October 05, 2021

In Praise of Shadows

By 1605 Publishers
Architecture, Design, Review
Project by the Japanese architect Uoya Shigenori. Transformation of a 100-year-old townhouse in Kyoto into Maana Kamo guesthouse.

At 1605 Publishers we praise minimalistic aesthetics, natural materials and a soft colour palette. We are inspired by art compositions that have light and shadow interplay like works of Avant-garde artists of the 1920s like László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Aleksander Rodchenko to name only a few. However, we also respect realms of darkness and shadows, the type we see in the works of Paul Cupido, Antoine D'agata, or Viviane Sassen. The later artist even has the whole body of work dedicated to the mystery and beauty of shadows - "Umbra", titled after the Latin word for shadow, it was commissioned by the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.

Shadow is often associated with anxiety and fear. Nonetheless, without darkness, we cannot appreciate the radiance of light itself. "Shadows are present to add mysterious and luxurious quality to everyday objects." - tells us the Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki (1886–1965), the author of "In Praise of Shadows". According to him, "the beauty is not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty." Despite the name of the essay and unstoppable admiration of the world of shadows, Tanizaki's essay is also an ode to quietness, unrefined materials and to the natural glow of objects.

In the book, he mentions the beauty of dark lacquer tableware, wooden tables and fireplaces instead of electric stoves, but also, highlights the difference between busy West and unruffled, not spoiled by the industrial revolution, East. And if in Europe, darkness is still associated with torments, in Japan, the excessive illumination that dispels the shadows in the farthest corners is the biggest evil of all.

Uoya Shigenori, 100-year-old townhouse in Kyoto

Continuing on the same subject, the author compares the quality of the paper of books (attention: inspiration for a publisher!). He states that "Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose… Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall. It gives off no sound when it is crumpled or folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree". And regarding the ink that is used to write on the paper, he opines: "it would not have been this bluish colour but rather black, something like India ink, and it would have been made to seep down from the handle into the brush".

Junichiro Tanizaki's essay is a eulogy of the environment dominated by shadows and but it is also a cry out for the shadows we are losing. "I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration… Perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them", the author mentions in the final pages.

Uoya Shigenori, Maana Kamo guesthouse
All images above belong to a project by the Japanese architect Uoya Shigenori. Transformation of a 100-year-old townhouse in Kyoto into Maana Kamo guesthouse.

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