Chindōgu is the art of inventing seemingly practical but ultimately useless gadgets to enhance everyday life. Popularised in Japan in the 90s by its creator, Kenji Kawakami, it was originally just a comical section that appeared in his monthly magazine, Mail Order Life. From fans attached to your chopsticks that cool your food before you eat it, to a Pritt Stick of butter that allows for easy application onto your toast, chindōgu is the perfect balance between ingenuity and absurdity.
As such, it instantly grabbed the attention of Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek. We’ve featured several of the Berlin-based photographer’s projects before, including one that studied cats hurtling through the air. As these series demonstrate, he has a superb eye for the wittily preposterous.
To date, there are over 1000 official chindōgu items in existence. Poetic and political in nature, they are comments on the state of consumerist culture and the materialism of modern life. They poke at fun at our reliance on technology and inability to carry out basic tasks like administering eye drops. Though humorous, chindōgu has a set of rules – a list of ten commandments, in fact – that must be adhered to. They are as follows: Chindōgu must be (almost) completely useless; must exist (they should be real, useable objects); must represent freedom of thought and action; must be understood by all (its function should not be obscure); must not be sold (they are not tradable commodities); must not be made purely for the sake of humour (it should also be an earnest attempt to solve a problem); must not be used as propaganda; must not be taboo (cheap sexual humour etc.); must not be patented; and must not be made with prejudice (they must be useable by everyone, young and old, rich and poor).
A perfect fit with the other tongue-in-cheek projects that make up his portfolio, including his Make Alpaca Great Again series, Daniel knew he had to find a way to shoot this phenomenon. “I have a huge crush on everything coming from Japan and I love their unconventional way of thinking,” he says. “When I found out about these super useful inventions, I couldn’t believe it. It was perfect and I had to try it.” After pitching the idea to Nicotine magazine and getting the go ahead, Daniel enlisted the help of stylists Kristin Baumann and Sina Braetz, and set to work recreating some of the hilarious life hacks made famous by Kawakami.
The resulting series, A Guide To Better Being, showcases some of the most amusing gadgets, such as ties that double up as umbrellas, glasses with built-in funnels for eye drops, a double-sided toothbrush for extra efficient brushing and a toilet roll head holder for that pesky runny nose.
However, despite the ingenuity of these objects, they weren’t all foolproof. Daniel explains that, for example, the transparent body suit to prevent water from getting in whilst having a bath wasn’t entirely waterproof, and the classic onesie-cum-floor-sweeper for babies “didn’t work out”. Though everything else was brought back to life in all its glorious oddity.
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.