-- Our topic this time is Shiseido's show window culture, which is being cast in a new light as "SHISEIDO WINDOW ART." What is the history behind this culture?
Kobayashi: In 1872, Shiseido was established in Ginza, Tokyo, as the first Western-style pharmacy in Japan. It began working on the area of show windows in earnest from the time of Shinzo Fukuhara, who assumed the position of president of Shiseido in 1915. Since then, Shiseido has nurtured its history of show windows spanning more than 100 years to the present day. The field of show windows was still an uncommon one in Japan at the time, and Ginza was the very place where such new initiatives were put to the test.
Shinzo Fukuhara held the strong conviction of "Let the product speak for itself," and this has become one of the attitudes that we have inherited and passed on continuously to the present day as Shiseido's corporate philosophy and aesthetic. I think that decorating a show window—which offers the greatest visual exposure—with products, as a means for communicating the appeal of the product, is also a concept developed based on this philosophy.
This show window culture attracted even greater attention as a result of Mr. Ito's works in the 1960s. Japan was flourishing and full of vitality, as exemplified by the holding of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and the Japan World Exposition (Osaka Expo) in 1970, and people were seeking excitement; Mr. Ito's show windows, which incorporated these trends and movements, appealed to many people.
-- To begin with, how did Shiseido first come to ask Mr. Ito to produce its show windows?
Ito: Shiseido Kaikan at the time (now renamed the SHISEIDO PARLOUR) was designed by Mr. Yoshiro Taniguchi, a master of modernist architecture. He was also an active advocate of show windows. Shop windows around that time were based primarily on Japanese designs, with a typical display of only a product placed on a tray on top of an impressive pedestal made of camphorwood.
However, Shiseido had apparently been exploring its direction for its show window designs, considering that perhaps the displays of that era which thrust Japanese elements to the forefront were unsuitable for the lively, bustling streets of Ginza. At that point, Eiko Ishioka, who was then an employee of Shiseido, was put in charge of decorating the PARLOUR for Christmas. We were acquaintances during our student days, and she approached me for advice.
-- Until then, had you been involved in other work related to displays?
Ito: No. I had only just graduated from school, and had little experience. However, since I was skillful with handiwork as I had studied in the Department of Crafts and had a small atelier in Yotsuya, these gave me sufficient background and ability to take on the work. I think there were also no businesses specializing in spatial design at the time. Prior to that, although not a work with show windows, I was asked to decorate the sales area on the second floor of TEIJIN MEN'S SHOP in Ginza with mobiles (moving sculptures).
Kobayashi: Mobiles are an expression that Mr. Ito has been highly skilled in producing since he was a student, and I believe Ms. Ishioka had probably seen his mobile works. At the time, partly due to the Christmas season, Shiseido was looking for something beautiful and something that could inspire excitement in the onlookers, so it probably felt that Mr. Ito's works fit the bill perfectly.
Ito: It is true that my first Christmas-related work was received well. Immediately following this, in the New Year I was requested to take a display job for a show window, and I created flower vases for arranging orchids. When that project ended, I was then asked if I would be interested in the next window display. Eventually, this went on for 10 years, during which I produced more than 100 pieces of work for Shiseido's show windows.
It was not easy as I was offered chances to work on the window display about 10 times per year (laughs). Even so, I was also very lucky in ways that would be inconceivable now. Many members of the press came, and there were even people who traveled long distances just to see the displays. I also clearly remember overhearing a conversation between female students on a train, asking each other, "Have you seen this month's Shiseido?" It seems they were looking forward to the new works every month.
-- Mr. Ito, you majored in crafts at the Tokyo University of the Arts. Did you not hesitate to work in commercial spaces?
Ito: No, I didn't feel any hesitation. I do not place much importance on genres. Although I studied in the Department of Crafts, I did not want to simply follow what the professors taught me, but rather, wanted to straddle the boundary between art and design to create free form designs.
