Nov 122014

Kyoto Genius Table, featuring Adam Marelli

Go-On x Kyoto City x Kyoto University

Hosted by Leica Kyoto


Kyoto Genius Table © Adam Marelli

Kyoto Genius Table © Adam Marelli

Genius Table

Collaborations are one of Kyoto’s strengths.  Their promotion of like minded artists and creatives from around the city is at the heart of Kyoto’s outward expansion.  At the front of this movement you will find the Go-On group (which means Big 5)  Nowadays you can find the craftsmen of the Go-On group featured at international exhibitions from London’s Victoria Albert Museum to Venice’s Biennale.  The craftsmen behind Go-On have blurred the lines between traditional craft and art as their cutting edge collaborations are carving out a new space in the creative worlds.  They understand that the best way to expand their programs is to join forces with international artists who share similar philosophies.

As a welcome to Kyoto, Go-On’s Ryo Kagami invited me to be a featured guest at the Kyoto Genius Table.  The Genius Table, which he designed for Kyoto City and Kyoto University, opens a dialogue between visiting creatives and the extensive network of professionals working in Kyoto.  I was honored to have earned an invitation with the work I am exhibiting at Leica Kyoto (opening Friday October 31, 2014.)

Leica Kyoto's unexpected interior © Adam Marelli

Leica Kyoto’s unexpected interior © Adam Marelli

A Love of Quality

Located on the second floor of Leica Kyoto, we were welcomed to a light dinner and an informal discussion where we could forget about titles, ranks, and accomplishments, and discuss the role of artistic collaboration as equals.  This is the “genius” of the Genius Table.

The faculty from Kyoto University wanted to better understand why Japanese craftsmen were a feature of my work and how my professional backgrounds in art, construction, and to a lesser extent Zen led to the development of the series.

We talked through the start of the project in all of its forms.  “Traces of a Lost Ceremony” has over fifty people involved in the production.  Until last year, when we took a formal inventory of all the moving parts, I would have guessed about twenty people made the project possible.  But after a thorough inventory, it was apparent that the project was much bigger than I expected.

While I was given fair warning by a number of people back in the US that “doing things in Japan” can be difficult, I found that when it comes to collaboration, maybe in contrast to setting up a business, everyone was amazingly helpful.  There were many steps that happened behind the scenes and only reached me after all of the kinks were ironed out.  It is a process I would love to see repeated in other locations, but I am not sure that is possible.  It might be uniquely Japanese.

Leica Kyoto Exhibition Announcement

Leica Kyoto Exhibition Announcement

The Student View

Present at the table were two students who are close to graduation.  They will head from Kyoto to Tokyo for work at the end of the Spring.  The migration to Tokyo for work is not uncommon, but the city of Kyoto would like to see that change.  With the resurgence in popularity of Japanese crafts, at home and abroad, artisanal houses are in need of business resources like accounting, marketing, and strategy.

The conversation took a detour, as we talked about the challenges that artisanal production faces in Japan and abroad.  It is something I have seen at Bellerby Globe in London, at Tramontin e Figli in Venice, and Merz b. Schwanen in Berlin.  High quality production is not enough for a workshop to survive.

Unlike the last thousand years of production, artisans are beginning to understand that in order for them to succeed, they need to focus on what they do best, which is create and work.  For all of the other parts, they can bring in more business oriented people to train inhouse.  This way, they can avoid the restructuring that comes with venture capital investment.

Newspaper article in Kyoto

Newspaper article in Kyoto

The Road Ahead

The future of Japanese craftsmen is unknown.  Like an animal species that made it off the endangered list, things are looking bright, but they are not entirely in the clear.  The global markets of Europe, Asia, and the Americas are promising, but there are many steps between here and complete success.

That being said, the road is no less certain for the artist.  We are all in the same boat.  In a fast paced world, focused on technology and the next best thing, the value of art and design objects will always appeal to a smaller audience.  The work we produce will never go head to head with a smart phone, but on the flip side, it will last a lot longer.  Throughout history, the objects that survive the pipeline of civilization are those pieces which concretize a moment in time by fusing the philosophy of an age with materials that will outlast their makers.

I’d like to thank Ryo Kagami, Kyoto City, Kyoto University, and my friends at Leica Kyoto for putting together such a wonderful discussion.  I look forward to watching it develop in the coming years.

Up next, coverage of the exhibition and pictures from the opening party.

Exhibition Opening: Tomada Tomizo, Tsukamoto Kazushige, Tsuji and Adam Marelli.  © Dirk Heyman

Exhibition Opening: Shunji Kamemura, Tomada Tomizo, Tsukamoto Kazushige, and Adam Marelli. © Dirk Heyman


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