Design, Art & Sushi

Saturdays seem to turn into the Saturdays I used to experience during my New York days…hunting and seeking out art to see, and events to experience, before kicking back for the rest of the weekend. I think I might have said that before. I didn’t feel that great last Saturday…I could feel a Chinese cold and cough settling in, infiltrating body and mind, slowly stealing my productivity, creativity and ability to think vaguely rationally. I usually say this comes on within ten days of being on a long-haul flight…well it’s been two weeks. It’s now a nightmarish cough that is more than anything annoying.

When I finally managed to get my pyjama-self ready for the day, I went to a design talk and event at the Rockbund Art Museum called ‘Smart Design: Dutch Profiles Part One’ that I thought might be good inspiration for my Visual Arts teaching at AIVA. I had encouraged the student cohort to attend and was pleased to see a handful of them there, to see them writing things down and to see them engaging with the event. ‘Dutch Profiles’ are short documentaries about architects, graphic, product and fashion designers in the Netherlands, containing interviews with both well-known and upcoming Dutch designers. This first session explored the conceptual approach of Dutch Designers, unveiling their highly innovative thinking methods behind world renowned design projects. Selected profiles included Rem Koolhaas, Thonik, Jurgen Bey, Irma Boom, droog, Lidewij Edelkoort, Alexander van Slobbe, Maarten Baas, Marcel Wanders, Hella Jongerius, Joost Grootens, Luna Maurer, Wim Crouwel, 2012 architects, Atelier van Lieshout, Iris van Herpen, and Scholten & Baijings.

An introduction was by given by Giel Groothuis, Director of the Dutch Design Workspace in Shanghai. A few key points included ‘Dutch designers are influential all over the world…There are two important parts to Dutch designers…They are innovative with a focus on function, multi-function…They have a multi-disciplinary design approach across different design areas…because the products are well designed, people use them for longer therefore, they are more sustainable…Dutch designers have been shown in China before over recent years. We want to connect to the Chinese context and Chinese market by participating in opportunities such as Shanghai Creative Industry Week, Pecha Kucha events, conferences and talks including as part of the Shanghai Expo. This all helps the Dutch designers understand the context of China better and have conversations with the Chinese audience. We want to understand their reaction to Dutch design…We set up a platform in Shanghai called the Dutch Design Workspace for this.’ Definitely worth taking a look at if design is your land.

The documentary then followed and to my horror it was in Dutch and Chinese…when it was advertised in English and Chinese. I stuck it out for as long as I could before I got too frustrated…although I did have to be somewhere else by 6pm. Various thoughts from the film include the idea of ‘concept-order-minimalism…experiential visual communication and visual design…having one design principle – if the concept is good the rest will follow…design needs to be liberal, light, with a healthy dose of humour…progressive…with new ways of working together, sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas.’

One designer that I had to stay to see was Irma Boom with ‘Not just a book’ to feed my love of all things book arts and I was not disappointed…well apart from the fact that it was in Dutch and I couldn’t understand, but the visuals were beautiful…very beautiful. You could see here skill for book design…her instinct for representing the personality of the client through colour or typographic detailing, the innovative paper engineering methods, and the hidden visual surprises within every single page. I had smiles inside with a want to do more and more book arts projects.

At this point my iPhone kicked out, I lost signal and it stopped working all together…it does this every so often and causes chaos as I have to plug it back into iTunes to get it to work again. So I could no longer write notes and it caused communication chaos for the rest of the evening.

The next stop was the am art space, based in the basement of the Carter Apartment building on Fengxian Lu. It is an exhibition space that presents international art whilst providing residency opportunities, including two international residences a year. It aims ‘to develop the cooperation between Shanghai and Foreign Art Residency Organizations, allowing foreign artists to live and work in Shanghai for a period of time, and assisting Chinese artists in travel to foreign countries for cultural exchange.’ I chatted to Lam (not Jam, apologies for the confusion guys) who runs am art space about past, present and future projects…the current exhibition being an international residency by the emerging French artist Cyril Galmiche. It is possibly one of the best exhibitions I have seen…period.

Galmiche  had created a six-screen video installation called ‘Trajectory’…an examination of personal displacement within Shanghai. During his residency, the artist would walk the streets of the city questioning whether he was repeating patterns of negotiation, feeling a sensation of what could be called déjà vu. Called “automatic gesture”, he felt a loss of consciousness when walking, being lost in thought…physical movement without emotional connectivity. The traditional exercise and mediation routine of Tai Chi became a key source of influence to the body of work where  Galmiche would notice people during Tai Chi routines closing their eyes and ‘entering another dimension’. This is what the artist calls “ubiquity” – being simultaneously in different places. ‘Trajectory’ is a representation of this…a visual understanding of repeated patterns of movement. In order (from left to right shown below) the films show People’s Square, Shanghai Railway Station, Brilliant City, Duolon Road, Lu Xin Park and Mengqing Park where the notion of déjà vu is further referenced. This is through the use of people, who appear and re-appear in each of the six locations. This forces you to question the abstract realities you are viewing and what the relationships between the people and places mean. It also makes you question your own reality in the city…how do I negotiate Shanghai on a daily basis? What repeated patterns of negotiation do I do? Then I realised how often you see the same faces in the same places by the same landmarks, such as on the walk or cycle to work, in the local shop, at the supermarket…is what I’m experiencing real? Or is it another dimension? This visually articulate work really captivated the audiences attention including my friends and colleagues…the movement and fluidity in the camera work was something special and it is definitely one of my art show highlights in 2012 (so far).

After the show opening, it was time for food with photographer and friend Phillip Reed. We went to a local sushi bar literally down the road from am art space for California rolls and tuna sushi accompanied by onion and leek sides. It was a slightly eye-watering and burning experience as Phillip put a little too much wasabi paste in the soy sauce…it was like a fear factor endurance test for a few mouthfuls…somehow still managing to taste good, you just had to get past that initial mustardy kick. I love sushi…I think some of the best I’ve ever had was in San Diego in 2008…maybe that’s down to the experience too as it was a summer of travelling across the USA whilst making sense of myself…although, I  think I’m always trying to do that.

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