As you push the door open, the sound of metal work greets you. A hanging sea of living Metal Crafters of Tsubame-Sanjo hold fort.
As I walked past the NAFA Ngee Ann Kongsi Galleries s on my way to a Saturday afternoon talk, I took note to come back to this exhibition. Who wouldn’t with clean design like this? As my friend says, good design and packaging gives customers cues that it’ll be a good experience.
That’s what I wish to orchestrate — where stellar design infuse and energises user experiences. Why does it matter?
For something seemingly mundane as metalworks, the exhibition however makes it very curious — it sets up an exhibition that is interest to explore. A great exhibition, like a great teacher, can enliven a any topic. Here — through a combination of exhibition design, story-telling, and candid documentary.
The two cities TSUBAME and SANJO join forces promoting craft and history.
Old Towns — New Angles
The Japanese have another oft-cited exemplar of — Benesse Art Site Naoshima — transformed by design, art and programs, Benesse breathed a new life to an area that used to struggled to acknowledge its charm.
Shortly after visiting the metal crafter portraits, a staff invited me over to view a demo.
How in the world is the seam invisible? The seam is less than half the width of hair I was told.
A great “magic trick”-like demo that enticed me to look explore the exhibition further.
Illustrating history through objects
A large running display in the central hall displays two running lines — Tsubame and Sanjo — their histories in crafting from metals.
Tsubame （燕）and Sanjo （三条） are situated in Niigata （新潟）, famous for rice-production as well as Sake production. However, as they were affected by floods of the three rivers, the citizens had to look for new ways to make a living.
Tsubame harvested iron, a harder metal for farming tools like ploughs;
Sanjo harvested and crafted from softer metals like steel, copper, and titanium for making tumblers, kettles. The twin cities began developing their new crafts concurrently.
Sanjo farming materials. Different ‘heads’ for ploughing different soils. The harder soils in the North, and the softer in the South.
To offer a deeper understanding of the craft of the makers, a documentary-style video at the end of the gallery captures cutlery makers, the hand-made kettle crafters, the nail manufacturers at work. Behind the utensils and tools we use every day, there is a face, a person.
Did you know — 90% of “Made in Japan” cutlery comes from Tsubame-Sanjo?
Bridging into the NOW
Another part of the exhibition showcases a hodgepodge of objects: from Miso, to wooden trays, utility sinks, to cast iron pots. Every item has a number and visitors curious can look the number up in the Kouba catalog (Kouba 工場 is Japanese for Workshop).
This exhibition serves as a preview to the actual Kouba Main Festival in October. Since 2013, factories in Tsubame-Sanjo have opened their doors during the Factory festival, welcoming both local and international visitors to explore, exchange and learn of their living heritage. Who’s in?
Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival
October 1–4, 2020
Originally published at http://wheremyheartleads.com on March 5, 2020.