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Delightfully Bizarre Exhibit Showcases The Traditional Craftsmanship of Northern Japan

While traveling around the northernmost prefectures of Japan to explore the area’s traditional manufacturing, designers Aamu Song and Johan Olin wound up with more than just a knowledge of local products. Inspired by the spirits and ghosts prevalent in Japanese folklore, the pair also adopted a new design philosophy–one in which each product possesses its own individual “spirit.”

“We learned from our travels in Ozorezan, in Kawakura Sai-No-Kawara Jizoson and from the works of Kokeshi masters that belief can be visually expressive, beautifully sad, and melted into the normal life,” Song writes in an email. “We believe in every good product dwells a good spirit.”

This belief manifested itself in their exhibition, The Secrets of Northern Japan, a playful, somewhat bizarre showcase of local craftsmanship on view earlier this month at the Aomori Museum of Art. The whimsical objects on display included wooden roller skates inspired by the traditional greta shoe and a spherical container made from wood of the local Bunaco tree. Accompanying each product, a video projection of the object’s “spirit” showed a person dressed up in a matching costume.

The hope, Olin says, was that visitors would “see what amazing traditional manufacturing there is, how alive it is, and to feel the magical skill, effort and passion behind the manufacturing. We hope our ‘spirits’ of each product will help tell this story.”

Secrets of Northern Japan was on view at the Aomori Museum of Art from August 1 to September 13. Some of the items on view will be sold at Song and Olin’s Helsinki-based shop SALAKAUPPA by the end of the year.

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