Milan Design Week is truly special, with few cultural events on the calendar having quite the same reach. Joining Salone del Mobile — the historical indoor furniture fair at Fiera Milano — is Fuorisalone.
What began in 2003 as supporting exhibits with a more conceptual theme has since morphed into a hugely exciting set of events around the districts of Brera, 5Vie and Tortona. And it’s here where art, design and architecture intersect for the cross-fertilisation of ideas. This is where you can pick up the discourse on design thinking, which for 2023 was imagined to the theme “Laboratorio Futuro” (Future Lab).
As the director of the Design Museum in London, Tim Marlow is on a mission to transform the institution into a lively space that examines and showcases all sorts of different idea, and from multiple perspectives.
I met up with Marlow at the west London museum to see what the former Royal Academy of Arts director has in mind for a museum dedicated to contemporary design.
During our long conversation he said: “I’d like to get to a position where I can raise enough funding so we can be the museum that examines and showcases all sorts of different ideas. We are the national design museum and should be doing this.”
‘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.’
‘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.
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.