Kobayashi: The expression "window art" used in "SHISEIDO WINDOW ART" was originally coined by people in the 1960s to describe the window displays that Mr. Ito created for Shiseido. It signifies that your works are not merely "window designs" or "display designs," but "window art" that transcends the boundary of art and design.
Ito: Today, we have the expressive format known as "installations," as well as art festivals that are held across various parts of the world. I think that these artistic expressions are similar to show windows in the sense that they have a "lifespan," as they are put up temporarily and disappear once the exhibition or display period ends. Show windows are also a form of public art in the respect that they are visible to the general public in the streets.
Show windows are commercial, but like art, also have the power to appeal to individuals. For me, the world of show windows is very interesting. Till now, I have been active across various disciplines including lighting and moving sculptures, but I believe that my work with Shiseido was the starting point of all my activities.
-- You had a strong desire to communicate your artistic expressions to a wide range of people, didn't you? When did you begin incorporating movement into your works?
Ito: Since I was a student at university. At the time, everyone at school was creating "heavy" works using materials such as clay, but I was brashly saying to my friends that "we will move toward an era of lightness." I asserted that the trend of the times was antigravity. For that reason, I incorporated lightness and movement into my works, but I think that the times did in fact follow that trend. Today, especially, we have entered an era with neither weight nor scale, due to the emergence of the Internet.
Kobayashi: You succeeded in capturing the sensibility of the times one step ahead of everyone else. Since you were positioned in the academic world, which places great value on tradition, was that also part of what made you excessively eager to pursue the elements of lightness and movement?
Ito： Certainly. Movement is something that appeals strongly even to the sensibilities of the general public who are not experts in the field of art. In fact, after I completed my work on show windows, I received requests from various places across Japan to create moving sculptures. One of my moving works with the height of nine meters, titled "Ring of May," has also been installed at the square of the Shiseido Art House, an art museum operated by Shiseido. My works have also been exhibited at international expositions including the Osaka Expo, Expo '75 Okinawa, and The International Exposition, Tsukuba. I love expositions, which bring together large crowds of people and deliver the experience of a cutting-edge world.
-- In addition to movement, light is also an important feature in your works. Did you also incorporate that element in the pursuit of lightness, and to attract the attention of onlookers?
Ito: Yes, that's right. In fact, materials that do not have substance or weight tend to radiate light. I use the term "insubstantial materials" to describe intangible elements such as light and movement, and have always treated them as materials for my artistic expressions. Spheres are the most beautiful in the aspect of light reflection, but their form is too perfect and therefore uninteresting. For that reason, I have been obsessed with using lines, which are able to give expression to spatial properties. However, I have recently become too weak to bend thick materials (laughs). The works that I created for this exhibition were made by bending thin wires.
Kobayashi: Thinner lines allow to produce even lighter forms, don't they?
Ito: That's right. In that sense, my works for this exhibition could be described as the culmination of all my life's work.
How to enjoy "window art" that is a blend of 2D and 3D, the real and the virtual
-- I understand that the works to be displayed in "Lumière vivante" are all new works.
Kobayashi: We asked Mr. Ito to produce works for each of the three windows at the Shiseido Ginza Building and SHISEIDO PARLOUR in Ginza. The work displayed in the large window of the Ginza Building is composed of as many as 250 parts made from thin wires. All of the parts were handmade, one by one, by Mr. Ito using a pair of pliers. This is viewed as a threat to designers like myself, who produce drawings and sketches, but often assign the actual production work to others.
-- To create this form, do you first design before commencing the production work?
Ito: No. It came into being organically and unconsciously in the process of production. I am drawn to shapes and forms that are not easy to translate into numbers and drawings.
Kobayashi: None of the 250 parts are identical; even the thickness of the wires varies, with the thinnest wires at the bottom and gradually becoming thicker moving upward. Nevertheless, it looks beautiful from every angle, and exudes a stronger overall sense of order than any sculpture or model produced based on calculations and designs.
In addition, lighting based on the primary colors of light (red, green, blue) is applied to the work from the lower part of the window. As these colors mix, the color pigment gradually becomes lighter and eventually turns white. That is why the colors at the bottom of the model look darker and richer, and gradually become whiter and brighter as it moves toward the top.
