Hubert Burda Media

Ritsue Mishima talks sculpture and champagne

Meet the Japanese glass artist who worked with Perrier-Jouët on an installation that debuted at Design Miami.

Rituse Mishima is obsessed with light. She peppers conversation with references to sunlight and shadows, poetically describes the change in light from dawn to dusk and is enthralled by the effects of mirrors and reflections. But most of all, Mishima talks about how light filters through her glass creations.

“I only use transparent glass in my designs because I want to capture the light,” she explains, talking in rapid-fire Japanese. “Transparency allows every colour to come alive – it takes on whatever colour is around it. So transparency is really like working with every colour.”

Mishima is one of the world’s leading glass sculptors, having made a name for herself with her fluid, curvaceous objects, which range in size from table-top sculptures to enormous, room-sized installations. We’re actually sitting inside one of these installations, All’ombra della luce (“in the shadow of light”), which is made up of hundreds of CD-sized glass discs that are suspended from the ceiling. All’ombra della luce was originally commissioned by champagne house Perrier-Jouët for the Design Miami fair in December 2015, and was then moved to the Costume National Aoyama Complex Lab in Tokyo, where we are now, which housed the installation for two weeks in late spring.

Although All’ombra della luce has so far only been shown at two short exhibitions, the piece was long in the making. The process officially began when Mishima travelled to France to see Perrier-Jouët’s collection of art nouveau objects and furniture – one of the largest collections of its kind – and to learn more about the brand. On that trip Mishima quickly fell in love with the champagne itself (the 2004 vintage is her favourite) and describes the experience of exploring the collection as “inspiring”. But, tellingly, it’s the light that Mishima remembers most clearly. “In the Maison Belle Epoque, where Perrier-Jouët keeps its art collection, there’s a stained-glass window,” Mishima recalls. “The light coming in through the window was really beautiful.”

When she returned from that trip to her home in Venice, Mishima says that her idea for a room filled with transparent saucers – almost as if you were inside a bubbly glass of champagne – came quite quickly, so she got straight to work with her team of glassblowers in Murano. “All my work is made in Murano,” Mishima explains. “Their craft has existed for thousands of years and has never stopped. I don’t blow glass myself because I have a team of Italian men who work for me. But I’m very present, I’m always there – I’m a bit like the conductor of the orchestra.”

Glassblowing is also incredibly technical and hard to master. “You have to be very fast to make each of these,” Mishima explains, gesturing towards the glass discs. “Molten glass is like honey, so you need to be very, very fast when you’re working with it. You have less than five minutes to make each of these discs.”

Mishima has lived in Italy for more than 25 years now, but she still makes regular trips to her home country of Japan and keeps a studio in Kyoto. “I don’t think there is much Japanese influence in my work,” Mishima explains. “But people often ask me if there is, so I’ve been trying to think about it. If I was pushed, I suppose what’s Japanese about my work is that you need to search for the meaning – it’s not obvious at first.

“Japan and Italy are completely different,” Mishima continues. “Italy is a world of sunshine; Japan is the world of the moon. Yang is Italian; Yin is Japan. If you see a Japanese person in the sun, they’ll immediately shade themselves. Whereas Italians are the other way around, and love lying in the sun. Even all the poetry in Japan, all the antique writing, is always about the moon, not about the sun. And the moon is only actually reflecting the light of the sun, so Japanese people, culturally, are not direct – and that can be very powerful.”

As well as creating All’ombra della luce, Mishima also designed five unique ice buckets for Perrier-Jouët and a limited-edition gift set, which has yet to be unveiled. Mishima doesn’t seem to see much of a divide between making functional ice buckets and dreaming up ethereal installations, and insists that her whole career in glass was simply a series of fortuitous events. “It was all very casual,” she reveals. “I married an Italian and because of that moved to Venice. Then a friend said to me, ‘Why don’t you try working with glass, you’re artistic.’ So I never studied anything, I just started working with glass because I was in Venice. I wasn’t a practising artist before that.”

But Mishima has never looked back. She’s now represented by Belgian gallery Pierre Marie Giraud and, once she leaves Tokyo, is heading to Basel, where the gallery will be showing some of her work at the annual Art Basel fair. Before that, though, there’s time for one more glass of champagne. “Everyone must try the 2004,” she says, picking out a bottle. “That’s the one I was drinking when I was making all of this.”