Marked by a snow-white dial with a texture evocative of tree bark, the SLGH005 timepiece from the Japanese watchmaker Grand Seiko was informed by the shirakaba (white birch trees) that thrive in Japan’s northern region, particularly those near the company’s studio in Shizukuishi, where the accessory is made. Released earlier this year as part of Grand Seiko’s Heritage Collection, the “White Birch” watch elegantly symbolizes the deep connections between nature and time—elements that feature in every timepiece the company creates—and serves as a fitting muse for a multisensory installation that Grand Seiko will debut this week at the Design Miami collectible design fair.
Titled “The Journey of Birch” (on view Dec. 1–5), the immersive experience was designed by BCXSY, an Amsterdam-based creative practice that was founded in 2007 by designers Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto. BCXSY’s work often exists at the intersection of craft, history, and the natural world, as is apparent in past projects including a series of furniture that celebrates the tiny fossils embedded in Vicenza stone, and a collection of fruit-shaped ceramic vases informed by plants that Cohen and Yamamoto observed at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
For the Grand Seiko installation, BCXSY devised an alluring, abstract representation of a birch forest. A custom indigo-colored wallpaper woven with shimmering metallic fibers lines the space’s interior, creating an ethereal atmosphere. Toward the center of the room, three different-sized metal rods—representing hours, minutes, and seconds, respectively—extend from the ceiling into a ring of sand on the floor and mimic the colors seen on the “White Birch” watch dial. The mechanized rods slowly revolve around a central birch trunk, creating circles in the sand that mark the passing of time. Placed throughout the booth are benches that resemble wooden shipping crates, a reference to movement and travel. Each is equipped with headphones that transmit the meditative sounds of the rods moving through the sand.
We recently spoke with Cohen and Yamamoto to learn more about the ideas behind the installation, and about how it fits into their larger design practice.
How did you come up with the concept for the installation?
Boaz Cohen: We wanted to create a complete experience, something a bit like a dreamlike forest, inspired by the birch woods—particularly those found on the Hiraniwa Plateau [in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture] that Grand Seiko is helping to protect. That whole story really touched us. It’s beautiful to see a company that cares about nature and about the country that it’s from. So, to wrap the walls, we designed a wallpaper that provides an abstract yet recognizable representation of the birch woods. In the middle of the clock, there’s a white birch going from the sand pool to the ceiling.
As for the title, “The Journey of Birch,” we were initially hoping to get a birch tree to literally travel from Japan to Miami, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t happen. Nevertheless, we wanted to suggest and illustrate the idea of movement, both in the obvious sense of a watch’s [hands moving] and in the sense of travel and transport. [You’ll see] benches that appear to be made from shipping crates. Elsewhere, there are crates topped with a section of a birch tree trunk.
We also wanted the installation to give people a moment of meditative [calm]. By putting on one of the headsets, you can really take a little break from the busy environment of the fair, and be with yourself and what is in front of you.
Sayaka Yamamoto: We want visitors to feel like they are surrounded by a big surrealistic forest. So you sit there, listen, and take time to see the time. You usually can’t see time or feel time—it’s not tactile—but here, you can use other [senses] to do so.
Are any formal aspects of the “White Birch” timepiece—such as its craftsmanship and technology—apparent in the space?
Cohen: This installation is our emotional interpretation of the watch. We didn’t take things too literally. That’s because the watch is, of course, perfect: Every smallest detail is extremely well thought out and well executed. The texture of its surface, for example—it’s amazing how something on that scale can contain so much detail and skill. We would never dare add to it. The only thing we could do to honor it was to express a related atmosphere.
How do you think about nature and time in your design work more broadly
Yamamoto: We love nature as nature, but also as a material to work with, [and often] use it literally as the material to produce a product.
Cohen: Nature and time are things we think a lot about and that we care a lot about. One thing that we like about nature is that it has a certain strangeness. There are so many things in nature that are kind of weird, like things you would look at and think, Who would have thought to make this in this way? And time, in a very different way, shares this strangeness. It’s one of those concepts that we as human beings have made lovely tools to measure, but there is still something very abstract about it. It’s one of the biggest topics that touch us as human beings, so it’s something which is very present in our work.
