Things we saw in Tokyo

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Last month we reported on all the interesting Japanese design we saw at Tokyo Designers Week, which is now officially our favourite design show in the world. But we bumped into loads of talented people from outside Japan as well, so over the next few pages we present some of our most interesting discoveries.

Louise Campbell
Canadian National Design Team
Jerszy Seymour
Yael Mer

Louise Campbell

"I'll go back every October for the rest of my life," says Anglo-Danish furniture designer Louise Campbell, who took a neat idea to Tokyo: an exhibition, fundraiser, and travelling Danish design embassy called Walk the Plank.

"I was elated," she says. "I was pissed for three days. My only regret was not having a free orange hair-job by Japanese transvestites at the Sputnik party." (Sputnik is a design shop in the fashionable Aoyama district.)

Pieces of furniture by 30 Danish designers, each hand-made by Danish cabinetmakers, were shown to preview an auction which will raise funds for the development of new Danish furniture. The auction is online at until August 2004. Campbell was also showing work from her own studio in Japan, and both portfolios seem to have gone down well.

Campbell's work is based on the idea that we all believe in dressing to suit personal needs, and furniture should do the same. A commission from Denmark's Trapholt design museum for waiting-room furniture produced a table and chairs equipped with knives to cut through the frustration, and an adult-sized see-saw to take grown-ups back to the days when waiting was called playing. (Happily for NHS procurement managers everywhere, the see-saw has gone into production by Erik Jørgensens Møbelfabrik.)

Walk the Plank and the Trapholt project represent two trends in Campbell's career, which combines direct commissions from museums and manufacturers, self-generated projects, and curating and organising exhibitions.

"I'd much rather design something that sells ten pieces a year to people who really enjoy them," says Campbell, "than get stuck in the world of low-cost, low-maintenance, low-key stackable stuff that no one really notices."

Campbell, 33, graduated from the London College of Furniture in 1992 and then moved back to Denmark for a masters degree, drawn not so much by homing instinct as Denmark's strong traditions in furniture design. "The Danes follow them like disciples of a fine religion," she says. "The result is a very high standard of quality and rationalism. I respect those traditions - and then twist them as much as possible."

Often, she twists received ideas about furniture into lighter, looser forms. Her Casual cupboards are for anyone who thinks that clothes prefer to be decoratively strewn around the room and not cooped up in wardrobes, and the flexible Fold-A sofa, made from a steel frame stitched into a felt jacket, is a reaction against the heavy, boxy objects that overfill our spaces.

Campbell is busy with commissions from several Danish manufacturers, but also has new ventures that take her away from the Danish furniture tradition: lighting company Louis Poulsen has invited her to design five lamps for a solo exhibition in May 2004, and handbag and jewellery projects are also underway. In other words, plenty to exhibit at next year's sake-fest in Japan.
Elaine Knutt

Canadian National Design Team

Canadian designers were the surprise hit at this year's Tokyo Designers Week. A group calling themselves the Canadian National Design Team put on a show at the Canadian Embassy called "No Apologies Necessary: Design From Canada" which included a range of fresh and inspiring work.

The aim of the show was to overturn stereotypes about Canada, explained Beth Hawthorn of exhibition orgainser Bark Design Collective of Vancouver. "Our image, especially in Asia, is strikingly out of sync with reality. Canadians are seen as a painfully polite, terribly dull bunch whose greatest contributions to humanity are maple syrup, smoked salmon and log cabins."

She added: "We wanted the exhibition to break away from these bygone stereotypes, to provoke entirely new perceptions abroad of our country as dynamic, cosmopolitan and outrageously experimental."

It seems that the Economist magazine agrees with her. In September, it declared that there was a "new spirit" in the country, saying "Canada is now rather cool" and featuring a moose wearing sunglasses on its cover.

This was the first time that the Canadians had put on a show at Tokyo Designers Week, which is increasingly being used by foreign embassies as a way of celebrating their domestic design talent.

