First published on 30 Aug 2011. Updated on 27 Sep 2011.
Say the word ‘design’ and what do you think of? Fashion? Yeah, that’s a good one. Furniture? Sure. But design’s about more than just pretty objects. It’s about everything from the building you work in to the entire city that houses it. To consider design is to consider the world and almost everything in it. But it’s about even more than that! Designers can also illuminate the soul and explore why we act the way we do. They’re wizards in fancy clothes, basically. Don’t believe us? Read on for the highlights of Beijing Design Week (BJDW; Monday 26 September - October 3), including our very own fashion pop-up shop
, and to see how design affects your life.
Beijing Design Week is about more than just seeing things – there are plenty of chances to join in the fun, such as with this year’s edition of Notch, the recurring collaboration between China and Nordic countries. On weekends, visitors can join Notch in exploring the Dashilar area for artistic inspiration. And from Saturday 17 to Friday 23 September, folks can join in the group’s Open Studio Camp to help make artistic works.
Not that you’ll be putting in all the elbow grease; the hard design work has already been done by folks from China and Northern Europe. Danish duo Hvass and Hannibal will turn milk car tons into ‘pixels’; Iceland’s Gudrun Kristjansdottir will get the local community to paint unwanted objects with volcano ash for an installation; and artists from Denmark, Finland and Beijing will build an interactive noughts-and-crosses (or tic-tac-toe, if you must) display. Best of all, there’s a graffiti-painting robot.
We’re sure you know that China invented gunpowder, paper and the compass, but did you know that the country also had a jump-start on city planning? Hutopolis, an interactive city analysis project debuting at Beijing Design Week, argues that urban planning theories about community and nature just now emerging in Europe were already present in Beijing’s hutongs thousands of years ago. To help people understand how hutongs work and how their principles can be used elsewhere, Hutopolis offers a series of videos, discussions and a Sim City-esque hutong creation program.
Remember the days of virtual reality? Well, they’re back! Er, kind of. BJDW Alt, an art exhibition by the oddly titled ‘Parsons the New School for Design’, explores Beijing through technological filters, including the ‘Virtual Beng-Beng’, which offers a multi-directional video tour of the city. Also check out ‘Surface’, which maps a digital version of the Chinese capital onto an image of your face, rearranging it to match up the densest parts of the image with the densest parts of the city. Another highlight from the event is ‘Degree Day’, which recreates 24 hours of meteorological changes across the sur face of the Earth in 24 minutes using fans and other equipment.
Venue: 751 D-Park
While the 3D mania that’s taken over TV and film strikes us as a bit gimmicky, we’re still impressed by Hybrid Design’s ‘3D printer’ that will be shown off at BJDW by the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. Able to extrude plastic into elaborate and complex 3D shapes, it’s not quite a Star Trek holodeck, but we think the public workshop, which will include a chance to ‘print’ objects of your own, will be worth gawping at.
Venue: 751 D-Park
Despite the sterling work of artists such as British provocateur Banksy, graffiti as an art form still doesn’t get the respect that it probably should, thanks to associations with vandalism and illegality. The problem is especially pronounced when the art takes the form of words rather than pictures, thanks to ‘tagging’, the practice of writing your name on walls – which is probably why Converse’s BJDW graffiti project takes the euphemistic title of Urban Typography Interventions. Walls, roofs and even chimney stacks across the city will have brushes and paint taken to them by a talented roster of international artists, including Amsterdam’s Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman and London’s Ben Eine, who’ll cover them with words and letters, rather than images.
Now, a load of writing might sound a bit dull, but as you can see from the pictures on this page, the work of these chaps is far from it. The colour! The scale! The style! As Shoe, who terms his art style ‘calligraffiti’, explains, ‘For me, a word is an image; words consist of letters, and letters are just shapes. As my art developed, I realised that I am still drawing, but I’m drawing language.’
Much design is about turning ideas into physical objects, but sometimes that process works in reverse, and objects are imbued with new ideas and meanings. That’s the idea that recording-based installation ‘Silent Heroes’ explores, as Dashilar locals – and celebrated Chinese actress Zhou Xun – explain the secret histories of childhood objects close to them, while illustrator Ray Lei places them in illustrated 2D ‘sets’.
Fans of Wuhao Curated Shop in Dongcheng’s Maoer Hutong will want to check out its BJDW pop-up shop/tea house. In-between sipping brews from Tranquil Tuesdays, visitors can pick up new and exclusive clothes and jewellery. Meanwhile, cool clothing store Triple-Major will offer a pop-up store with clothes that combine contemporary fashion and old Beijing details, while Bye Bye Disco’s contribution will feature pop-culture items from the ’60s to the ’80s, plus top vintage clothing.
It’s good to make the most of Beijing’s parks during the summer, and that’s exactly what this year’s Switch On event will do, as it places more than 30 lighting installations – many interactive – throughout Ditan Park. Our insider look at the plans for this year threw up some highly entertaining-looking possibilities. Some notable proposals included a dangling ‘forest’ of fibre-optic cables that visitors can push their way through, an eerie cocoon suspended from the trees that pulses with a heart beat-like glow the closer people get to it, and lanterns that ‘float’ mysteriously through the air.
