Tactile Instinct

Text by Joy Ng
Photography by Rebecca Toh & Jotham Koh

We live in a tactile world.

Our familiarity with the objects around us informs our subconscious sense of well-being. Since time immemorial, we have forged intimate tactile relationships with natural materials such as ceramics, glass, wood and metal. These relationships go beyond utility to satisfy our need for the aesthetics. Unfortunately, this fragile relationship is being threatened in the face of an increasingly technological world, where much opportunity for human touch is lost.

Edwin Low noticed this prevailing phenomenon in our society, where food is fast, products are mass-produced, and craftsmanship is lost to machines. This prompted him to launch Supermama in a quaint shophouse, creating a utopian sanctuary for idealists and dreamers. In this whitewashed space, every detail is meticulously curated, from the arrangement of music to the subtle scent that permeates the space.

Founded in 2011, Supermama is a retail gallery where guests are encouraged to appreciate every object as though they were looking at art in a museum. As time passed, the space evolved into a haven for many homegrown designers and artists who needed a studio space. In late 2012, a second branch, Supermama@8Q, opened, and it became the flagship store for Low’s other brainchild, the Democratic Society label. We look at four Japanese craft facilities that have pledged their allegiance to providing “canvases” for the label.

The process of making porcelain heats up in the hands of these masters

KIHARA is a Japanese porcelain brand based in Saga prefecture. With over 20 different collections of ceramic ware under its label, the company has access to more than 200 kilns and 400 years of porcelain-making tradition and techniques.

Arita-yaki (有田焼), or porcelain made in the town of Arita, exudes a certain quality of whiteness that is unrivalled in any other porcelain production areas. Knowing that the porcelain canvas used for the “Singapore Icons series” originated from craftsmanship that has existed since the Edo period has made the design collaboration a pretty overwhelming experience.

The purest of metals shine on here, along with the legacy of generations of craftsmen

Led by its fourth-generation owner Mr Katsuji Nousaku, NOUSAKU possesses the finest techniques of working with metal, such as casting of brass and bronze. Nousaku’s commitment to its craft is recognised in its capability to produce and work with 100% tin, a purest state that makes the metal malleable. This breakthrough redefines the boundaries of the structures of metal and brings about a new possibility to product design.

The metal foundry, based in Toyama prefecture, also sees the next generation of craftsmen helming its production processes. With an average age of just 25 years old, one could say that they are more than ready for the leap into the next era.

No one can resist the whisper-thin touch of fabrics from this far-from-lightweight company

Founded in 1928 and based in Nagoya, MARUJU LTD. is a textile company that specialises in design, printing, fabrication and processing (conditioning) of textile materials such as linen and cotton. While textile fabrication is a familiar trade, textile conditioning is an uncommon one. The technique, which requires many rounds of washing, produces fabric materials so gentle that they are often referenced as the most tender touch on an infant’s skin any fabric can get.

No dreams are shattered in this workshop, where the thinnest of glass is made

The glass-making workshop goes back one hundred years, when the facility first started producing light bulbs. Evolution in the industry saw SHOTOKU GLASS COMPANY transforming its business into producing handcrafted glasses. “Today, this craft of handmade glasses is rarified,” explains Mr Yoshifumi Saito, Creative Director of the company. They are one of the few workshops left that produce Usuhari glass. Each glass is individually blown, and is extremely thin with walls less than 1mm in thickness, yet sturdy.

“The beauty of the Usuhari glass is that it feels like you’re holding water in an almost magical way—it makes your normal drinking water very precious.”

Read more in The U Press N˚6 (Singapore edition).