WAM万物 at Beijing Design Week 2014

This year I participated in Beijing Design Week with my furniture brand WAM万物.  The showcase was set up in a small courtyard along Yangmeizhu xiejie in Dashilar. Together with my colleague Wula I wa finishing the 'Untitled' chair on site by weaving the polypropylene straps onto pre-made ashwood frames painted in corresponding colours. As a spatial intervention we created a light canopy using the same straps, suspended from one wall of the courtyard to the other in a random pattern. For the design week we made an edition of 22 chairs in six different colours. Aside from the normal side chair we also made two new models for the occasion, one slightly wider armchair and one even wider and lower lounge chair. Both seemed to be generating a lot of interest so they will most likely become part of the 'Untitled' collection.

In general we got a lot of visitors to our little off-the-main-track-courtyard; our location as the first exhibitor as they entered the yard gave us a lot of exposure, but we didn't succeed in selling any of the chairs during the week. As a first attempt at going public with WAM万物 it was still quite successful in generating publicity.

More information about the 'Untitled' chair can be found here.

 

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IFP at Beijing Design Week

Don't miss IFP's shows during the design week. There is a lot going on around town but this is an antidote to the flatness of most of the design week programme. For some thoroughbred art and alternative design, come over, open your senses and stay for a while. More info at blacksesame.org

 

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In progress: Black Sesame

I am currently renovating a new space for art and design, located next to IFP Studio in Heizhima hutong 13. The space is shared between IFP, WAM/万物 and Here & Now Studio and will be used for exhibitions, installations, workshops and alike. The official opening will be some time in June. Below are some snapshots of the current state of renovation:

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IFP Sessions: Johan Zetterquist

 

For the past 10 years, Johan Zetterquist has been working on a project called 'Proposals for Public Art', in which he through various media reflects on the possibles and impossibles related to artistic representation for and of the public domain. As a reaction to the usual issues attached to commissioning and executing 'public art', resulting in bland and apolitical or politically correct works, Johan takes his absurd and politically incorrect ideas very seriously, realizing them in the form of proposals presented in the way such would be submitted to an open call or competition.

By re-appropriating common, functional environments such as those found along highways, or even the highway itself, and simply proposing to highlight their physical and aesthetic qualities, Johan Zetterquist asks fundamental questions about their status and meaning in a broader humanistic sense. His 'proposals for public art' are often based around objects so generic and lacking of site specificity that the absurdity of the proposal becomes a driver, a machine that never stops jerking as long as we still consume, drive, construct and build fences. In a further perspective, we as viewers are confronted with dystopic images, glimpses of scenarios where these mundane sites appear as poetic fragments of a bygone era of human dillusion and hubris.

As well as they can be physical, 'proposals for public art' can be highly theoretical, or at least hypothetical. In a simple statement, presented as solid block-shaped letters against a white background, framed, a new thought presents itself. Highly banal yet thought-provoking, the black letters serve the only purpose of playing a tune in repeat in our ears that is incompatible with the way society is currently modulated.

Or as put by Judith Manzoni: "In an art world overflowed with the use of violent, shocking or scatological imaginary, the use of intelligent humour and meaningful absurdity arises as surprisingly subversive, as an intellectual art that playfully criticizes the comfortable approval of the status quo while making no concessions to political correctness."

'Proposals For Public Art', Saturday December 14, 6 pm, IFP Studio

More about Johans work can be found here.

The Third Meaning

This installation was a part of SaYiZheng (Sleepwalking in Chinese, or sometimes translated as nonsense) a night art exhibition taking place last Friday in and around Doujiao hutong here in Beijing. The exhibition was organised by IFP's artist-in-residence Zoro Feigl and artist and curator Tianji Zhao. Altogether 23 artists participated, and quite a large amount of people came to see the exhibition and performances.

The idea behind this installation was to create a space with light, and as a response to the rough and ecclectic environment, I decided to create something that was quite purist and clean, but still made from materials found locally. The flourescent lights are activated by sound, which is also common here, especially in staircases of residential building blocks. However in the hutongs the lights are usually quite dim and the relationship to sound is more surprising. The configuration of a gate or a portal suited the site very well and provided a quite new experience of the hutong space. At the same time, its purity and materiality can refer to the typical white box gallery space, in which this kind of flourescent light fittings are virtually prerequisite.

The title, The Third Meaning comes from a text by Roland Barthes, referring to a third layer of meaning in SM Eisensteins films. I don't claim to harbor such a meaning, but if there is a third layer of meaning to anything, I'm sure someone can find it.

 

 

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The next morning, only a few pieces of wood were left.

ITERATION and conclusion

 

It's now been two days since we drew our last screws into the two projects that became the product of the ITERATE workshop. The first thing I want to do is to thank our dedicated students Song Yating, Zhai Jingyang, Wu Yulun and Yangyang Seunghee. Without their adventurous choice of joining this speculative workshop, it would not have taken place. The fact that we had a group of students pushed us to do our homework and prepare a rigorous theoretical framework for our exploration, presenting a wide range of precedents and references from many different fields. The point being that we are operating in a field that crosses over to many other disciplines, and the two pieces that came out of the workshop also constitute an ambiguous result in terms of definition.

Defining what it is we made is perhaps not the most important issue here, but it still one of the crucial points of criticism that we are now facing. Early Sunday morning I received a phone call from our landlord saying that a group of neighbours had gathered in the courtyard in protest of the installation of sticks and string designed by student Yangyang Seunghee. The problem was not only that we had failed to inform all the neighbours in the courtyard behind, but also that these suspended objects were hanging at a height where you would have to crouch down to avoid collision, creating an especially precarious condition because of the lack of lighting during night time.

