The British-Japanese designer Reiko Kaneko is new to SCP. Her first product for the company, the Adderley Works pendant light, was launched in 2013. Now, for the 2014 Collection, she has been working on some very special terracotta tableware. Our Editor, Duncan Riches, called in to find out more.
On rare occasions, an interview will leave you with a feeling a little like you get after watching a decent film. Not in a good beginning, middle and end kind of way, but rather that sensory feeling that makes you want to do something active afterwards. You recall some minor plot detail the next day, or something about how a character behaves is pure inspiration and it resides with you for the rest of the week. It was thus after my telephone interview with Reiko Kaneko about her new design work for SCP. On a relaxed Friday, one which preceded the first bright sunlit spring weekend in London, her thoughts on place, structure, form, habit, technique and finish reflected an almost existential approach to life, one which was hard not to be impressed by.
We begin by talking about place. Reiko was born, for want of a better term, in transit, to an English mother and Japanese father. “Not the usual way round,” she explains, but then nothing is particularly usual in her life. The early part of her childhood, until she was about seven years old, was lived in rural northern Japan. Her father had built his own house there, before she was born. She remembers the house, and in fact all the houses in the area, being a bit “ramshackle”. This was in part due to the price of land, which wouldn’t change regardless of what was built on it, so buildings were often erected for twenty to thirty years of use only. Yet, any sense of the temporary didn’t curtail her father’s love of modern objects. The house was filled with various items of Bauhaus furniture, things he really treasured. Aside from the house, she recalls the nearby lakes, the mountains, a rural setting in which she had the sense of being a bit of an outsider; her brown hair being a feature to be marvelled at by other kids. However, most vividly she recalls the light. It was brighter there, somehow clearer, somehow more pure.
After her father died, she returned with her mother to the UK, and they settled in London. Again, she was initially cast as an outsider at school, with her English lagging behind her contemporaries when she first arrived from Japan. However, the open and tolerant attitude of London soon got under her skin. It’s where “no-one bothers to ask where you are from,” and this clearly appeals to her, as does the sheer vibrancy of the place. Her accent is brilliantly varied. When she speaks about serious things, she sounds rather posh, but in a flash she can fall into a noticeable North London slang, which is exactly what she does when she asserts, “It’s like a drug, isn’t it, London. I still do need it.” That may be so, but she gets a little less of it these days, since she moved her studio to Stoke-on-Trent in 2012, maybe a few days every two weeks.
After studying design at Central Saint Martins she first set up her studio in the East End in 2007, but as ceramics is her chosen discipline, working predominantly in fine bone china, she soon found herself feeling slightly too removed from the intimacy of process. As she gradually developed her products, her clients and a network of producers in the Potteries, she began to want more control over details. Inspired by the perfection of a takeaway bento box on a trip to Japan, she realised that if she wanted to take control of the whole service she was providing, not just the design itself, she would likely have to move to Stoke-on-Trent. This real respect for the minor details, the unglamorous things like delivery times and packaging, is one of her very Japanese traits. When she described this, it brought to mind the level of interconnectedness I experienced when visiting Tokyo ten years ago. I was struck by the sight of a team of Japanese workers patrolling the road entrance to a large building site with industrial sized hoses. They washed down every truck that left the site so that no dirt would be taken onto the road. This level of joined up thought is something one comes to expect in Japan.