No trip to Ginza would be complete without a visit to the Hermès building. Regardless of the hour, I’ve made a habit of taking a detour past the Renzo Piano-designed tower with the simple aim of inspecting the main window display. Artists and designers provide the space with a regular makeover, with one of the most memorable presentations having been the play-inspired work of Shigeki Fujishiro. The designer’s display was a world in itself: a colourful assemblage of oblique shapes, rolling balls and rotating spirals. Not only did it capture the ingenuity and craftsmanship of games, but an air of exuberance that spoke to something inherently human: our desire to play.
Earlier this year, Fujishiro was among a handful of international designers invited to participate in Basketclub. Founded by Jamie Wolfond and Adrianus Kundert, the project saw members create baskets in response to emoji-based briefs. For the Tokyo-based designer, the weekly challenges provided a creative outlet during the city’s lockdown, allowing him to channel his focus into weaving containers of various kinds. And as I followed his stream of creations via Basketclub’s Instagram account, I began to catch glimpses of play emerging within his endearing works.
Based at the Ikejiri Institute of Design for more than a decade, Fujishiro’s studio is home to all manner of products, prototypes and references. An archive runs the length of one wall: shelves lined with publications; containers filled with samples and materials for rapid making; and a tall showcase of handmade models and prototypes.
Our conversation unfolds against this dense backdrop, interspersed with anecdotes from the extensive library. Drawing from one of the many piles of books, he shares a favourite image of steel bicycle baskets, repurposed as kitchen storage for fruit, vegetables and assorted utensils. Curious about the idea of taking common materials and applying their functions in unconventional ways, he made his first basket from woven rope and became fascinated with the possibilities of baskets.
“As an interior item, a basket is something that is free and can accept playful ideas,” wrote Fujishiro for Baskets, his solo exhibition in 2017. Extending on a body of previous work, produced using materials sourced from home centres, he made an assortment of utilitarian baskets. Materials included carpet tiles, vinyl sheets and skirting board, connected with fasteners as varied as cable ties and paper band.
When Basketclub provided the chance to explore these ideas further, Fujishiro decided to focus on the materials in his studio. Starting with some rolls of paper band, he made a basket for oranges, its loose grid of interwoven bands resembling the frame of a small boat. Experiments with polyethylene sheet, rope and garden trellis followed, before returning to the paper band to construct an elaborate bird cage.
“I’m drawn to the idea of taking common, readily available materials and, through the use of ideas and techniques, creating something of greater value,” says Fujishiro.
Towards the end of our conversation, Fujishiro brings out a selection of games he has collected over the years. Among them are dexterity puzzles dating back to the early 20th century, along with palm-sized games which require hand-eye coordination to manoeuvre balls, hoops and other objects. Their enduring appeal lies in pure simplicity: no instructions are required; the designs are bold and enticing; and the games are incomplete without you.
My visit to Fujishiro’s studio leaves me thinking about the parallels between craft and games. I’m reminded of a craftsman who told me that for craft wares to endure, their design must be timeless, but they must also be treasured by multiple generations. Play can so easily be confined to the world of children and games, yet as a way of thinking, it can also provide the foundation for endearing crafts, valued by both young and old.
Basketclub (@_basketclub_) began as an outlet for creativity where designers could share and exchange ideas. The first round of the project consisted of six weekly briefs, ranging from oranges to cats and baguettes. In response to its growing popularity, the final brief included an open call for submissions, attracting more than 80 baskets from designers and makers around the world. The next round will commence on July 24 with an expanded lineup of designers.
This is the second issue of The White Paper, a newsletter about the culture of making. Sign up below to receive future issues direct to your inbox.
Several years ago I began cycling regularly throughout east Tokyo, mapping neighbourhood outposts for what would become a guide to the city on two wheels. Cycling connects you to the rhythms of the city and I became drawn to the way that manufacturing, from workshops to small-scale factories, was part of daily life.
Japanese craftsmanship is synonymous with rich traditions, attention to detail and a dedication to technical excellence. As I have spent more time watching craftsmen at work in recent years, I’ve become drawn to the philosophy that underpins their craft. In their eyes, the act of making is more than just a profession, it is a way of life.
All rights reserved © 2018 The White Paper by Ben Davis