‘Maybe I don’t like objects.’ It’s not every day you hear such a statement from a designer, particularly one as celebrated as Tokujin Yoshioka, who was recognised as A&W Designer of the Year 2011 during this year’s IMM Cologne. But, then again, there’s a certain (pleasing) contradiction in the design language of the Japanese creative’s work, which, through its ongoing engagement with the ideas of transparency and lightness, gives expression to objects that sit somewhere between presence and absence. Architonic met up with Yoshioka in Cologne to trip the light fantastic.
There’s a photomontage by Marcel Breuer from his Bauhaus years that articulates clearly the modernist fixation with formal lightness. The short, photostrip-like series of images features a (masked) woman sitting first on a traditional four-legged chair, then on one of Breuer’s, at the time, radically reduced tubular-steel cantilevered pieces and, finally, thanks to some pre-Photoshop literal cutting and pasting, on a ‘Luftsäule’ (or ‘column of air’), her body, in a seated position, resting on what appears to be an entirely invisible structure. This progression from a certain formal mass in furniture design to the fantasy of nothingness, of pure visual absence, is as entertaining as it is challenging. It raises an eyebrow and a smile in equal measure.
Anyone visiting Cologne’s Kunstverein during last week’s international design fair was served up a generous (yet amazingly light) helping of this ‘Look Ma, no hands!’ take on designing furniture in the form of master of transparency Tokujin Yoshioka’s retrospective to mark his winning of the coveted title of A&W Designer of Year 2011. The space’s full-height glazing, back-lit wall panels and rather theatrical clouds dry ice all served to foreground the visual levity of the work on show: chairs and other furniture types designed over the last decade that, either through their form or material, occupy a liminal position between being there and gesturing towards a denial of their presence.
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