- Makiko Akiyama
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Takashi Kojima is a jewelry artist based in Japan. His necklaces comprising gem-made constructions with a hint of anime characters, and his skillfully structured brooches using the runners (leftover frames) from plastic toy model kits, have always delighted viewers’ eyes. He also runs a studio-cum-shop called FACILE, named after an Italian word that is occasionally used to say ‘go easy’. Despite the word’s implied lightness, his artistic attitude is honest and solid. In this conversation, I followed how his resolution has evolved into his work.
How did you first become interested in jewelry?
Takashi Kojima: My mother is a collector of antique jewelry and used to learn jewelry making, which inevitably made me gravitate toward jewelry as a child.
I started making jewelry myself at Washio Chokin studio in Kyoto in 1997, when I was preparing to re-take a university entrance examination. I continued the studio practice at night after I moved on to university to study architecture. Then, I took a year off from school during the senior year and learned at a jewelry studio in Firenze.
When I returned to Japan, I made jewelry based on the theme of architecture, which made me realize jewelry’s great potential. Then, I began to consider a career as a jeweler. After graduation, I mostly made works for competitions but had more chances to showcase my works when Gallery C.A.J. in Kyoto started to represent me and my works.
Do you think that your jewelry making practice benefits from what you learned from architecture?
Takashi Kojima: Architects are obliged to present their plans to the client, so every single detail such as the position of an outlet requires reasoning. The things I learned from architecture meant a lot to me, including how to develop and verbalize ideas as well as the whole design process, right down to the details.
Point Iceberg. Pendant and Ring. Silver, pearl, quartz, agate. 2014. 90 x 85 x 70 mm. Photo by the artist.
Point Mandara 3. Brooch. Silver, quartz, 80 x 95 x 40 mm, 2015. Photo by the artist.
I think some readers imagine structural pieces with various gemstones when they hear your name.
Takashi Kojima: I began using gemstones around 2005. Back then, my architectural background affected me a lot and my aim was more about inventing ways of presenting and setting gemstones as new designs rather than finding my own voice. Then, I started to think further about why I use gems.
Gemstones have related to every period of human history and society and have consistently attracted a lot of people for their rarity and religiosity through the ages. I think this history is unique to precious stones and is something that interests me very much. I believe these materials with a long tradition enable the creation of new jewelry that represents the current era. On that basis, I put an emphasis on living in Japan and Japanese culture when it came to my own jewelry making.
Can you elaborate?
Takashi Kojima: Living in Kyoto allows me to see and learn from how traditional merchants’ houses, temples, and shrines were made as well as how their materials were treated. I’m always excited to see the beauty of artisans’ craftsmanship in an appropriate solution to each material and their passion for the details.
Also, I am very much interested in the post-war development of industrial design and technologies as seen in the automobile or home electronics industries. There must be a certain culture and materials with which somebody who grew up in Japan would feel familiar. I’d like to turn my attention to these and make works out of them.
Runner Evangerion. Runners of a plastic toy model kit, silver, brass. 130 x 150 x 60 mm,. 2016. Photo by the artist.
Runner Gundam. Runners of a plastic toy model kit, silver, brass. 140 x 100 x 70 mm. 2016. Photo by the artist.
In 2016, you initiated a new body of work using runners and showcased it in a three-person show at Micheko Galarie in Munich.
Takashi Kojima: The gallery sets a theme for each exhibition, and ours was ‘Jewellery Box’. People treasure jewelry but pay little regard to the box it comes in and will casually throw this away. I think this is because they consider that they have bought a piece of jewelry, not a box. I decided to challenge this general notion with a new value by using materials that are sold in a box but destined to be thrown away.
After having explored several possibilities, I settled on the runners from the plastic toy model kit of an anime character. Runners are leftover items but their color combinations still remind us of the character they represent. I made it my rule to use one character for each piece of work. When I make a piece, I picture the original character in my mind but the resulting intuitive form is also my own character that I discovered during the process.
