Materials that appeal to the senses
by Nancy Jehmlich | May 15, 2009

Water drops run down the surface of a black incline. They originate like small gems from a hidden source and at the top end of the incline form the word "Senseware". Each letter consists of many small, softly growing drops of water, which on reaching a certain size spill down the black fabric-covered surface. Captivated, visitors watch the occurrence, which triggers a gamut of emotions, ranging from astonishment, curiosity and admiration to full-blooded enthusiasm. Thus intoxicated, you enter the exhibition and feel welcome in the fabulous world of the "Tokyo Fiber 09 - Senseware" show in the Triennial building in Milan.

Directed by Japanese designer Kenya Hara, 17 creative minds from the worlds of architecture, interior design, product design, art, media research, carmaking, and fashion design (and they included such well-known names as Shigeru Ban, Ross Lovegrove and Antonio Citterio) tackled the task of exploring the potential uses of new materials manufactured from artificial fibers using high-tech processes - and of presenting the results in an original and aesthetically appealing way. For along with the new materials there is a growing need for an answer to the question of how these attractive materials can be used: Without the right ideas, there is little way of judging the new materials' true potential. Therefore, the designers joined up with seven Japanese fiber-makers to visualize and emphasize the fibers' prime properties.

The "Senseware" show thus sets out, on the one hand, to use materials to stimulate people's creative instincts and to kindle the wish to devise surprising things. On the other, the focus was on creating an independent oeuvre within the exhibition that responded sensitively to people's desires and expresses them in a manner that appeals to the senses. And precisely in this regard the exhibition is extraordinarily successful. What you see is things you feel compelled to touch, and what you have seen and touched is then something you want to find out more about. Meaning the visitor gets a surprise, inspiration and entertainment, is guided around in an intelligent way that likewise provides an easy source of information.

The design "To be someone", a dusk mask made out of a highly-thermoplastic woven toys with the image of health-conscious Japanese who wear such respiratory masks. The mask is available in versions that fit either a human mouth or that of an ape. The mask for apes testifies not only to Far Eastern humor, but also to an acceptance of the fact that it is the apes from whom we are descended.

When it suddenly starts breathing, the strangely alien creature in human form called "Fiber Being" somehow becomes more human. A zip fastener on its back alludes to all-over bodywear that protects the being from undesired gazes and knocks, as the semi-translucent, wrap-around fiber material mainly functions as padding.

And so the list continues. You wander from one item to the next, encounter sofas that change shape, meet bags that creep round rooms collecting dust, extremely light chairs and luminescent fabrics. Each design offers a glance into a new and different world - and all the items are gathered together in a friendly, bright and white universe. Welcome to the 21st century.

Fiber Being by Yasuhiro Suzuki
Con/Fiber by Kengo Kuma
Water Logo 2009 by Atelier Omoya + Hara Design Institute, NDC
Robot Tile by Hiroo Iwata