The Eternal Past

Archaeologist’s study the ancient and recent human past through material remains. Sorting through the evidence, carefully using equipment, they dig, sift, measure, and analyse artefacts to gather an understanding of human culture. “What I do is much closer to what archaeologists do”, Taiga Takahashi explains. “A designer looks to solve issues and create something new. Instead, I look to the past to find something that has been lost or forgotten. I give these things a second life.”

Clothing our bodies has long been an exercise in capturing the zeitgeist. Designers mine the past, altering it, pining and tucking it, to fit the here and now. Taiga Takahashi’s work counters this; he repurposes the past, revitalising it. Working alongside OK-RM (Oliver Knight and Rory McGrath), the clothing is not the crux; it is one part of the whole. Together, they believe it is necessary to review the past for meaningful progression to occur within the contemporary. A synergy between history and the present, they argue, is what creates the future. Knight elaborates, sharing, “our practice overlaps with Taiga’s. Historical awareness is a vital ingredient in developing critical perspectives in the present with the ambition of setting positive examples for the future.”

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The collaboration hinges on the beauty of finding common ground even when coming from various cultures and backgrounds. Success is rooted in the generosity of the context created, which allows practitioners, who practice a host of crafts, to come together and build a universe of outcomes with a common philosophy. This is rare, McGrath explains: “the status quo of branding is to build a layer, which can be an artifice. It is potentially a western idea to force something; however, in this context, we are able to consider it all as one.” Taiga Takahashi is subtle, evolutionary, quiet, adhering to Japanese ideas of finding beauty in every aspect of nature or wabi-sabi. “This work is about researching time, history and tradition”, Takahashi said. The result is an evolving project, all the elements forming a house constructed from five pillars: clothing, sculpture, spatial design, graphic design and imagery.

Viscerally exploring materiality, these congruent elements are formed from stone, loom-woven fabrics, paper, ink and wood. “We have a body; clothing acts as a second skin, and architecture like a third. The materials they are made from surround and encase us; covering us up”, Takahashi shares. OK-RM likened it to having simple ingredients to cook with, conceptually imagining through the design the perfect workshop in the heart of Kyoto where specific tools, materials, history books, artworks, and references were all perfectly organised.

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In the specially drawn custom typeface, subtle and exact variations occur. “My aesthetic is always looking at the negative space; the act of leaving blank space is very important”, Takahashi said. Knight explained, “we developed typographic research into extinct typesetting tools with our collaborator Wei Huang (for example, the typewriter, Metafont) and fused this with variable font technology allowing a family of variations within a fixed central characteristic. Enabling an understated expression with a coherency across all uses.” He continues that this was paired with “an emphasis on a language that aligns with the past. For example, we use definitions like archive, journal, chapter and work to define a generous content that acknowledges the position of the T.T design process within an ecosystem of time and space.” There might have been a temptation to make the logo bigger, to bend the design to will, “they’ll never bend”, McGrath said, “it’s important to handle it, in the same way, every time. It's very much about devotion to simplicity. Everything has a reason.” Like Ikebana, the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging, each component is precisely placed and appreciated.

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In addition to the 2D design, OK-RM designed the 3D elements that make up the comprehensive art space in the historic Gion of Kyoto. “We had a passion for Japanese culture, we wanted to learn more about it, and Taiga took us on that journey”, said McGrath. Following the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen, meaning “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” This marrying of cultures underpinned the conceptual philosophy, “my life is a mixture of globalisation and localisation; of East and West”, Takahashi said. “It’s about trying to understand what Japanese culture means to me. The reason I chose to work with OK-RM is that I wanted a different perspective.” The weight of the project is the meeting of these two opposing views, allowing ancient tradition to sidestep historical context and exist in the contemporary. McGrath said, “that’s the crucial thing… to build discourse about our time and to reflect on our context, our position.”

Like the work of artisans in the past, Taiga Takahashi can not be fully understood yet. “Our work is like the Japanese garden; when it’s built, it’s not finished. You need to wait another fifty or a hundred years to see it completed. What I’ve done with OK-RM needs another fifty to a hundred years of time to come to fruition”, said Takahashi. “Our aim is not to finish everything now. But to keep building, little by little.”