'China Design Now' Offers Cultural Overview

In the lead up to and under the pretext of this summer's Beijing Olympic Games, China-themed events are proliferating around the globe.

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Two photo series depicting urban lifestyles, "Great Family Aspirations" by Weng Fen and "Shanghai Living" by Hu Yang, are also included.

Extrapolated from the larger themes are four individual case studies the curators felt were representative of and instrumental in the changing Chinese aesthetic. Joining Yifei and Kan are Hong Kong-based director Wong Kar Wai and Soho China. "Chen Yifei had a huge impact on lifestyle and design culture, and sums up in one person the shift from old to new China," explained Parker. "This is especially the case with his entrepreneurial activities, especially Vision magazine. A lot of designers and fashion photographers started out working with him. He is definitely part of the story."

Soho is the Beijing developer behind several stylish office and residential developments around the city. "Soho is not just an architectural firm. They were one of the first to champion Asian architecture," said Parker. Kar Wai was included, Parker explained, because they felt his 2000 film "In the Mood for Love" reintroduced the glamour of Thirties Shanghai — although it was set in Sixties Hong Kong, and had far less impact in Mainland China than the cottage industry of best-selling nostalgia novels by Wang Anyi and Chen Danyan since the early Nineties.

"China Design Now" is one of several recent or upcoming exhibitions exploring Chinese creativity. This May through November, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto will hold "Shanghai Kaleidoscope," showing architecture, urban design, contemporary art and fashion from the city. Guest curated by Christopher Phillips, the exhibition also includes designers Feng, Da, Kun and Yiyang. Architect Ma Qingyun serves as the show's special architectural consultant.

The goal of the V&A exhibit is to provide some context to what is currently going on in China and to give Chinese designers international exposure. "What China has at the moment is a thriving grassroots movement based on individuals. It is all about creative freedom. What is lacking is the infrastructure, the official support and mainstream understanding of design's value. Without the infrastructure, it is hard to grow without going very commercial, and they have to work very hard," said Parker.

Still, the duo is optimistic that China's design scene will continue to boom As co-curator Hongxing said, "It's the moment when we can start talking about things being 'designed' in China, not just 'Made in China.'"
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