Ito: Show window expressions tend to be conceived of as a three-dimensional world, but they also have a two-dimensional aspect of being viewed through a glass surface. They lie in between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, or rather, they embody the coexistence of the two. In that sense, I think they are also similar to works of computer graphics (CG).
-- It is true that when I was faced with this work, after a while I couldn't tell if I was looking at the tangible form of wires, or at the phenomenon of light reflected from it against the glass. I feel that this experience gave the work a stronger impression of lightness.
Kobayashi: It certainly offers the interesting aspect of a mixture of real and virtual images. However, what makes Mr. Ito's works decisively different from CG is that they are interactive; they are not a one-way system, but are bidirectional. When people see the actual work in person, it responds in various ways depending on the angle that people are viewing it from.
-- It seems that depending on the time when you see the exhibition, you may have different impressions of the works.
Kobayashi: The impact of the light in the morning, evening, and at night makes the works appear completely different. I think that this time-based character is another one of the charms of Mr. Ito's works. The moving sculpture titled "Light dances," which is installed in front of Machida Station, is shaped as a spiral. The spiral rotates in different directions in the morning and the evening, so the movement of the reflected light also changes.
Ito: During the day, the reflected light moves upward, while in the evening it moves downward. I wanted people on the streets to experience the passage of time. In the era when we did not have electric lights, sculptures were basically viewed during the day. Today, however, we have light in the night. The sculptures and show windows are now operational 24 hours a day. That is why they have to look beautiful both in the day and at night.
Kobayashi: The works for this exhibition glimmer and shine like snow dust in the moment when the morning sun shines in through the window. When I see that, I imagine how Mr. Ito was raised amidst the snowy landscape of Sapporo where he was born.
Ito: In the past, the architect Arata Isozaki had once compared me with himself, saying "Ito was born in Sapporo, while I was born in Oita." In his comparison, he explained, "Since I was a child, I had lived in the strong shade of the sun. There was shade under the green broadleaf trees. However, Ito's world is the world of deciduous trees, and all the leaves would fall off in winter. That is where the sense of transparency in his works originates from."
Perhaps the impact of the climate that I was raised in is reflected in my works in that way. In our modern age of the Internet, the ties between the climate and individuals have weakened, and the world is becoming increasingly flatter. Our times are becoming lighter, and the world is losing its tangible substance. Perhaps my works differ from the digital in that sense.
-- Could you tell us what prompted Shiseido to commission Mr. Ito's works again after all these decades, for the first series of "SHISEIDO WINDOW ART" exhibitions?
Kobayashi: The overall intention behind the project is to shine a new light on Shiseido's show windows, and to generate excitement about them once again. The first pieces featured in this exhibition series could only be works by Mr. Ito, who had created the history of Shiseido's show windows. There is also the sense of returning to our origins. Through this initiative, we hope to brighten up Ginza once again.
Ito: It is the same for me in the sense of returning to one's origins. I feel that there is great significance in the fact that the works I have created for this exhibition were displayed at Shiseido and nowhere else. I can take on as much work as I want to that will be accepted and well-received by many people, but I cannot take on any project if I want to create something that is genuinely good. Shiseido has been committed to beauty since long ago, and I hold it in high esteem.
Kobayashi: It makes me very happy to hear that. I came up with the design for the flyer of the "Lumière vivante" exhibition, and in this design, I used the Shiseido typeface for the Japanese characters of the words "Lumière vivante" and "Takamichi Ito." It is a reflection of my gratitude toward Mr. Ito for cherishing and appreciating Shiseido. I conceived of the title "Lumière vivante" together with copywriter, Yuko Yokoyama.
Ito: The word "lumière" can also be interpreted as "reconsideration" and "renaissance" as they are homophones (all the three are pronounced saiko in Japanese but spelled with different characters). It is the perfect word for this exhibition.。
Kobayashi: It can also refer to another homophone, "the best" (saiko) (laughs). In truth, many passers-by have been taking photographs in front of the works. I think the works resonate with them and touch their hearts.
