[Interview] By People / In Cities : Phnom Penh


“The elements from the Angkor civilization still have a strong presence in Cambodian people’s everyday life. Even popular rock bands use traditional Khmer music! As a part of the daily environment of the people, the cultural heritage remains a constant source of inspiration for Cambodian artists nowadays. This extraordinary artistic base enables countless possibilities of creative development.”

Read more of my interview with Mirana from Artisans d’Angkor on culture360.org

[Slides] It’s the Journey (not the destination) | IDW Sarawak 2012

There are many journeys in life. Long or short, familiar or unfamiliar, from home to work, from one city to a village, from one airport to another, and all that can be seen in between… Journeys are made of all the details, but they also form the larger picture of life.  I would like to tell designers to experience their work like a journey. To think of the process and not just the end result. To pick up from what they see in their surrounding environment, to make sense of things, and draw inspiration from both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

On the road or in the air, I always enjoy the travel spent before the destination. Those moments are important for reflection and observation.

Returning home can also be seized as an opportunity to understand where we come from. To leave and to return has always been an important way for me to understand the difference and the similarities between people and places. Having lived away from my home country Japan for most of my life, the journey home has taken on a stronger meaning over the years  (ride home on the expressway between Osaka and Kobe, pictured above.)

My journeys are most often focused on discovery/learning and meeting new people. The importance of sustaining human connections that can lead to inspiring ideas and collaborations motivates the work I do as a designer and as an observer. The magic of human encounters should never be taken for granted, we must deeply consider and cherish.

Along the journey, picking up unique objects that cannot be found elsewhere teaches me the importance of local crafts and design. Pieces that carry a story within them and are imbued with local culture, can add meaning to one’s life even in the most abstract of ways (jungle vine bag, pictured above.)

There are journeys in which old practices merge with the contemporary. Many good things can happen at such crossroads (Thai architecture firm using traditional crafts as a source of inspiration and technique for the creation of new designs, pictured above.)

Can designers draw new journeys for others? On the road less traveled, designers can make their contribution, and teach something about the value of creative thinking while at the same time learn about people’s needs, cultures and lifestyles (small branding solutions for locally made products, pictured above.)

Journeys are also about telling the stories behind the places, people, and products from different corners. Some of the most valuable things often remain invisible, they have many lessons to teach us. (online publication that promotes the locally-made, and community-based practices, pictured above and below)

I like to mention this story (above) to refer to the journey we share towards our common future. The path of globalisation and its uncertain destination. Do we have to travel on a highway? Shouldn’t we rather get off it and slow down? Speed brings many comforts but also makes the world feel less subtle. Walking speed is my recommendation.

Last but not least: the destination. Never exactly like it is imagined, the destination is the surprise holding new promises. It’s the door that opens up to new journeys. (4:00 AM sunrise in Hayama, Japan, unexpected burst of colours that woke me up and I rushed to capture the ephemeral moment on camera, pictured above)

[CRAFTED] Recent Picks

Collecting objects as part of the joys of traveling and wandering… Finding the unique, the surprising, the unexpected, or the precious adds much to my personal collection and memories. CRAFTED (my modest publication on Facebook) allows me to keep track of recent picks. Who knows how these could be later showcased… After collecting a hundred items, perhaps a publication or an exhibition could be envisaged.

1 + 4 : Baskets from Sarakraf Pavilion (Kuching, Malaysia)
2 + 9 : Products from Eco Plaza Green Lao, an airport shop supported by JICA that promotes eco-friendly craft products and is part of a Lao pilot-programme on tourism development (Vientiane, Laos)
3 + 6 : Colourful products from the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre (Vientiane, Laos)
5 : Wallet from Sarakraf Pavilion
7 : Good luck charm from 東大寺 Tōdai-ji temple (Nara, Japan)
8 : Packaging from T’SHOP LAI a shop selling cosmetic products from Les Artisans Lao (Laos)
10 : White Monkey Holding Peach Balm (Thailand)

Another day, another place

I was in Kuching this month to speak at the ICOGRADA Design Week, co-organised by wREGA, the Malaysian graphic design association. My presentation was based on the idea of the ‘journey’, as there many such things in life. The hidden promises and the invisible connections. The warm feeling deep inside that keep me going. The dreams that I am chasing and the distance that separates me from them…

[CRAFTED] Houey Hong, Laos

Art Culture Forum 2012 | Gwangju, South Korea

A glimpse at my presentation for the 2012 Art Culture Forum organized by the city of Gwangju in South Korea.