You presented the same line of work in your solo show at gallery C.A.J. in Kyoto last year and in the special exhibition of Venice Project 2017 at a contemporary art gallery URANO in Tokyo this spring. Venice Project 2017 was a collaboration between you and an artist Takahiro Iwasaki, who represents Japan at Venice Biennale this year. You two made a series of gold pins and a part of the sale was used to fund a Biennale-related project. How did this collaboration come about?
Takashi Kojima: A friend of mine, who is a jewelry designer, talked to me. She assumed my works would fit well with Iwasaki’s works. Also, she took into account the architectural and structural motifs seen in both of our works and my academic background of studying architecture. I’d known Iwasaki before the project and have really admired his works, so I absolutely appreciated the offer.
Exhibition view. Special Exhibition of Venice Project 2017: Takahiro Iwasaki meets Takashi Kojima at URANO, Tokyo. Photo by the artist.
This exhibition showcased both your gemstone pieces and runner pieces. Did you pay attention to any particular point when you made the selection?
Takashi Kojima: I made the selection carefully as I needed to consider how to juxtapose my jewelry with the works of this contemporary artist in a contemporary art gallery. It was not easy to think about how I should present jewelry to the major target audience, namely the collectors, curators, and gallery directors from the contemporary art field.
As special pieces for the exhibition, I made objects out of runners that are much larger than jewelry. I thought they would portray the concept more clearly and help the audience appreciate the jewelry as three-dimensional art pieces as well.
On the other hand, I showed works using gemstones as I wanted people who were new to contemporary jewelry to see it with fresh eyes – they are familiar with jewelry using precious metals and gems, which led me to think that presenting the same materials in an unconventional manner would reveal jewelry’s potential for a wider range of expression.
Sign. Neck piece. Silver, rubber, quartz, topaz, pearl, synthetic stones. 160 x 50 x 160 mm. 2014. Photo by Takashi Kuroyanagi.
Did you get any reaction or opinion that differed from that of the jewelry audience?
Takashi Kojima: In jewelry galleries, I had an impression that many of the viewers regarded the works using the runners as a result of discovering a new material. In contemporary jewelry and craft, some makers constantly look for new materials and techniques, and this attitude itself is not a bad thing. Nonetheless, solely depending on these aspects limits the concept and expression.
During the Venice Project 2017 exhibition, I received a lot of positive reactions and I found there was a major difference in their perspectives. The runner pieces were mostly regarded as works of art and the audience engaged with the concept or form rather than the material.
For gemstone work, people appeared to focus on whether the piece was wearable or not, which reminded me that wearability is jewelry’s greatest asset and what viewers expect from it. If unwearable, the piece will easily come to be regarded as an object. Then, collectors of contemporary art dare not acquire jewelry, thinking they don’t need to widen the scope of their collections.
I think what you said can be boiled down to why it is very important that the work needs to be jewelry (=something wearable) when you showcase jewelry as art.
Takashi Kojima: That’s right. I think jewelry’s strength lies in its wearability. However, I think a general and persistent stereotype of jewelry stems from this very wearability because it is a unique aspect that distinguishes jewelry from other artistic disciplines. A circle drawn on a piece of paper evokes an image of a finger ring, and a juxtaposition of gold and precious stones always reminds us of jewelry. These elements that are suggestive of jewelry prevent people from seeing the piece as art, but we can also use the characteristic to overcome this easy categorization too. Besides, if you ignore it, there is no point in making jewelry, is there?
Point Rings. Ring. Silver, K18gold, topaz, quartz, onyx, synthetic stones, various size. 2007. Photo by Takashi Kojima.
How are you going to realize it in your work?
Takashi Kojima: Currently, I think I may find the answer by exploring how a piece could relate to a body. This approach may sound too obvious, but it should enable a variety of expressions depending on how you interpret the relationship. If it works well, I think the boundary between the art and craft that exists in a viewer’s notion could disappear.