-- The themes of "Lumière vivante" are light and movement, and space, is that right?
Ito: I like space. In this exhibition, only one product is placed in the show window of the Shiseido Ginza Building; that product is likened to Earth, while the other elements are like the starry skies that surround it.
Kobayashi: When I looked at the exhibition, I imagined various kinds of "space." There is, of course, the immense space spreading out above our heads, but there is also a space that is more micro in scale; the cells in our bodies and the cosmetics that the body comes into contact with may also constitute a single microcosm.
In truth, when we were right in the midst of constructing the exhibition, we once thought about creating an installation without any products. However, when we actually placed the product there, it did give a sense of completeness to the space. The presence of the work enhanced the brilliance of the product, and I felt that it reaffirmed the purpose of a show window.
Ito: A creator who places emphasis on purity may be resistant toward the idea of product placement, but I am not. The SHISEIDO logo was also clearly visible on the product that was placed in my work this time, and that made me even happier.
-- A good show window becomes completed by the placement of products in it, doesn't it?
Kobayashi: The product that we placed in the window this time was SHISEIDO Essential Energy, a new product inspired by neuroscience. The movie created for this product showed nerve cells shining inside the body, expressing them in a way that made them look just like microcosms. When I saw that, I felt that it resembled the careful, precise works created by Mr. Ito.
For an in-house designer like myself, the consciousness of branding which dictates that "the product should be like this" often disrupts my freedom of expression. However, Mr. Ito transcends that barrier boldly. Despite that, his expression ultimately synchronizes beautifully. I think that this is because we interpret the current times in the same way, and the direction we are aiming for within the expression is also the same.
Ito: I also appreciate the fact that my name and signature are inscribed on the glass for this window design. In the world of design, the individual is often cut off from the work, and his or her identify frequently becomes buried.
Kobayashi: Indeed, this is often the case with a display, where the objective is to ensure that the product is clearly visible.
Ito: However, I think that may be why the act of expression is gradually losing appeal among young creators. In the past, many of my students at the university would join Shiseido because they were interested in the work of displaying windows. I hope that such enthusiasm for show windows will emerge once again by infusing the world of design with originality.
Kobayashi: Going forward, "SHISEIDO WINDOW ART" will also feature works by designers from Shiseido. By taking the bold step of giving the title of "art" to these works, it is also our hope to see more expressions reflecting the originality of individual designers, and which are not restricted to expressions through the products.
Ito: Recently, even when I am walking down the streets, I rarely encounter anything that strikes the right chord. I do not get a sense of individuality; all the different parts of the world are becoming one and the same. Amidst this situation, I hope that Ginza, a place where people from around the world gather, can promote individuality and become the most enjoyable shopping district in the world.
-- Do you mean that show windows have the potential to connect cities with individual creators?
Ito: I feel a strong sense of crisis that Japan is rapidly being overtaken by other countries today. It has long been said that industries of the future need the sensitivity of art, but Japan is still weak in that aspect. To enhance that dimension of sensitivity, I feel that it is important to fill our streets with more expressions by individuals, including show windows. I hope that Shiseido will contribute not only to enhancing the beauty of faces and human bodies, but also to the beauty of towns, cities, and countries, more than ever before.
Shiseido Ginza Building
December 18, 2017 (Monday) – March 16, 2018 (Friday), 08:00 – 19:00
Closed: Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays
Viewing of the exhibition is free of charge.
Address: 1F Shiseido Ginza Building, 7-5-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3575-5431 (Shiseido Corporate Culture Department)
Exhibition: December 26, 2017 (Tuesday) – March 31, 2018 (Saturday)
Opening hours: 11:00 – 21:00 (- 20:00 on December 29, January 3 and 4)
Viewing of the exhibition is free of charge.
Closed: Year end and New Year holiday (December 30 – January 2)
*The building is closed for inspection on February 19, 2018 (Monday).
Address: Large window on 1F, Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building, 8-8-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3289-2099 (SHISEIDO PARLOUR Public Relations Group)