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Rio Kobayashi’s first solo show explores the ‘art of living together’

The artist and furniture designer will be collaborating with his friends and influences for an exciting new show in London in September.

The theme of artist and furniture designer Rio Kobayashi’s upcoming show is Conviviality: ‘the art of living together’. While it’s his first “solo” show, it’s actually a big, unique collaboration with some of his closest friends and greatest inspirations – among them, Flavia Brändle, Peter Pilotto, Walde Seife, James Hague, Keita Takemura, Åbäke and more. The show will be part of this year’s Brompton Design District at Cromwell Place, and Kobayashi will be showing some of his fun designs, including new work. He’s known for pieces that play with the possibilities and boundaries of furniture – a table shaped like a fish, shelving with a face, and Japanese-inspired screens among them.


Words by Marianne Eloise

Kobayashi has always been interested in crafting furniture. Born in Japan and raised in the countryside by a Japanese father and an Austrian/Italian mother, Kobayashi describes his parents as “hippies”. “We had lots of people coming to visit us from all over the world, so it felt really international, even though it was in the middle of nowhere,” he says. That mix of global influences had an impact on Kobayashi, and at 18, he moved to Austria to stay with his grandma and do a furniture making apprenticeship for three years. From there, he moved on to Berlin, Paris, and finally London, always making furniture and learning along the way. He says that meeting “lots of international people,” impacted his work, which takes its playful influence primarily from Japanese culture.

Since then, Kobayashi has built on his practice, working with Dolce & Gabbana, exhibiting at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and showcasing in a number of exhibitions alongside other artists. To promote Kobayashi’s first solo show, BUILDHOLLYWOOD have partnered with the artist to paste posters all over his current home of London and get the word out. Kobayashi is excited about the partnership: “In London, if you do something exciting, everyone’s super quick to watch what you do and pay attention. Everyone is ready to help you on a bigger scale,” he says. “I would never have thought about putting a poster on the street, but someone asked me if I wanted to. It’s very open-minded.”

We caught up with Kobayashi while he was making some of the final preparations for his upcoming show.

How do you feel ahead of your first solo exhibition?

I am nervous, but it’s exciting. There’s a lot to do, because I have organised it all by myself. I have some help, but there’s quite a lot going on. There’s not a lot of time to think about how I feel. Everything is coming together, and it’s exciting.

Even though you have to organise it alone, you have a lot of collaborators for the exhibition, right?

I started my own design practice five or six years ago. I’m a furniture maker originally, so I designed and produced most of my pieces myself. This time, I tried to expand a bit and get out of my comfort zone and try to collaborate. It’s a lot of communication and planning, which was not really needed before. I’ve been going out of my comfort zone, but with the help of friends or companies, I don’t feel like I’m doing it by myself. I feel very supported by people.

How did you choose your collaborators? Are they all your friends?

Most of them are long-time friends. Plus, I am working with some companies who have contacted me throughout my design career and have always wanted to do some stuff together. Collaborating with people takes quite a long time. So, either they contacted me, or I admire what they do, or they have been my great friends for a really long time. I admire what they all do.

The theme is the art of living together – what does that mean to you?

The theme is perfect for my exhibition because I always wanted to do collaboration. Collaborating and talking and communicating feels like coming home and bringing everyone together in one space. It’s a perfect theme. I live in Hackney alone, and I have my space to myself, but I have lots of creative friends. I have many objects or pieces of art that we swapped in the past in my home, and all these things brings me lots of joy. It’s like we’re living together, which gives me lots of positive energy and creativity.

How does your background and the meeting of different cultures inspire your creative work?

I grew up in Japan. My father is Japanese, but my mother is Austrian and Italian. My design is influenced by travelling and experiencing different cultures. I have a big interest in Japan, because I grew up there. I was always trying to find my identity. In Japan, everyone thinks that I’m not from there. In Austria, when I went there, no one saw that I’m from Austria. I was constantly confusing people because of my look, my accent, whatever. In my work, I reflect on my own identity. There’s a mixture of cultures and experience in my work. I think I’m trying to confuse and surprise people in a good way.

How does London influence you and shape your work?

When I moved to London, I felt like, in this place, no one cares about me. Everyone is so mixed and anonymous. I think it’s really exciting as well. It’s one of the most intense places for art and design and what I want to do. There are lots of amazing exhibitions and very talented friends around. It’s really inspiring. It’s the first time I’ve had this drive to prove myself to the public. I was always scared to do my own stuff and have people judge my work. London has this great push and amazing possibility, like this collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD.

What’s next for you?

I have some exhibition plans that after this. One in Tokyo, which is really exciting, because I’ll be going back to where I was from. I will also have one in California, in Point Reyes in San Francisco. I’m really looking forward to a few projects and furniture design collaborations.

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