Tokyo remodels the ‘design event’

by

Contributing Writer

If Akio Aoki had his way, there would be one new word included in dictionaries across the globe: “Designart.”

The Tokyo-based designer is one of a team of high-profile creators united in their desire to transcend the boundaries of all things art and design with this month’s launch of the aptly-named new event Designart.

“In the global mainstream — as represented by events in Milan, Basel or Miami — design and art have become closely intertwined and their boundary is hard to pinpoint,” says Aoki of Miru Design, a co-founder of Designart. “Instead of trying to fit them into different categories, we are thinking about how to let things full of beauty and possibility more easily permeate (lifestyles). We hope that the word ‘designart’ will eventually be introduced into the world’s general vocabulary.”

Designart, launching Oct. 16, aims to shake up Tokyo’s creative scene — and it’s a timely arrival. The annual highlight of the city’s design fans had long been Tokyo Designers Week, an event dating back to 1985 and held in recent years at a sprawling venue at Meiji Jingu Stadium. That event, however, was permanently closed last year after a 5-year-old boy was tragically killed in an exhibit that caught on fire.

The new Designart event has no direct connections to Tokyo Designers Week but clearly aims to fill the gap left behind by its closure, with the establishment of a fresh new paradigm for contemporary designers and artists in 21st-century Tokyo.

A roll call of half a dozen high-profile names, spanning various fields, brainstormed its creation. Alongside Aoki, founders are Shun Kawakami of Artless Inc., Hiroshi Koike of Non-Grid / IMG SRC, Okisato Nagata of EXS Inc. and Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture (KDa).

The end result is a seven-day event showcasing more than 70 exhibitions at dozens of venues across Tokyo, unified by the theme “Bringing emotion into our daily lives.” The focus is on design, art and pretty much everything in between, from fashion and food to technology.

The event’s timing is also well-thought out: Instead of being scheduled for October and early November, as was the case with previous annual design events, Designart takes place a few weeks earlier so as to coincide with fashion week.

Its geography is another key feature, with Tokyo Designers Week’s more corporate trade fair-style setting abandoned, and visitors instead invited to explore a range of more intimate independent venues (from galleries and design boutiques to cafes) across neighborhoods including Shibuya, Aoyama, Omotesando, Harajuku, Roppongi, Daikanyama and Nakameguro.

“The meaning of the word ‘design’ is really broad,” says Astrid Klein of KDa. “We are not practicing so-called industrial design, but designing a movement, an atmosphere and an event. … Past design events seemed a bit too business-oriented. Designart should be something that can be enjoyed like a short walk around the neighborhood.”

The end result is a colorful collection of pop-up events across the city. To name just a few: Amaranth-red chairs by Satoshi Itasaka at Jingumae’s District United Arrows store; a new Kaleidoscope Collection by Anrealage at nearby ASICS; Kaname Okajima’s ceramics at Kiln Aoyama; Jo Nagasaka of Schemata Architects at Kolor; Objets Nomades Collection at Louis Vuitton Omotesando; and Kyushu forest wood creations by FIL at Artless Appointment Gallery in Nakameguro.

While most exhibits are by Japanese creators, high-profile overseas participants include Hay Design, the acclaimed Copenhagen studio, and Parisian designer Pierre Charpin, who has been officially designated as a special “Designart 2017 Feature,” with his first solo show in Tokyo at the World Kita-Aoyama Building.

“I am really excited to show my work in Tokyo. It is a huge and fascinating city,” says Charpin, who also designed the event’s official T-shirt. “The variety of landscapes and artistic events such as Designart make it a very attractive city.”

Describing his exhibit, he adds: “I spend most of my time in my Paris studio and it’s a special environment for me, so I wanted to show pieces that surround me every day. There are pieces that I have designed, drawings, sketches, prototypes, but also some items that I have acquired during my life.

“These objects are often placed on the shelves or the walls of my studio, and for the exhibition I reorganized them on 10 floor platforms of the exact same sizes. The result is a composition of my works, like the combination of the pages of a book.”

An accompanying app called On the Trip has also been launched to guide Designart visitors through different neighborhoods, while another key feature is the fact that almost all items on display can be purchased — a clear move designed to close the gap between gallery and home, making art and design purchases more accessible everyday pleasures.

“The majority of general consumers in Japan hold the fixed notion that art is to be appreciated but not purchased,” explains Aoki. “There are various reasons for this — living environments, education, the lack of spaces selling art. With Designart, we would like to create a gateway to art through something that can be purchased and leaves an impression.”

Designart runs Oct. 16-22 at various venues in Tokyo. For more information, visit designart.jp

Designart highlights

Chairs at Somewhere Tokyo: A celebration of all things chair, the Ebisu gallery Somewhere Tokyo brings together a collection of chairs by designers including Michele de Lucchi, Takao Inoue, Norihiko Terayama and Andrea Branzi.

Yuji Okitsu at B&B Italia Tokyo: A dazzling “lightflakes” installation created by architect Yuji Okitsu will take center stage at the famed Italian furniture brand’s Tokyo flagship.

Hisakazu Shimizu at Fred Perry Shop Tokyo: Hisakazu Shimizu’s new line of furniture and accessories inspired by tennis includes an innovative “racket chair,” and will be unveiled at the Fred Perry flagship near Omotesando.

Hay Kitchen Market at CI Plaza: Danish cult interior brand collaborates with chef Frederik Bille Brahe to create an innovative “kitchen market” in Kita-Aoyama, showcasing a selection of contemporary kitchen tools by global designers as well as original Hay-designed products.

Yoshirotten at Restir: Tokyo-based graphic artist and art director Yoshirotten gives the Roppongi flagship of fashion boutique Restir a creative makeover, complete with distinctive colored neon tubes.

Teruhiro Yanagihara at Yamagiwa: Kyoto-based designer Yanagihara showcases the qualities of glass with an installation of delicate blown-glass creations and light reflections at Yamagiwa in Miniami-Aoyama.

Group show at Tomio Koyama Gallery: From Malaysian artist Shooshie Sulaiman to Tokyo photographer Mika Ninagawa, a string of artists take the stage in this specially-curated group shop at TGK Gallery in Roppongi.