Origins in Modern ‘Pop’ and Internet Sub-Culture

The concept of ‘wetness’ in design holds a rich array of metaphor that can be unearthed through the forms ability to penetrate our sensory perceptions via visual or tactile cues. These cues connect us with a pure natural form even if we are nowhere near it. Designers such as Shuhei Hasado and Kenya Hara retain a strong consciousness of the existence of water being the truest form of sensory perception from nature. Water is a material that resonates with all human beings; it is a core part of our existence and has been since the beginning of time. In our modern urban cities we are often very far removed from this substance, obliviously unaware of its importance in many of our norms and standards of living. Kimie Tada, editor of ‘confort’ magazine writes on Hasado’s website, ‘To improve the quality of our lives we need to return to at least some our origins’. It is interesting to observe the rise of allusions to water within Modern ‘Pop’ and Internet Sub-Culture.

A body of water itself is often seen as a calming and cleansing entity, with an ability to fulfil our senses and provoke emotions recalled from memory. Computers and smart phones often have a flowing blue/green background that resembles the ocean or some other body of water, perhaps trying to bring us back to the purest form of nature as we interact with something so far removed from it. Some smartphones will even have a reactive liquid surface that ripples and moves as you swipe your fingers over it. This excites our sensory perception, although we do not feel the wetness physically, we understand it and we are affected by it in some way whether consciously or unconsciously. Two polar opposites combine, the sleek sterile world of modern technology with the beginning of all life, water.

In 2011 an Internet subculture called Seapunk emerged, combining 3D mathematical images with oceanic themes. Bright, glistening compositions of water create a backdrop for mixed up imagery that is seen to some as tasteful in is tackiness. It is hard to understand why Seapunk came about, or what the relevance of the water themes surrounding it are. We could say that it is simply a juxtaposition of technology and natures purest form, with the imagery and music arising from the culture supposedly reconnecting us with nature. However the colours and style of the water is exaggerated to an over the top point, almost seeming unnatural. Whatever the reason for this splicing of wetness and modern Internet culture is, it is interesting to observe waters presence. Using technology such as smartphones and computers to tap into our sensory perception is important, as the further we drift from nature the more we need to be reminded of it.

In 2015 we are able to observe a trend of waveforms in graphic design as well as pattern design for fashion. ‘House of Cards’ the label released a capsule collection earlier this year that is themed around the Internet and the growth of its power. Many of the clothes within the collection are cool coloured, with gradients that represent water. Her patterns also combine a wave shape with Internet imagery such as hash tags and the Wi-Fi symbol. Once again we see a splicing of technological subject matter with water and its haptic perception. This is most likely the product of the designer’s own observation of water as a theme in Internet culture. This trend will only continue to grow, as designers are inspired by this, or by one another.AW15-017-1_largeAW15-027-1_largeErudite+Guide-+Southern+Tasmania Referring to Kenya Hara’s design philosophy around ‘Emptiness’ can provide some sort of explanation for the importance and prominence of water in design. Emptiness has no shape, and although it does not carry a message itself, it does so in the viewers mind and imagination. Hara and similar designers are able to design using ‘emptiness’ by beginning with the origins of nature and of sensory perception. By investigating how technologies trigger our perception, they are able to awake something in the viewer in a subtle way. Usually design work is still influenced by the market, with pop culture often having a strong influence on content and imagery. Designers should activate delicate human sensory perceptions in an effort to transport us back to our origins. Using the most basic natural elements to relay a lasting message to an audience can lead to a pursuit of spirituality. As stated by Uniqlo’s art director ‘Kashiwa Sato’, “The answer is not in my mind, but always in theirs”. 1-1

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Waterways

Water as a natural element excites our sensory perceptions, resonating with any individual as it lies at the core of our existence. The nature of water in our environments can affect our lifestyles and dictate certain norms and standards of society. As a design tool, the elements of water provide a powerful starting point for complex metaphor and allow a designer to convey natural association in their work via visual or tactile sensory perception. Waters calming, cleansing nature appeals to us on an emotionally responsive level, and holds heavy sensory perception as a tactile liquid substance.

The city of Sydney is surrounded by water, winding through the harbour, crashing across the coastline and flowing through our city. Its importance is often overlooked, which has inspired certain designers and artists to highlight its value to our earth, as well as on a personal level. I stumbled across the exhibition ‘Waterways’ when walking through the Central Park building on George Street. The collection aims to explore the story of water in the city of Sydney and what it means to its citizens, a celebration of water, people and place.

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The works displayed a rich interweaving of human – water relationships, whilst also addressing sustainability and society. By sourcing materials from hundreds of members of the general public, a strong community connection is made. The artworks themselves now become a portrait of this community and therefore, Sydney society. By encouraging people to contribute to this exhibition a collective memory is made and archived, encouraging viewers to forge their own. The exhibition is a multi sensory experience, with works that use sound, light, colour, touch and even smell to reach out to an audience, exploring the way water touches us all.