Let me ask you about your current activities. In 2010, you launched a studio-cum-shop called FACILE in Kyoto. Visitors can enjoy a selection of various makers’ works and antique jewelry along with your own pieces.
Takashi Kojima: When I was about to turn 30, I decided to launch a shop as a way to earn a living while continuing to work as an artist. I thought about wholesale trading but I knew I was not cut out for sales, product development, and manufacturing. Also, I thought it would leave no time to produce my work.
Works brought by the customers range from repairing and reforming existing jewelry as well as made-to-order pieces, which make up the majority of my work. Daily contact with designs that differ greatly from mine and expensive precious stones helps develop skills and bring fresh discoveries. I feel glad about my career choice as direct communication with my customers constantly reminds me of how powerful and awesome jewelry can be.
For the selection at FACILE, I am attracted to makers with an aesthetic sense that I don’t have. I deal with antiques as I’d like to feel the power and attraction of timeless pieces every day. Furthermore, I feel something when I compare my work with them and I need this feeling.
Probably, these customers you just mentioned could eventually develop an interest in more artistic pieces. I think this way of building an initial interest in the maker and then getting to know his/her work afterward can help when people approach a sort of inaccessible field like contemporary jewelry.
Takashi Kojima: Yes. A lot of customers of made-to-order jewelry have gradually become attracted to more artistic jewelry. Knowing me better can help build their interest in my entire artistic practice, which I think will inevitably result in appreciation for contemporary jewelry in general. It’s a step-by-step process, but I hope to help spread the awareness in Kyoto.
The interior view of FACILE in Kyoto. Photo by Takashi Kojima.
In addition to FACILE and artistic activities, you work as a part-time lecturer at Kobe Design University, but how do you split your time?
Takashi Kojima: I base the schedule for the coming year on a fixed exhibition schedule and split the rest of the time between my own work and made-to-order jewelry. My teaching job doesn’t make me overloaded as I only need to go to university once a week for half the year. Since I usually work alone, talking to coworkers and students who share the same goal is a pleasure. I really appreciate my work as a lecturer.
Lastly, can you talk about what’s coming in the near future?
Takashi Kojima: From August to September, I will participate in a group show of mostly young artists that will be traveling from Denmark, Japan, and Korea. The subject of the show is MIMOOL, which means micro evidence in Buddhism. I look forward to seeing how the exhibition will end up. In November, there will be a four-person show with Hiroki Iwata, Fumiki Taguchi, and Itto Mishima. I’m sure the show will be worth seeing as they are all talented artists.
Last but not least, I am getting married in December, which motivates me to work harder!
Point Mandara. Brooch. Silver, quartz, various size, 75 x 75 x 40 mm. 2015. Photo by Takashi Kojima.
About the Interviewee
Takashi Kojima. Born in 1978, Kyoto, Japan. Studied the Architecture, Interior and Environmental Design Course of the Department of Environmental Design at Kyoto University of Art and Design. Learned jewelry making at a studio in Firenze, Italy. Runs FACILE while working as a part-time lecturer at Kobe Design University. He has participated in a number of international and domestic exhibitions as well as fairs including SOFA Chicago (2015), Jewellery Box at MICHEKO GALLERIE, Munich (2016), Takashi Kojima Solo Show – Jewelry, Going Beyond the Boundary at gallery C.A.J., Kyoto (2016), CULT at Stedelijk Museum’s-Hertogenbosch,’s-Hertogenbosch (2016-2017), and a Special Exhibition of Venice Project 2017: Takahiro Iwasaki meets Takashi Kojima at URANO, Tokyo (2017). His work is included in the collection of Stedelijk Museum’s-Hertogenbosch. He is a member of the Japan Jewellery Designers Association.
About the author
Makiko Akiyama. Writer and translator. Born in 1979 in Osaka, Japan. In 2013 launched a newsletter for Japanese readers featuring translated articles about art jewelry. Contributing writer for klimt02, Current Obsession, Art Jewelry Forum, and Norwegian Crafts.
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