Shizuoka, Japan

Interview Feature on IndesignLive.SG (February 2016)
URL: http://www.indesignlive.sg/articles/people/kouichi-okamoto-the-intersection-between-design-art-and-engineering


Shizuoka-based artist and designer Kouichi Okamoto crosses disciplines of product design, art and engineering. Under his design company Kyouei Design, he creates functional and sculptural works that redefine a multidisciplinary approach to art and design.

With a minimal aesthetic yet research-driven concepts, he explores natural phenomena such as the notion of gravity, magnetic force, air and water pressure, including an exploration of sound as physical element.

Influenced from his father’s work in automotive manufacturing, it opened a world of accessibility to materials and understanding in technical construction. Paired with an insightful knowledge of engineering and design, it is also his ongoing background in creating music on Dutch techno label X-TRax since 1997, that provided him a better understanding of vibrations and how sound travels.

Perhaps it is his autodidactic and self-educated background that provides an open and unstructured perspective into his design process and realised projects. His studio and base is found in the quieter city of Shizuoka, known as a premier tea growing region alongside stellar views of both Mount Fuji and the nearby ocean, which allows his close proximity in connecting with local craftsmen. His design materials vary from using original industrial objects obtained both in Japan or overseas, and combining them with specifically-created pieces by local craftsmen. Such was his ‘Lighting Chair’ which involved a local, Shizuoka-based woodworker to create the purposely Ikea-inspired design and duplicate chair.

Okamoto’s installation, ‘Magnetic Field Record’ records magnetism and the gravity of the earth, applying two movements by connecting a compass that shakes and shows direction, to a balance inclined by a liquid falling like intravenous drip. Another work explores design concepts and theories, where 'Weight of The Light’ challenges to explore the philosophy of visually communicating the weight of light.

However minimalist, Okamoto's work holds a complexity that lies in their construction and functionality. There is a defining technical sense in his work, from analog to digital connections and configurations, transforming common daily objects such as a wooden chair or clock that combine an extra element of natural and physical phenomena.

How do you begin your design concept and thinking process?

I embody natural phenomena in physical form in my work, even if it is a functional design product. Even if we do not see gravity, magnetic force, atmospheric pressure, or sound. We live in an environment that is so obvious even without being visible to the eye. So my starting point is where I look for some kind of phenomena from a combination of what is in my studio and my own research.

Your work is a balance of analog and digital.
Why is this important to you?

By combining these two completely different design processes as polar opposites together, for me, it provides an unexpected result.

Coming from a self-taught background, how has a non-education influenced your vision and art practice?

It allows me to be free and unconfined with innovative ideas and imagination, compared to if I had studied professionally in design and art.
My inquisitive nature and curiosity has not changed since I was a child and continues to inspire me.

How has your understanding of engineering and manufacturing influenced your work?

My father worked in a factory in Shizuoka to assemble car parts. Right next to the house where I was living, there was a mould factory for plastic models. It helped me to understand the composition of parts in an engineering process. It became a playground for me.

However, I later discovered it was much more difficult to create my designs with craftsmen which required understanding and time. Whereas with plastic products and steel, there was a variety of factories much easier to understand, access and manufacture in.

Your work is highly influenced by music and how sound travels:

Since I was a teenager, I owned an Electone and was in a punk band at school. Although I never graduated, I continued to make music with my guitar, bass, drum machine and overdubbing, with a techno influence, and used a variety of synthesizers and samplers.

Music and sound provided me with an understanding of the balance of gravity, magnetic force and atmospheric pressure. For example, the irregularity of a vibration from a speaker is exerted by electricity and magnetic force. For me, the form and sound are both the same.

What inspired the concept behind 'Re-Rain'?

When recording the sound of rain hitting an umbrella through a speaker, the vibration travelled to the umbrella and released into the air again, became a sound in a different form.
The support of the speaker balancing the umbrella gave it weight which lengthened the point of the umbrella, and was pulled by gravity of the earth. As the Earth travels around, so do the atoms too. Including our own environment and people, circulating in a different form.

What was your most challenging material to work with?

In fact it was Chinese ink. As the history of the material dates back many years with a deep traditional culture and background, creating a design via natural phenomena was a challenge.

What are your next projects?

I'm currently exploring temperature. For me, to create work that results in natural phenomena that isn't necessarily visible to the eye, will continue as my life's work.