What do you want visitors to take away from the installation?
Cohen: I hope that through all of the elements we’ve created, we’ll trigger a certain curiosity. Our inspiration and our story [for this project] came from Grand Seiko, and I believe that if people appreciate the experience they get there, [it will lead them to] find a connection with the brand, and to learn more about what the company has to offer.
Yamamoto: Going back to our interpretation and our portrait of Grand Seiko, I hope that each person has a different [interpretation] of what they see in the booth, and has a different experience inside of it. So there’s not one absolute answer. If I interviewed one hundred visitors about their experience and received one hundred [different] answers, that would be fine for me. Because while they’re all seeing the same installation, I want them to see beyond the outlines we’ve prepared.
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Sometimes—especially in moments of political strife, pandemics, hurricanes, or all of the above—a television plotline caWatch a train wend its way around the fjords and farms of the Norwegian countryside over the course of seven hours, or see a sweater get made, in the time of a typical work day, from A to Z (beginning with shearing a sheep’s wool), set to the tune of cheery foldogs frolicking on a beach, a meandering stroll among flowering cherry blossoms in Japan, and a sailing trip to Tobago, accompanied by the soothing sounds of waves lapping against a boat’s exterior. The format can arguably be traced to n1963 film “Sleep” consisted entirely of his lover, the poet and performance artist John Giorno, napping. Regardless of its subject matter
For those of us who are lucky enough to have a full plate right now, consider helping those who don’t. One avenue for alCoalition for the Homeless, forced to cancel its annual fall fundraising gala due to the pandemic, is launching the Artist Plate Project, a limited-edition collection of porcelain platters depicting works by 50 legendary artists, including Tauba Auerbach, Ep. 25 of our Time Sensitive podcast). The series will be available on the organization’s website beginning Nov. 16. Profits from the heirloom-worthy tableProspect, will go toward serving the 59,000 New Yorkers who currently live in shelters or who struggle to survive on streets andA recent study by Columbia University predicts that homelessness will increase by 40 to 45 percent within the next year due to Covid-19—making the coalition’
Durham, North Carolina–based journalist and filmmaker Saleem Reshamwala has been particularly productive of late: In addBecoming America anthology, he’s host of the TED podcast Pindrop and a mentor to emerging Asian and Asian-American filmmakers through a new fellowship program called The Sauce.
This year has been a blur, but many hard truths remain crystal clear. By now, the Trump administration’s glaring and conthe U.S. hit the 9 million mark in virus cases. While President Trump has continued to shirk responsibility, scapegoat other countries, and callously state that it “is what it is”—even as the White House itself has become a hot zone, seeing two waves of infections in the span of a single month—we kTotally Under Control, director Alex Gibney, along with co-directors Suzanne Hillinger and Ophelia Harutyunyan, bring sharp-eyed clarity to t
At age 3, Spencer Bailey, writer and editor (and co-founder of The Slowdown), survived the crash-landing of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. In the wake of the tragedy, he found himself the subject of a memorial sculptureIn Memory Of: Designing Contemporary Memorials (Phaidon), examining the power and potential of memorials designed over the past 40 years, from Maya Lin’s Vietnam VeteHere, he describes the process of working on the book, and tells us why the power of abstraction may help us all to heal You began working on this project nearly thirty years after the Flight 232 crash. What has it been like to process and
Japanese artist Makoto Azuma is known for creating poetic botanical sculptures, but the medium in which he works most inFlower Punk, an award-winning film about his work and life, now available for viewing as part of the The New Yorker Documentary series. In just under 30 minutes, director Alison Klayman captures the artist as he creates spectacular arrangements, a“Exobiotanica.” Rigging a camera and a flower bomb to a weather balloon, documenting his terrestrial creation as it soars through the s
Museums and galleries are reopening in New York, and one of the most compelling shows of the season is primed to take plen plein air. Organized by the nonprofit Art at a Time Like This, in collaboration with Save Art Space, “Ministry of Truth: 1984–2020” will reclaim a common component of the city’s visual real estate—the billboard—to display works by an international ran
