Finnish design duo Company has created a range of products combining traditional skills and designs from northern Japan with craft from Finland and has given each one a "spirit" – a person dressed in a costume to represent the soul of the object (+ slideshow).
The products and their accompanying "spirits" were created for an exhibition called Secrets of North Japan at the Aomori Museum of Art, in Japan's Aomori prefecture.
Each product is designed to reflect the culture and climate of the surrounding environment, including traditional wooden geta shoes turned into roller-skates and a stool with a family of turned-wood dolls as legs.
The exhibition is the latest in a series from Company, each focusing on the "hidden" crafts and culture of a different country – including Secrets of Finland from 2007, as well as exhibitions dedicated to Korea, Belgium, Russia and Estonia.
"We started the Secrets of project in 2007 when questioning what is still made in Finland," Johan Olin and Aamu Song of Company told Dezeen. "Since 2007, we've visited factories and makers around Finland and designed new items based on each of their traditions."
During their exploration of traditional Russian craft in 2012, the duo noticed a strong connection between the woodturning techniques used there and in northern Japan.
"Artist Nara Yoshitomo found out our Secrets of Russia had a strong connection with the hidden culture of northern Japan, and we were invited by him and the Aomori Museum of Art to explore northern Japanese secrets," said the designers.
Having spent time observing the cultures and traditional craft techniques in various prefectures across the north of the country, the duo designed each piece in the show based on the research they had gathered.
"All items are inspired by northern Japanese tradition, craft and belief," the designers said. "While most products are crafted by Japanese masters and local industries, some are also made by Finnish handcraft masters."
By using Finland-based manufacturers, Company hoped to "bring a new touch" to the objects.
"We wanted to draw a connection between the traditions in Finland and in northern Japan and also to bring a new touch into a strong tradition," said Olin and Song.
Ghosts and spirits play a central role in Japanese folklore, and this and the designers' belief that "every product has their own spirit" is central to the concept of the exhibition. Each piece is accompanied by a video projection of a person dressed in the matching spirit–inspired costume.
"Having learnt from northern Japan, we decided to make our belief visible and tactile," said the designers. "Some designs materialised as a product first, and then came the spirit. Sometimes it was the other way around."
A mushroom-shaped lamp and traditional geta shoes turned into roller-skates are amongst the pieces exhibited in an octagonal open-air space designed by artist Yoshitomo Nara in the courtyard of the Aomori Museum of Art.
The legs of a wooden stool have been modelled on the family of a Kokeshi (a wooden Japanese doll) master, Abo Mutsihide, who the duo met on their travels.
"Abo Mutsihide's whole family is involved in Kokeshi making," said Olin. "We realised a little stool design expressing one man's beautiful world, he is in the middle as a column, and all other family members are around him under his umbrella."
A parade of people dressed as the "spirits" took place on the exhibition's opening night.
Secrets of Northern Japan took place from 1 August to 13 September at the Aomori Museum of Art.