Cabbage or Bowl? Ordinary or Extraordinary?

Would you eat from a cabbage leaf?

So you cannot decide on what you want to eat for dinner. You decide on the easy option of making a salad. Good idea – you don’t need to cook! Just chop up a few vegetables, add some nuts, spices and dressing and you’re set for the night.

But when you made your salad last night, did you peel the first couple of leaves off your lettuce and throw them out? My question is why did you do it?

I asked a group of ten people why they did this. Their responses included: its ruined lettuce and they are older leaves, disgusting, dirty, discoloured. One response in particular, ‘you don’t know who has touched it’. I then showed them this image.

Yasuhiro Suzuki - 'Cabbage Bowl' 2004 (15x20x20cm)
Yasuhiro Suzuki – ‘Cabbage Bowl’ 2004 (15x20x20cm)

I asked them would you eat from this cabbage leaf?

Their reply… ‘Can I?’.

Yasuhiro Suzuki is a Japanese product designer who has developed a fondness for experimenting with the materiality of objects. He approaches design both physically and scientifically. He has a physical design process as he focuses on the ways in which, his hands can manipulate materials and challenge the overall use of the materiality.

Suzuki’s bodies of work are based off very banal themes. These concepts surround singular objects or simple things. Including leaves, trees, and children playing or, in this case, a cabbage leaf.

Yasuhiro Suzuki designed the cabbage bowl in 2004. It was a design that he stumbled across due to experimenting with form and details.  As Hara states, “he developed the object not because of what it is, but because of things that happened” (Hara, 2007). The cabbage leaf was created by experimenting with simple materials of paper and clay. Once dried, washed and peeled, the remaining shell left behind resembled the form of a cabbage leaf. Each layer is pliable, and a collection of leaves can form a head of cabbage. Essentially within one cabbage you could have a complete set of hidden dishes.

To any individual outside the field of design, this is a painted cabbage leaf. Suzuki has camouflaged the function of this object as the emphasis is placed on the aesthetics of what it visually represents. In Designing Design Kenya Hara states that, “design is not about creating something new, but also the act of making it unknown” (Hara, 2007).

'Cabbage Bowl' - Suzuki, 2004
‘Cabbage Bowl’ – Suzuki, 2004

In this case, Suzuki has made a piece of cabbage that was once considered disposable, unnecessary and old into an object that is appreciated. He has experimented with an object that once had a single purpose and adapted its function for another use in the simplest of forms. This object underwent a subtle change through manipulating its aesthetical materiality and colour in order to transform its function completely. The fact that the designed object is white suggests there is no chaos in design; simplicity has always been there but as designers we have overcomplicated design.

Graphic Designer Kenya Hara is an advocate for exploring emptiness within design and in his design practice. Just like Suzuki, Hara forces people to re-evaluate the design of existing objects, not to improve designs but to develop a refined idea, focusing on its poetic background or concept.

Poets are considered to be literal designers whereby they give ‘new’ names to objects through descriptions. Designers work both visually and literally whereby we design objects that have been reinvented through changing their aesthetic and function for a practical reason. Both Yasuhiro Suzuki and Kenya Hara are designers who wish to find the emptiness within simplistic design and exploit it. I might go back to questioning why I throw out my lettuce leaves. Maybe next time I will wash them?