British-Japanese designer Reiko Kaneko wants to prove that the fine bone china industry has moved on from its twee reputation. Her world is not of 18th century figurines but of modern shapes that are typically witty or simple, Japanese inspired forms. The influence of Kaneko’s early childhood spent in Japan is apparent in her ceramic tableware forms. After studying at Central St Martins, she established her design studio in London’s East End in 2007. Kaneko has recently moved her studio to Stoke on Trent in order to integrate design and production more closely. We had a chance to talk to her and focus on the production process and how she is able to push the traditional boundaries of the fine dining industry. Read below for the full interview…
When did you first start your adventure in creating ceramic art?
Reiko: I was drawn to ceramics after graduating from art college as there are still small scale producers in England. I think everyday Japanese people have an innate understanding of ceramics and natural ability to match the serveware to food that I find fascinating and unique to their culture.
Many of your creations seem to hold a dual purpose in usage. Do you try to push people in a certain direction? Like “this is something that I found interesting, you should buy it too”?
Reiko: I try and suggest different ways as I naturally use things for unintended purposes. But in the case of the Arctic drink ware, these were suggestions, or a push if you like against set ideas of using glasses for cold drinks. It’s not uncommon to use ceramic drinking vessels in Japan for beer or plum wine on the rocks but it’s practically unheard of in the West. Glasses are for cold drinks, ceramics for hot. That’s the way it is but I designed these vessels to suggest drinking your whiskey sours, or fruit smoothies in a non – see through vessel. Call me crazy.
Another quality of your work that strikes me in the material you choose. For instance, your bread basket, you ended up manufacturing fiber rope for the handle and the hand made English fine bone china, well, it is just stunning…What is your creative process like when deciding which fabrics or material to use?
Reiko: Thank you… I tend to have a rather long and drawn out creative process that’s often quite painful but in the case of the bread basket, it was supposed to have a wooden spoon for a handle. But it just didn’t look right when it came down to it so I had to hunt around for alternatives. I just can’t settle for something that doesn’t hold a sense of balance. The rope ended up being a really nice contrast against the hard, and vividly white fine bone china. I had to learn how to splice rope on Youtube videos to understand how it would work. Sometimes, everything just comes together.
Do you feel the contemporary tableware industry lacks creativity in modern times?
Reiko: Yes! though there are some great tableware companies and crafts people out there. I just can’t consider designing twee matching sets of china. For me, it’s about the dynamics between food and serveware, or how it feels when you pick it up. Food culture is changing fast and is an exciting area. The merging of different cultures is changing the way we dine such as sharing platters and creates a whole new architecture of dining. I’m excited to keep working on what the future for serveware might hold.
Having grown up in Britain and Japan, how did the culture shock directly influence your art? Or your life, in relation to you art?
Reiko: When I moved to England from Japan, I was struck by the different smells and aesthetics. I’m accused of being nostalgic for Japan and I try and keep a part of that culture alive such as Kyudo which is Japanese archery. I’ve been practicing for seven, eight years now and I think it somehow filters through in the shapes. I’m always searching for simplicity, balance and beauty in objects (sometimes humor). Other than that, my Murakami-esque childhood of drinking rain water off enormous leaves and running around catching dragonflies must have left positive scars.
You collaborate quite frequently with the bone china industry. Can you briefly describe the production process?
Reiko: I turn sketches and ideas straight to 3D modelling programmes on the computer. This is as far as most designs go but of the ones that see the light of day, I work with 3D printers or model makers in Stoke on Trent who adds a human touch to the designs. The model makers, mould makers and casters all bring in their wealth of experience and knowledge into bringing a new shape to life. You never know how it works out as it is clay at the end of the day and could easily collapse in the heat of the kiln. Even they admit they can never predict how it will behave. That’s the beauty and curse of working with such an earthy material.
When it comes to general aethetics of the home, how does London compare to Japan? Do you ever have to tailor your products to the consumer?
Reiko: There are obvious differences in aesthetics of the home in the two countries but I was struck by how white, almost too white my china was in everyday Japanese homes. They have a lot of very earthy tones, right through from tatami to their textiles. Bone china is inherently English in material and the vivid whiteness is one of its qualities but I will be looking into different glazes.
Do you have any favorite Asian films you could share with us?
Reiko: A Murakami film is my favourite – Nausica. I used to love it as a child and I still do. More recently, isn’t Okuri-bito great?
What new projects do you have coming up in the future?
Reiko: I’ve been working on bespoke projects for restaurants and bars recently. Off the back of that, there are some really interesting personal projects I’m doing with mixologists and chefs. It’s amazing to work with creative minds in other fields like that. It’s really refreshing and energising.
Reports have shown that over the years, there has been a decline in the pottery business throughout the world. Do you blame this on anything in particular? Lack of innovation? Lack of trends/design?
Reiko: I’m not sure whether that reflects the decline in worldwide sales of pottery. It’s a wild stab in the dark but I guess it’s partly to do mass manufacture of ceramics – they’re made in vast quantities and sold for cheaper which would seem like a decline. That’s not my business though – I prefer to work with local folks and experimenting a little along the way.
Lastly, any progess on owning a cat [laughs]?
Reiko: NO! I’m moving my studio to Stoke on Trent so half my week will be spent up there. So no chance for the short term!
Want to keep tabs on Reiko and her brilliant pieces of design? Follow her cookie crumb trail below: