“I was in a bamboo forest in Kyoto once. It was quiet. So quiet that you could even hear the wind blow as it made the bamboo crash against each other. You could almost feel the bamboo rustling. You couldn’t hold it or feel it physically, but it was there. That intangible feeling is something I always try to bring into my work.”
Tokyo-based maker and recent TUMO Studios atelier leader Sayumi Yokouchi creates unique wearable metal objects that you’d be hard-pressed to confuse with pieces from any other line. Each piece is exclusively Sayumi’s, and Sayumi’s particular approach to making wearable objects is embedded in each item.
“A lot of my work has to do with that invisible feeling. I like relying on what I cannot see because we’re so bombarded with information from every angle now that I want to create something that just lets me get away.” Whether or not she succeeds in escaping her personal inundation of everyday stimuli, she succeeds in cultivating that certain feeling.
There’s a calm you get from looking at one of Sayumi’s creations. Part of that could come from her approach to aesthetics. “I’m inspired by my own Japanese culture which is very minimal. We often speak metaphorically, alluding to things subtly and not referring to them directly.” This is reflected in her wearables objects. Simply put, they’re clean. Noticeably detail-oriented, yet free from unnecessary ornamentation.
Take her brooch from 2015, made of only three elements: thermoplastic, silver and stainless steel. The sparse use of materials offsets the intricate meanderings of the metal. “The more I’ve learned, the more I realize that I don’t need to pack each piece with different techniques or elements just to show that I can. After many years of practice, I’ve learned to be more confident and show less. Sometimes, it takes very little to communicate your message. And now, I feel comfortable doing less and saying more.”
Part of why Sayumi is so comfortable with her work is because she has a focus for her method of production. She’s all analog. “My hands are my most comfortable tools.” Though she respects the tech side and the use of 3D or laser cutting, she eschews it in favor of a more hands-on approach. “You have to respect the natural characteristics of the metal. It can often look very hard and heavy, but it can end up being super delicate and malleable at the same time, but you’d never know it unless you put your hands on it and feel your way through the process. You can start off with any number of plans in your head, but in the end, the metal always dictates where you’ll end up.”
Working with her hands isn’t just a personal preference for Sayumi, but also a practical one. Certain types of metal change as the years pass due to physical touch. It reacts to the oils and temperature in a person’s hand so that in 20–30 years, the same piece of metal is completely different from what it originally was. Understanding that physical touch can alter and affect her work is innate to her entire process.
For Sayumi, the physicality of the process supersedes all else. “When I create a wearable object, I translate my own feelings into something tangible. But as soon as that piece leaves my hands and goes to a client, it’s no longer a part of me, it starts a new chapter with them.” Sayumi believes in the intimate relationship created between herself, her work and her audience. It’s a cycle.
And it all begins with a touch.
Type of metal she always enjoys working with:
Shibuichi. It’s a particular type of Japanese alloy that can be patinated in such a way that the metal’s color will be completely transformed. “After boiling and dipping it, the metal breaths and changes color. By the end, you can’t even recognize the original hue.”
Favorite type of metal:
Gold. “It’s a beautiful metal and the historic significance of it make it even more beautiful. Working with a precious metal makes you a better creator. It forces you not to waste the material and how to make each motion count.”