The smokestack humidifier says it all. It’s irreverent and whimsical, yet functional. It references elements of nature and industry in a seamless design that speaks to the ever-increasing reality of urban landscapes dotted by small pockets of nature. It has Tokyo design written all over it. Or at least that’s what John Calvelli from the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) thought when he came across the humidifier in Tokyo. So the Communication Design associate professor packed it in his suitcase and brought it to Portland to put on display.
Such is the premise of a unique “suitcase-curated” exhibition on view at the PNCA’s Feldman gallery through May 27th. Calvelli was one of five ‘suitcase curators’ charged with bringing five items from Tokyo to Portland—none bigger than a suitcase and none costing more than $500—to continue an exchange about the emerging relationship between the two cities.
The exhibition comes on the heels of PNCA’s Tokyo Flow symposium that convened in Portland in April to explore the flow of contemporary Japanese popular culture across the Pacific and its impact on Portland’s design community. The sessions brought together international designers and creative thinkers such as design giant Teruo Kurosaki, Wieden+Kennedy’s John Jay, Tokyo designer and architect Oki Sato, and the Museum of Modern Art’s Paola Antonelli.
“Portland has really become the direct bridge with Japan,” Antonelli says, a link that is driven by companies such as W+K, Nike, and Ziba Design who have offices in both Portland and Tokyo. The city is fast becoming an intersection for cultural transactions between the East and West. And the objects that Calvelli and the other suitcase curators—who include Kurosaki, Sato, Jay, and Nike’s Howard Lichter—brought to Portland continue this trend.
Featuring designs that range from the quotidian to the conceptual, the exhibition is about Tokyo design’s ability to marry high and low culture; its search for poetic technology; and ways in which it recaptures ‘high-context’ design that was lost with mass production, as well as infusing nature in the city.