When conceptual food artist and freelance stylist Camilla Wordie made an off-the-cuff decision to leave London for Tokyo last year, she knew she was in for a challenge – not least because she couldn’t speak a word of Japanese.
She set herself six months to experience as much of the city as she could. In between organising two exhibitions of her work, she started taking photographs of interiors and the surrounding cityscape. A collection of images, themed around order of form, tone and line, soon emerged.
Here Camilla shares some of her favourite shots and tells us more about her time in Toyko.
I was living in London, jumping between internships and temp work. A friend had packed up and left the city the summer before, and her next step was Tokyo, Japan. So I thought, why stay in London when I could be doing the same thing abroad. Within a few days, I had a return ticket booked, but no job, no accommodation, certainly no Japanese and a list of challenges. Besides that, I recognised how Japanese design is so specific: minimal but detailed, bold yet subtle - so very similar to my own work.
I moved into a Big Brother-like house with 24 international girls in an expat area of Tokyo called Azabu-Juban. It is like a small village: cobbled streets, fairly quiet and packed full of traditional izakaya (Japanese pub) bars.
What is it like being a conceptual food artist?
I love food and I love art. By challenging the boundaries between art and design, I started to develop a practice that uses food as a form of material. Just like a sculptor uses clay, I use an ingredient to build a structure, installation or edible experience. Food brings people together and we all need it, so I like to explore what can be done with it 'off the plate'.
Tell us about your exhibition.
Organising an exhibition was one of the challenges I set myself. I was sure I could do it, but quickly realised that being unable to speak Japanese, it was going be difficult. However, I found a lovely concrete space in a gallery in Harajuku, and with google translate and a lot of bowing, I was given use of it for free to exhibit over two separate weeks.
Rice and soy sauce are the two most frequently used ingredients in Japan, so it felt right to use them as my materials. In the first exhibition, I filled a basement space with 1037 miniature dishes of soy sauce. The smell was very strong and several people became emotional due to the memories it brought back about their childhoods and mothers cooking.
The second exhibition took place on the top floor. There was a glass ceiling and glass walls which allowed for an incredible amount of natural light to come through. The space was small and I filled it wall-to-wall with 720kg of Japanese rice. Etiquette requires people to remove their shoes indoors and I wanted to incorporate this within the installation. At first, visitors were hesitant to walk through five inches of something so important to their culture, but when they came to understand the reasoning behind it - to treat it as a beautiful structural material instead of 'just food' - they relaxed. One group of people sat for an hour in the rice, drawing patterns like a zen garden and others compared it to the beach.
What experiences do you remember most from your time in Japan?
1. Trips away from Tokyo, exploring unknown areas and getting to know locals.
2. Cleanliness, order and safety on public transport.
3. People are so kind and helpful. Once I was lost and asked a woman for help. Instead of pointing me in the right direction, she walked me 25mins to my destination in six-inch heels.
4. Groomed dogs - hair, clothes, shoes and even earrings.
5. The realisation that mini-earthquakes happened all the time.
6. The lack of sandwiches.
7. The Cup Noodle Museum Yokahama - an amazing concept, combining architecture and noodles!
8. How beautifully people pack their lunches for work.
What surprised you most?
1. The lack of fresh green vegetables and how expensive they are.
2. How efficient the transport system is – I only had one late train in five months.
3. Everyone sleeps on the train - everyone!
4. How young children go to school on their own in the most perfect uniforms.
5. Karaoke really does happen every time you go out, even for business.
6. Everything is horrible cute (kawaii), the news and weather on tv, important signs on public transport.
7. No rubbish bins anywhere in public.
8. Taxi doors open automatically.
9. You can smoke in restaurants.
10. Heated toilet seats.
Click on any of the thumbnails below to view the gallery.