But our favourite of the possible installations involves a series of spotlights shining from trees on to the ground, one of which is brighter than the others. Step into it and it fades, while another light on the grid brightens up. Step into that and it fades, star ting the whole thing again. A sure-fire way to knock out overactive kids, we feel (and then have a go yourself).
Venue: Ditan Park
Hutong houses might be tiny, but there’s plenty of space for art, according to ChART Contemporary, which is transforming one Dashilar home into a pop-up art project. Named the ‘ChArT Pad’, the building will house two works: Chen Ke’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ will look inside the mind of a vulnerable young woman in the big city, while ‘Living in Oblivion’ experiments with light, film and shadow to haunting effect.
What makes a man? In A Day in the life of Ernesto Bones, the answer to that existential conundrum is 24 creative minds, some writing equipment and, by the sounds of it, quite a lot of alcohol. The brainchild – literally – of London-based designer Ab Rogers, Ernesto Bones began as an idea for a narrative-led design project and ended up a human being who ‘lived’ for just one day. Rogers contacted 24 creative types, including molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal, award-winning children’s illustrator Sara Fanelli and Ladytron musician Daniel Hunt, one after the other, and asked them to write an hour of Ernesto’s ‘day’. All they had to inspire them was the last sentence of the previous hour – written by the prior recipient – and an object representing one of Ernesto’s possessions.
Upon receiving all of Ernesto’s errant hours, our Doctor Frankendesign, Rogers, was joined by a team of Igors (members of his own design team plus students from the UK’s Kingston University) to construct a series of 24 designs illustrating Ernesto’s one day of ‘existence’, each accompanied by the text that inspired it. As Rogers explains: ‘we wanted to take this concept further– not merely to tell a story about our design for the project, but to make the story the design itself.’ The Beijing edition will include a projected film narrating Ernesto’s day as well as music from Daniel Hunt and objects including a great big cow hammock. The result is a look at a man who is thoughtful, reflective and perhaps a little bit too attached to booze – the latter being a surprise to Rogers, who laughs: ‘Perhaps it’s reflective of the creative bunch we approached.’
Want something to chew on mentally as well as physically? Then Wonderwater Café is the answer. Designed to promote discussion about our use of water, the café shows the ‘water footprint’ of each item on the menu, and gives you a printed evaluation of your water consumption with the bill.
It’s all about popping up at Beijing Design Week, it seems – if it’s not pop-up shops it’s pop-up art or, as with BAO Atelier’s Concierge project, a pop-up theatre. Using folding furniture designed by Li Naihan, the venue will play host to cooking classes, workshops, puppet shows and discussions. Topics are set to include Li Hu’s proposal to turn the Second Ring Road into a park. Crazy like a fox or plain crazy? Decide for yourself.
Venue: 751 D-Park
When it comes to self-assembled furniture, some would say Ikea has given the concept a bad name. There are few things more annoying than spending hours putting up a Skrotum bed only to find yourself with 15 spare pieces and a frame that collapses as soon as a breeze blows through the window. But ace designer Tom Dixon is going to challenge those negative perceptions with his Flash Factory at BJDW.
The idea is pretty simple: the traditional way of producing goods is to order hundreds of thousands of objects from a factory, have them assembled and stored in a warehouse, then fly them around the world to be sold. It’s a pricey and potentially wasteful exercise. Instead, Dixon has small numbers of the designs built in the country where they’re going to be sold, then has either his Flash Factory team – or the customers themselves – assemble them on-site. And thankfully the objects (typically lights and similar fixtures) are a damn sight easier to slot together than in the case of the Ikea stereotype. Dixon believes it might be the start of a big change in the way manufacturing works. ‘This method makes it possible to make things to local taste and local sizes extremely quickly rather than making one size for the whole world,’ he claims. ‘So while everybody thought that manufacturing would become more global, it’s now evolving to more local sensibilities.’
Flash Factory will be at CrossOver, 81 North Road Sanlitun Bar Street, Chaoyang district (5208 6112/6113, www.crossovercenter.com.cn). Open Sep 26-Oct 3, 11am-10pm. 朝阳区三里屯酒吧街北路81号
The award for ‘Most Bewilderingly Odd BJDW Project’ goes to… let Them sit Cake! Designed by Austria-based Dejana Kabiljo, the installation recalls the famous words of Marie Antoinette. But while Antoinette’s ‘let them eat cake’ was an alleged cruel remark directed at the starving, Let Them Sit Cake is designed to make life a bit more fun by serving up a giant cake-seat. Yes, you read that right. The base consists of bags containing 4,500kg of flour while the top is a spongy ‘icing’ mixture that will cushion visitors’ bums. The finished article, we are told, will seat no fewer than 84 people. And with the flour being reused for food after the event, there’s no reason to leave with a bad taste in your mouth.
Venue: 751 D-Park
For further information please visit www.bjdw.com