Reconnecting back to nature through the art of redesign

Our everyday surroundings from the world in which we live in, have consistently been a compelling and rich source of inspiration for designers and artists of the past, present, as well as the future. As our world is in constant flux, heightened through the rapid and vast expansion of digital technologies, we often overlook the innate and simple things in everyday life. The art of ‘redesign’ refers to the renewing of feelings we have towards everyday mundane objects, as designer Kenya Hara (2015, p.371) says “making the known unknown”. The art of redesign will be studied closely to our connection with nature. Which will enhance our understanding and challenge the ways in which we perceive the natural world in a contemporary society. This will be closely analysed against key themes such as nature and technology, design through metaphor and reconnecting design back to nature. All examples used are contemporary art and design pieces, inspired by elements from the natural world.

“The talent of the designer is to re-examine these daily surroundings at any time, with a fresh eye, as if they were yet unknown.”

Within a vastly growing high-tech consumer society, filled with standardised mass produced goods delivered at an international scale. The boundaries between nature and technology are constantly being challenged and blurred.

Tom Gerhardt an internationally renowned multidisciplinary artist and designer, “seeks to reconcile modern man’s dual citizenship in the physical and digital worlds” (Tom Gerhardt n.d.) through his work. Gerhardt’s creative practice highlights the innate human connection with nature, often overlooked in everyday life. Through the incorporation of innovative digital technologies, Gerhardt invites the viewer to interact with nature in intuitive and thought provoking ways.

This is highly evident in his design piece called Stone Mouse created in 2010. “The Stone Mouse transforms any stone into a fully-functional computer mouse. Custom electronics inside the ring let the user move, click and drag with any stone they choose” (Tom Gerhardt n.d.). This design contrasts against the more standardised computer mouses, as evident Apple’s minimal and sleek mouse design. The act of sourcing the stone, in a way reconnects one back to nature. A process often associated with perhaps childhood memories, making the user more observant and appreciative of the organic beauty found within the vast array of shapes, colours and materials found within stones. As each individual stone reveals a unique imprint of time, personalising the overall connection with the mouse itself and its tactile experience.

The simple integration of both nature and digital technologies, is successfully achieved through the art of redesign. As Kenya Hara states, “The talent of the designer is to re-examine these daily surroundings at any time, with a fresh eye, as if they were yet unknown.” (Rethinked 2012) Gerhardt’s redesign of the mouse, perhaps challenges “accepted notions of sterility and universality in mass produced digital products” (Tom Gerhardt n.d.). As well as sayings, such as ‘one size fits all’, often associated with mass produced objects. Encouraging individuals to slip away from the digital realms of our society, to go out and seek beauty within nature.

Stone Mouse by Tom Gerhardt
Stone Mouse by Tom Gerhardt
Magic Mouse 2 by Apple

“Metaphors close the gap in people’s ability to grasp something, or speed up what they’re already on track to see.”

“Metaphors close the gap in people’s ability to grasp something, or speed up what they’re already on track to see.”, is powerful statement made by designer Michael Erard (2012). The use of metaphors is commonly utilised by many artists and designers, as an effective visual technique to convey a strong sense of imagery in thought provoking ways. Offering a fresh perspective towards the art of redesign within everyday objects, enabling the audience to create a deeper meaning and understanding towards these objects within the context of the world around them.

The inherent metaphorical associations between objects and the world around them is conveyed through the highly-considered practice of Japanese artist Yasuhiro Suzuki, who graduated from Tokyo Zokei University design department in 2001. Suzuki “has a penchant for re-envisioning the ordinary as extraordinary” (Johnny, 2012), which is effectively communicated through the subtle use of metaphors within the poetic art of redesign.

The beauty drawn from metaphors within design is highly evident in Suzuki’s work called Cabbage Bowls made in 2004, where he metaphorically redesigns the everyday mundane use of a traditional bowl. The design structurally is made from a real cabbage leaf using a mould, where the leaf itself is coated with paper clay and is left to dry to be later peeled off. The unique imprint that is left behind, structurally enables each individual layer when restacked to emulate the head of a real cabbage again. The alteration and redesign of the cabbage leaf itself, gives more face value and deeper meaning to the overall aesthetic and functional qualities of the design. Enhancing the overall engaging, innovative and playful qualities of the design, reinforcing Hara’s (2015, p.371) concept of making “the known” unknown.

