7 Japanese Things

Europe – Far East Gallery
08.09.2018 - 28.10.2018

Opening: 07.09.2018, 18.00

Idea of the exhibition: Dominik Lisik Curator: Katarzyna Nowak
In Japan, as early as the 16th century the activities of the tea master Sen no Rikyū made it possible to attain unprecedented harmony and minimalism in the design of utilitarian objects, which, however, retained the irregularity and natural properties of the material. The context of a tea event was essential, the moment and space in which the artefacts could fully mark their presence. The introduction of the idea of Zen to the tea ritual led to mastery in simplification while at the same time the spirit and the truth of the object were underscored. The elements of the Japanese Wabi-Sabi minimalism were adapted and smuggled into international architecture and design by Modernism, the style which – due to its global reach – contributed more than any other to the shaping of our contemporary environment.

One of the earliest fathers of Modernism, strongly influenced by Japan, was Frank Lloyd Wright. The American architect, and collector of ukiyo-e prints, visited Japan in 1905. During his trip, ‘in search of prints’ as he pointed out himself, he was enchanted by the Japanese art of building, and he transposed its geometric simplicity of form and horizontal nature into his own designs of houses. Profound seminal texts that the Modernists drew their knowledge of Japanese housing from were authored by the German architect and theoretician Bruno Taut, who emigrated to that Far Eastern country in 1933. Taut is credited with ‘discovering’ for the rest of the world the architecture of the famous imperial Villa Katsura at Kyoto, considered a masterpiece of Japanese minimalism. The modular and orthogonal structure of the building enthralled Walter Gropius, who arrived in Kyoto in 1953. Two years later, the villa was visited by Le Corbusier, following in the footsteps of his former collaborator, French designer Charlotte Perriand, who had since 1940 been advising the Japanese government on ways to improve the standards of industrial production. Perriand not only shared her knowledge but also drew on the local patterns, which she effectively transferred to Western culture in her furniture designs. The Japanese element was also interwoven into the architectural work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe of Bauhaus,  and in furniture designed by the De Stijl leader Theo van Doesburg; similar borrowings were openly acknowledged by Alvar Aalto and other Finnish Modernists fascinated by the structure and composition of the Japanese tea pavilion. It is indeed the chashitsu pavilion, with its characteristic tokonoma niche for displaying works of art, and chadogu utensils for the chanoyu tea ceremony that set the canon of Japan’s most elevated applied arts, which has filtered over into Western design through interpretation.

Our contemporary design does not lack Japanese connections either. Many recognized European designers continue to follow the paths of Modernism and look to the Far East for inspiration and models to emulate. The Japanese manufacturing industries and traditional crafts have also sought collaboration with designers from the West: aiming to adapt their products to foreign tastes, they have been increasingly using the skills of outside artists. On the other hand, through the operation of Asian brands of global impact, the Japanese designers’ works – ascetic and referencing nature in their patterns – are gaining a growing number of customers in the Western world.

The phenomenon of often very direct references to Japan in European design has grasped my attention with particular force. A question has arisen: what is it that enables the inspiration found in traditional 16th-century aesthetics of foreign origin to produce such tremendously powerful effects in the contemporary design of objects present in man’s closest surroundings? Being also driven by my own fascination with Japanese art, I have decided to take up the challenge of creating a series of functional objects inspired by seven iconic artefacts of traditional Japanese applied arts. This design experiment is a short story of the significance of traditional things in the culture of a Far Eastern nation and an attempt at translating some of their values into the language of contemporary design. In this case, interpretation takes on the form of dialogue between two cultures. Referencing classical Japanese patterns, the designed objects have been mostly made in Poland, based on materials and technologies used in our culture. Some of the exhibits are unique individual works, closer in nature to handicraft; other ones show potential for application in industrial manufacture.

The project involving designing the objects and displaying them in a temporary exhibition was commissioned by the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków, and is part of my doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, supervised by Professor Jerzy Porębski.
Dominik Lisik
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