Jewelry in China has historically been perceived as an investment rather than art and, until a few years, ago there were few options to study jewelry design in Beijing. The available training programs used to be focused on the reproduction of old techniques and existing styles and patterns. Recognizing the need to stimulate personal creativity, The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) was one of the first institutions to promote a different approach—one in which students are provided with an ideal environment to develop their own style.
In the last few years Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts has become an epicenter of the capital’s creativity, producing an array of talented artists and designers each year. Included among the group of elite graduates is Yan Rui, who after finishing her studies at CAFA in 2006 has gone on to become a professor at the school as well as one of China’s emerging stars in jewelry design.
Designer Gloria Guo has been fascinated by colorful patterns and handmade crafts since childhood. “As one of my first little hobbies, I used to customize my shoes and pants with small patches,” she says. “When I came to study in Beijing and discovered the marvels of local textile wholesale markets, my passion for handiwork became even stronger. I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of materials: mahjong tiles, wool threads, clay and all kinds of textiles.”
Hu Shaoming, a young and talented art student from Guangzhou Art Academy has recently attracted the unexpected attention of the local art world with his curious exhibition entitled “Reconnecting Time” (“He: Shiguan Xilie” in Chinese).
Supported by Guangzhou Art Academy, he developed the project as an essay within the frame of his studies. “It was just homework,” he says, “but I always put a lot of energies and take the maximum out of these tasks.” Hu has collected four different objects from four countries—UK, US, Japan and France—and four decades, all representing his keen interest for old mechanics: a phone from the 1910s, a clock from the 1920s, a camera from the 1930s and a portable film camera from the 1940s. In four months’ time he entirely disassembled them, one by one, and embedded a metal zipper in each one, opening a breach on the gears behind the surface. “I used the zipper to open a window on these great industrial discoveries of humanity,” says Hu. “I feel like I’m bringing history back to the present. Breaking the objects into parts, reassembling them, inlaying a zipper, it’s been a way to communicate with time and reconnect with the past. It’s often been a challenging work because I also had to preserve the nature of the original objects, without damaging or corrupting them.”
What if Skeletor and He-man stopped fighting and just cuddled each other, Voldemort and Harry Potter became playmates, or a stormtrooper left the dark side and met Yoda for a bit of sexual play?
Just Love is a series of graphic artwork designed by Fu Hang, AKA Mr. Jiji, a young artist from Harbin who calls Beijing home. Hang believes that “irony is a key feature of art,” and he uses this irony by craftily overturning the meanings of national propaganda. “Maybe Just Love is the ultimate essence of Hu Jintao’s political mantra of a hexie shehui, the idea of China as a ‘harmonious society’ where people smoothly welcome development as a source of a broader welfare, where everybody loves each other,” he says.
A crown of pine trees beside a blue river, a fox snuggled up against an oak tree, a little fawn proudly standing in a lace tutu, a fluffy merino wool elephant watching your back with his long trunk—what may sound like a child’s daydreams are actually descriptions of Danielle Hue’s whimsical hats, produced under the moniker Kreuz.
Since she was a child living in China, Hue has always loved painting and drawing the fruits of her imagination and by 11th grade her sketchbook already contained her first collections of hats. “My dressing style has always been quite casual, like a tomboy,” she says. “I love sports and play baseball a lot, so the hat became the one thing of my clothing that made me a little bit special. I asked myself why I was so fascinated with hats, it might be because a hat for me is part of my head and face—it expresses you more then decorating you.”
Born in Chongqing, China, musician Wu Na holds the distinction of being one of the world’s premier guqin players, a seven-string instrument strummed by Confucius and revered as one of China’s four classical arts. Her instrument of choice is one of China’s most ancient and revered musical pieces—reigning as one of four classical arts. Wu’s training started at the early age of nine, and she became the first artist in China to receive a Master’s degree in guqin performance. Following a recent collaboration with classical experimental group The Tea Rockers Quintet, Wu has just released her latest album “Deform from Within” with record label ENT-T. The six original guqin solos merge tradition and contemporary music, cementing the staying power of the ancient instrument. From the powerful piece “Flowing Water I” to the last plucking note of “What Is Singing II,” Wu Na takes listeners on a trip to fascinating lyrical expressions.
The never-ending urban highways, the pale and empty grandeur of Tian’anmen Square, the heavy traffic and the mantle of dust which is just occasionally swept away by the bitter winds from Mongolia—these don’t necessarily make China’s capital a place you fall in love with at first sight.
On the contrary, Beijing is a city that takes time to explore, and it’s just when you get lost in the maze of old alleys or head out on a trip to one of the city’s art districts that you can truly discover its charm. Along with its vibrant street culture and its historical heritage, China’s bustling development has turned the city into an ideal playground for local and expat creatives with both mainstream and alternative ideas. Here are three hidden gems worth uncovering.
Waste is one of the dark sides of development, especially in fast growing-country like China, and Beijing is no exception. With massive urbanization bringing crowds of mostly unskilled rural workers to the city and a literal ring of garbage dumps and unauthorized recycling centers besieging the capital, it’s often difficult to see the few making a positive impact in their community. Fully aware of these issues, designer Nathan Zhang has gone beyond recycling to come up with an unconventional solution in his own field. With his label Brandnü and the Upcycle Project he has managed to build a virtuous circle involving professional designers, migrant women, charity activities and fine handcrafts.
In Wudaoying Hutong, a refurbished alley of old Beijing that’s fast becoming a popular hotspot for local trendsetters and expat crowds, Zhang set the base for his many activities. This is where we recently caught up with him to talk about his shop and discover more about Brandnü.
Created in 2004 by Gwenaëlle Chassin de Kergommeaux as an artistic outlet, GCDK De.Sign is an unconventional furniture design company started in Paris and is now based in Beijing. Chassin de Kergommeaux bases her work on careful research of aesthetics and materials, using eggshells, silk, gold leaf, sharkskin, mother of pearl and lacquered wood in her finely crafted pieces.
Starting with vintage furniture from the 1920s-1960s, the designer applies her unique eye and rich but unexpected cadre of materials to bring them to new life in creative and often surprising ways. In addition to re-imagined antiques Chassin de Kergommeaux creates contemporary custom pieces from scratch.