Cutlery and furniture made of aluminum, compared to those of porcelain, are icy to the touch as well as to the eyes, as if an unbreachable distance is established between the objects and the humans. Perhaps it is just established thinking. In the eyes of Jiro Nagase, a Japanese metalwork artist, icy aluminum holds larger potential than other metals. By incorporating his own creative imagination and the warmth of his handmade touch, he creates just the right distance, which is akin to getting along with a person who is slow to warm up. An appropriate distance makes one feel safe and comfortable.
Turning independent only three years ago, Jiro Nagase created not only wares but also furniture, stationery and vases. He is also passionate about making instruments, of which he is an ardent lover. Nagase, who specializes in aluminum-made creations, attaches great importance to the connection between an item and emotions. Oftentimes it requires many procedures and machines to bring his works to completion. From the perspectives of modern industrial manufacturing, it lacks efficiency. Nevertheless, the warmth of hand-made creations is irreplaceable. Simplistic and solid external features, coupled with uneven surfaces bearing polishing traces of aluminum pieces and his outlandish ideas, make his creations look rough yet delicate, practical yet intriguing. Following repeated uses night and day, aluminum develops luster on its surface. Complemented by the feelings established between the user and the object, it naturally will no longer look icy.
OB : Could you tell us a bit about your solo exhibition at Hakujitu earlier? Did your exhibits include any brand new creations?
J: Hakujitsu is an art gallery that gives emphasis to antiquities and artisan wares. That’s why when I was preparing for this exhibition, I made a point to cover a wide range of works. My new creations for this exhibition include the “umbrella stand series”, and the “cross section series”, in which aluminium blocks are hand-cut into new shapes. The umbrella stand is basically in L-shape, and is formed by combining two or more cylindrical components which can be placed at either an internal or an external corner of a room. A variety of shapes can also be formed just as one does with Tetris blocks.
OB: Among your creations, are there particularly ones that you like or use frequently?
J: I first designed the Modular Folding Chair to be used in my own studio. My original intention was to design something that I can conveniently pull out to use whenever there are guests visiting. I often use masking tapes as well in the studio so I have three different tape dispensers ready for use.
J: I first designed the Modular Folding Chair (MFC) to be used in my own studio. It all began with my craving to create a chair which does not take up space, and is easy to use, solid and reliable. After repeated experimentations, I came up with the idea to create a chair that can be folded and assembled. The end product is a simple MFC plain chair, which serves as the base design, and optional components, such as armrest, backrest and seat cushion, can be added according to preferences.
During the production process, out of fun, I tried to add in an excessive amount of components, including those without any functions. Over the course I realized that the original function of a chair for sitting was hijacked, and that intrigued me. That was how I came up with the idea of creating the MFC hacking series, which is presented in the form of an artwork or a conceptual model. The MFC hacking series uses MFC plain as the foundation, to which a free combination of a variety of components, including drink holder, rocker, neck rest, projector, popcorn holder, can be added to form a chair rich in artistic qualities. It boasts intriguing qualities of its own compared to chairs which principally serve functional purposes.
Apart from treating it as a normal chair, users can also use it for a variety of purposes and add in components of their choice, which can be fascinating. In addition, by utilizing this component-based design, I can experiment with a range of new endeavors, such as entering into collaboration with different artists and brands. MFC is not only practical tool but also a platform for expression.
OB: Do you attach greater importance to appearance or to function?
J: What is function? It depends on how you interpret it. As I see it, appearance is part of function. To me, the most important thing is the emotional connection between people and objects. The value of an object varies from a user to another. During the creation process, I decide on the shape of an object based on the relationship between function and raw materials rather than on decorative aspects.
OB: Why did you pick aluminium as your principal medium for creative expression?
J: I like the qualities of some materials, including their colours and weight. At the same time, I’m also intrigued by materials with a shorter history. Compared to materials boasting several thousand years of history such as iron, copper, gold and silver, aluminium became commonplace only around one hundred years or so ago. Aluminium has also been overlooked in the field of arts and crafts. Therefore, I consider aluminium to be a material with a lot of potential.
Nowadays, the production process using metals such as aluminium has mostly been standardized for consistent quality. As long it is processed according to the design layout, there won’t be any deviations but at the same time, it’ll also be difficult to bring out the material’s character. Every pottery and wooden creation is different, has imperfections, and boasts elements of casualness. Since I have learned traditional metalwork techniques before, I try to incorporate elements beyond my control into the production process. This has given birth to the “SIBORI series” and the “cross-section series”, which showcase my longing for the intrinsic imperfections and casualness of materials.
OB: Have you encountered any difficulties during your creation process?
J: In order to use metal in my creations without limiting my imagination, first and foremost I have to be able to turn my ideas into an actual object. During the production process, I have to pay equal attention to my emotional brain, and my engineer brain, which governs the use of technologies and machines. This is what makes the process at once difficult and interesting.
J: What is common among most of my creations is their function as a tool. They can further be divided into two groups, namely functional tools (lifestyle tools) and non-functional tools (artworks). But I will also deliberately leave some room for imagination by straddling the two. For instance, objects such as wares and tape dispensers carry considerably strong features of lifestyle tools. As for the MFC folding chair series, apart from being a chair for daily usage, MFC hacking, in particular, acts as a platform for demonstrating the MFC concept, and thus takes the form of a conceptual model.
The fire starter series from last year reimagines a variety of ways of making fire in the past with reference to contemporary style. Fire is one of the most important tools for humans’ survival. However, in my view, people nowadays do not think the act of creating fire serves the purpose of human survival but rather, of satisfying individuals’ hobbies, such as sampling tea or drinking coffee. The fire starter has drawn inspiration from the fire drilling tool used by primitive people and is made of aluminium components. It comes in the form of a box which includes kindling material, fire board, and attachable spindle. Making fire requires skills, and as a person becomes more skilled at it, the movements will become more standardized as well, which is similar to whisking matcha.
In addition, instruments occupy an important place among the creations I began working on during my years at the Art University. I have been heavily influenced by folk instruments and folk music, which form the worldview from the perspectives of their origins and radiate impregnable power. In the face of globalization, I would like to use folk instruments in my creations in order to build a bit of my own worldview. When more works are ready, I plan to make them public in a certain form.
OB: Do you have any future plans, or is there anything that you would like to create going forward?
J: I’ll continue to work on creations that can be used to construct a space, including my instrument series, MFC series, partition series and wares. I’m also hoping to hold a solo exhibition in which I can put on display a whole space.