In ‘Our Water Our Place’ a number of individuals have taken a water sample from a place that carries a sense of importance to them. This sample is an example of the persons connection that water source, and when combined with others a complex web of relationships and stories emerges. The water of Sydney is not some homogenous mass; it is always moving and connecting us in the bigger picture. The aim of this installation of vessels is to make us more aware of water and its importance in our lives. The stories that accompany these specimens encourage the viewer to stop and think about how they interact with water on a daily basis, forming their own personal memory. Hopefully it may inspire us to engage more meaningfully with each other and our personal and natural environments. We are encouraged to think more about what water means to us, how does it link us to the places we love and what would life be like without it?

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Plastic Ecology is an exploration of the damaging nature of plastic in our oceans. Over 280 million tonnes of virgin plastic are produced per year, the majority of which inevitably ends up in our waterways due to its structural nature, ability to float and therefore be carried across long distances. Sydney Water Corporation estimates that around 5000 tonnes of litter enter the ocean around Sydney every year, clogging our harbor and beaches whilst seriously impacting marine ecosystems. The lifespan of these plastic items is not often considered, by the time it leaves the users possession it has been forgotten and is no longer our concern. Plastic Ecology aims to educate viewers on the nature of their waste, what reaches the ocean and how long it can stay there for.

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The materials collected are mass-produced and instantly recognized by an audience. By placing these objects collected from the ocean in tanks and providing information about their lifespan in water the viewer is forced to reconsider these objects when interacting with them in their daily lives. For instance, soy sauce fish bottles can survive for 1000+ years in the ocean, the longest living fish in the sea. When I learnt this every time I came across or consumed one I felt a pang of guilt and the memory of their lifespan instantly came to mind, encouraging me to inform others. The soy sauce bottle is now seen in a completely different light, even outside of the exhibition space, forcing a viewer to consider the impact of human norms and standards of living on our earth and environment.

Haptic Perception of Wetness

Memory recalled through tactile sensory perception can alter the way we think about certain objects in the bigger picture. Designers can utilize the sense of touch via physical and visual sensory cues that will provoke deeper thought in an audience. This idea is something Kenya Hara describes as “Senseware”, his terminology for technology that has a strong connection to tactility. An understanding of these material cues and their embedded emotion recalled in memory, enable the designer to maximize the use of said ‘Senseware’ and haptic perception.

In Matter and the Floating World, Hara describes his method of ‘Information Architecture’ as design that is directed toward the architecture of the human mind. Sensory perception via sight, smell, sound, touch and taste enter the mind immediately, combining with existing memories accumulated there. These provide the ingredients to recall an associated feeling via memory, or construct a new one when a fresh sensation enters the mind. Haptic perception is just one way that viewer association can be altered using the sense of touch and memory recalled in the architecture of the human mind.

Haptic Geta by Shuhei Hasado is a redesign appropriation of the traditional Japanese sandal, placing the wearer/viewer on a completely naturally textured surface. Hasado is able to provoke a strong physical and emotional sensation within an audience via his tactile physical and visual cues. The design taps into the accumulation of human memory to transport the viewer to a natural setting, perhaps imagining they are walking barefoot across mossy rocks or leaf littered forest floors, far removed from the lives of people in modern urban cities. This design highlights the importance of a sensory connection to nature and its elements, in particular the haptic sensation of wetness.

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Hasado is an artisanal plaster craftsman who has further developed Japanese traditional plastering techniques with his own unique contemporary methods that utilize natural materials. Hasado has a deep connection with nature and its associated memory as it is an important part of his own memories of growing up in the mountain village of “Takayama”. His fascination with clay and its natural qualities provided a healing effect for him and led to experimentation with other natural materials. All of Hasado’s work stems from inspiration obtained from nature, allowing him to translate these ideas to an audience via craftsmanship and deeply poetic design.

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The natural element of water is a strong visual and physical cue that utilises haptic perception, present in both Hasado and Hara’s work. Water holds strong connotations in many cultures as a cleansing and healing element, particularly in traditional Japan. The haptic perception of wetness provides a strong stimuli for recalled memory, and tactile association recalled in memory. Hasado believes plaster works are “the tracks of water” and always feels the existence of water hidden inside clay when he is working, describing his own memory and association. Water is important because it ‘runs everywhere on the earth; it engenders life, scenery, climate’, and all that we see in nature.’ The visual and physical presence of water returns us to a natural, cleansed state even within an urban setting.

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Hara’s own design contribution to the ‘HAPTIC’ exhibition was ‘The Water Pachinko’ machine, a slanted surface with raised barriers similar to a pinball machine and with a surface of coated paper that reflects water. The visual effect created mirrors nature by forming beads “Like dew on lotus leaves” and is referred to by Hara as ‘the lotus effect’. He plays on the delicate senses of a human being, recalling nature whilst using the evolution of science, modern materials and media in order to open up new possibilities in the mind. Hara also created signage for the exhibition ‘Senseware’ using the same technique to represent water droplets falling down a surface. As each droplet falls away, another one forms and takes its place, the process continuing like rain falling on lotus leaves. Haptic design exists to open wide your sensory perception to discover new ideas and associations that would otherwise not be related. The Haptic perception of wetness is a globally significant form that connects us with our natural cleansed state both internally and externally.

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