Sudo Reiko explores material’s possibilities at Japan House London

Making Nuno, Japanese Textile Innovation from Sud? Reiko

‘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 Sud? Reiko

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.

Making Nuno, Japanese Textile Innovation from Sud? Reiko

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.

Making Nuno, Japanese Textile Innovation from Sud? Reiko

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.

'Making Nuno, Japanese Textile Innovation from Sud? Reiko' at Japan House London explores the work of the visionary textile designer

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.’

Images © Japan House London

‘Living Colours’ at Japan House explores the ancient art of colour mixing

‘The Tale of Genji’ was written a thousand years ago and is considered one of the first modern novels. Penned by a lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibuthe, it describes the colourful lives of the courtiers and courtesan of the Heian period (794 to 1185), the peak of Japan’s imperial court and a time noted for its appreciation of the arts, in particular poetry and literature. Members of the court wrote and exchange love poems on dyed fans or elaborately folded paper. Often hidden from public view, courtesans would layer their kimonos with colours, subtly coded to reveal elements of their personalities to attract a possible suitor when glimpsed through the passing carriage.

A new exhibition at Japan House London highlights the historical importance of colour in Japan, weaving together the ancient art of using natural pigments inspired by seasonal changes, and elements extracted from the customs of the Heian period. ‘Living Colours’ is a delicate show focused on the work of the 200-year old Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop, a bastion of this method of colour making. The Japan House London deco building is swathed in vibrant colours with a series of ceiling-high installations of silk – each communicating a specific seasonal message – to the soothing hum of a well, a recording of the sounds at the Yoshioka workshop in Ky?to.

In ancient Japan, textile production relied on natural dyeing techniques and it focused on the concept of kasane, meaning the art of colour combinations sensitive to the changing seasons. Since joining the workshop in 1988, fifth-generation master of colour Yoshioka Sachio and his daughter Sarasa, a specialist dyeing weaver, have looked to revive this technique. They have abandoned the use of synthetic colours in favour of pigments harvested from the natural world and plant-based dyeing techniques. ‘Ky?to’s natural beauty is perfect for the dying business,’ Yoshioka tells us. To salvage the tradition, he initially began researching the past, visiting the old shrines and talking with experts to understand the world of the Heian period.

Yoshioka’s work expresses the beauty in the natural pigments of plant-based colours. The seasons are prominent in Japan, especially in Ky?to, but evolve constantly, and the kasane layering of colour and tone is about appreciating these small changes. ‘The cherry blossom pinks of spring and deep plums of autumn,’ he muses. Yoshioka uses only natural dyes in his workshop, some 100 or so shades are fused and mixed slowly for complex and vibrant pigments to immerge.

With the help of the literature, historical documents and textile samples, the Yoshioka studio has recreated the palette of the Japanese court, reviving this age-old craft with all its hidden meanings to be appropriate for modern times. On until 19 May 2019, ‘Living Colours – Kasane, the Language of Colour Combination’ shines a spotlight on the guardians of this tradition, and introduces us to the art of mixing vivid seasonal colours in the most natural and organic way.

All images are strictly under © by Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop and © Jeremie Souteyrat for Japan House London.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Tokyo to Paris: a car as an expression of David Bowie

This is a brilliantly curious project. ‘A portrait of db’ is a sort of art car, created as an expression of David Bowie and his life and music. It is also a tribute to the singer-songwriter following his death in 2016. Yet the story happens to begin some 21 years ago in Tokyo with a young Takumi Yamamoto, the former Citroën designer responsible for GranTurismo‘s GT by Citroën. ‘A portrait of db’ will come alive as a full-scale sculpture at the end of the month at Exposition Concept Car Paris. 

All images are © ‘A portrait of db’
Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Japan House London presents ‘Prototyping in Tokyo’ to illustrate design-led innovation

‘I’m told there is something Japanese in my prototyping,’ says professor Yamanaka Shunji, ‘that it has this “Japanese style”’, he smiles as he guides us around ‘Prototyping in Tokyo: Illustrating Design-led Innovation’ (until 17 March, 2019). The design engineer and University of Tokyo professor continues: ‘I don’t go about trying to be so, but perhaps there is something in the attitude that is Japanese.’

