Wednesday, June 18, 2008

World's First Mass Product

In the exhibition of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, his images were interspersed amongst a peculiar selection of Japanese antiques. I was immediately attracted to the beautiful wooden miniature pagoda in the museum vitrine.

After civil disturbances in the 8th Century Japan, a new empress commissioned the production of these miniature pagodas for the repose of the souls of the war dead. ”Over a period of six years,” – writes Sugimoto, – “one million miniature pagodas were made and distributed to ten major temples (each receiving 100 thousand). Of the complete set, 45 thousand are estimated to survive to the present; the other 955 thousand were burned, discarded, or destroyed, disappearing in the intervening 1200 years of history”.

It is perhaps not so surprising that this impressive (even by today’s standards) mass production did not create a functional utilitarian item. Amidst poverty and war, instead of making a million chairs or bowls, the craftsmen concentrated their superhuman effort on producing miniature buildings! Today many would call them tchotchkes, back then they were considered indispensable for religious fulfillment and emotional consolation.

Could this first mass produced object be considered a paradigm of design? Or is it just a curious footnote to the debate about functional vs superfluous?

2 Comments:
Blogger rwordplay said...

Could this first mass produced object be considered a paradigm of design? Or is it just a curious footnote to the debate about functional vs superfluous?

I think it's about magic. That our tools are insufficient, that our gifts and our imaginations lacking to prevent human suffering. One fines in the impulse to mass produce these objects the instinct to inoculate a people from forces that can not be managed or reasoned with. A lovely design the materiality of which is beside the point. The object exists as an incantation, or even a disembodied presence that wards off further evil.

July 7, 2008 at 7:59 PM  
Blogger Monro said...

I believe that our first mass produced product was the Arrow. Before becoming a staple in military battle many chinese archers were artisans that developed their own bows and arrows so that were customized to their specifications. This became problematic during battle if one archer was killed and another wanted to take his ammunition they couldnt because it wouldnt fit on their bow. So - i apologize for not remembering the leader or time period of china - the general devised a way to mass produce a standard arrow for his archers.

I read this somewhere and I don't have the book handy, but I wish I had more information to give you.
By the way, I love your work

October 19, 2009 at 10:29 AM  

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