Photography by Takashi Homma
Text By Kei Benger
The concept of COSMIC WONDER RESTAURANT is a simple yet poignant one. The piece first took place in the summer of 2013, in a community garden in New York. Upon arrival, visitors first come across an entrance counter adorned with seemingly ordinary objects such as oil paintings, a mirror, vases, and tree branches. Visitors exchange the gifts they have brought for one of these items to be seated for lunch in the restaurant. Depending on the “ticket” one receives, the visitor is “served” a performance–music, dance, song, or a poetry reading—with all such aspects constituted through a myriad of ideas inspired upon the foundational economy of gift giving.
The menu of the restaurant consists of a plate of naturally cultivated wild greens (such as vegetables grown through permaculture, a self-maintained form of agriculture modeled from natural ecosystems), spring water with “Okatorano” flower essence, and vibrational mountain water extracted from the “Kifune” Shrine in Kyoto. Within such scenes of “serving” and having a meal, various performances pleasantly overlap one another, creating a seamless repetition of inevitable occurrences that emerge as elements of chance.
COSMIC WONDER first emerged in 1997 as a conceptual project initiated by artist Yukinori Maeda. Despite its frequent association with fashion, COSMIC WONDER’s underlying concept has always been to integrate three distinct activities: art (COSMIC WONDER), fashion and lifestyle (COSMIC WONDER Light Source), and book and music publishing (COSMIC WONDER Free Press). A fundamental element that applies to all these activities is the conscious understanding of the relationship between one’s own body and the environment, and knowledge of how one’s lifestyle in turn affects nature and the shifting balance of everyday occurrences. In recent years, through The Solar Garden COSMIC WONDER this idea was taken a step further, placing an importance upon the use of naturally grown cotton free of chemical fertilizers, and the use of hand-dyed fabric appropriating herbal hues, in which the entire production process is certified chemical-free and fair-trade. The concept embodies the belief that while the process is time consuming, more care that goes into the creation, and that is reflected within the natural beauty of the completed piece.
In a world that is shrouded with technology, in which we bathe daily in a flux of information, a system has been established that places greater emphasis on time and convenience. Recent trends have led to an ever-transforming fast culture, fast lifestyle, and fast economy that places an importance on efficient methods of practice and production, as revealed in the appearance of popular high street fashion. Further, being constantly devoid of time and shouldering an increasing dependency on social media, we rarely seem to spend time appreciating our relationships and directly interacting with one another. However ironically, in later years there has been an essential return to a more natural and slower form of living that converges such previous values. ‘COSMIC WONDER appropriates concepts of a natural lifestyle in to their projects to stimulate an appreciation of the primordial qualities of life, which we take for granted.
The piece COSMIC WONDER RESTAURANT, is a manifestation of a return to nature. It creates an opportunity for an intimate exchange between individuals. Upon participation, one captures glimpses of an eternal freedom (or rather, a “free-floating expressivity”) through the multidimensional exchange of sensations and movement, allowing one to release one’s mind in a space of meditation. What seemed a mere nonchalant chain of activity and relationships becomes a comforting and pleasant flow of sensational patterns through the act of sharing a meal, sharing performances, and the experience of a unanimous meditative space. Paradoxically, in such chance encounters we come to appreciate the importance of daily activities, of exchanges with one another, and the experience of “freeing one’s mind.”
“Please come and visit us for lunch. Let’s exchange gifts. Flowers, stones, letters, cookies…Whatever you choose to bring, we’ll have some lunch for you.”
The piece has since developed into an installation and performance for the exhibition You reach out – right now – for something: Questioning the Concept of Fashion (Art Tower Mito, Japan, February 22 – May 18, 2014). The installation comprises intermittently positioned “props,” such as an iron kettle, traditional farming utensils, and plates—objects used within Japanese life that have been carefully and intimately preserved. Such objects were gathered for the performance in the vicinity of the city of Mito, further adding a sense of locality that reflects the lifestyle of the terrain. These objects lie quietly, as if frozen in time, within a bright and tranquil space filled with sunlight, awaiting the performance that is to take place in May. Again, visitors are given the opportunity to participate in the performance, through bringing with them an object that they wish to exchange. The fact that it is a direct exchange of objects emphasizes the act of donating a “gift,” and the process of exchanging one’s feelings and thoughts that transcend notions of monetary value.
2014 has marked a pivotal and evolutionary point for COSMIC WONDER in their search for a new and sustainable vision. They continue their effort to expand an understanding of one’s position in nature, which Yukinori Maeda himself refers to as a “time of change,” and to exploring “ways of circumventing existing manufacturing practices with alternative methods of producing clothing.” Building on their previous activities they have introduced the use of natural fabric (hand-woven from materials in nature), BIO materials (organic cotton and linen, wool from sheep grazed in environments free from pesticides and herbicides), natural dyes, and production methods that combine traditional Japanese techniques. In appropriating unconventional forms into their presentations through installations and performances that allow for chance encounters and fresh opportunities, they attempt to “deepen the awareness of one’s connection to the universe.”
COSMIC WONDER RESTAURANT is an installation created with the vision of connecting a forgotten past to the future through appropriating the ”current” as an agent of transmission. It rediscovers elements of “warmth” and ‘intimacy’ that are spun through human hands.