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RCA Communication Students Interpret Radio Waves in Tokyo

Students and tutors from the School of Communication have collaborated with KYOTO Design Lab at the Kyoto Institute of Technology (KIT) to create new interpretative works based on poet Shuntaro Tanikawa’s unique collection of vintage radios. The works on display at KYOTO Design Lab’s Tokyo Gallery explored the radios as physical objects, radio communication as a medium, as well as Tanikawa’s poetry.

Tanikawa (born 1931) is one of the most widely read and highly regarded Japanese poets. In 2010, he donated his extensive collection of vintage, mainly American radios to KIT, along with associated posters and publications. His passion for radios and radio engineering is driven not so much by the content that is broadcast, but by the potential that radios offer to connect to geographically distant places. 

‘Museums offer people of every age, ability, cultural or social background the opportunity to learn in their own way directly and primarily through objects rather than text,’ explained Julia Cassim, Professor at KYOTO Design Lab. ‘Archived collections like this, particularly those that belonged to someone as interesting as Shuntaro Tanikawa, can start fertile conversations on so many levels. In this workshop, we used two of his poems about radios as the starting point of the design brief, but the radios themselves are such beautiful objects in their own right, which can be explored purely on that level.’

Julia invited Dr Kevin Walker, Head of the RCA’s Information Experience Design (IED) programme, RCA Visual Communication Tutor Debbie Cook, and IED Visiting Lecturer Yuri Suzuki to run a five-day workshop interpreting Tanikawa’s radios at KYOTO Design Lab. Three IED and two Visual Communication MA students were chosen from an open call to take part in the workshop, alongside KIT students and outside participants. They were asked to design prototypes for stand-alone interpretative works in any media to bring the collection to life and underscore its significance to the work of Tanikawa.

The refined results of the workshop, alongside a sound piece created by Yuri Suzuki, form the core of an exhibition at KYOTO Design Lab’s Tokyo Gallery. The RCA students worked in two teams to create works for the exhibition, and were also involved in a gallery talk via Skype, in which Tanikawa took part.

Two lines from Tanikawa’s poem A Night Radio inspired the Visual Communication students Anastasia Galicheva and Arjun Harrison-Mann: ‘Why do ears wish to hear beyond their capacity? / I think we hear too much nowadays.’ Their interactive work explores the idea of information overload. A multi-voice audio is gradually cut off as people interact with the installation by sitting on cushions, creating a silent space for conversations to occur between people.

The IED students – Francisco Norris, Virginia Koutla and Jungwon Jung – created a speculative future wearable radio device for use in disasters, such as the world war Tanikawa lived through. ‘It was amazing to exchange views on design with the Japanese students,’ explained Francisco. ‘We encountered cultural and idiomatic challenges, but because their backgrounds were diverse their design approach was also different. In order to produce work that responds to the poetry of Tanikawa, and to understand its English translations in the right context, we needed to learn about Japanese society.’

Design Interpretations | Shuntaro Tanikawa’s Radio Waves was exhibited at KYOTO Design Lab Tokyo Gallery, 3331 Arts Chiyoda, 6-11-14 Sotokanda Chiyoda-Ku Tokyo, 101-0021, 22 April – 28 May 2017 and organised by Kyoto Design Lab, Kyoto Institute of Technology