Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"The Handmade, The Organic, Anything More Satisfyingly Touchable Than A Smartphone"

I read a very interesting WSJ article recently by Stephen Treffinger, "Could Japanese Design Be the Cure for Your Tech Addiction?"  While it is an interesting concept, I do not think the purchase of a Kyosuke Okui Large Magnolia Wood Cooking Spoon is going to resolve anyone's screen attachment.  However, Treffinger is right on the money regarding our longing for more tactile, sensory experiences and surroundings, in the midst of our modern digital world.

Some days, I feel a screen overload, as the admin part of our jobs as Moms (at least partially) contribute to it.  I am constantly exchanging texts with other moms about carpool pickups, practice cancellations, play date arrangements, etc.  Yet, as I pick up my iPhone to send a quick text, it inevitably leads to a check of the local weather, then some quick news headlines, then a quick FB review, and after a while, I realize I have been looking at my iPhone for 25 minutes! What? It just seems like such a waste of time!  There is nothing more soul-zapping or energy-squashing than a prolonged interaction with our smartphones.

In contrast, I find that when I am jogging through the neighborhood, relaxing outside reading a book, or searching for seaglass at the beach (basically any interaction with nature), I am restored to a calm, yet energized state.  As the article states, "the ubiquity of chilly digital screens in our lives - and the idea that you can tap, swipe, and pinch-and-zoom your way to perfectly calibrated bliss - has led designers and their clients to crave more sensual objects: the handmade, the organic, anything more satisfyingly touchable than a smartphone."

Although the article is more product and design focused, it seems important to recognize the importance of such interaction with natural, organic environments throughout our day, to maintain a healthy mental balance.  It just seems good for the soul.  Just think about the relaxing sensory experience of laying on the beach...the smell of the salty air (my fav), the therapeutic sound of the waves crashing, the endless stretch of beautiful blue water meeting the sky, the feel of sand underfoot or seashells in your hand.  It is the epitome of a tactile experience, a contra-screen experience, so to speak.  These are the moments we crave when we want to get away from the daily grind and achieve some restorative R&R.

The article also mentions the Japanese concept of "Wabi-Sabi."  Author and designer, Leonard Koren describes Wabi-Sabi as a "complete aesthetic system that values the imperfect, the humble, and the in the imperfections....expressions of time frozen...they record the sun, wind, rain, heat, and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shriveling, and cracking.  Their nicks, chips, bruises, scars, dents, and peeling....are testament to their histories."

Again, although this phenomenon is referring to the demand of natural and organic products in design, it sounds like this concept can apply to us, humans as well!  We can appreciate the reality that our elders' wrinkles and timeworn features are not threats to their beauty, but rather testaments to a life lived with passion, purpose, and celebration.  These physical signs of aging are ones that accompany a life well lived, a life not consumed by a digital existence.

As One Republic sings in one of my favorite songs, "I owned every second that this world could give, I saw so many places, the things that I did, with every broken bone, I swear I lived." Amen!  Stay tuned for some interesting natural design pieces for our interiors...(WSJ article copied below)

Could Japanese Design Be the Cure for Your Tech Addiction?
Sensual, tactile, organic—the new wave of Japanese design is offering Westerners relief from digital overload

Updated April 25, 2015 12:34 a.m. ET

OVER THE PAST few years, the ubiquity of chilly digital screens in our lives—and the idea that you can tap, swipe and pinch-and-zoom your way to perfectly calibrated bliss—has led designers and their clients to crave more sensual objects: the handmade, the organic, anything more satisfyingly touchable than a smartphone.
Exhibit A: The neighborhood hipster restaurant, inevitably clad in reclaimed wood. These salvaged-look eateries, so ubiquitous they’ve become a cliché, are the design equivalent of distressed jeans. “It’s everywhere; it’s even in Starbucks,” said Marc Kushner, co-founder of New York-based architecture firm HWKN. These kinds of materials, he added, “speak to an architectural desire on the part of the public for something less than perfect. Something irrational.”
The search for that something, for the next authentic antidote to digital overload, has triggered a renewed appreciation of handmade décor from Japan. And the country’s craftsmen have been happy to oblige.
After the tsunami that hit the country in 2011, a government-initiated program called Japan Creative began reaching out to Western designers such as Jasper Morrison and London duo Barber Osgerby to collaborate with Japanese craftsmen on a series of contemporary products that would appeal to a broader market while still using old-world techniques.
Around the same time, Copenhagen-based designer Thomas Lykke, of OeO Studio, met artisans from the Kyoto region and started Japan Handmade, a similar project. He began collaborating with woodworker Shuji Nakagawa, who was having trouble selling the exquisite, expensive cedar rice buckets that his family had been making for three generations. Mr. Lykke helped him retool his techniques to create a more globally marketable collection of stools and tables inlaid with copper rings.

Mr. Lykke sees a spiritual quality in these objects that gives them a beauty that ever-present computer screens can’t supply. “You feel that they have a soul,” he said. “They also have this wabi-sabi quality: beauty in the imperfections.”
Westerners often use the Japanese term “wabi-sabi” reflexively to describe tactile, handmade products, but the concept is more nuanced. Leonard Koren, who wrote one of the first books for a Western audience on the topic, in 1994, and released a follow-up this spring, describes it as a complete aesthetic system that values the imperfect, the humble and the timeworn. In modern terms, you could say wabi-sabi celebrates organic products and spaces that reward a level of sensory consideration not found in the hasty swiping gestures that touch screens encourage.
This level of care was exactly what Melanie Courbet was looking for two years ago when she saw Mr. Lykke’s collection at Salone del Mobile, Milan’s annual furniture fair, a month after she opened her upscale furniture shop, Atelier Courbet, in downtown New York. “We get saturated with a handful of devices to which we connect every day. It’s an overwhelming experience,” she said. “We find it comforting to surround ourselves with handmade objects and tactile experiences.”

