Akari lamps

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SPACES -

from Ja­panese Crafts by the Ja­pan Craft Fo­rum, Ko­dan­sha In­ter­na­tional, 1996.)

Noguchi con­cep­tu­alised Akari as a “light sculp­ture” with a prac­ti­cal pur­pose. He coined the name “akari”, which means “light as il­lu­mi­na­tion” in Ja­panese, also im­ply­ing light­ness as op­posed to heav­i­ness.

He wrote: “The light of Akari is like the light of the sun fil­tered through the pa­per of shoji. The harsh­ness of elec­tric­ity is thus trans­formed through the magic of pa­per back to the light of our ori­gin – the sun – so that its warmth may con­tinue to fill our rooms at night.”

Born in Los An­ge­les to an Amer­i­can mother, Leonie Gil­mour, and a Ja­panese fa­ther, poet Yone Noguchi, the sculp­tor spent his childhood in Ja­pan be­fore re­turn­ing to the United States for his ed­u­ca­tion. Through­out his life, Noguchi shut­tled be­tween homes in Amer­ica and Ja­pan and strad­dled the two cul­tures ef­fort­lessly.

For Akari, he melded the sim­plic­ity of Ja­panese aes­thet­ics with the prin­ci­ples of con­tem­po­rary art and de­sign.

In the bi­og­ra­phy The Life Of Isamu Noguchi (Prince­ton Univer­sity Press, 2004), au­thor Masayo Duus wrote that the lanterns might have re­minded Noguchi of liv­ing with his mother and fa­ther in Tokyo as a tod­dler. On dark nights when lit­tle Isamu could not see the re­flec­tion of “Mr Moon” on the shoji (slid­ing, wood-framed door cov­ered with rice pa­per), his fa­ther would bring in a lan­tern cov­ered with translu­cent white pa­per from his study. When Isamu saw its com­fort­ing light he qui­etly drifted off to sleep.

Light and fold­able, the Akari lamps ex­em­plify how in­no­vat­ing a tra­di­tional craft helps it to sur­vive – the lamps are mod­ern and func­tional yet crafted from tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als and us­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods.

“Ev­ery spring and au­tumn, Noguchi would come to Ozeki and cre­ate 20 to 30 new types of Akari. In four decades, he cre­ated more than 100 types of Akari lamps,” says Shin­oda.

But Noguchi was a man ahead of his time. When the Akari se­ries was first ex­hib­ited at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Ka­makura in 1952, the light­ing sculp­tures puz­zled even the spon­sors of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Ja­panese re­porters thought of them as “de­formed Gifu lanterns”. Their shapes didn’t re­sem­ble the Ja­panese no­tion of what a lan­tern looked like.

“Back in those days, Ja­panese usu­ally bought colour­ful, dec­o­ra­tive lanterns and not white lanterns with ‘strange’ shapes,” says Shin­oda, chuck­ling. “Our sales of Akari lamps came mostly from Amer­i­can sol­diers at the US Navy Base in Yoko­suka who bought them as sou­venirs to take home.

“But sales of Akari took off in Europe and Amer­ica in the 1960s and some Gifu com­pa­nies started pro­duc­ing and sell­ing knock­offs,” adds Shin­oda, say­ing that “Ozeki sued th­ese com­pa­nies but it took us 20 years to win the law­suit. By then, the de­sign copy­right had ex­pired.”

To­day, Ozeki pays roy­al­ties to the New York-based Isamu Noguchi Foun­da­tion for the sales of its Akari lamps. The foun­da­tion con­trols the dis­tri­bu­tion of the lamps world­wide.

Made by hand

Dur­ing the tour of Ozeki’s workshop, mas­ter crafts­man Akio Suzu­mura demon­strated how the lanterns are made. Each Akari is hand­crafted, from the mak­ing of washi pa­per (de­rived from the in­ner bark of the mul­berry tree) to the wooden form and bam­boo ribs. To make a lan­tern from scratch in­volves about 20 pro­cesses, from mak­ing the wooden frame and bam­boo ribs to stretch­ing the ribs across the frame and glu­ing the pa­per to in­stalling the elec­tri­cal com­po­nents.

“Bam­boo rib­bing is stretched across wooden moulded forms de­signed by Noguchi sen­sei (teacher),” says Suzu­mura, 62. He joined Ozeki at the age of 17 and had the op­por­tu­nity to work per­son­ally with Noguchi.

“The washi is cut into wide or nar­row strips de­pend­ing upon the size and shape of the lamp and then glued onto both sides of the frame­work. Once the glue has dried, the in­ter­nal wooden form is dis­as­sem­bled and re­moved.”

Based on his sketches, Noguchi cre­ated the pro­to­type lamps us­ing poly­styrene foam. Then the crafts­men shaped the wooden frames fol­low­ing his forms.

“He was very in­volved in the whole process and he learned lan­tern-mak­ing from the crafts­men,” says Suzu­mura, one of three lan­tern ar­ti­sans in Gifu recog­nised as a mas­ter crafts­man by the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment.

“What struck me was, Noguchi was gen­tle, down-to-earth and had no airs about him, even though he was a fa­mous artist,” he adds. “He made us feel like we were old friends.”

Al­though Ozeki as­sem­bles the lamps, the in­stal­la­tion of elec­tri­cal com­po­nents is out­sourced. The bam­boo ribs/wire ( higo) are sourced from Ku­mamoto Pre­fec­ture in Kyushu. The com­pany re­placed the use of hand­made washi with ma­chine-pro­duced washi about 20 years, Shin­oda says.

“It would be too ex­pen­sive to pro­duce the Akari us­ing hand­made washi. Be­sides, the qual­ity of ma­chine-made washi is com­pa­ra­ble to hand­made ones th­ese days,” he ex­plains.

In The Life Of Isamu Noguchi, Noguchi says that “the Akari lamps are not sta­tus sym­bols. They are ev­i­dence of taste that does not de­pend on whether one is rich or poor. They add to the qual­ity of life, and they fill any world with light.” In fact, an Akari ta­ble lamp sold for US$6.95 in an em­po­rium in New York in 1964, ac­cord­ing to a New York Times re­port. To­day, the same ta­ble lamps re­tails at about US$100 (RM321.55) at the Noguchi Mu­seum in New York.

Noguchi sums it up best: “It’s the one thing I’ve done out of pure love.” Akari wasn’t cre­ated for com­mer­cial rea­sons. How­ever, each time he cre­ated a new Akari, he was try­ing to prove some­thing – that it could be bet­ter. “So I was al­ways work­ing on it.”

Akari light­ing sculp­tures at avail­able at Space Fur­ni­ture Kuala Lumpur (In­ter­mark Mall, Jalan Tun Razak; face­book.com/SpaceKualaLumpur). Prices range from RM1,137 to RM8,390.

bam­boo rib­bing is stretched across wooden moulded forms then pa­per is glued onto both sides of the frame­work. Once the glue has dried and the shape is set, the in­ter­nal wooden form is dis­as­sem­bled and re­moved. The lan­tern can be col­lapsed and packed flat for ship­ping.

In the early days, akari lamps were more pop­u­lar among sou­venir-hunt­ing amer­i­can sailors than the Ja­panese peo­ple.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.