It may be too early to draw conclusions after the Salone del Mobile 2012. You have to let things settle, sifting impressions. But we can say that one outstanding presence this year was that of the Japanese studio Nendo, not just because it took the Edida prize for 2012.
After appearing quietly on the stage of the FuoriSalone 2010 at the gallery of Antonia Jannone, with the poetic exhibition “Chair Garden”, featuring models of objects that sprouted from flowerpots to narrate how even the forms of artificial things come from a process of natural growth, this year the studio had three important events (a solo show, “Trial&Error”, at Palazzo Visconti, Via Cino del Duca, combining 5 collections of furnishing projects, seen around the world over the last two years, and pieces from the new 1% series; the exhibition “Still&Sparkling”, done in collaboration with Lasvit, the Czech producer of glass; and the presentation of the first “Black&Black” collection, made under the studio’s art direction by the new Singapore-based brand K%). They were also on hand at the Han Gallery with their “Bamboo Steel” tables; at Spazio Rossana Orlandi with the “Growing Vases”; at Nilufar with “Lacquered paper objects”. And more.
Nendo has also designed the new Bisazza bath collection, as well as a series of transparent mosaics and the installation concept. The list of collaborations also includes Arktipo, Cappellini, Established&Sons, Flaminia, Gandia Blasco, Kme, Moroso, Nava and Tod’s, for which they did the shop windows on Via della Spiga. They were the protagonists of the latest Design Week in Milan, and it was no coincidence.
Akihiro Ito, chief designer of the studio, says he decided to found Nendo after his first visit to the Salone in Milan in 2002. He says the Salone Satellite, where they had their first show in 2003, helped him to meet important personalities of Italian design like Giulio Cappellini and Maddalena De Padova, which opened many doors, though the studio’s main mentor is Issey Miyake, with whom they have worked in the past. The exhibition “Chair Garden” in 2010 at Galleria Antonia Jannone is like a metaphor of their rising path. Nendo, like a plant well cared for, has sprouted quickly, branching out in a harmonious way, finding a poetic synthesis between Japanese and Occidental culture: in fact, they say they are “globally local”. Akihiro Ito, born and raised until the age of 10 in Toronto, Canada, says he “sometimes feels like a foreigner in Tokyo”. The bath collection for Bisazza (2012) reveals an intent to give rise to a contemporary occidental idea, but one full of references to Japanese traditional culture, starting with the use of wood for the fixtures and opalescent effects for the mosaic compositions.
Their projects can be said to be Iki, a Japanese concept that is hard to translate in words, indicating the elusive grace of the union between geometry and l’esprit de finesse like that of Henri Bergson. The work of the studio relies on skillful composition of contrasts, retracing roots without falling into the traps of ethnic style or nostalgia. Nendo’s design is a sort of distilling of Japanese-ness, combined with a soft, or even “humid” version of western minimalism.
Like Japanese Washi paper, soft because it is slightly damp, their minimalism is expressed in volumes of pure, almost abstract geometry, in lines derived from calligraphy, but it is never dry, always delicate, even when the design is reduced to its essence. In the Zabuton series for Moroso (2012), inspired by Japanese futons, abundant round shapes appear that seem to have been borrowed from the bodies of Sumo wrestlers. But even in this case we have the sense of Iki, the resolved contradiction between the linear design of the metal structure and the informal softness of the cushions that rest there in an apparently random way.
Many of their projects belong in the middle ground between the solid and the airy, conveyed by nimble installations based on rays and diaphragms, at times almost out of focus, closer to shadows than bodily beings, as in the exhibition “Outlines” at the Saatchi Gallery in London (September 2010), where the works, constructed with black lines, playing with the ambiguity between second and third dimensions, formed impalpable shadow grids on the walls and floor. The secret of their efficacy is summed up in their programmatic manifesto: “to not concentrate on grand gestures, but on small moments, hidden in everyday life, neglected, overlooked, hard to recognize, on which the quality of our life depends, and then to give them forms that are easy to intuitively understand”. So a sofa can be composed only of a series of cushions thrown onto a linear metal structure, and an efficient and original hanging lamp (Press Lamp, Lasvit, 2012) can be made out of a simple cylinder of glass, pinched at the center.
Balance between solidity and airiness
text Cristina Morozzi
The design of Studio Nendo represents the local dimension that knows how to go global, the elusive union of geometry and grace.