A Different View on Disposability

Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki
Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki

It’s a wonder how something as simple as a cabbage can turn into such a delicate and exquisite design object.

Cabbage Bowls was a project created by the Japanese artist, Yasuhiro Suzuki. Suzuki was born in Shizuoka in 1979 and attended Tokyo Zokei University. He graduated in 2001 and started working in the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at The University of Tokyo (Yasuhiro Suzuki n.d). Suzuki is seen as a designer who transforms the ordinary into extraordinary (Spoon & Tamago 2012). By ordinary, I mean objects such as a pencil sharpener, a stamp, an eye dropper or a tree stump. Going through some of his work, we can immediately get an idea of how he works as a designer and also of his thinking process. Yasuhiro Suzuki uses his personal experience, instincts and perception of the world to renovate everyday objects. He sees a ship moving and leaving behind a wave pattern that reminds him of a zipper, so why not make a ship in the form of a zip? The metaphor here is simple but the outcome is still engaging, innovative and fun. The artist’s curiosity is also another way by which he comes up with beautiful ideas. Another one of his project is the Re-cocoon, which uses silk cocoons to create lampshades. Yet, the subject of this article is his famous Cabbage Bowls.

Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki
Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki

The Cabbage Bowls was designed in 2004 for the Haptic-Awakening the Senses Exhibition in Tokyo. The designer first created the mold by using silicone and replicated the exact structure and pattern of real cabbage leaves. The mold is then covered with paper clay and left to dry. When peeled off, we are left with a paper clay cabbage leaf that looks exactly like the real vegetable (Yasuhiro Suzuki 2004). To make it even more realistic, Suzuki reproduced every single leaf in a cabbage head. His design turned out to look, feel and weigh almost exactly like a real cabbage. (Hara K. 2004) The beauty of these bowls lies in their appearance as well as in the experience of them. The material used, being quite disposable and ordinary, relates to our perception of a real cabbage, which is chopped, consumed and chucked away without thought. Yet, as we keep looking at these cabbage bowls, we are tempted to think of them as modern, fragile and very aesthetically pleasing. Isn’t it ironic how we can easily dispose of a cabbage leaf but we would probably think twice before disposing it’s replicate? In a way, Yasuhiro Suzuki’s design unconsciously makes us see the cabbage as more valuable.

Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki
Cabbage Bowls by Yasuhiro Suzuki

The artist emphasizes the aspect of the cabbage with the lack of colours. By using white only, we are forced to look at the leaf in its purest state, with all the creases and folds. Obviously, we all know what a cabbage looks like. Yet, surprisingly, the more we look at these bowls, the less we seem to know about the cabbage. As designer Kenya Hara mentioned, ‘taking something that we think we already know and making it unknown thrills us afresh with its reality and deepens our understanding of it.’ (Hara K. 2004). The use of white also strips away any distraction from our westernized society, and focus our attention on a more quiet and profound Japanese craftsmanship (Frostig V. 2010).

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Porcelain Cabbage Bowl by Anon Pairot Design Studio

Very similarly, Anon Pairot Design Studio created a cabbage leaf bowl out of Porcelain with realistic paint technique (Designboom 2011). The contrast between the two bowls is huge. In my opinion, Suzuki’s design appears more valuable. Perhaps this has to do with the fragility and softness of paper clay. Moreover, from Designboom article, we can see how people interact and use the object as a bowl to eat. Although the paper clay leaves are also bowls, I would personally be reluctant to actually use it due to its aesthetic.

Concrete Toilet Paper Rolls Holder
Concrete Toilet Paper Rolls Holder

Another use of metaphor is seen in this concrete toilet roll holder, designed by Bertrand Jayr and Lyon Béton (Dunn J.L. 2015). Here, the designers assimilate the colours, forms and softness of toilet roll papers with clouds. The roll papers usually seen as something, again, disposable, cheap and useless, suddenly get a little more value. The rolls are immediately linked with nature and wasting a lot of paper rolls will make the cloud shape slowly disappear.

Yet another example, is the Paper Wastebasket by Keiko Hirano. The wastebasket is made of vulcanized fibers which soften up in liquid and harden when dried. When soft, the fibers are crumpled manually to create the wastebasket. This gives value to the materials and the wastebasket as it becomes something formed individually (Hara K. 2004).

Paper Wastebasket by Keiko Hirano
Paper Wastebasket by Keiko Hirano
Paper Wastebasket by Keiko Hirano
Paper Wastebasket by Keiko Hirano
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