Traditional Materials – Contemporary Design

In the past week, I have come across all different types of design that reinvent traditional materials in a contemporary way…from cameras, to books, to interior products to bicycles…they all caught my eye in some way or another and made me think that digital technologies aren’t always the way forward. In addition to all things curating, contemporary Chinese art and PhD, I am a traditional bookmaker, bookbinder and papermaker…so perhaps my want of designers to use traditional materials comes from my preoccupation that design does have to somehow reference the historical. That is certainly a topic for discussion…anyway, this is what I’ve seen in the last week…

Last Thursday, was the launch of the new camera ‘Lomokino’ at the Lomography store in Shanghai…”The 35mm Movie Camera from Lomography that shoots a movie of 144 frames on any 35mm film.” As ever with Lomo cameras, you want one immediately. A nicely constructed piece of kit that takes you back (well takes me back) to the days of using super 8 video cameras, and old, robust 35mm SLR and square-format cameras…all of which I still have back in the UK. It made me want to get one of these out from hibernation to shoot the real Shanghai and not use my digital camera ever again. I have such a love-hate relationship with digital cameras…love their instant capacity to edit, destroy, share and keep photographs…yet at the same time I loathe this instant nature…how are images “special” anymore? I lost my Lomo action sampler about a year ago…I think I let a friend borrow it and its never been seen since. If only I could remember who it was?

On Friday, AIVA had to be super quiet as a private corporate event was taking place in the Star Space gallery, so my teaching colleagues and I decided to take the students to the ‘100% design’ fair at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. It is annual event that I can remember going to last year and not being very impressed with what was on offer. To be honest, it was the same this year…just a few things stood out from the crowd but there was no cohesion to the overall fair. It was rather corporate (I know it should be to some degree as it is a fair) with some very high-end products on show. Where was the real cutting edge design from Shanghai and China?

When I went last year, I came across a Japanese company who used handmade “mino washi” paper created by ‘FLAT Inc.’ as part of their lighting designs (as shown in the video below). The company was here again so I sneaked a few photographs of their beautiful work and talked to the CEO Andy from the company, Lighting Solutions. He said we could meet and chat in a week or so when all the chaos around the fair had died down. He is interested to hear my thoughts on paper as part of contemporary design, and possible future ideas so it could be a good discussion.

Also, at the fair was a book-making company called ‘Paperworks’ who were selling some rather sleek notepads, one of which was called ‘Space for Thought’. Designed like a clip purse, it housed a small notepad to keep safe your inner thoughts…such a simple concept and so unique. It even comes with new blank inserts for when the book is complete. I bought one as a birthday gift for a special friend in the UK. I hope she likes it…I might have to get another one for myself.

On Saturday afternoon, Lisa and I went to the Rockbund Art Museum to see the Shanghai screening of ‘THE BEGINNING’, a documentary about indie animation in China presented by NeochaEDGE. We arrived a little late but still managed to see a handful of some really promising creatives. We especially liked the character ‘Super Baozi’ created by filmmaker and animator Sun Haipeng…witty, clever and inventive…see the video below. It will definitely have you smiling.

Later on that night, my good friend, now a freelance art historian and curator, and my previous Guggenheim colleague), Violeta Janeiro Alfageme, invited me to the “cooling down party” of BAU, Brearley Architects and Urbanists, a well-known firm in Shanghai. They were moving premises to pastures new. When I arrived I could see a lot of familiar faces including Tyler Bowa from ‘People’s Bike’. I’d met him last year when RJW and I did the Shanghai Alleycat bike race, which isn’t taking place until Spring 2012 now. I doubt he remembered me at all, but I spoke to him about the possibilities of getting a bike built. They restore and reuse old Chinese bike frames and make them into new single speed or fixed gear bikes. Distinct and there is certainly nothing quite like them. A definite want. Anyway, he said to come and visit the ‘Factory Five’ workshop sometime this coming week so I’m going to see them on Friday to chat about a possible custom build single speed or fixed gear…uh oh. I hope this post inspires the design side of you as it has certainly inspired me. Let ‘NaBloPoMo’…National Blog Posting Month…continue!

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