In a different context though, this installation might have been understood as a temporary artwork which could be spared a few hours of existence, but in the context of one of the few remaining preserved Beijing courtyards, it was seen by the local retired residents as a threat to their security and therefore must be taken down. To make it simple, we were naive towards our neighbours' capacity to accept a temporary piece which would force them to take a different route, and they were perhaps overly dramatic in their reactions against this alien object. Nevertheless, it is worth reflecting on the consequences and how they could have been avoided.

Which leads me back to the main topic; the content of our exploration and conclusions which can be drawn from it.

There was a series of underlying notions in the formulation of the framework this workshop, and by extension in the research project that now has started. From my own side, I would like to stress the ideological aspect of our project: Addressing the prevailing issue of the credibility of our contemporary consumer society. The workshop addresses this issue in two direct ways: By limiting our source of material to used or discarded matter, things that would have been disposed of in landfills or incinerated, we would not impose unnecessary pressure to the environment for the purpose of developing a specific new knowledge. The fact that these objects have unique variations in terms of form, colour and texture as well as possessing their own latent history, make them all the more gratifying to work with. In addition, we explored the social aspect of how these objects can be retrieved and harvested in the specific context of Beijing's old city. The second point is the fact that the tool we used in the reconfiguration/design of these materials, Processing, is a free, open-source software and coding language. This of course means that while you as a designer first have to design and customize your tool in order for it to become efficient, it also brings a lot of advantages. During the past two weeks we only scratched the surface of the possibilities offered by using this environment, but the future process will be directed towards developing and streamlining the code to our use.

Another major aspect is of course that of using our abilities as designers to propose and speculate on solutions for local and global issues. This aspect of the workshop is perhaps where we failed. Despite an ambitious level of research in the way some materials are used and how they are instrumental in the accretion of small reclaimed spaces in the hutongs of Beijing, the connection between our design process and these issues became increasingly blurred in the second week. In many ways, it is just as important to learn new tools as to be critical to them while they are being applied.

With better planning and stronger focus for the Processing classes, we would probably have come further in the form explorations on an earlier stage, giving more time to establish a solid relationship between our materials and the environment in which they were found. To resume to our mission statement, we wanted to explore the intersection between design, computation and public space. By designing without specificity in neither user nor site and erecting the pieces in a sheltered, semi-private courtyard we not only avoided confrontation with the public, but projected an sense of arrogance towards the local community. Instead of allowing our neighbours and our initiated friends from outside to meet inside a common fascination for our research, and despite good intentions, the works provoked a sense of alienation from the point of view of our neighbours.

 

To conclude, I would like to see this experience as part of an ongoing process, in which we tap into a wide range of material flows in the city, in production processes and socio-economic systems and reformulate unwanted output into operational synergies. In other words, turning waste, in whatever scale, into desirable matter.

Final Review

My 2-month Studio in Wuhan Huazhong University of Science and Technology ended on Dec 18th with a final review followed by an exhibition of the students' work in Yangtze River Space in Wuhan, a gallery awkwardly situated in a guarded villa compound in the south part of Wuchang district. The works are by students of myself, Elaine W Ho and Chen Shuyu. Below some photos of the exhibition (which had to be merged with some murals remaining from the previous artist's exhibition). The studio was an interesting experience as a first attempt at understanding the capabilities of the students as well as familiarizing with potential fields of urban investigation. Although I'm perhaps not fully satisfied with the results, the studio forced me to formulate a syllabus and assignments comprehensive enough to be understood by Chinese 4th year students not usually engaged in self-programming and narrative drawing. Working in a diffuse field in between studio/tutoring and research, I will try to strengthen the research part in the future so that a comprehensive goal can be set and reached through the joint body of work.

I'm now back in Sweden, trying to resume my writing and summing-up of the studio, after a week of christmas eating, giving and receiving. Most of all right now I'd like to sink into my gifts: Public Space - An interpretation by George Baird, Issue 2 of Too Much-Magazine of Romantic Geography, Issue 22 of LOG and a beautiful catalogue of Studio Mumbai's exhbition in EPFL Lausanne, but this week needs to be productive as I am also entering a crucial phase of promoting our ITERATE workshop starting on January 30 in Beijing. More on that asap.

 

 

 

IFP Sessions No 1

In the past few weeks I have been planning a lecture series hosted by Institute For Provocation, the art organization with which I share my studio space here in Beijing. The lecture series we call IFP Sessions is a public event and a contribution to the wider discourse on art, architecture and design in China. For each session we invite someone to present their recent work, followed by a talk with other invited guests. Our ambition is to create a forum for artists, researchers and designers based in or visiting China, to share and discuss their work. Last Wednesday we hosted a lecture by Brendan McGetrick who is a writer, editor and curator, to present his work as curator of the exhibition Un-Named Design at the Design Biennale in Gwangju, Korea. The exhibition was initially a collaboration with Ai Weiwei but following his arrest in April, was carried out by Brendan as chief curator together with Michelle Liu, Naihan Li and a group of students from the Oslo School of Architecture. The lecture was followed by a discussion with artist Tudor Bratu (currently in residence with IFP), art critic Mia Yu (PhD researcher on Chinese art at McGill) and architect Anu Leinonen.

Brendan's essay about the project for Gwangju biennale can be read here.

Below a few photos from the session. The next IFP Session will be on Nov 30 when architect Jordan Kanter will present his research on Tiananmen square and Mao symbolism.