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BOUND TO PLEASE / Searching everyday, ‘extreme’ beauty

The Japan News

By Kumi Matsumaru / Japan News Staff WriterThe Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary

By Jasper Morrison

Lars Muller Publishers, 80pp

When Jasper Morrison went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of traditional farmhouses in Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture, what he photographed were not the famous houses with steep gassho-zukuri thatched roofs (at least for his new book). Instead, he was thrilled to capture a “former” PET bottle left on a table.

With the label removed, the bottle had been modified into a vase with two holes in one side, into which the funnel-shaped ends of two similar bottles were screwed.

The well-known British product designer praised this means of displaying wildflowers as aesthetically outstanding enough to please an ikebana enthusiast who made two different floral arrangements for the “vase.”

Morrison wrote in the foreword of “The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary” that the book-length photo essay zooms in on things he found as clever solutions to everyday inconveniences with modest resources, since such instinctive human activity is the basis of his profession.

The book comprises 34 scenes that caught Morrison’s eye in his travels to places such as China and Italy. In Japan again, Morrison recognizes the significance of the art of a U-bend pipe under a washbasin and wonders if such plumbing was ever done as beautifully as that.

He also was intrigued by the sight of a light blue plastic crate — possibly to carry food or drinks — left on a rock in an otherwise traditional Japanese garden complete with neatly pruned trees and carefully tended plants.

If the garden is supposed to convey a well-composed style of nature, Morrison argues, then the addition of the crate makes it all the more natural by hinting at the scene’s connection to human life.

Morrison’s way of appreciating such everyday scenes is somehow like the art of “mitate,” or likening something to another thing that is completely different — a way of seeing that has long been loved by people in Japan.

Given his career as a renowned product designer whose clients include Alessi, Sony and Muji, as well as his advocacy of the “super normal” concept, or designing items by summarizing a long tradition of advancement in the shape of everyday things, it is no wonder he is good at practicing such perception.

Some people may find he reads too much into mundane sights. Still, people like Morrison may be unable to help searching for such extreme beauty as the result of the pursuit of “super normal” things.

“The Good Life” offers hints for discovering extraordinary beauty in everyday, “not designed” items.

Mind you, it is rather ironic that it is a top-notch, world-leading product designer who gives us such hints in a society overly flooded with designed products.

Where to Read

Anywhere. The clothbound book is easy to carry around. With a photograph on every other page, it is a light read, making for a good partner when looking for something new or different in everyday life.

Maruzen Price: ¥3,960 plus tax (as of April 22)

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