Before long, she was carrying products produced by Asahiyaki, the over-400-year-old ceramics maker, whose cups and saucers look smooth on your browser but are invitingly touchable in person—their sensual ribbed sides can only be fully appreciated when they’re held. This spring, Ms. Courbet’s shop is the first American retailer to carry fabrics from Hosoo, a Kyoto-based textile company founded in 1688, whose products are now being used as upholstery in Dior and Chanel boutiques.
Given the subtlety of these details, some purveyors of Japanese crafts are actually requiring that you come in and touch the products in person, rather than just add them to your virtual cart. Ritsuko Yagi, the owner of the cult housewares shop Chariots on Fire, in Venice, Calif., took her selection of Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) vases and kitchenware offline altogether. “People are getting most of their information via Instagram or Pinterest or whatever it is that comes out of that flat screen of ours,” she said. “When they come in and see the actual thing, their impression is very different.”
Last year, Ms. Yagi hosted a collaboration between Japanese cactus grower Kohei Oda and Los Angeles-based ceramicist Adam Silverman, who is known for his irregularly surfaced glazes and organic shapes. The result: a mutually idiosyncratic marriage of planters and plants. Mr. Silverman also sees a direct correlation between the digital era and the need for more tactile design. “We’re all tech-ed up,” he said, “and we feel the need for warmer things in our hands.”

“As people react to evolving technology, they are becoming more attracted to primitive objects,” said Taku Shinomoto, co-owner of the Japanese-focused store Tortoise, also in Venice, which sells goods produced in Japan or those from designers who are using traditional Japanese techniques. “It adjusts the balance in a way. I always say to the pottery producers in Japan, ‘Your achievements will keep rising as long as Apple increases its revenue.’ ”
Another initiative called 2016/Arita—a celebration of 400 years of porcelain production in the Saga region—is an ambitious collaboration between the area’s artisans and Western designers, such as New York-based Leon Ransmeier. Next year, he will debut a set of tableware made with Hataman, a porcelain factory known for producing high-quality hand-painted glaze work.

Meanwhile, London studio Barber Osgerby’s prototypes of translucent porcelain lamps, made with craftsmen in nearby Hasami, debuted earlier this year. “[The Japanese] really take everything to the next level,” said co-founder Edward Barber. “I spoke to a lacquer guy who said he would spend nine months, maybe a year, working on one single piece of lacquerware. It’s refreshing to hear people who are that obsessed with their craft.”
That laser focus sits in direct opposition to the ADD-inducing Internet, where viral stars are born in minutes, and can die out just as quickly. Michael Garcia of Garcia Tamjidi, the San Francisco architecture firm, said the studio attempts to emulate the Japanese aesthetic that makes the complex look simple. “You could walk by it and say there’s nothing there,” he said of a traditional Japanese space, “but if you stop and study it, you can see the process. It can have a calming effect.”
You needn’t invest in a whole house, however. You can get the same effect from small-scale Japanese objects, too. And, unlike the required upgrade-or-become-obsolete gadgets that dominate our interiors now, a cooking spoon designed by Kyosuke Okui, or a tumbler from 116-year-old glassmaking company Hirota can become more beautiful as it ages and wears with use.
In that way, they resemble real life, reflecting that unmistakable human experience of simply growing older. “The way we feel about spaces isn’t a math equation,” said HWKN’s Mr. Kushner. “Just like in our relationship with people, it is often the quirks and foibles that we love the best.”

Wabi-Sabi for Dummies
Expert Leonard Koren answers our questions about an oft-misunderstood Japanese concept

In his seminal 1994 book “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers,” author and designer Leonard Koren attempted to define the Japanese aesthetic for a Western audience: “Things wabi-sabi are expressions of time frozen,” he wrote. “They record the sun, wind, rain, heat and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shriveling and cracking. Their nicks, chips, bruises, scars, dents [and] peeling... are a testament to their histories.” This spring, he published ”Further Thoughts,” in which he addressed wabi-sabi in the digital age.
You write that wabi-sabi’s main appeal for some is as a counterpoint to the “ongoing and pervasive digitalization of reality.” Do you think people are oversaturated by screens today?
Today being an American requires being tethered to digital gadgets. It’s de facto national policy. Is it an absurd way of life? I think so.
What kinds of objects can best express wabi-sabi?

First, you have to be open to the idea that things wabi-sabi are, indeed, beautiful. Once you possess this perceptual openness, then you’re turned on by rusticated, attired, nonconventional things made of clay, wood, paper, metal, bamboo—virtually any natural material.
Why do you think this aesthetic has taken root in Japanese culture?
Japan went through a 200-plus-year period in which it was intentionally isolated, during which time creativity was focused on refining the technologies that already existed. This meant a lot of invention on the micro-scale—homing in on details. There was intense focus on refinement and subtlety. The momentum of this in-depth aesthetic research is still present in Japan today.

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