The No Apologies Necessary show featured the work of 25 contemporary designers and architects, while a second exhibition at the Canadian Embassy featured the work of Winnipeg design and graphic collective Mother. Called Cabin, the show took a slightly different take on Canadian culture, choosing to celebrate the country's relationship with nature through a range of ironic, folksy products.
Marcus Fairs

Jerszy Seymour

We were intrigued by Jerszy Seymour's Scum City: The Death of Design installation at Tokyo Designers Week, where he was awarded the Taro Okamoto Memorial Award for Contemporary Art. His idiosyncratic, erupting polyurethane and anti-design vibe seemed to be celebrating ugliness. And then more of his stuff appeared at the Design Museum too so we thought we'd call him for a chat. Seymour, of Canadian-German parentage, grew up in London and studied an MA in industrial design at the RCA but now lives and works in Milan.

What is Scum City about?
Scum City is about what's inside, the magma beneath the surface as it were: boiling, foaming, living. Polyurethane as it's normally used is quite a hi-tech material, but it's more natural when it comes out this way. The clean aesthetic is the look of perfection. It's unreal, and it's too comfortable. I'm into a less cuddly notion of comfort. I want to be able to feel like "I did the right thing". You know, it may be a concrete floor but I can sleep well on it.

How does your House in a Box work?
It's a kit house where you spray polyurethane on to an inflatable mould, which you then take out after it sets and you're left with a monocoque structure. The box includes the inflatable mould, doors, windows, instructions and a telephone number for the local polyurethane sprayers. It takes about eight hours to assemble.

Are you anti-consumerist?
I'm against conspicuous over-consumption, yes, but my work isn't anti-consumer - it's asking "how do you consume sustainably?" But it should be fun, it should be sexy. Scum City reacts to the global violence that's been around these past few years. My work is not about the surface connections but what's essential, the deep-down connections. Social constructs have led to these wars. The idea behind the taped clothing is simply that we want to put the world back together again.

A lot of your work is very sexual - the Bonnie & Clyde car particularly
That's a reaction to the White Sofa - the comfort of that is an opiated comfort; it's dead. If you really want to have fun, do it like Bonnie & Clyde, driving and robbing banks and giving it to the poor and having sex.

How was it made?
I searched scrapyards around Milan till I found a 1985 Ford Escort Coupe, and made a fibreglass model like a jelly mould. The polyurethane was sprayed on, and then it was peeled off. The car can be seen as either maxi-furniture or mini-architecture.

You grew up in London but now work in Milan, but is London the creative capital of the world?
In terms of design, no I don't think so. The schools in London are good but there is a lack of connection to companies. Let's not forget Berlin, Paris and Tokyo. London is a creative city especially because of is multiculturalism, but let's look to China - they have a production base that's amazing.

What are you up to at the moment?
I'm speaking to Nike about a Scum City skate park in Tokyo or California. Scum City is all about the people who society has left behind. I want a contract with Nike that makes them bend over and take it.

Do you find your more conventional work with furniture companies easier?
The resolution of the Easy Chair project for Magis is much more tempered, but it was such a difficult project. The shape looks so easy, but it's really hard to model on a computer, and the pricing I hold to the Bauhaus ideal of mass production for the good of society, and I do work with companies who are like that. Scum is more energetic and Magis is disciplined - but they feed each other, the experimental and the industrial. I've also done some consultancy work for Evian and Perrier, advising on graphics and the bottle shape.

I shouldn't ask, but what is your Muff Daddy chair about?
The idea behind Muff Daddy, although it sounds rude, is a big hug, from the meaning "a cylinder of thick fabric to keep the hands warm". It's inspired by, and dedicated to, Barry White.
Chris Hall

Yael Mer

Folded polypropylene finds yet another use in this chair by Israeli designer Yael Mer. The Tangent - also available as a sofa - is made of a single cut-and-scored sheet of 2mm-thick plastic, fixed to a tubular steel frame. "I found out that different forms can be generated by cutting and folding the material," says Mer, 27. "The interrelation between tangents and arcs created structures that are both rigid and ergonomic." Mer, who graduated last year from the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem, entered the Tangent in the 21st Century Sofa Design competition held in June by Japanese interior magazine Be Sure. Mer's design caught the eye of Masaki Yokokawa, founder of Cïbone, the contemporary lifestyle store in Tokyo's Aoyama district. The first production model was unveiled at Cïbone's Tokyo showroom in October, during Tokyo Designers Block 2003.
Max Fraser

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