nature by design, music & science

keith gallasch: tokujin yoshioka, second nature, tokyo

CLOUDS installation with some works, Tokujin Yoshioka

CLOUDS installation with some works, Tokujin Yoshioka

CLOUDS installation with some works, Tokujin Yoshioka

IN A STONE HALLWAY ON YOUR WAY TO THE SECOND NATURE EXHIBITION YOU COME UPON A SMALL TREE IN A BLOCK OF ICE INSIDE A REFRIGERATED GLASS CABINET. THE TREE, A CYPRESS PINE, HEALTHY, RICHLY GREEN, APPEARS TO FLOAT BEFORE YOU, THE ROOTS TRAILING, BUT UTTERLY STILL. IN A WAY MAKOTO AZUMA’S SHIKI 2 IS A COOL, GENTLY PREPARATORY GESTURE FOR THE WORKS OF TOKUJIN YOSHIOKA ASSEMBLED IN A LARGE ROOM WHICH AT FIRST ASTONISHED GLANCE HAS THE APPEARANCE OF AN ICE CAVE. IT’S LIKE WALKING INTO A FOG HANGING JUST ABOVE AND SOMETIMES IN FRONT OF YOU, BENEATH WHICH ARE PLINTHS DISPLAYING OBJECTS COMPOSED OF NUMEROUS CRYSTALS. OTHERS SIT IN SOLUTIONS IN GLASS TANKS, STRAY CRYSTALS CONTINUING TO FORM ON THE WALLS AMIDST THE SLOW BUBBLING OF LIQUID.

Second Nature is an exhibition of artworks in a program directed by Tokujin Yoshioka, the major component of which is his own most recent work which occupies and transforms the largest of the semi-subterranean galleries of 21_21 Design Sight. The gallery, established and directed by clothing designer Issey Miyake and partners, is built into the gardens beside the towering Tokyo Midtown business and shopping monoliths in Roppongi. The focus of 21_21 is design (Second Nature was also part of Design Tide Extension), bringing together artists, scientists and designers, including the increasing number who embody a number of disciplines. A key impulse for the Second Nature show is biomimicry (emphatically not to imitate or resemble nature, but to learn from it): “future-oriented ideas born from once again inquiring of nature.” The very title suggests that the creators of these works are drawing on something innate, in ourselves and in nature, but, writes the catalogue editor, Kazuo Hashiba, this “’second nature’…symbolises a ‘new kind of nature’, one that is desirable for the future of design.”
Shiki 2, Makato Azuma

Shiki 2, Makato Azuma

Shiki 2, Makato Azuma

The ‘fog’, titled CLOUDS, is made of thousands of immaculately gridded, thin translucent plastic fibres hanging from the ceiling (installed with the assistance of 100 design students). Below, the objects on plinths or hanging on walls are finished works: rectangles of crystals hanging like paintings, and couches—some chunky and rigidly symmetrical, others like sleek modernist chaise longues (their form inspired by Titian’s Venus of Urbino). They all glow and sparkle, conjuring cold and the magic of diamonds. The works inside the glass cabinets are still forming, growing on thin, curling synthetic fibres. In the cool, but not at all cold, calm of the room, passages of 19th century classical music can occasionally be heard: these turn out to be providing something more than relaxing ambience.

You can sit on a slab of glass titled Water Block, deep but strangely transparent, solid but evoking rippling liquid, and watch a film that shows Tokukjin Yoshioka researching and growing his crystalline sculptures, revealing painstaking attention to detail, complex procedures and a very surprising component of the process. The crystals are shaped by music—and not merely by inspiring the artist. The forms that eventuate are determined by the playing of music during the crystallising process: the works “are completed by the laws of nature and embodying a beauty born of coincidence”, writes the artist. The process is not explained, but Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata has helped generate one work; another, forming in a blue-ish solution in the gallery, is aptly parented by Schubert’s Symphony No 7, The Unfinished; another, titled Destiny, by Beethoven’s Fifth.

A single human shape can be found among these works, a small classical statue of Venus on which crystals have grown, the past encrusted by nature, another layer of art.
Cellular Automation, Origin of the Species 2, Ross Lovegrove

Cellular Automation, Origin of the Species 2, Ross Lovegrove

Cellular Automation, Origin of the Species 2, Ross Lovegrove

Another aspect of the human is evoked in Ross Lovegrove’s Cellular Automation, Origin of the Species 2 (UK, 2008). Lovegrove has made bone mass structures that replicate and build on the discovery that “the science of structure was in making holes” (Michel Ragon, cited in the catalogue), His shapes appear beautifully organic but comprise small, often identical units, ‘digital’ in appearance. The catalogue editor writes that Lovegrove is seen as heir to Arne Jacobsen and Charles and Ray Eames “in a quest to recreate natural organic forms in mass-produced products”, but that he goes further in evolving organic design: “Instead of the designation ‘designer’, it might be more appropriate to call Ross Lovegrove a designer-cum-cell morphologist-cum-biologist.”

Before experiencing Second Nature at 21_21 in Tokyo, my companions and I walked an 8km section of the old Kyoto-Edo Highway across the Magome Pass to the village of Tsumago in the alpine Kiso Valley. Everywhere we witnessed and revelled in the artfulness of nature: boulders shaped as if sculpted, adorned with perfectly symmetrical moss patterns; the patterned shafting of light through bamboo forests; the musical dance of water rushing, flowing, trickling from every direction. Japanese artists, designers, poets, musicians and gardeners have long distilled these already essential forms into enduring art works. Second Nature continues a rich tradition, looking both to nature and the science of nature for inspiration.

Second Nature, directed by Tokujin Yoshioka, works by Tokujin
Yoshioka, Ross Lovegrove, Makato Azuma, Campana Brothers, Asuka
Katagiri, Keiji Moriyama & Takeshi Kushida, Yukio Nakagawa, Ambe
Noriko; 21_21 Design Sight, The Issey Miyake Foundation, Tokyo, Oct
17, 2008-Jan 18, 2009

www.2121designsight.jp; www.tokujin.com

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 15

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2008