Chindogu: Not So Useless After All

By Jane Venis.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Chindogu is a collective noun for objects that are designed to be entirely impractical but could be seen as useful, almost (Kawakami, 1995). These objects appear to be simple solutions to problems that don’t really exist.

An element of play comes into being when Art engages humorously with a “problem” which is unsolvable and wasn’t pressing to start with (Levescu, 2003). However deeper and more pressing problems can be considered through engagement with chindogu, including but not limited to, critiquing the continual proliferation of cheap consumer goods on a planet with diminishing resources.

Kawakami describes Chindogu in terms of ten tenets which in effect, form a manifesto for makers and consumers of chindogu. My analysis of the tenets is a provocation for key questions that will be addressed within this paper, these are: Is Chindogu a creative form that falls somewhere between art and design? and If so, can the Ten Tenets of Chindogu (Kawakami, 1995) be used as a system, to discuss the relationship between art and design objects? Within this discussion I will also be considering where chindogu could be positioned with regard to some other art and design historical movements and genres. I will also discuss some of my own studio work which references chindogu and exists in the tension between art and design.

Kawakami, K. (1995). Chindogu: 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions. New York: WW Norton & Company.
Levescu, S. (2003). From Plato to Derrida and Theories of Play. Comparative Literature and Culture, 5(4). Retrieved from
Mann, S. (2009). Computer Art Synergies Through Time Paper presented at the Aoteroa New Zealand Association of Art Educators Conference.
Richter, H. (1965). Dada: Art and Anti-Art. London: Thames and Hudson.
Vitta, M. (1989). The Meaning of Design. In V. Margolin (Ed.), Design Discourse (pp. 31). London: University of Chicago Press.

Keywords: Chindogu, Art, Design, Object, Useless, Anarchy, System, Humour, Fetish, Consumerism, Conundrum, Tension, Rescources, Provocative

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.189-202. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 3.148MB).

Dr. Jane Venis

Academic Leader Creative Studies (Senior Lecturer), School of Design , School of Art, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand

I teach students accross a range of abilities from certificate to masters level. My main role is to manage Creative Studies, a foundation programme which prepares students to enter visual art or design degrees. I also teach a component in the Bachelor of Design which combines students in years one, two and three three together in Sculptural Design, a studio elective. At the School of Art I am a studio supervisor in the Bachelor of Visual Art (honours) and Master of Fine Art programmes. My arts practice combines sculpture, installation, sound and performance. I exhibit in experimental art spaces and public galleries. I also create and play experimental musical instruments, some of which are informed by chindogu. I have a BFA and MFA from The Otago Polytechnic School of Art. At present I am a Doctoral student(by distance) at the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University. Chindogu is the focus of my research project.


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