For this edition of Fan Mail, Yukihiro Kaneuchi of Tokyo, Japan has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.
Born in 1984, Yukihiro Kaneuchi grew up in Fukuoka, on the north shore of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four major islands. Fukuoka is a large city, larger than Kyoto but also very environmentally friendly, and Kaneuchi describes the place as “sea/forest/mountain.” At any rate, his hometown is not a “crazy city” like Tokyo, and Kaneuchi keeps studios in both places. He acquired the shell, cuttlebone, and fishbone for his new series in Fukuoka where his space is close to the water, but put it together in the capital. It is called “Lamia.”
Kaneuchi studied design at Tama Art University and graduated in 2008. In 2009, Benetton awarded him a scholarship to do a year’s research at Fabrica, their communications research centre near Venice. “Fabrica,” they say of themselves, “is not a school, advertising agency or university. It is an applied creativity laboratory, a talent incubator, a studio of sorts . . .” Their home base is a 17th century villa rehabilitated by self-taught Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and it was there, working as a product designer, that Kaneuchi says he learned products “can/must” have “criticism and motivation.”
I wrote to Kaneuchi about “Lamia.” The series consists of four pieces, or “products”—a plate, fork, knife, and spoon. When he made them, Kaneuchi was thinking about the essence of a product, which he calls “first intention.” He will mention the oldowan: a hand axe and the earliest stone tool, it is has been around for 2.6 million years. But now the minds and hands that have historically finessed rocks, metals, and animal parts into objects of special use are participants in an “incessant” global production-consumption model. “We need,” Kaneuchi says, “to reconsider the value and role of products to avoid over-saturation, decreasing quality, and negative environmental impacts.”
In fact, I thought the title actively referenced lamia the ‘carnivorous fish.’ I took the unthinking hunger of that fish as commentary on our global consumption patterns. But more specifically, Kaneuchi says he’s referencing Keats’ narrative poem of the same title, in which Keats rails against Isaac Newton for “unweav[ing] the rainbow“—for “destroying,” Kaneuchi says, “imagination/fantasy/feeling/sense.”
The theme of that poem, he says, is “desire and loss,” and really it is Kaneuchi’s theme, too. It is chilling in terms of the course of globalization. I am thinking of last month’s factory collapse in Bangladesh; it is Kaneuchi’s belief that our humanity hangs in the balance, and I have to agree with him.
In “Lamia” we have some atavistic things, artifactual tools concerned with eating. But when ‘forks, knives, and spoons’ are meaninglessly manufactured, it is possible to lose sight of what it is they do for us. It is possible for human acts, assisted as they are by tools—now commercialized products—to depreciate. Though what could be more universally important than the act of eating? Kaneuchi approaches these tools not just as a means to an end, but as expressions of humanness in its simplest form. “Lamia” becomes a cerebral, elegiac meditation on the loss of that humanity.
Yukihiro Kaneuchi is talking about products that are well-made and -loved. He’s talking about the Velveteen Rabbit of eating utensils. It’s clear “Lamia” is a continuation of Kaneuchi’s earlier work. His preface to “Tiny landscape in a coffee cup” (2010), for example, reads brilliantly here:
When a product is created, it is as though new-born, with no memory or understanding of the world around it. These relationships are formed through user interaction over time; the product “ages” and gains knowledge of its purpose in the world. The stain’s image is a representation of the product’s feelings and memory as the product ages through use.
Recently, I was going to leave my boyfriend’s house with a noteworthy spoon. But I have been known to lose flatware in the depths of my car, and when my boyfriend saw me with the spoon, he said, “Not that one,” because it had been his grandmother’s, one of a few left. That scene came to mind when I found “Lamia” in my inbox. It is an ancient scene: humans and their tools, clever primates finding ways to walk termites out of their dens with sticks. We make tools and they make us human in turn.