We are at the latest exhibition in Japan House London. Exhibited on long floating white tables, in this minimalist basement gallery of the deco building, are examples of objects showing the possibilities of advanced design and engineering in positively shaping our future. Perhaps it is the meticulousness of this collection, the earnestness of each object on display, as well as the modest presentation of the creator which makes the show distinctly Japanese in style.

‘Prototyping in Tokyo’ takes on three main themes: additive manufacturing, bio-likeness robots and prosthetics. The first looks at prototyping and rapidly evolving technologies like 3D printing which allow engineers and designers to create infinitely more complex structures in a fraction of a time it would take to do this otherwise.

Bio-likeness robots proposes adding life-like motion and behaviour to typically mechanical metal-and-motor robots. Yamanaka has therefore injected the impression of intelligence to these man-made objects. For example, the robot ‘Apostroph’ examines mechanisms that allow living organisms to stand. Or ‘Ready to Crawl’ are a series of working robots, created to be fully formed just like a living thing. This means all the various parts were created and fully-assembled simultaneously, with form and movement closely mirroring living species. The professor moves his hands across the sensors and one by one these intricate little robots come alive. We are encouraged to touch and interact with select displays, to feel the structures and textures of the future.

The final section feels like the area closest to impacting on reality. Prosthetics presents various interpretations of elements of the human body – limbs etc – and the advantages of working with 3D printing in terms of speed and accuracy of construction. For instance, ’Rabbit’ are a series of bespoke prostheses designed for competitive running. They are made to measure for Takakuwa Saki, the Japanese Paralympics athlete who is now part of the development team at the Yamanaka’s laboratory.

He is keen to also show how new tech can advance old tech. For this the professor takes on the karakuri ningyo automaton, popular puppets that perform continuous movements, yet their clothing traditionally hides the clever mechanics beneath. Yamanaka wants to highlight the beauty of the machinery, commissioning a ninth-generation master craftsman to make a doll of bare mechanics as the wooden ‘Young Archer’ plucks an arrow out of the quiver, notches it to the bow, and shoots.

‘Prototyping in Tokyo’ is a glimpse into the future with a touch of the present. This is about exploring the potential of prototypes to act as a link between cutting-edge technology and society. These 3D printed objects, moving mini robots and prosthetics offer a human touch to machinery. This is warm tech – technology not made for the ego, but for progressing life.

Yamanaka returns to his initial statement: ‘A professor from the US described his understanding of “Japanese style”, as the fusion of organic and machine-made. Although what I am doing is simply searching for the common ground between science and beauty.’

Images © Kato Yasushi and Shimizu Yukio. In order: ‘Apostroph’ explores the act of standing; ‘Ready to Crawl’ mini robots with natural movements; ‘Rami’ – additively manufactured running specific prosthetics; ‘Archer on a Boat’ skeletal automation 

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Japan House London presents ‘Subtle’ to salute paper art

Paper is alive. Paper breathes. Paper is ever-evolving, changing conceptually and physically with time. Paper can be moulded, manipulated, sculpted. It can be decorative, functional, seductive, argumentative. It can even deceive. ‘Subtle: Delicate or Infinitesimal’ at Japan House London explores the possibilities of paper.

The show is curated and directed by Kenya Hara, the gallery’s global chief creative director and art director at Muji. The display is subtle, modest even, set within the building’s clean and clear deco beauty. It begs you to walk up, take an intimate look at these delicate objects and read the accompanying text which adds intrigue. For instance, the Origata Design Institute writes alongside its exhibit: ‘The act of folding paper – once you fold, you cannot return to the original state… but then you create structure and entrust your feelings onto paper.’

‘Subtle’ follows a successful run at Japan House’s other galleries in Los Angeles and São Paulo. The idea originates from the Takeo Paper Show, which began in Tokyo in 1965 as a way of engaging artists, challenging them to find new potentials for paper. Fifteen creatives living and working in Japan are on show here. They come from a diverse set of disciplines too – art, animation, architecture, fashion, graphic design and literature – each introducing their very own unique layer to this intriguing paper narrative. It reminds us of the value of the material, whilst highlighting the delicate craft of paper art in a modern light.

‘Subtle’ is at Japan House London until 24 December.
All images are © Jeremie Souteyrat, Japan House London.

Read about the previous exhibitions at Japan House.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©