“Asia’s biggest opportunity and challenge is the junction where identity formation, tradition, and change are being articulated. A culturally rooted modernity is what Asia needs. Not empty shells, but content with meaning that connects with people and provides them with a sense of belonging.

Creativity thus should not be left abstract; it should rather be practical in a local context. It has to be taught as a way of thinking and enable the next generation to shape the world they want to live in based on values that are relevant to them. Creativity first starts with the people.

(…)

Local and global ambitions. The space in between those two extremes is where the future is being shaped. It is within those parameters that local culture will play a role in defining the global future. I believe that Asian traditions and creativity have the capacity to create this kind of influence in the modern world. It is about achieving the right balance. There is no need to rush. Instead we should step back, look at the full picture and often ask ourselves if our actions make sense.”

[Preview] HERITAGE x DESIGN in George Town

This month I will be giving a talk and a workshop in George Town, Malaysia, on the potential role of design in sustaining heritage, focusing on local indigenous culture, and in relationship to contemporary urban issues.

Co-organized by the George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI) the 3 hour workshop will give participants the opportunity to think about cultural heritage through design thinking and strategies. The workshop comprising of 4 themes based on George Town’s cultural assets will target:

  • Public space / heritage buildings
  • Markets / Food
  • Place branding
  • Souvenirs / products / crafts

More info at: http://www.gtwhi.com.my/index.php/education/talks/heritage-x-design

[Article] By People / In Cities : Phnom Penh

Beyond the scars, Phnom Penh is a city of courage where weaknesses can be turned into opportunities.
Read article

[CRAFTED] City Craft | Kyoto, Chiang Mai, Singapore, Vientiane

[Article] CUT OUT May 2012

While the term innovation has become rather ubiquitous in the design world over recent years, the notion of crafts is quietly experiencing its own rise in various countries around the world. Although some perceptions persist (i.e. crafts as outdated and perhaps conservative), the discipline is now brought to the limelight by a number of individuals and companies that believe in its values and potential to actually innovate.

In Japan, everyday life goods company Muji, recently launched Found MUJI, a part gallery part retail space based on a revolutionary concept. The store sells its own products alongside crafted objects sourced from different parts of the world, such as hand needlework from India, handmade paper from Thailand, and coconut leaf brooms from the Philippines. The underlying philosophy focuses on the importance of preserving traditional practices that are struggling to survive while giving them a new purpose in the context of modern life. It is also for many of us a reminder that crafted objects are first and foremost synonymous with quality and uniqueness, two assets that have unfortunately become scarce in the context of mass manufacturing.

This is one inspiring example of design innovation through crafts, one that is situated at the intersection of culturally creative practices and new advances in product development, and which serves a new model for global competitiveness. Muji’s creative director Kenya Hara believes that culture will soon become the most competitive asset in the world economy. As the world becomes more globalised, consumers will seek distinctive products imbued with local meaning. “The competitive performance of cultures supported by locality makes the world richer. It is a competition to create products or ideas that are based in one’s own culture or market but can inspire other markets.” (Kenya Hara, Designing Design, Muji – Nothing Yet Everything, p289, Lars Muller Publishers, Switzerland, 2007) This way of thinking has built Japan’s credibility over centuries and its many layers will surely help sustain it in the future.

Having just returned from a cultural journey across Northern Thailand and Laos, I cannot help but wonder if a similar mindset can be embedded in Southeast Asian countries.

In Thailand, there is no shortage of craftsmanship but a need for research and development, as well as a better integration of design methodologies in the value chain to move away from the simple “making and selling” structure that often hinders the flourishing of creativity. In Laos, the level of craftsmanship is astonishing and thus the products of incredible quality and relevance. And yet, the wave of imported goods from China and Thailand are threatening the irreplaceable wealth of culture that exists there, and some irreparable damage has already been done. For instance, many complex weaving techniques that characterize Laotian textiles have been simplified in order to produce and sell faster. With a large rural population working on farms and depending on crafts as an extra source of income, the monetization of their skills is hugely important and yet it has also worked to the detriment of intrinsic cultural values. Through financial struggles, artisans had to change their ways of working, and meanwhile their children chose new career paths.

