Interview with Ritsue Mishima, Perrier-Jouët’s glass artist
Heart of glass
At first whiff, Perrier-Jouët's Belle Epoque 2004 hits the nose with its floral notes. As you sit in the long bar of L'Eden facing a lush green wall, your mind's on overdrive. It's scrambling to place the bouquet of scents: There's ginger! Apricot! Nectarine! White flowers! For the well-trained nose, there's even a hint of honey in the champagne.
A sip and your five senses come alive. The mind opens, absorbing and processing references, forming thoughts that inevitably spring into action. It could be the simple task of raising a hand to ask the bartender for more. But in the depths of a certain Japanese woman's psyche — glass artist Ritsue Mishima — the rewards of a glass of champagne present themselves in her artwork. After all, the Belle Epoque 2004's one of her favourites from Perrier-Jouët's champagne collection.
Born in Kyoto and based in Venice, Mishima is the luxury house's latest muse. While she's the first Asian woman they've collaborated with, she certainly isn't the first Japanese: In 2012, they worked with Fukuoka floral artist Azuma Makoto for a reinterpretation of Perrier-Jouët's Belle Époque cuvee. It's the first time the original design by French Art Nouveau artist and glassmaker Emile Gallé was changed — he's also responsible for the house's signature Japanese anemone icon designed in 1902. You can say the French house has an affinity with the Japanese — the country remains one of their most important and mature markets in Asia today. They've continued this partnership by working with Mishima for an installation, 'All'ombra della luce' (In the Shadow of Light) which premiered in Design Miami last December.
L'Eden has finally arrived in Asia by way of Tokyo. Housed in the Costume National Lab & Wall building discreetly tucked away in the high-end retail address of Omotesando, the compound's an intimate exploration of the relationship between art and nature. You're immediately met with her artwork as soon as you pass through mischer'traxler's paper art, featuring Japanese paper cutouts cascading down the ceiling.
'All'Ombra Della Luce' is three-fold: The first consists of 800 pieces of mouth-blown glass hanging above a tatami-inspired seating area, the second a glass bowl large enough to hold two champagne bottles and the third, a champagne glass blown with bubbles dotted on the surface. The moment a Japanese looks at the work, the popular phrase Ichi-go ichi-e echoes in their mind, evoking a sense of enjoyment in sharing time spent together.
Each of the randomly hung pieces was glass blown by four Murano artisans in Venice. Similar to the texture and fluidity of honey, the molten glass is formed into a desired shape in less than five minutes. Smaller pieces are then layered to make the 'bubbles' apparent in some of them, with a few finished with mirror-like surfaces and varnishes to give architectural dimension. No two glass plates are alike.
On the edge of the raised tatami sits the 54-year-old, poised for a roundtable interview. Her small face framed by large, round glasses, she gives off a vibe that's part schoolgirl, part old soul. Dressed in platform wedges with white socks, a floral peplum-silhouetted top and a flouncy forest green skirt, she addresses you in either fluent Japanese, Italian or minimal English, flailing her arms and hands as she speaks. Occasionally, she holds up her plaid-covered mobile to snap a few pictures of an intrigued journalist with a few questions up her sleeve.
These structures are really captivating — could you tell us more about why you chose these round shapes?
If you go to St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, you'll see in the stained glass windows a round glass and lead around it. I've always liked this perfect circle, so my innovation is to change the shape of it. It's always been in churches and reflected in paintings.
And the raised tatami in the middle. What was the reason behind it?
The tatami was made in Kyoto, and it unusually has a line of silver going through it. The tatami allows a person to create his or her own movement within a space, whether you sit and relax or walk around. It's to connect yourself within a space.
I've noticed that the walls around this space are textured too.
The right and left walls use a patterned design that refers to the Japanese anemone, but I'm bringing back the decoration of architecture with it. I'm referring to Milan in the '50s, where certain Art Nouveau buildings you see have patterns on their façades. It's normally done in ceramic, but I've created a rubber roller to paint it myself. I've left some gaps to represent the memory of the past — that it's not perfect. But it's the passage of time and things fade.
What do you find challenging in working with glass art?
It's bringing what you've visualised into life, and creating an action. If it doesn't come to you, then you can't make it. My private life and work is all one, there's no distinction between the two.
Speaking of private and professional lives, L'Eden's all about embracing poetry in everyday life. How do you channel that into your own?
Poetry is about being 100 percent sincere and in the moment when something comes, then translating that into action. There's no coming back, no pulling in and out. Life is poetry. It's magic.
You've lived in Italy for more than 20 years now. As an artist, how would you compare the light in these two places?
It's different. Italy is the world of sunshine. Japan is the world of the moon. Yin is Japan, yang is Italy. When the Italians see the sun they'll bask in it, whereas the Japanese will hide from it. It's a different attitude. Even the poetry and antique writings in Japan are always about the moon, not the sun.
The sun is direct whereas the moon is only reflecting the light of the sun. Culturally, Japanese people are not direct. There is a huge appreciation of beauty, but it's a reflection. Italians are all about love...straight and direct love.
So coming from these two places, how does this yin and yang combine in this work?
I don't feel there are any Japanese influences in the shapes of the glass. When people often ask me about this, I've been trying to think about what it is. Well, I suppose the Japanese influence is that you see what you can't see. You need to look for the meaning. Its not obvious — you have to search for it.
How does it feel to have your work — made it Italy and assembled in Miami — finally exhibiting in your place of origin?
I believe in the invisible things. This glass is made from the strong love of the craftsmen from Italy, and this love is now brought back to Tokyo. There's a balance.
Lastly, why do you continue to work with transparent glass void of any colour?
Because transparency allows every colour to come alive.
'All'ombra della luce' is held at the Costume National Lab & Wall at Omotesando in Tokyo, Japan from now to 8 May. For more details, click here.