‘Some things disappear, some things have to disappear, but some things live on using different materials and technologies,’ says Sudo Reiko. The visionary Japanese textile designer’s work is anchored on exploring the possibilities of textile. Often fusing ancient and modern techniques, and involving unusual materials, her studio Nuno’s fabrics are almost always unexpected and imaginative. Now, Japan House London is hosting an exhibition dedicated to her work.
Making Nuno, Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudo Reiko (17 May ? 11 July 2021) is an immersive study of the artist and her studio’s creations. ‘Textile gives us the knowledge about our past, present and future,’ says Takahashi Mizuki. ‘I want to bring visitors to the journey of the textile through experiencing the production,’ adds the curator and executive director at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile in Hong Kong, where a similar show was displayed two years ago.
Sudo’s fabrics tell infinite stories of time, place and people. She says in Japanese textile making, there is a tradition of handing down knowledge and knowhow through generations, and so the human factor, the people and their personalities, are central to the work at Nuno. Working with artisans around Japan, the studio also helps preserve skills passed on through generation.
Five large dynamic installations offer Japan House visitors a chance to see some of Nuno’s experimental processes in action. The Kibiso Crisscross fabric, for instance, takes the discarded protective outer layer of silk cocoons to make yarns from the tough remnants in tailored machines. Or, to celebrate of textile’s industrial process, discarded punch cards, which control the movements of the warp yarn on the programmable Jacquard weaving looms, are roughly stitched together for a screen that projects ethereal shadows onto a wall.
There is a poetic energy to Sudo’s work that make her objects feel timeless. And her sustainable approach to product and production are extremely timely as consumers become more environmentally aware and expect greater accountability from brands they invest in.
‘I grew up in a small country town, where every spring and autumn we looked forward to the arrival of the travelling salesman and his bundle of kimono fabrics,’ recalls Sudo. ‘Hiding behind my mother, aunt and grandfather, I would watch spellbound as he presented these beautiful textiles, one after the other, on the tatami mats. That was probably when I first dreamt of one day becoming someone who makes beautiful fabrics.’
Mok Wei Wei has shaped a unique identity for his Singapore boutique practice W Architects. During a career spanning over three decades, the award-winning designer and one of Asia’s leading architects has built domestic and commercial projects that offer a unique hybrid of contemporary design needs and urban sensibilities, infused with Chinese traditions and grounded within a local context. Be it designing private homes, apartment complexes, museums or community centres, Mok’s buildings are spatially daring, they are ecologically aware and, best of all, are full of fascinating creative solutions for constructing in a tropical ever-evolving dense Asian metropolis.
Mok Wei Wei: Works by W Architects charts this exceptional career. Published by Thames & Hudson, this visually-engaging and insightful book documents Mok’s designs from the 1980s to the present day to include W Architects’ most significant work – the austere rock that is Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, and the redesign for the National Museum of Singapore. Mok was raised as a Chinese cosmopolitan and schooled in architecture at the height of Postmodernism, and while Singapore forms the backdrop to most of the works featured here, his influence extends far beyond the city-state to the entire region. Written especially for the book, Mok calls for architecture to remain radical and to keep responding to the needs of our ever-evolving societies – words that feel urgent in an increasingly urbanised world.
‘I’m interested in the humanity of architecture,’ says David Adjaye. Speaking with the artist Yinka Shonibare on the insightful BBC Radio 4 podcast Only Artists a few years ago, the acclaimed British-Ghanaian architect talks passionately about the pivotal role of his profession in nation building. His is a belief in using visionary ideas and artistic sensitivity towards conceiving progressive, community-building projects.
Adjaye is one of our most exciting contemporary architects. He has received a knighthood for his contributions to architecture and was awarded the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal. His skilful use of space, of inexpensive and unexpected materials, are best symbolised in buildings such as the Stephen Lawrence Centre in London and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC – a work rooted in the past and present while contextualising history. One of Adjaye’s latest projects is the National Cathedral of Ghana. The building is conceived as a landmark where people from all faiths are encouraged to gather, worship and celebrate – drawing reference from both Christian symbolism and traditional Ghanaian heritage.
