-based traditional craftspeople, with Panasonic’s lighting, IH (induction heating) and audio technologies. Works included woven bamboo LED lamps, touch-sensitive textiles, an electric titanium kanaami (wire-netting ware) incense burner and IH wooden pails that control the temperature of their contents. One of the most surprising pieces was a magnetic Asahi-yaki pottery dish that can boil water for tea when placed on a wooden IH counter.
Last but not least of the designer exhibitions, Yuri Suzuki’s “Sonic Pendulum” for Audi provided an unusual and relaxing escape for visitors. Set in the courtyard of a former seminary, 30 huge swinging pendulums modulated an evolving AI-generated soundtrack that played from surrounding speakers. Not only did the ambient sounds alter according to the AI, but the pendulum’s actions, as well as those of visitors, could also affect them or our perception of them.
The in crowd
The Salone Satellite platform for up-and-coming designers has often introduced some of Japan’s more charming and experimental ideas. Here’s a few that caught our attention.
Yuri Himuro has created several series of unusual textiles. Her Snip-Snap fabrics are woven in complicated layers that allow you to cut away yarn to reveal patterns hidden beneath. Using scenic imagery with geometric patterns to be snipped away — such as swimmers in a lake of wavy lines and houses in zig-zagged forestry — you can create your own unique designs. Her other fabrics include a reversible jacquard with contrasting designs on each side and a corrugated wool mix that reveals different motifs depending on the angle you look at it.
Last year, under the tutorship of professor Eizo Okada, eight students at the Kyoto Institute of Technology formed Zemi, a design group that began researching the theme of mirrors. Of the many innovative outcomes, one of the most interesting is Taijiro Ishiko‘s STB, an elasticated board that “reflects” the shape of objects by molding itself around them. Designed to be sections of shelves or even tabletops, STB is made of laminated wood sandwiched around a sheet of heat-resistant rubber. The outer layers are laser cut with a geometric pattern, leaving the rubber intact to stretch when pressure is applied to the surface. The resulting indentations created by objects give the otherwise flat surface a modern yet organic appearance.
Pivoto, too, has re-envisioned shelving with its Kiri sideboard and cabinet, both of which, at first glance, look like artistic works of arbitrarily placed sticks. Within each scaffolding-like structure, however, are sturdy white steel shelves that when viewed head-on, blend in with the lines of the entire piece of furniture. It’s only when items are placed on the shelves, that the dimensions of the Kiri become clear and your attention is drawn to the shapes of empty space — which leaves you thinking those sticks are not as randomly placed as they seem.