Materializing the Land of the Rising Sun

UQAM Exhibition Focuses on Japanese Aesthetics in Industrial Design

photo courtesy of Japan Foundation

The essence of Japan’s heritage can be found condensed into the aesthetics and design of the country’s material culture.

Considered one of the leading innovators in the field of industrial design, the nation’s success is partly attributed to a particular concept found in Japanese traditional art, design and lifestyle—that of “Wa” (和) , a kanji character that refers to the concept of harmony and Japanese culture itself.

The Design Centre at UQAM, in collaboration with the Japan Foundation, will be hosting an exhibition called L’objet Japonais: A Panorama of Contemporary Design in Japan, focusing on material objects of Japanese culture. Showcasing 100 contemporary objects of everyday use, these products were selected for display because of their quality of execution and uniquely Japanese characteristics.

“This is an important event because in the world of design, Japan is one of the most advanced,” explained Georges Labrecque, project manager at the Centre of Design. “It will expose their strong material culture and […] their ability to combine traditional values and craft with modern technological means to produce [objects.] This is what sets them apart from other cultures.

“All the objects on display are well-designed and combine function and style,” Labrecque continued. “They are presented in a sensible and refined way, related to [Japan’s] arts and crafts tradition as well as modern life. But these objects are never too loud; in fact [they are] quiet.”

The concept of “Wa” (和) in Japanese culture centers on the idea that harmony exists between the cosmos and the Earth, meaning that lessons should be learned from nature. In traditional Japanese design this concept is expressed through the choice of natural materials. Japanese design embraces nature, minimalism, subtlety and calmness.

Art scholar and author Okakura Kakuzo considered the Japanese to be masters of the “art of imperfection” because of their tendencies to produce crafts that are slightly disproportional, a reflection of the asymmetry of the natural world. In these crafts, beauty lies in the non-overt directness of expression, in order to favour the subtle.

“Japanese material culture is sophisticated, but not ostentatious. It’s not something flamboyant; it’s very subtle and very refined and that’s the most important characteristic,” Labrecque said.

One of the first countries to set an emphasis on technology to stimulate its economy, Japan succeeded by stressing an obsessive desire to craft objects of technological quality. The exhibition intends to highlight this point while portraying the history of post-war Japan through the selected objects.

“They created a strong and persistent desire to produce goods that were well-built,” explained Labrecque. “11 of the objects on display are deeply rooted in Japanese culture, such as the saucepan, the rice cooker or the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, produced now for more than 60 years.

“As you go through these objects, you also go through the postwar efforts Japan went through to start a new life. You notice the evolution of material culture and its history defiled in front of you.”

Opening Nov. 20 and on display until Jan. 18, 2015, this exhibition hopes to attract designers, design enthusiasts and the simply curious to an understanding of Japan’s culture exemplified through objects.

“This exhibition is important to see for designers in Montreal and those who like design, because it is very rare,” said Labrecque. “ We hope it serves as a base to understand the Japanese material world.”

L’objet Japonais: A Panorama of Contemporary Design in Japan // Nov. 20, 2014-Jan. 18, 2015 // UQAM Centre of Design // Free