When I met Adjaye a couple of years ago in Milan during Salone del Mobile, he spoke passionately on the importance of design thinking – the intellectual process by which design concepts are conceived – especially in today’s more complex creative landscape. ‘Younger designers are questioning the concept of simply manufacturing products and there appears to be a rebirth of design thinking,’ he told me, noting that he is more and more interested in how innovation is not simply about manufacturing products but providing social solutions.
A new book sets out to explore the work of the architect. Published by Thames & Hudson and edited in collaboration with the curator Peter Allison, David Adjaye – Works 1995-2007 is a comprehensive monograph of his early work, accompanied by photographic renderings of the spaces. The introductory essay by curator, critic and architect Pippo Ciorra sets the scene: ‘Adjaye produces milestones of socially engaged architecture, showing an understanding of the market and competing at the highest level, and has benefited from the opportunities afforded by his own history to expand his view of the modern legacy far beyond the obvious space-time limits of Western culture, European cities, and Bauhaus functionalism.’
Prior to studying architecture at London Southbank University and then Royal College of Art, Adjaye took part in the Art & Design Foundation at Middlesex University. On Only Artists he spoke fondly about his experience there (a terrific course where incidentally I also studied a few years later) noting of how he gravitated more towards art students than designers, and how profoundly the experience impacted on his work as an architect.
Other early influences, I learn from the book, come via the architect Eduardo Souto de Moura who guided the young Adjaye while living in Portugal, teaching him about artisanal charm and the essence and value of materials. Later, his travels to Japan exposed him to the works of visionaries Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando, Kenzo Tange and Yoshio Taniguchi. Adjaye also explored Japanese Buddhism, even taking courses at the University of Kyoto where he lived – all of which helped shape his creative thinking to expand beyond the European narrative arc.
On his return to London, Adjaye set up his own practice and began working with residential and smaller studio projects. It is fascinating leafing through the book and seeing these earlier commissions. Adjaye worked within the concept of ‘critical regionalism’ with some clever urban interventions: roof-level living space is added to a factory-turned-studio, a sunken courtyard encases a tower-like house, and basalt stone extends a basement dining area to a roofless gazebo.
Adjaye’s civic commissions sparked off with the ‘Ideas Stores’ – two public libraries in London anchored on the role libraries in fostering social interactions. The success of these early projects led to to his US commission – the 2007 Museum of Contemporary Art Denver followed swiftly by the DC National Museum of African American History and Culture.
When I met Adjaye in Milan, I asked him if – on a similar vein to how he saw design thinking as pivotal to modern design – he sees his role as an architect evolving to be more than creating buildings. ‘Design can play a key role in helping people navigate an increasingly complicated world,’ he replied.
‘It shouldn’t just be about making things but understanding the responsibility of the product. Products have implications and it is up to design thinking to tackle that,’ he continued passionately. ‘Democratisation through technology means that we need new tools to understand how to function in this new society. The codes of the twentieth century are no longer relevant, and designers need to be part of this dialogue.’
Contemporary dance company Wayne McGregor has teamed up with experimental art studios Random International and Superblue to explore the human relation to machine and technology. Informed by the technology behind BMW i, ‘No One is an Island’ combines sculptural, performative and musical elements. Through electrified movement steered by advanced algorithms and inspired by Picasso’s light drawings, it reflects on how the human mind can empathise with artificial intelligence and automated processes. Dancers perform to the electronic sound of Chihei Hatakeyama adding a performative dimension to the sculpture, while re-translating and celebrating the connection between human and mechanical movement.
Wabi-sabi is the belief in the beauty in imperfection. The ancient Japanese philosophy seeks charm in the incomplete object, in the worn and weathered – products with a storied past. A growing movement is championing wabi-sabi, and it is being largely led by generations fatigued with the fetishization of busyness and the cult of perfection. Echoing the Arts and Crafts movement that came before them as a reaction to mass industrialisation and ruthless commercial expansion, today’s social rebels are purposely disconnecting from the hollowness of the corporate world. Instead, theirs is a slower life choice found, also, in the art of craft.
‘Perfectionism is such a funny thing,’ says James Otter, surfboard designer and maker, and founder of Otter Surfboards. ‘Our western cultures celebrate it – tirelessly. But it is a completely unrealistic target for any of us to aim at. It is an unhealthy and often damaging way of thinking.’