In 1617, German artist Jobst Harrich completed an oil painting on a copper canvas. The work, which depicts a flaxen-hairposted Harrich’s painting to her feed and tweeted, “maybe if I take my tit out they will stop explaining my own joke back to me.” She applied this tactic to“Conversation in a Park,” depicting a gent gesturing toward a stoic lady (“you would be so much prettier if you smiled”), and a 1959 Norman Rockwell cover for the Saturday Evening Post, which portrays eleven men ganging up on a lone woman in a jury room (“thanks I’m gay now”). The thread went viral. A fMen to Avoid in Art and Life (Chronicle Books), sold out within days of its release. It features more than 90 artworks accompanied by wince-worthy c
An art critic, curator, and author, Antwaun Sargent has become a leading voice for a rising class of Black contemporary The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion (Aperture), Sargent is serving up his next, as the editor of Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists (D.A.P.), highlighting the works of Black artists from the Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art. An exhibition of the same name is currently on view at the Lehmann College Art Gallery (which is temporarily closed due to Covid-19)
New York–based artists and brothers Steven and William Ladd have been creating together for 20 years, using their comple“The Other Side,” on view through Oct. 17 at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, the Ladds have welcomed. Offering visceral and emotional depth to a population of society so often silenced and anonymized behind closed doors, t
Election season is upon us here in the U.S., and with all of the anxieties circulating around—pandemic-related risks, poThis is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot (Princeton Architectural Press), a new book by Alicia Yin Cheng, a founding partner of the Brooklyn-based graphic design
Brooklyn-based writer and artist Edith Zimmerman served as the founding editor of The Hairpin—the former general-interest women’s website that defined a generation of online journalism, with pieces like the perenn“Women Laughing Alone With Salad”—and has gone on to contribute to outlets including The New York Times Magazine, The Cut, and the podcast This American Life. These days, you can find her work in Drawing Links, a frequently published newsletter of comics and musings. We recently polled Zimmerman about her current media diet. He
You are what you Google and “like.” This is an eerie truism of 21st-century life, where our experience of reality is larThe Social Dilemma, a new docu-drama premiering on Sept. 9 on Netflix, delves into the dangerous human impact that social networking has oCenter for Humane Technology (and our guest on Ep. 35 of At a Distance), says in the trailer: “If technology creates mass chaos, loneliness, polarization, more election hacking, [and] more i
Our summer quarantine days have far too often been spent gazing at web browser windows—far and away from vacation views,Window Swap, a mash-up of the virtual and physical. Designed as a “quarantine project” by creatives Sonali Ranjit and Vaishnav Bala
For the past five years, as one of the co-founders of the annual “JONALDDUDD” exhibition, designer Lydia Cambron has put on one of the most consistently surprising and challenging presentations of
School’s out forever—or at least for the immediate future, depending on what city you live in—and it’s certainly taking hands-on lesson plans, open-sourced and free to download, that are inspired by artists and objects from its permanent collection. “Fashioning
There’s a formula for homicide news stories: Place a TV anchor at the scene of a crime, and state that a victim was shotfatally shot in the U.S., including suicides and accidents. The sheer volume of incidents makes them easy to tune out: We don’t know
Five months on, living in a pandemic has become a new liminal normal, shifting our gaze toward the familiar sights, soun“Pandemic Objects,” an ongoing editorial project that highlights and reflects upon everyday objects (defined in the broadest sense) that hathe gaze of the drone, which has seen a surge in use worldwide in recent months, with people dispatching them in their hometowns—even to takejump rope that gives her pause as she riffles through the museum’s archives, uncovering photos, artworks, and accounts about the
The Internet Archive is one rabbit hole we’ve willingly jumped into more than a handful of times since the quarantine beWhole Earth Catalog, the 1960s counterculture print publication often referred to as “the web before the web existed”—its iconic, jam-packeElectric Whole Earth Catalog, now available on the site. Originally launched in 1998 on CD-ROM (how quaint!), the lo-fi “electric” edition offers a
Home is where the heart is—but, on the silver screen, it can be a bit forlorn. In his recently published broadside publiSad People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films, Los Angeles–based designer and art director Benjamin Critton explores the much-maligned trope of the Modernist home in popular culture, with contributing essays from writers Erik BSad People—the long-awaited follow-up to his 2010 edition, Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films—and what filmic mood may strike him next for volume three of the ongoing project.