Layers of cabbage leaves peeled back reveal the many poetic layers of Yasuhiro Suzuki’s paper bowl design.
How many things can be transferred to metaphorically capture the essence of a paper bowl? For Japanese designer Yasuhiro Suzuki a cabbage head afforded many similarities, and as one looks at the layers of cabbage, one will see the layers of poetics within this redesign to create the cabbage leaf bowls. Suzuki who graduated from Tokyo Zokei University in 2001 is constantly blurring the lines between art, design and everyday objects within his works. His 2004 Cabbage bowls is a unique example of this.
Suzuki’s cabbage bowls are created directly from a real cabbage leaf that is coated in white paper clay and once dry, peeled off to reveal a perfect imitation (Suzuki 2004). It is the level of detail of each cabbage leaf created using this method that makes this metaphorical design so impressive. Through this process Suzuki has taken the everyday paper bowl and transformed it into a thing of beauty, whilst still leaving the essence of a paper bowl and its simple ability to hold. The paper cabbage leaf is described as ‘just as pliable as a real cabbage leaf’ with each leaf becoming a dish and the putting together of these ‘dishes’ creates a head of cabbage(Suzuki 2004). This putting together of the cabbage dishes enables another layer of this design to be peeled away as ‘traditional’ paper bowls are able to be stacked together and stored as a single unit, much like a cabbage is a single unit until the leaves are peeled away.
The inspiration or moment when Suzuki realised a cabbage leaf mimics a bowl was as he saw ‘water droplets pool on the leaves and recognised that there is a ‘dish’ originally hidden in cabbages’. Suzuki also alludes to the notion that the cabbage head was ‘designed’ through developing varieties of the crops that could be conveniently grown and used in cooking. This concept that the cabbage has been designed within its natural form prompted a Google search ‘the history of cabbage’ which revealed that the intricate and tightly layered cabbage heads that are available in the supermarkets are far from the original loose leaf wild cabbage. These heads of cabbage have been manipulated or designed within agriculture using ‘horticultural selection’ during the farming, to enable it be grown with more dense and tightly layered leaves (Christman 2003). Suzuki believes this redesign of the wild cabbage makes sense when one looks at how easily the leaves can be layered over.
This notion that the cabbage head itself has been designed and manipulated to hold more layers allows more of Suzuki’s design thoughts to be revealed. The similarities between a cabbage and a bowl become more evident; both can be stacked together in layers; both can hold; and both are disposable in their different forms. The direct mimicking of a cabbage leaf using paper clay further captures the disposability of a normal paper bowl, however gives it a more defined permanence as one would be less likely to waste or even use Suzuki’s paper bowls due to the beauty engrained in their design. Adding value to the everyday object through a distinct redesign, enhanced using extreme detailing. This made me wonder what other objects could be painted with paper clay and set to create another redesigned poetic paper bowl? An onion? A Babushka doll? Both of these capture the essence of layering and stacking much like Suzuki’s cabbage heads, but would they be as effective?
Similarly, another object that uses specific detailing to add value to an everyday object is embossed paper towel developed by architect Kengo Kuma.
The basis of his design is simple by embossing the everyday object paper towel with a snake skin design this adds a level of value to what is always seen as functional not aesthetic, extremely disposable. It is the small details and essence of beauty that moves this everyday object into the realm of a poetic object. Could people be less inclined to use paper towel or waste it because it employs a small, nuance of value achieved through embossing?
Suzuki’s redesign of a paper bowl in the form of a cabbage leaf that can be stacked and layered together like a packet of paper bowls to form a single cabbage head, is extremely metaphorical within its layers of thoughts. This design brings the natural bowl shape of a cabbage leaf into the permanence of an everyday object, the bowl. Suzuki gives beauty and new meaning to an everyday object and thus imposes a level of permanence to a usually disposable object. Would you think twice before wasting one of Yasuhiro Suzuki’s Cabbage Bowls?
Further reading on paper in design – Schmidt, P. & Stattmann, N. 2009. Unfolded: Paper in Design, Art, Architecture & Industry, Birkhauser Verlag AG.