We talked to emerging furniture designer Fukutoshi Ueno about his work, which fuses traditional Japanese influences with a contemporary Australian flair.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I’m working on my latest collaboration piece with the renowned fashion designers Easton Pearson. This is the piece I call Bambi Frame, but it is actually a frame on which clothes can be hung. But after it has been “dressed” in the gorgeous designs of Easton Pearson, the frame becomes a true art object. We launched it at artisan in Fortitude Valley in late May. I’m also working on interior fit-out for Scrumptious Reads, a new concept store in James Street. I’m developing another new furniture piece for my solo exhibition at Sofitel in Melbourne in November and working on two private commissions for clients in the UK and the USA.
How does your work fuse traditional Japanese influences with contemporary Australian culture?
I like to take the poise and quiet elegance of my Japanese heritage, with its fine details and finish, its clean lines and uncluttered textures, and counterpose these with the vibrant life that whirls around me in contemporary Brisbane. I like to contrast the old against the new, the still against the dynamic, the contemplative against the extroversion I find around me here. So I use the traditional Japanese aesthetic and techniques in various unusual contemporary contexts and materials in pieces like Code and its sister, Dress Code.
How does nature inspire your work?
Nature breathes life into so many dimensions of my work: form, colour, energy, open space, and spirit. I like to bring the natural world indoors. This I derive from the way we live in Japan. Nature is very much part of our spirit, our everyday life and experience.
What are some other things that inspire you?
I draw inspiration from everyday life, by taking in exhibitions at galleries, exploring different cultures and histories, and collaborating with such inspirational and creative artists as Akira Isogawa and Easton Pearson. Collaborating with people from different backgrounds animates my ideas. This interactivity always suggests exciting new paths and prospects for me. I listen to a lot of music, from traditional chants to post-Minimalist pieces, because I love their clean lines, clear structures and layered elements through time. I am lucky to have a number of important composers like Bill Duckworth, Peter Sculthorpe and Barry Conyngham and other arts people in my life. I always get new ideas from experiencing their work.
How do you approach a new design?
I usually start with a clear page or computer screen. How do I want to inhabit this space? I like to play with ideas that will tease people and cause them to look at new materials in different ways. I like to make them think and to push their imaginations to new possibilities. Sometimes a flash of inspiration will cause me to think of some aspect of my heritage or past life and I try to become the ‘medium’ by which I bring this to people today. I like them to share connections with the past – the recent past, as well as in antiquity – and these many layers of references can tease the curiosity and imagination of people who experience my work. It is always fun to see the light-bulbs go on when people get my point!
How does sustainability factor into your work?
These days it is critical, indeed mandatory, to use environmentally friendly materials, such as marine plywood and compact (material made of 100% recycled paper) – materials that I have used in pieces like Bambi Frame, Café Dress Code and Freud Chair. For me, the most important dimension of my design aesthetic is quality which can be passed down through successive generations. Not just the quality of the materials used in the piece itself, but also a story which connects it to tradition, as the Code pieces do. These pieces I would like to see last forever.
In modern life, we are obsessed with space, or the lack of it. It’s partly our own fault, because we clutter our lives with so much stuff, much of which we throw away. This disposable consumer society is not a trend I wish to be part of. My focus is on work that will have a long life. I want to help local manufacturers achieve long lives for our creations. Let’s all try to make beautiful things that last, that are not here today, gone tomorrow.
Your work is very beautiful, which challenges the common assumption that environmentally-friendly design is necessarily "ugly". How do you negotiate the balance between making aesthetic decisions and making environmentally sensitive decisions?
These days, a designer, like any artist, must consider the future of the planet, and make it a more beautiful and bountiful place in which to live. It’s very simple: if we are to survive as a race, we have to focus on both dimensions equally.
What do you want to achieve with your design practice in the future?
I try always to consider a critical question: what is the role of design in the society in which I live? I really believe that designers not only reflect their society, but they help to shape it. People see their lives, if you like, through what we design and make.
Even though many designers are struggling in harsh economic conditions, I don’t think we should give up on this attitude. We should continue to work with other artists, other artisans and manufacturers around us, who share our environment and ideals. We should continue to produce work of real quality and meaning, work that imparts ideas that are positive and beautiful. I want also to help develop the imaginations and skills of younger designers and be a good citizen of the design community.
For myself, I want to explore different styles and outlets, especially public art projects and collaborative works in other art forms, such as theatre and film. I want to sustain and develop my core design skills, perhaps in the context of an established design and manufacturing company.
I want to be recognized as a designer with an original and distinctive identity and outlook and to continue to develop my passions. Like one’s own life journey, the more one experiences, the more articulate and varied the design process becomes.
These are my goals for the future and I have great hope that they will become realities