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Series: Lines of Support for Things and People #16: Shiro Kuramata as a Poet

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Mai Tsuno / Design Writer
Mai Tsuno / Design Writer

After graduating from Keio University, Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, she worked for a manufacturer before serving as an assistant to design engineer, Shunji Yamanaka, from 2012 to 2016. Following a one-year stay in Scotland, she is currently working as a freelance writer.
While searching for a means of expression to convey what should be conveyed without hesitation, she has been writing for media such as "Nikkei Design," as well as organizing exhibitions and copywriting.
Her main work includes curating the 70th anniversary exhibition of the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science, "Potentialities: Exibition for a Possible Future" (National Art Center, 2018), and writing texts for the "Insects: Models for Design" (21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, 2019).
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When I try to write about the designer Shiro Kuramata, I feel a certain sense of embarrassment. Probably because my feelings for him are akin to a secret crush that I want to keep hidden.
The playful innocence that can be seen in his meticulous yet bold design. Delicate humor. A tinge of cheesy romanticism. And above all, the unabating allure of his poetic side, existing alongside his designer persona who crafts beautiful things, even after more than 30 years since his passing.
"It's similar to the fear of having your time consumed when you see something beautiful." (From the venue text, 「連載 色の空間8」, "Interior" No. 217, April 1977) I feel these words that he wrote exactly in his works.
Courtesy of Setagaya Art Museum
Courtesy of Setagaya Art Museum
From 2023, for about two months, the "Shiro Kuramata's Design - A Microcosmos of Memory" exhibition was held at the Setagaya Art Museum. In addition to Kuramata's furniture and interior work, his image sketches, letters, book collection, records, and even dream diary were made public, and his own words were displayed all over the venue.
Courtesy of Setagaya Art Museum
Courtesy of Setagaya Art Museum
A shelf made up only of drawers, a chest that is entirely transparent, a clock with lots of hour hands. While seemingly like furniture from a fantasy world, they are meticulously designed to the extreme, with craftsman-like detailing supporting a stated concept right down to every nook and cranny. The so-called 'Obake Q' lamp also has a tremendous sculptural force, backing up its conceptual appearance, which recalls the drapery of a raised handkerchief.
"I have a strong desire to escape the rule of gravity, to be freed from gravity, to float freely." (From the venue text, 「無重力願望の椅子」, "Katei Gaho" 30th Volume, 3rd Issue, March 1987) While keeping in mind manufacturing as a (to a certain extent) mass-produced product, his works have a deeply personal atmosphere, thanks to their floating sculptural form and their fun titles to gaze at.
His world-famous chair 'How High the Moon', and 'Sing Sing Sing', both using expanded metal commonly seen on construction sites, are both titled after familiar jazz numbers. The 'Miss Blanche' chair, which encapsulates a faux rose in acrylic resin, is said to be named after the heroine of the novel 'Streetcar Named Desire'.
His slightly otherworldly sensation of referring to terrazzo, a material containing colored glass, as 'fragments of memory', and stating that 'past' and 'future' coexist in the cross section of glass, seemed to come from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Kenzaburo Oe, who are lined up in his book collection.
Sketchbook 「言葉 夢 記憶」 by Shiro Kuramata, 1980s, Kuramata Design Office Collection<br>© Kuramata Design Office
Sketchbook 「言葉 夢 記憶」 by Shiro Kuramata, 1980s, Kuramata Design Office Collection
© Kuramata Design Office
Another thing I was happy to see at the venue was his sketches of letters addressed to friends and acquaintances, and of dram diaries. I found his round handwriting endearing, and was once again moved by his playful sketches (such as one featuring a multitude of cats around 'How High the Moon').
Shiro Kuramata's 'Miss Blanche', 1988, Collection of the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design<br>Photography: Ryohei Yanagihara<br>© Kuramata Design Office
Shiro Kuramata's 'Miss Blanche', 1988, Collection of the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design
Photography: Ryohei Yanagihara
© Kuramata Design Office
I first became aware of 'Miss Blanche', also the main visual of the aforementioned exhibition, when I began university. Struck by the literary aspects of this work, it inspired a desire to know more about Shiro Kuramata, the man behind it. In retrospect, this designer has always held a special place in my heart since that time.
"While having a drink in bed at night, as I sketched, the roulette stopped." (From the venue text 「デザインを呼び起こすのは意識化に沈殿している様々な映像」, "WAVY" Issue 14, July 1989), thus was born this rose chair. One wonders what he was imbibing alone.
Although all of the text from the venue is included in the gallery book, I am beside myself with anticipation having learned that the essay collection 「未現像の風景」, which had been out of print, is being reissued by Kawade Shobo Shinsha this year. This exhibition, showcasing a selection of valuable pieces by Shiro Kuramata, will tour to the Toyama Prefectural Museum from February and to Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art from June.

"Shiro Kuramata's Design - Microcosmos of Memory"
Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art - February 17, 2024 - April 7, 2024
Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art - June 11, 2024 - August 18, 2024

Header Caption:
Shiro Kuramata, Image Sketch "How High the Moon," 1980s, Collection of Kuramata Design Office
© Kuramata Design Office

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