Core 77 Core-o-spondent Aric Chen stopped by Shanghai's Interior Lifestyle Fair this month - check out his thoughts on the state of Chinese design below (and some sweet pics after the jump!)
Not even China, with its once-unstoppable 12 percent growth, has been immune to the global economic slump. But there's still plenty of room for expansion -- if the 200-plus firms showing their wares at last month's Interior Lifestyle China fair are any indication. Mounted in Shanghai by the German juggernaut Messe Frankfurt, the event took over the Soviet-built Shanghai Exhibition Centre for the second consecutive year, drawing the likes of Alessi, WMF and others angling for yuan as dollars, euros and yen dry up. But while the show was a mixed bag overall, it nevertheless offered optimism for yet another area of growth: namely, the development of contemporary Chinese design.
Consider Process Warm, an installation sponsored by China's Space magazine that featured work by over two dozen local designers and firms who want to give Chinese design a jumpstart. There were playful, colorful side tables, lounge seats and bookcases by the Shanghai firm Mooma. Perforated, ceramic cylinder lights from Urban Tribe. State's no-frills notebooks displayed in corrugated-cardboard shelving, and designer Song Tao's black-lacquered furniture with a Chinese inflection. Most striking, however, were the zoomorphic, reclaimed-wood seats and benches by Liu Feng of PEP Art + Design. "We just wanted to gather together," says Liu, who also curated the showcase with Song and fellow designer An Ren. "All of these designers are our friends."
A simple statement, perhaps, yet one that speaks volumes: China's design scene is woefully lacking an infrastructure that encourages young designers to come together and exchange ideas. Indeed, while contemporary Chinese art and film have exploded -- with Chinese architecture, fashion, music and graphics racing just behind -- furniture and object design have been conspicuously lagging. One can attribute this in part to the relative newness of design as a discipline in China. "A few years ago, Chinese designers thought that if it looked good, it's OK," says Liu. "But now, we pay more attention to how to make it; we think of it more like a product, we know the market more."
In addition, Liu says, Chinese manufacturers are quickly learning the value of design as they broaden their ambitions at home -- and also abroad. Both creatively and systemically, there's still a long way to go. And, yes, copying is a problem. But countries like Japan and the United States have had long histories of making knock-offs, only to become powerhouses of innovation as their industries matured. It's hard to imagine that China won't follow suit. Things tend to happen very quickly there -- and that applies to Process Warm, too. Its designers are already planning a show at next year's Milan Furniture Fair. Stay tuned.
The zoomorphic Kidult furniture, made from reclaimed wood by Liu Feng of PEP Art + Design.
Liu Feng's polyresin Me cats.
State's no-frills notebooks displayed on its corrugated cardboard Bookshelf.
Song Tao's black-lacquered furniture.
Urban Tribe's ceramic lights.
The Ladder stools from Mooma.
An easy chair by Mooma.
The installation, designed by State's Jethro Chan, of Process Warm.
From left: Rock Wang of Libelle Decor; designer/curator Song Tao; curator Liu Feng of PEP Art + Design; Jethro Chan of State.