Curious Trends


Contemporary curiosity boxes by Japanese artists and designers

Shoreditch based gallery, ICN’s recent opening exhibition ‘OHAKO’ paid homage to the Japanese word meaning ‘one's best technique and skill’. Using traditional Japanese tea boxes from Shizuoka, Japan – also known as ‘ohako’ - each artist involved in the project created an expression of their best skill inside a tea box - their ‘ohako’ enclosed in an ‘ohako’.

The exhibition featured works by 30 Japanese artists representing manga art, photography, architecture, ceramics, fashion, character design, art and more – including internationally known artists, as well as relative newcomers. The aim of the exhibition was to give visitors to the London gallery a rare opportunity to experience “the unique harmony of Japanese arts, using a combination of tradition and contemporary expression.” Here is a selection of some the uniquely curious exhibits on show:

Takao Sakai’s boxes are composed of traditional Japanese sweets used for celebrations and are made with paper, clay and acrylic paint.

Osamu Watanabe’s Sanctuary sees the tea box as a theatre stage. A world of sweets spreads out inside the box, which is decorated using modelling paste, clay, resin and ceramics.

Seijiro Niwa’s Mesahihako means ‘I want to see the same world as you see’ and is made using Licca-chan dolls and acrylic sticks. “I pierce the world to see the world. I get you to mend the small tear. Then the world will become undone again. At the same time I will share how the world looks with you,” says the artist.

Reico Motohara’s 1988-92 London consists of fruit shaped porcelain sculptures that have been glazed with the names of people the artist has known whilst in London.

Megumi Matsubara Hiroi Ariyama (architects) have created a box called ‘Luna Loop: There are many ways to enjoy the moon on the moon.’ Luna Loop is the bridge on the moon for moon viewing, “the mirror reflects the moonlight and lets you search for the moon as you take a walk on the bridge.” Materials used include watercolour and ink.

Coexist with nature 18 by Nobumasa Takahashi is also made with paper and ink. "Nature brings us not only death, but also abundant blessings," says the creator of this box.

Miki Kobayashi’s 12 Months of Cats features lacquered ceramic characters based on the months of the year from January’s Kimono Cat to December’s Shiwasu Cat (Shiwasu is a traditional Japanese name for the month of December).

Bonsai Girl by Paradise Yamamoto includes a real bonsai tree, along with a figurine and ceramics. A withered bonsai is valueless and an object which wouldn’t necessarily catch someone's eye. “The dead 30 year old Goyomatsu (Japanese white pine) is preserved, with a girl figurine, inside a tea box, forever.”

Artist Kima wanted the tea box to contain a secret. In ‘a secret base of Cubehead,’ "a strange quadrilateral headed monster inhabits the room. I tried looking down… then I fell into the box.” Made with stone clay, resin and paper.

Uamou used aluminium to create a shadowbox of an imaginary planet, Woo, to emphasize the different moods created by change of light and reflection.

Masataka Kurashina’s box is painted with tea leaves so that people know what the box is for when they see it. But it’s also “useful for storing things other than tea.”

Kazuhiro Ishigami explains that Cow’s Mask is “a tea box for preserving the life of tea leaves. I carved a half-human and half-cow child that floats within the wood (also a plant) tea box – it’s like the child is in a body. Since my father is a dairyman by profession, I have always had a close relationship with cows. The possibilities that the future holds for human life is not determined by humans alone – we need to listen out for messages from the speechless too.”

Ryo Arai’s hand painted papier mache Great Salamander is a tribute to the world’s largest amphibian (designated as a national treasure in Japan). According to Japanese tradition, the salamander is so strong, it will survive even if its body is split in two. Alternative names for the salamander Hanzaki or Hanzake come from this belief – Han means half. Folk tales and festivals are passed down in history and folk products have been produced in the areas where this creature has been found since ancient times. The artist’s work is a response to feelings about the animal’s enormous and curious appearance.


By ShopCurious on 23/06/2013 22:47:53

Hi Sharon, I'm afraid we don't know the supplier of the boxes. However, if you contact the ICN gallery (via the link in the first line of this post) they may be able to help you. Good luck with your search!

By Sharon on 22/06/2013 04:43:06

HelloI am a visual art teacher in Yokohama, I love this exhibition and would like to do something similar with the chabaco boxes. Could you give me any information about the supplier of the boxes. I have searched the Internet but have not been able to find anything.SincerelySharon Taylor

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