Reversing the existing tendency is not an easy task. However, smart design interventions can add value while ensuring the preservation of local skills, and boost the creation of a new market potential. Therefore, more bridges have to be built between designers and craft communities to increase dialogue, learning, and opportunities in the future.

Sustaining local traditional skills is about survival. On the one hand, they shape local cultural identity and on the other they enable principles of sustainability and community-based structures, embodying ethical practices that need support in our fast-paced globalised world. The innovation here is not only economic, but also social, cultural, and environmental. I see this as the tip of something very crucial not only at a local level, but for the future of our world as a whole.

The main challenges for crafts in Southeast Asia:

  • Encouraging young designers to learn about traditional crafts in relationship to contemporary design education;
  • Transitioning from old to new in a successful way;
  • New ideas and new designs that appeal on a global market;
  • Focusing on quality rather than quantity;
  • Changing perceptions and adapting ways of working;
  • Creating a value chain that leads to the development of culturally meaningful products.

The conversation and debate will continue in October 2012, at the ICOGRADA International Design Week in Sarawak where many experts on traditional crafts and design will gather and speak on related topics such as creative industries, cultural conservation, indigenous design, and more.

sarawak.icograda.org

Photo: Weaver in Ban Xang Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos – Sali Sasaki © 2012

Launching CRAFTED (making + living)

CRAFTED a modest publication inspired by my love for objects, cultures, places, journeys, and encounters. It is not a website, only a Facebook page through which will be issued occasional volumes. Take a look and see what VOLUME ONE will have in store for you. Click the “Like” button on the page to subscribe, and share with friends! Thanking you all in advance for your much needed support ~ LINK: http://www.facebook.com/crafted2.0

[VisualDiary] Topkapi in Istanbul

[INDIGO] Drawing a new path to development

Adelia Borges’ new book Craft + Design – The Brazilian Path is a timely publication to read ahead of the ICOGRADA Design Week 2012 Sarawak where issues about the preservation of local culture and knowledge systems will be discussed.

The book showcases a large range of handmade products that resulted from collaborations between artisans and designers and which encapsulate the notion of Brazilian identity in all its diversity and complexity. It also questions the methodologies that need to put in place in order to ensure sustainable practices and a better understanding of the indigenous way of life.

Borges argues that while a number of interventions are carried out by designers to collaborate with craft communities, many of them do not have a lasting impact over the long term. This lack of continuity can be damaging for the development of small communities that base their lives around farming and have close ties with nature. Designers need to develop stronger knowledge and respect toward the livelihoods of those communities, and also learn to work at a different pace.

Development is most often perceived as the successful implementation of modern solutions and technologies, yet we also need to consider a new type of connection between the so-called North and so-called South. Progress can stem from older principles related to well-being, sustainability, and traditional knowledge systems that have been innovative for centuries. “One way to enrich the connection is to focus on ways designers and makers in the north can learn from sustainable techniques that Brazilian artisans have used even before the word ecology was spread.”

It may be time to draw a new path.

[Preview] By People / In Cities

Coming soon is the first volume of my new project By People / In Cities for the Asia Europe Foundation’s platform culture360.org. Kicking off with Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – watch this space for a line-up of interviews and articles.

By People / In Cities is a series of articles and interviews that aims to enhance the understanding of art and culture in Southeast Asia through individual stories and perspectives including artists, cultural practitioners, and policy makers from the following 5 cities: Bangkok, Jogjakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh, and Singapore.

Image credits: Sali Sasaki, Idzwan Junaidi & pixo2

[Feature] CUT OUT Magazine | Malaysia

A little feature in the Malaysian graphic design magazine CUT OUT (Volume 3 Issue 1) as part of an article on Kuching Creative City. The 2012 ICOGRADA International Design Week entitled “Rediscovery” which I am co-programming is going to take place there in October 2012. More details on the line-up of speakers and themes soon… and another article dedicated to sustaining crafts in Southeast Asia, to be published in a later issue of CUT OUT, is also underway. Stay tuned.