Saturday, March 29, 2008

China design now + and later on?

In this Olympic year, while much attention has been focussed on the geopolitical journey of the flame from country to country, there have also been other kinds of engagement with China, some exploring its history and some its contemporary realities. The China Design Now exhibition at the V&A in London (March-July 2008) brings together Chinese designers with some Western practitioners working in China and explores the role(s) of design in China today.

Organised into three areas, the exhibition moves the visitor from considering graphic design in Shenzhen in the 1980s, to the consumption-led product design of Shanghai to the architecture transforming Beijing in the years leading up to 2008. The traditions of calligraphy have resulted in a graphic design culture which is at once clearly Chinese and very accessible to non-Chinese people. In Shanghai, for many years a meeting place between those from China and other countries, the rapidly developing culture of consumerism still leaves some spaces for questioning. In the capital, the firms currently working there are some of the most famous names in architecture - Foster + Partners, Herzog & de Meuron and OMA. But also shown were Chinese architectural practices whose work was as distinctive, combining traditional and hypercontemporary aesthetics.

By paying attention to the range of people living in China, from the recent immmigrants to cities as well as the new middle class - the exhibition raised questions who is involved in designing today's China - businesses, the state, consumers, agricultural workers, designers? From within China or from elsewhere? With China's higher education institutions turning out thousands of design students annually (see Business Week on this), it will be fascinating to see how quickly their ways of going about design will impact on design discourse globally.

Attending with my four-month old daughter I could not but think of China's economic, political and cultural impact on her life. I'd better sign her up for language lessons right away.