"The chocolatexture lounge is neither a café, nor an exhibition, nor an installation, but a place to experience and enjoy nendo through the five senses."(1)
"The Japanese conception of beauty," as Ben-Ami Shiloni argues in his article "The Secret of Restraint in Japanese Aesthetics," is influenced by Buddhism. "It does not view man as the center, and is thus not anthropocentric."(2) This conception centers on the universe, which includes man, yet only as a small element in a vast cosmos. The Eastern ideal of beauty is not man but rather nature, which is the central subject explored by artists rather than a mere backdrop. The message communicated by nature is usually the Buddhist message, which views the world of appearances as an ephemeral, impermanent world with no deep meaning. The world of the senses is a world of illusion, and the pleasure and enjoyments of everyday life are passing and fragile. This is a rather pessimistic message concerning large parts of the design and art world as we experience it today, and as it has existed in Western culture for thousands of years: a world of ephemerality and insignificance, or of "the deception of charm and the fleeting nature of beauty" (Proverbs 31:30). Yet in contrast to the Jewish emphasis on the negation of beauty, the Japanese worldview attends to the beauty and fragility of the fleeting moment.
The opportunity to notice the passing moment and perceive it with our senses, if only momentarily, allows for an optimistic, expansive, human experience. It expands time, focuses the gaze, and invites us to pause and reflect. The encounter with nendo's work in the personal, public, and virtual spheres compels us to stop, look, look again, and actually sense the movement of our conscious awareness as it draws towards and away from the kernel of an idea, is moved or is flooded with memories, allowing things to come into balance, detaching itself from time and moving through an eternal sphere while activating all of our senses. In this moment of encounter, facing a black line in a three-dimensional space, I stop and observe, within the minimalist idea, the unfolding of a sensory conversation into a conceptual, visual, sensory, material, and human source of pleasure. Such an encounter amounts to a synthesis of all our senses as we consciously inhale and exhale. In Greek, "synesthesia" means sensing together, describing our perception of our environment as a combination of different sense impressions. We move in an environment flooded with visual, auditory, and cognitive stimuli, rich with tastes, smells, and of course feelings. At times it seems that we have lost the ability to focus on a single sense, to isolate one experience, to hone our ability to sense the subtleties of a texture, a range of grays, to listen to the margins of the sound, to taste the flavors between bitter and bitter-sweet or smell the difference between synthetic and natural scents. Some argue that synesthesia is a form of experience related to a certain mental state, in which sense perception overcomes cognitive processing - a state in which man perceives reality as if it were an indistinct medley of sense impressions - a sweet sound, a bitter line or texture, salty relations. Can one design objects that will generate such a form of synesthetic insight, and would such an insight be shared by all, or rather be subject to personal sensory interpretations?
How many senses do we use to perceive the surrounding world - are there only five senses, as detailed by the Greek philosopher Aristotle? And how many senses do we use to process the meaning of an experience, to expand, enhance, and render it precise?
In the Jewish tradition, the senses are described in two different ways. One approach speaks of five organs of sense and five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. In Midrash Tanchuma on Proverbs 20:12, meanwhile, they are divided as follows: "God created six senses for man, three of which are in his possession, and three of which are not in his possession. The ones that are not in his possession are the nose, eye, and ear. How is that? A man walks through the market past people who are smoking and does not wish to smell the smoke. what can he do? His nose is not in his possession... what he does possess are his mouth, hand, and leg. The hand, if a man wants to steal, he steels, and if not he does not steal." (3) The midrash goes on to add that these five senses - what is seen, heard, smelt, touched, and tasted - all stimulate pleasure in subtle and complex ways.
The second approach ties the senses to the months of the year, calling them "the 12 senses of the soul."(4) According to the Kabbalah, man when he is whole possesses no less than 12 senses, which parallel the 12 months of the year. According to the Torah, the first month of the Hebrew year is not Tishrei but rather Nissan, the month of spring and renewal, of which it is said: "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you."The sense associated with the month of Nissan, which is the first sense to be developed, is the sense of speech. The following months are Iyar - the sense of learning, Sivan - the sense of walking, Tamuz - the sense of sight, Av - hearing, Elul - the sense of redemption, Tishrei - the sense of touch, Heshvan - the sense of smell, Kislev - the sense of sleep, Tevet - the sense of anger, Shvat - the sense of eating, and Adar - the sense of laughter.
Different spiritual philosophies define the world of the senses in different ways. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, described the self as one of the 12 senses that define us as human beings. In a lecture delivered in Dornach, Switzerland, on August 12, 1916, he explained: "People generally assume that we have five senses. We know, however, that this is not justified, but that, in truth, we must distinguish twelve human senses. There are seven further senses that must be included with the usual five, since they are equally relevant to earthly, human existence."5 In addition to the five familiar senses, there are seven additional senses that contribute to our human existence on earth. The senses that connect us to the material aspects of the external world, enabling us relate to it, include those that are closest to the self - the sense of touch, the sense of life, the sense of movement, the sense of balance, as well as those that expand and deepen our connection with the external world - the sense of smell, the sense of taste, the sense of sight, the sense of hearing, and the senses that enable us to enter further into the internal aspects of the objects - the sense of speech and the sense of thought. The final sense, the sense of "self," enables us to experience other human beings and thus be aware of ourselves.
This conception of twelve senses brings us back to the discussion of internal senses and external senses, the senses charged with mediating the world outside and the internal senses that interpret and process all the information into an experience of the "self," coupled with the pleasure of new insights, revelations, and the "!" moments, as Oki Sato calls them; the pleasure of learning and the pleasure arising from the use of all those internal and external senses. Pleasure, or enjoyment, according to Wikipedia, is an ensemble of sensations that human nature needs and aspires to attain.
To conclude this discussion about the senses and the world that surrounds us, I would like to return to the immediate arena of nendo's exhibition at the museum. The museum is a site where we do not touch, sit down, taste, or smell, but rather a place where we approach, observe, looks, consider, listen, reflect, remember, long, and feel emotion, excitement, or love - carrying all of these experiences in our awareness as we transition back into life. So that when we next encounter an object designed by the nendo studio, we might do so using our five senses, but remember it through twelve.
For me, the museum is a public, egalitarian, safe space for raising questions, training our internal senses, and learning about our ability to receive, process, contain and discover something new about ourselves in the here-and-now through our relationship with both present and past by means of the objects we encounter.
In answer to a question he was recently asked in an interview on CNN Style -
"Is there something - a product or something intangible - you would like to design, but haven't yet?"
Oki Sato answered: "What I feel that I want to design may not be so interesting as a project. I think the dream project in the true sense would be to be asked to create an object that is way beyond my imagination."(6)
1. Quoted from the decision to name nendo studio Designer of the Year in January 2015, at the exhibition "Maison & Object," as published in Dezeen magazine, January 1, 2015.
2. Ben-Ami Shiloni, "The Secret of Restraint in Japanese Aesthetics," Machshavot 59: Spoken Thoughts on Beauty in Science and Art, p. 14, Bnei-Brak, Israel, 1990 (electronic version), last accessed on March 13, 2016, from the Machshavot website, http://thinkil.co.il/texts/m059p014-019/
3. See "Aspaklaria," an encyclopedic file on Jewish thought, www.aspaklaria.info
4. See www.pnimi.org.il
5. Rudolph Steiner, "The Riddle of Humanity," lecture given on August 12, 2016, accessed from the Rudolph Steiner Archive, http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA170/ English/RSP1990/19160812p01.html
6. From an interview with Oki Sato on CNN Style, August 5, 2015, edition.cnn.com/style