Inspiring Young Minds

‘Design Ah!’ shows an A-B-C of what design can be.

poster for

"Design Ah!" Exhibition

at 21_21 Design Sight
in the Roppongi, Nogizaka area
This event has ended - (2013-02-08 - 2013-06-02)

In Reviews by Paul Heaton 2013-04-07

For those who haven’t found it yet, Design Ah! on NHK’s educational channel is a quirky, family-friendly program that looks at all areas of design in Japan. The program makes the jump from the screen to the real world this year thanks to Taku Satoh, who serves as both general director of the series and the exhibition venue, 21_21 Design Sight. Along with numerous collaborators and its co-directors, Yugo Nakamura and musician Keigo Oyamada (better known as Cornelius), “Design Ah!” presents more than 30 new exhibits inspired by ideas within the TV show.

The goal for the exhibition is, as Taku Satoh explains, to nurture children’s appreciation for design, especially designs that we encounter on a daily basis. For that reason many of the items on display are fairly commonplace: like money, food, books, and magazines. As is regularly done on the program, each object is remixed or reconstructed with the aim of a eureka-like ‘Ah!’ reaction.

'Design Ah!' exhibition view. Courtesy 21_21 Design Sight.

To its credit there’s a fair balance between the content that both the children and adults will find interesting. For example, Tomohiro Ozaki’s Money Breakup is a giant thousand yen note split up into seven layers, splendidly arranged by texture. As you might imagine though, it’s the interactive exhibits that generate the most excitement.

“Ah!” in motion (created by tha ltd.) lets kids dance around to their heart’s content, while a motion sensor records and animates their funky movements on the wall. Book Mismash (by Perfektron) has a mini-library area, where tiny hands can get creative mixing and matching different book parts. More traditional crafts are covered with Origami and Furoshiki, while those already hooked on technology can sketch an object on one of eight iPads in an exhibit titled Dessin Ah!, then admire their sketch later as it is animated on on the main screen, stroke by stroke.

Cornelius and tha ltd’s contribution Room of Objects, Sounds and Movies is a more interesting prospect than the title suggests. Here, a seemingly random collection of bric-a-brac sits on a table, while the surrounding screens jump back and forth between the objects, along with each song’s lyrics. Many of the younger viewers seemed a bit bamboozled by this, but once the interplay between the two points becomes clear it’s a strangely euphoric, immersive experience.

Sound Monacle (by Hisato Ogata) is another interesting use of technology. Blank white screens illuminate one of the venue’s corridors, and with the aid of the attached monacles viewers can magically reveal animations and pictures. It could have done with being displayed in a different place though, with pram jams regularly stopping people from passing through or getting to the exit.

Overall, considering the fact that most art spaces in Tokyo are pretty much no-go areas for parents and children, it’s about time that an exhibition like ‘Design Ah!’ gets its run. Extra thumbs up to the organizers for the open camera policy, and the nice dual language displays. The exhibition is on until the beginning of June, and seems best suited for kids three and above.

Cornelius and tha ltd. 'Room of Objects, Sounds and Movies'. Installation view. Courtesy 21_21 Design Sight.

Paul Heaton

Paul Heaton. Paul is a graphic designer and writer from Central England. Having cut his teeth at design studios in Birmingham he skipped the obvious career move to London, choosing the bright neon lights of Tokyo instead. These days he spends his time working on various creative projects, looking after his son and exploring the different art spaces around the capital. www.paulheatondesign.co.uk » See other writings

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