Tokyo’s 21_21 Design Sight gallery just opened in a sleek new building cleverly constructed by Tadao Ando, and just next to the fancy Tokyo Midtown shopping extravaganza. So, what topic did they choose for their opening exhibition (closing this Sunday, July 29th): Chocolate! – with thirty designers making all sorts of gear from this brown delicacy. Why so? PingMag asked acclaimed designer and Chocolate curator Naoto Fukasawa about his obsessions…
Written by Sabrina Morrison and Dean Howe
First, what do we get to see made of chocolate? Thirty designers, artists and photographers plunge into our peculiar relationship with this sticky stimulant, using an array of differing media.
Then, when we take a look at Yoji Ishii’s “germination” where the chocolate nut sprouts a green shoot… We think this could symbolise the new 21_21 gallery space – being a fresh starting point and a way to involve everybody into design by means of chocolate. How did you come up with the concept, together with Issey Miyake and Taku Satoh?”
When we first decided to do an exhibition on this theme, I don’t think anyone had any specific idea. When it was decided that I should do the direction, I thought it might be fun to do an experiment on how well the artists could extract the meaning of infinity in chocolate shared by all people. It seemed like an attractive idea to re-acknowledge the fact of this kind of communion.
I read that during the exhibition’s development you attended some preliminary presentations of the submitted work. Did you, Issey Miyake and Taku Satoh have some influence over the individuals’ work?”
I suppose so. You can call it an influence, but it might be closer to an orientation. Without it, everyone would have ended up with ideas inconsistent to the theme. After all, this project is all about everyone working on the same theme.
One of our favourite works of the exhibition was James Mollison`s photographs of cocoa bean farmers in the Ivory Coast giving a glimpse into the realities of production in the Third World. Did you feel that it was important, even whilst working closely with the chocolate manufacturers, to tell this lesser known story?”
I had heard about it but I only had a vague realisation until then. The works of James Mollison and Tom Vincent really did help the exhibition cover the realistic world view of chocolate in general. It’s meant to be a design experiment, so I didn’t think the selection of its background factors should be biased in any way.
What is your favourite chocolate object in the exhibition – and why?
That’s hard to decide – but the designs have more to do with a selection of lifestyles related to the image of chocolate rather than the actual chocolate itself. Chocolate is a small thing, so our association with it is also very small and subtle. And I believe that the feeling of extracting this delicate relationship will lead to a form of beauty eventually. I could tell that from the faces of the audience too.
The curator’s own: Naoto Fukasawa’s “Brown Chocolate” – chocolate-coloured chocolate!
Cut your teeth on this idea: “412-810″ by HIMAA are individually made chocolate keys. From the Chocolate exhibition.
Your vision of design is something that everybody shares and experiences – by choosing chocolate as a medium you potentially attracted people that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be that deep into design. Did you succeed in this?
I think many people experienced the effort of understanding design as a physical function through their senses, and the fact that this is also associated with emotion. It surely is a genuine pleasure for everybody to be exposed to diverse phenomena and incidents shared by mutual sensing without trying to understand it or taking it too serious.
Your design work is world renowned – what reactions would you like to get from people when they experience your work? Is there any relation to how they would react to chocolate (or is it just as sweet)?
It’s common to define design as a kind of stimulation that touches our primary consciousness. However, we aren’t usually aware of this while doing something. Being unaware means that our primary consciousness is interacting with our environment in a natural and comfortable way. So, designing things that don’t make people conscious about them means that the object blends into the environment naturally. Becoming not too conscious of objects and then suddenly discovering them is what I like. Think of seeing something and realising “I never knew there was this thing here!” or “Oh, now I see…”. It’s the same with chocolate: It’s not obvious at the beginning but then you go from a question mark in your head to an exclamation mark. Maybe the bliss lies in that exact moment of discovery.
Natsumi Toyama`s “100% chocolate.” Oh-so-tempting to step in, huh? From the Chocolate exhibition.
A mini gramophone and a chocolate record playing real sounds. Is that the sound of happy kids or wailing cries? Tom Vincent`s “choco-on-key” echoes questions about cacao`s source and the people harvesting it.
And what certain quality does chocolate have for you personally?
There is something unique to its flavour and the timing of our desire for it. For example, you may be working on something or thinking about one thing or another. So, the moment this substance called chocolate slips in to intersect the series of action or thoughts, which is the moment it gets popped into your mouth, there’s an allurement to it that makes you think: “Yes! Chocolate here and now is just what I needed!”
This substance looks solid – but it’s not. That resembles the feeling when someone asks you something like “What is plastic?” or “What does a computer look like?” You’d have an image in mind, but that’s only a general example of its form and not the concept that explains chocolate on the whole. You can imagine a significant form that fits in the object’s definition, but that wouldn’t explain its entirety.
Stepping down into the 21_21 Design Sight gallery is like discovering the giant mass of a double-glazed glass iceberg floating along in a sea of grass – in the midst of Tokyo. The buliding`s metal angles repeat inside the gallery`s chasm.
Which form of chocolate do you prefer usually for eating?
Praline, perhaps. I’d go for the best combination of chocolate and fillings based on assumptions. Chocolate bars give the impression of positive consumption and there seems to be a kind of lust for it from the back of my stomach…
Describe the taste of chocolate in your mouth, please…
It’s a process of eliminating chocolate – a substance that sticks to the surface of the mouth and teeth – by the movement of your mouth and tongue. It’s like having fun while cleaning.
Your chocolate research involved travelling to factories, which certainly involved tasting a lot of sweets – can you still eat it today or was that just too much of a delicacy?
I still like it! But if you are thinking in terms of quantity, I don’t really eat so much at all. But then, quantity has nothing to do with love anyway.
Yes, indeed! Let’s talk a bit about the exhibition space: The new 21_21 Design Sight gallery is an elegant space that literally draws the visitor in through the staircase and into the gallery space. Did you, Satoh and Miyake work closely with architect Tadao Ando during the design process?”
Designer and curator Naoto Fukusawa at a chocolate workshop for the exhibition, with the participating designers watching pâtissiers at work for inspiration.
I think that Issey Miyake’s concept of “one piece of cloth” was associated with Tando Ando’s key concept in designing this building, as you can tell from the large sheet of roof. The supremacy of the space is all due to Tadao Ando’s unique talent in structuring and we haven’t participated much. But when I was planning the composition for this exhibition, I did intend to make the most of the space and tried to get a good combination of space, architecture and exhibition.
Your work with 21_21 is an ongoing development – what are your next projects with them?
I would like to display activities beyond the existing image of design, something that would make people say “Oh, I never realised this was a design too.” I’m thinking of Rakugo, Kyogen and monodrama in the future…
Well said! Lots of thanks to Naoto Fukusawa for letting us get to the yummy bottom of the Chocolate exhibition.
Hurry up now! The exhibition closes this Sunday, July29th!
Chocolate at 21 21 Design Sight
Address: 9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Open: 11:00 – 20:00
Check out the 21 21 website for their next exhibition, the Lucky Luck Show, about Rakugo and Kyogen!