PHOTOS BY HIROMI YOKOI
On a sunny afternoon during this spring’s Milan furniture fair, blissfully unaware of the encroaching cloud of ash, I made my way through the maze of exhibitions at Spazio Rossani Orlandi, the former factory turned gallery and shop off Corso Magenta. As usual, there was plenty to see: During the fair, the gallery practically splits its seams with new work, giving over corners of the courtyard and even parts of the stairwell as exhibition space for young talent. In the basement, I encountered a bottleneck. Nearly everyone passing through the room occupied by the Eindhoven-based duo BCXSY was stopping to gape at the young couple’s latest offering: a trio of Japanese screens in hinoki cypress wood, each designed as two geometric shapes intersecting in beautifully woven grids. Called Join, it was, in many fairgoers’ opinion, an example of the best sort of product — one that makes better something you hardly knew needed improvement.
BCXSY’s designers — the Dutch/Israeli Boaz Cohen and Sayaka Yamamoto, a jewelry designer from Tokyo — have been inching their way towards fame since 2007, when on a whim Cohen asked his girlfriend if she’d like to show with him in a small space he’d reserved at Salone Satellite, the young designer’s showcase at Milan’s fairgrounds. The two quickly came up with a name (pronounced BIC-see, it’s an acronym of their initials, invented for its URL-friendliness), a logo (an old-school silhouette portrait depicting his bald head and her hair pulled into a bun), and a collection, which included a set of tiles textured to look like fruits and vegetables, which was their first product to catch our eye.
In the beginning, the Design Academy Eindhoven grads created cut-glass coffee-table aquariums, hand-gilded plastic trinkets, light-up swings — playful one-offs, in other words, that turned the heads of design editors but didn’t seem destined for many homes. In the last year or so, however, their work has taken a turn into a serious exploration of craft and technique. Besides the screens, the two debuted in Milan a series of coiled, beaded vases, created in collaboration with Editions in Craft and the Siyazama Project, a bead craft collective of women from the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa.
For the screens, Cohen and Yamamoto traveled to Japan to work with Mr. Tanaka, a 70-year-old master of tategu, the Japanese art of wood joinery. “We knew we wanted to do a project with the crafts tradition in Japan, but it was hard to find someone,” Cohen says. “People who do that sort of traditional woodwork are either really famous, like national treasures, or impossible to locate.” When they finally found Mr. Tanaka — who has no email, no assistant, and speaks no English — they spent a month with him, taking two weeks to find inspiration for the project and two to actually develop the series. As they were leaving, Mr. Tanaka estimated that it would take him 10 to 14 days to complete each piece; two-and-a-half months later, he was still working nights and weekends and popping energy drinks to finish the third. (The labor, the materials, and the incredibly fine detailing add up to a rather hefty price tag for the limited editions, of which 8 of each variation are available.)
At Rossana Orlandi, Cohen and Yamamoto had on hand a photo album detailing their time with Mr. Tanaka as well as his continuing work once they returned to the Netherlands. Presented here are few of our favorites, along with the story of the screens’ making.