Otter has recently authored ‘Do/Make: The power of your own two hands’. by Do Books – the publishers of pocket guides designed to inspire action and positive change. He offers a simple guide to making while posing a compelling case for embracing a life in the arts and crafts. Otter is an award-winning designer who works with wood, sourcing ecological timber and making sustainable surfboards that celebrate beauty in the process.
‘I used to take pride in considering myself a perfectionist until I realised that this way of thinking revolves around judgment from others and when you feel things aren’t perfect, you feel a sense of shame,’ he says. ‘So your options are to achieve something that is technically impossible to reach.’ That doesn’t sound productive, I note. Otter agrees. ‘I found that reframing my making into a journey of achieving excellence was a much healthier way of thinking.’ Otter is also an advocate of the wabi-sabi philosophy. ‘I think it would be amazing if our cultures could move to a place where experimentation and striving for excellence were revered far more than the outcome.’
Our entire education system is geared towards promoting perfection though, I say. Otter agrees that we are all likely to suffer from the fear of non-achievement – that at some stage in life our creativity has been knocked back by someone or even ourselves. ‘But what if we lived in a society that celebrated play – a place where having a go, and making mistakes were acknowledged as a way to progress? What a wonderful world that would be!’
Even before the pandemic took us by storm, many of us were reconnecting with the art of making, and the process of creating. Otter’s book happens to coincide with our current crisis. ‘As we progressed with the editing phase during the start of the pandemic, we noticed how people were reconnecting with their local environments, taking time to be with the people around them and reconnecting with the art of making,’ he tells me. ‘There is such a mental, physical and spiritual benefit to be found from reconnecting with our hands,’ he adds, ‘and there is no better time than now.’
Then there are the health benefits of creating. With wellness and mindfulness becoming increasingly pivotal in our lives, the art of making can cultivate a healthier lifestyle. If mindfulness is the idea of being in the present in each moment, regardless of activity or state of mind, then what could embody the spirit more than taking up a slow-motion craft.
‘Mindfulness is about being able to calm the mind, recognising thoughts, acknowledging them, then letting them pass,’ agrees Otter. ‘So, when we embark upon any journey of making, we are given the opportunity to be completely absorbed in that process and by doing so, we can be present. With that in mind, the more opportunities we can create to make things, the more chance we will have of forming lasting habits that keep us making and provide us with the mental benefits for years to come.’
It seems like a win-win situation but I’m interested to know the necessary steps towards cultivating a passion for making. How do I know what I want to make, for instance? Otter has some helpful tips: ‘The first would be to pick something you are already excited or passionate about. For me, this was surfing. Then create a space to work in so that you can keep coming back to it as and when you are able. Then schedule the time to devote to it. Then release yourself from judgments by others and yourself.’
He says it is
the fear of not being good enough that likely stops most of us in our tracks. ‘So,
recognise this and let is pass. Finally, get stuck in – there is no right or
wrong way to do this, mistakes made whilst making provide an opportunity to
learn and help with the continual development of your skills. Enjoy the
The art of making ought to have some purpose too. Finding happiness in making also entails thinking about the larger picture. ‘As someone who designs and makes things for a living, for me it is so apparent that every decision I make along a product’s journey has an environmental impact,’ says Otter, ‘and if we want to continue to make things – and survive on this wonderful planet – we need to put the environment first, always.’
Otter’s craft of choice has the added power of being a rather evocative product. His current favourite surfboard is designed to be versatile and withstand most wave conditions. ‘I spend a lot of time in the ocean with it – interacting with the wonderfully dynamic environment of the sea,’ he offers. ‘There is such magic in moving across the ocean, riding on a wave of energy that has travelled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to reach the shore before it rises, peaks and folds in a way that we can utilise. It is my happy place!
John Ruskin, William Morris, and their Arts and Crafts comrades fought tirelessly to bring back the joy of craft and celebrate the natural beauty in materials. They understood the relation between art, society and labour, and in the darkest hours of industrialisation applauded the art of making. As we head deep into the machine age, begin to see the effects of globalisation, and try to salvage a climate in crisis, echoes of the movement continue to shine some light on life.