From Yuhang Rong Design Library
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Last April, Salone Satellite awarded me with a design residency at the Rong Design Library in China. After months of organizing and trying to align schedules, I finally set foot in the middle kingdom (fun fact: the word China translated literally from mandarin, means middle kingdom) in November. It's been a week since I've been back in Milan, and before I forget the incredible experience that I had, I decided to document it and share it to all of you.
Rong Design Library is set in a village called QinShan, a small town two hours away from Hangzhou. It is a rapidly developing rural area filled with rice fields and lush mountains, and tranquil lakes. Fruits and vegetables are grown from the backyards of the villagers. Everything is extremely fresh.
Rong Design Library
This is the external facade of the Rong Design Library. The library was originally an old theater that was about to collapse. The structure which consists of an old wooden frame
and a mud wall was preserved during restoration.
In 2017, PINWU Design Studio and Yuhang Government in Hangzhou, China, took the initiative to restore the Dong Wu theater and transform it into a library which would house an archive of handicraft materials from all over China. Each month, they host guest designers to deconstruct the materials and use traditional Chinese handicraft and techniques to create contemporary design.
Zhang Lei and Jovana’s home
On my third day in the village, I received an invitation from Zhang Lei to have tea at their home. Zhang Lei, together with his wife Jovana, is one of the founders of PINWU studio. Their home is an old Chinese farm house that was restored. It is furnished with furniture designed by their studio over the years.
In the photo you can see my assistant Dali, Irene who is another resident designer like me, and Jovana. This photo was taken a week before Jovana gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Mango.
During the month long design residency, I was introduced to Chinese traditional handicrafts and materials. I also had the opportunity to visit different crafts workshops and to cooperate with artisans of different fields. The final outcome of the residency is to produce design objects based on the deconstruction of different Chinese materials and techniques. During my stay, I chose to work with copper, bamboo and woven metal covered in enamel.
Rong Design Library Workshop
The Rong Design Workshop, founded by Pinwu design studio, was established in May 2017. The workshop focuses on traditional Chinese crafts and materials. It acts as a supporting hand of Rong Design Library.
This is where I did most of my research, development and experimentation. The workshop has a woodworking division, and they also employ some ladies who they call āyí (阿姨, aunt) from the village to do artisan crafts. When Dali, my assistant gave me a tour of the workshop, there were some ladies doing some metal weaving crafts. I was inspired by their skills and dedication, and I instantly knew that I wanted to work on something together with them.
Zhu Bingren Copper Workshop
Zhu Bingren is a descendant of a long line of copper craftsmen and his exquisite skills for working with copper were passed down from his ancestors. He utilizes these skills at an artistic level and combines them with modern technology to create new national Chinese treasures.
I was lucky enough to learn the basics of working with copper through his craftsmen at his workshop. I was interested in using copper in my designs as it is a material that I have never worked with before, and I thought it would be a good challenge.
Dele Hangzhou Yuhang Bolu Enamel Factory
An enamel is a type of glass, applied by vitrification to metallic or other hard surfaces for ornament or as a protective coating. In this case, we coated metal wire with different colors of enamel.
The factory was very welcoming to accommodate designers, and the shī fu (师傅, master worker) were very open minded in applying their techniques to other materials that are outside of their production line.
The village is blessed with bamboo growing everywhere. I believe that it is one of their main products. It is a very interesting crop because of its sustainability and its wide variety of uses.
Rice Field Festival
I was fortunate to experience the rice field festival organized by the library. On this day, a group of designers sang for the rice fields. It seemed like the festival was a prayer to the heavens to give the village some rain, as it has not rained in a while, resulting to a water shortage. It was a beautiful warm afternoon, filled with happy faces and great energy. Soon after the festival, the skies poured and heard the villagers prayers.
My residency was concluded by the completion of two design objects - two lamps that were made using completely different techniques.
This is a table lamp made out of two parts. The main component is a sculptural copper piece that reflects the glow of the light that emanates from a bamboo base.
This lamp evokes memories of fragments of dragon wings collected after it has passed its lifetime. It is made by metal wire woven together and baked in different colors of enamel to vitrify and preserve the memory of the fragment.
I came to China without any knowledge of the Chinese language. Yes, it was extremely difficult at first. But in the end, I learned a new language - no, I did not learn Mandarin or Hangzhou dialect. I learned how to speak with the soul.