The design of the Cabbage Bowls alters the functionality and our perception of traditional mass produced bowls. The use of an observational metaphor, which is when a connection is made between two things that are similar. Beckons the audience to question the design, as they ask themselves ‘what does it look like?’. On an obvious note the cabbage leaf and traditional western bowls share many qualities, the most common being they share a similar size and concave inwards. As well as the fact, they are both units used to contain edible food. The design of the cabbage leaf also resonates strongly to the qualities of banana leaves used across Asian cooking. Where the leaf itself is biodegradable and can be used as a unit to hold food. Adding a more in-depth meaning to the Cabbage Bowl, through simple and thought provoking connections.

The design of the Cabbage Bowl itself pays homage to the minimalistic elements of traditional Japanese design aesthetic. The intentional use of white symbolises absolute purity, which highlights the unique creases and folds of the cabbage leaf through the art of shadows. This strongly resonates with the following quote by designer Jenichiro Tanizaki (1977, p.30), “we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”

Unintentionally Suzuki heightens the value of cabbage leaves, which is often viewed as an ephemeral object to be quickly used and disposed of without care. Even though the materials used for the Cabbage Bowl are ordinary and disposable. The beauty of the bowls alter our perception in viewing the leaves as possible pieces of delicate and fragile art. Which perhaps makes us challenge and question our motifs when it comes to disposability, making us become more mindful of nature and wastefulness in our consumer led society.

Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki
Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki

“To improve the quality of our lives we need to return to at least some of our origins.”

We live in highly urbanised cities due to rapid population growths, creating a haven for concrete jungles dominated by high-rise developments. Pushing people further away from developing distinctive connections to our natural world.

Japanese plasterer Shuhei Hasado, born in Takayama city in 1962. Grew up immersed and surrounded by the beauty of nature. A statement profoundly insightful by Hasado (2016) states, “To improve the quality of our lives we need to return to at least some of our origins.”. By these “origins” Hasado is very much concerned with reconnecting humans back to the earth through the purest forms of nature, often lost and disconnected by today’s tech mediated society.

This philosophy is highly evident in Hasado’s work called Geta, created in 2004 for the exhibition called “haptic” meaning “relating or pleasant to the sense of touch” (Hara, K. 2004) For this piece Hasado redesigns the Geta a traditional Japanese footwear, using the surface of the sandal as a base for natural materials such as moss, wood and clay.

The element of tactility is key to the overall design. As the sandal itself allows the sensory receptors on our feet, to emulate the feeling of walking ‘barefoot’ on the earth’s natural surface. This ties in with Hasado’s (2016) concern for our lack of genuine interaction with the natural world, “we humans are forgetting the sense of feeling by the skin of our hands and feet.” Which highly resonates with Kenya Hara’s (2011 p.28) point, “design passes criticism on civilisation.” This “critical” reflection of today’s society is perhaps on how isolated and primitive people have become, through the instant accessibility of technology across all walks of life.

The piece itself is form of irony as the Geta is made to be functional forms of footwear, however in reality Hasado’s designs if used would be extremely uncomfortable and breakdown almost instantly. On the flip side, the bruise and cuts Hasado’s footwear could cause to ones’ feet, are interestingly similar to the pain and neglect people are causing to the natural world. Through the work Geta, Hasado perhaps wishes to the audience to connect and appreciate the inherent beauty of nature in all its forms.

Geta by Shuhei Hasado
Geta by Shuhei Hasado

The thought provoking art of redesign as discussed through key themes and contemporary art and design examples, enables the audience to challenge and alter their perception of the natural world. To hopefully reconnect in more meaningful ways and become more appreciative for nature’s fragility and delicate beauty. Transforming everyday mundane objects often overlooked, into something so intuitive and amazing.

Image references:

Gerhardt, T. 2010, Stone Mouse, viewed 2 December 2016, <http://tomgerhardt.com/stonemouse/>.

Hasado, S. 2004, Geta, viewed 2 December 2016, <http://jolin1021.tumblr.com/post/36455281802/week-7-case-study-2-haptic-geta-shuhei-hasado>.

Magic mouse 2, Apple, viewed 2 December 2016, <http://www.apple.com/au/shop/product/MLA02ZA/A/magic-mouse-2>.

Suzuki, Y. 2004, Cabbage Bowls, viewed 2 December 2016, <http://japanesedesign.pl/2014/cabbage-bowl-by-yasuhiro-suzuki/>.

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