Studies

Well Plated

The creative group secca uses 3D technology to evolve kōgei

We’ve all fallen in love with a one-of-a-kind design piece. It was made for me! we think. And in a sense, it was made for you. Handcrafted objects are often created with a specific purpose in mind and execute that purpose perfectly—unlike manufactured goods, which are created with numerous purposes in mind. For example, the same universal dinner plate is created to serve a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and rye toast, as well as to present lambchops at your dinner party. But what happens when a plate is made for a specific dish, what will it accentuate and how does its design enhance taste?

Tactile art and design objects created by a single artist take a long time to make. For some artists, like Masayasu Mitsuke, who uses a single-haired weasel brush to paint up to ten layers of intricate detail onto porcelain, one bowl can take hours and hours. Because of the painstaking process, objects like these can be expensive. Unfortunately, price happens to be the determining factor between owning such a work or viewing it from afar.

  • Chanoyu or “Japanese tea ceremony,” is a secular ritual in which a studied tea master prepares and serves matcha, a powdered green tea, to their guests in a well-rehearsed, choreographed presentation with special objects on display.
  • Kaiseki is a multicourse meal based on taste, texture, appearance, and color, which is often compared to Western tasting menus and haute cuisine.

However, building a permanent collection of unique purposeful works for your home is becoming increasingly popular in the post-Internet age, a time when we have access to a global market of goods. Despite the ease with which we consume mass-produced objects, touching something sleek made by a robot no longer gives us the same pleasure it did when the first iPhone came out. We want more, so we turn to the one-of-a-kind design piece.

Perhaps the nuanced, honest surface of a handcrafted object offers us something to hold on to.

The creative group based in Kanazawa, or the “kōgei kingdom,” Japan, secca Inc. proposes a possible solution to the high-prices-for-meaningful-objects dilemma. They suggest using technology to help form kōgei at a lower cost. Rather than using technology to aid mass production, this solution yields poignant pieces of living ware that have utility while adhering to popular aesthetics of contemporary life and the everyday. And so secca has developed a new production method that integrates traditional kōgei practice with 3-D digital technology to create singular pieces, uniquely designed, printed for purchase.

It all began with three men who dreamed of producing better products, ones that could be “loved and cherished for years.” The design duo of Tatsuya Uemachi and Yuichi Yanai and their business adviser, Hitoshi Miyata, had a history of working in corporate design and big business. Both designers graduated from Kanazawa College of Art and were experienced craftsmen at Nikon and Victor Company of Japan, respectively, before turning to ceramics. Miyata excelled in the communications industry, starting his own music production company at age twenty-one and going on to produce cutting-edge technology. In 2013, Uemachi formed secca, and in 2015 all the players were put into place.

The creators of secca started to receive attention after opening a diner above their design studio. The project began in August 2013, and by 2015 the restaurant was up and running as a collaboration among secca and local professional chefs.

The chefs provided food and expertise, while secca collected information and observed restaurant goers.

Their shared thought was, Wouldn’t it be great to have a custom experience for every dish served?

At this point, secca already had a different way of making things. The team adopted what Uemachi described as Yanai’s pre-secca process, a ceramics method that integrates traditional kōgei techniques with contemporary digital techniques. To do this, Yanai introduced design skills he had developed as a product designer, as well as advanced digital tools such as 3D CAD, into the world of historical ceramics. They set out to use this design process, plus their experimental diner, to create dinnerware that allowed a chef to present his or her dish at the “maximum level”—making its plate fit each meal, guest, chef, and a restaurant’s ambience—for a lesser price than handmade pieces.

In Japan, people have a special approach to dining, in which ritual and presentation are key. Many people are aware of chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, but the amount of tradition, practice, planning, consideration, and time that the ritual entails is a mystery to most. Each ceremony is unique—never repeated twice—and underscores the host’s presentation of collected objects and utensils to their guests. These objects are treasured and dictate the experience. Other lesser-known forms of Japanese dining demand the same level of care. For example, kaiseki, a multicourse meal based on taste, texture, appearance, and color, is often compared to Western tasting menus. However, some swear that it is more than a mealit is a choreographed performance involving chef, staff, guests, and props.

Perhaps Japan’s long history of aesthetics and food explains why secca is so passionate about their project. Uemachi says:

Only a small number of dinnerware are complete by themselves; the value of most dinnerware actualizes when it is combined with food … For this reason, dinnerware is an unfinished item that needs to be viewed as a canvas.

Moreover, it is not enough for dinnerware to merely serve as a canvas; dinnerware has no value if it cannot serve to improve the food arranged on it.

While that balance is our eternal challenge, we feel confident that we’re slowly starting to grasp the best possible balance from our diner experiment. We’re developing a “sensitivity,” or skillset, because we interact with chefs daily. We are certain that this sensitivity will become our strength.

This sensitivity has propelled them in their quest to establish a method for providing a small amount of made-to-order dinnerware at a reasonable cost—a task thought impossible by many. If you aren’t a chef, you can still own a work by secca. They make an array of timeless objects outside of the kitchen, from musical instruments to wall decor.

Credits:

  1. Restaurant L’aube collaboration
  2. Photo: Kazuhiro Morisaki
  3. Noodle shop MENSHO collaboration
  4. -10. Photo: Kazuhiro Morisaki