Fire and glass, light and air. Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka explores the edges of the elemental in his latest creations – a torch and cauldron crafted from glass. The minimalist glass pieces, defined by near-invisible sweeps of lines and curves, are understood to be the world’s first torch and cauldron made of glass and will be used in a sports event in Japan in 2024.
The works follow nearly three years of Tokujin’s personal experimentations with the dynamic interplay between glass and fire, exploring ways to prevent the material from breaking at high temperatures. Now, the completed glass pieces are showcased in a new exhibition called 'Tokujin Yoshioka_Flame: Glass Torch and Cauldron', in the angular concrete confines of the Tadao Ando-designed 21_21 Design Sight Gallery 3 in Tokyo (until 5 November 2023).
Tokujin Yoshioka's glassware is inspired by light
For Yoshioka, the project reflects his decades-long fascination with light and a desire to explore human existence beyond materiality. The inspiration behind these new glass pieces includes his lingering imprint of childhood memories seeing traditional wooden Japanese torches (known as taimatsu) ablaze during shrine and temple festivals.
'My intention with this glass torch and cauldron is to show the beauty of the flame,' Yoshioka tells Wallpaper*. 'I’ve long explored expressions of light as a natural phenomenon. The flame of a fire is the source of light.'
The glass works emerge three years after his Tokyo Olympic torch, a cherry blossom-inspired design in recycled aluminium, was used during the 2021 games. 'At the start, I had the idea of designing the Olympic torch in glass,' he says. 'But it didn’t happen, as the concept of making a glass torch was completely unprecedented.'
After the games, curiosity propelled him to dive deeply into researching glass and fire. 'I love being motivated by a challenge, so after a lot of experiments – and a lot of patience – finally the glass torch was realised.'
Centre stage in the exhibition is a medley of torches – each with a silhouette of straight lines flowing into a softly curved opening at the apex.
Highlighting the biggest challenge, Yoshioka explains: 'Glass itself is made using heat, so it’s very fragile and reactive to [being] heated by a flame, and breaks very easily. We had to find a way to make sure it was strong enough to withstand the heat.'
The solution was to create a double-layered glass structure – with two separately crafted pieces brought together – enabling the air to circulate as the liquid fuel burns and the heat to disperse in the handle.
Rising 68cm in height, the torch takes one to two months to make, with each piece manufactured individually, using glass with the highest level of heat resistance. Nearby sit the minimalist curves and magnifying depth of a solid glass lens – weighing an impressive 85kg – which Yoshioka designed with the idea of using it to naturally ignite a flame for the torch, through a concentration of sunlight.
A circular sweep of a dress designed by Miyake Design Studio is displayed in another corner of the gallery, created for torch bearers to wear when lighting the cauldron, while Yoshioka’s iconic ‘Water Block’ bench is also on display.
However, the scene-stealer is the glass cauldron itself, which, along with the torch, will be used in the Japan Games Saga 2024. Simplicity and translucency define the solid circular ice-like block, sculpted from 1.5 tonnes of glass, with a gently concave surface, which sits serenely in the open air, on a minimalist platform just outside the gallery.
The cauldron is loosely wrapped by three 15mm-thick curved glass screens, designed to create a 'whirling updraft' to fuel a 'tornado of fire'. In sunlight, the entire glass installation both amplifies and disappears into its setting, with its surroundings – green trees, skyscrapers, Tokyo skies – captured in impressionist reflections.
Several times during the exhibition, Yoshioka will light up the cauldron. On the eve of the exhibition, just after sunset, he lit the cauldron for the first time using a torch – lighting up night skies in a sea of blazing flame reflections. Speaking after, he reflected on seeing the 'dynamic' culmination of a years-long project: 'The flame lit on the cauldron was what I was imagining and hoping to see.'
He adds: 'When I think about the future, I always hope to go beyond materiality. My creations have also evolved around human senses and experiences – one of which is using light as a material.'
'Tokujin Yoshioka_Flame: Glass Torch and Cauldron' is on view at 21_21 Design Sight Gallery 3 until 5 November 2023
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Danielle Demetriou is a British writer and editor who moved from London to Japan in 2007. She writes about design, architecture and culture (for newspapers, magazines and books) and lives in an old machiya townhouse in Kyoto.
Instagram - @danielleinjapan
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