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Ding Yi: The Renovation of Design

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2016-03-20 14:52

The public generally believes that design is simply a rational combination of outside features and inside functions that need to adapt to a range of engineering solutions. In this era of design, the Shanghai West Bund Design Exhibition curated by Ding Yi, raised once more the question of “What Is Design?” Abandoning existing boundaries, the exhibition is more focused on exploring the extensive possibilities of design and the discussion is more about how to steer away from conventional thinking and how to design products using conflicting elements from different times and varying values. 


Design is Not Display 

“I majored in Design at first in school in the 80s, but later I went on to create a new university major called ‘Integrated Design’. As such, I think it’s fair to say that I am very familiar with the industry. Simultaneously, I am also an artist. I believe that having both these identities makes me notice more than a lot of people and gives me a more comprehensive view on design problems.” says Ding Yi when asked why he decided to tackle the challenge as curator for this exhibition. He thinks the concept of design is very broad, and should be principally about a good product regardless of whether it’s traditional or modern. “Design needs to have real thought put into it; it’s not just about looking good,” he insists. 


While there is a degree of skepticism about his ability to curate an exhibition, Ding roundly refuses to accept the idea that only those with curating experience can do a good job. He confidently states: “I have one principle when it comes to doing things and that is it needs to be perfect.” In his opinion, a lot of design exhibitions fall short of the mark: “When preparing for an exhibit, designers create works with making a sale in mind without thinking about the wider influence their design could have brought. The designs are thus treated as a display object. However, a design is more than that: it can bring a certain social influence, it can change people, it can change things that are far off from what we call “civilization” into art. From a sociological point of view, I wanted to present this exhibition in the form of a museum instead of just a show forum. I wanted to make this exhibition more academic and make people think.” 

An International Curator View 


Ding sees China’s art and design scene on the verge of a Cambrian explosion following thirty years of development. “Fifteen years ago, there was no Chinese artists’ exhibition in the West. But now, hardly any international exhibition is complete without a Chinese artist included. Nowadays, many Western museums faced with shrinking cultural budgets are coming to China looking for resources and sponsorship. This provides China with a better position.” More and more art exhibitions and world-class galleries coming here, Ding Yi thinks, is connected with China’s growing international status.


This exhibition is not limited to an oriental perspective - every sector has a different curator from a different background. “I want an organic connection throughout different sectors because different nations and regions have different understandings of design. We hope to hold an international exhibition with international influence, so it’s only natural that we needed international curators.” When it comes to “fusion”, curators started with the connection between traditional and modern, discussed concepts such as “new Shanghai”, “new oriental” and so-called “Westernization”, trying to find their historical origins. “A city like Shanghai involves some very complex relationships that connect the past and the current. Twelve curators, all from different social backgrounds, explored the meaning of design from this point of view.” In addition, the part that really excited Ding about this exhibition is that the prize for “Shanghai Design Award” went to a Danish design group who designed a waste-to-energy power plant ski slope that blows smoke rings. “It shows the mature and international value of the judges.” Ding muses. 


This experience also made Ding realize that the position of ‘chief curator’ is not merely an honorific but also involves plenty of hands-on administrative and logistic work. “This is the second time that the Shanghai Art and Design Exhibition has taken place. The location has changed and so have the organizers,” Ding tells us, “I hope after this year, this exhibition can find its footing and become a Shanghai staple. I want the Shanghai Art and Design Exhibition to instantly come to mind when a design exhibition is mentioned. For a city like Shanghai, with an international background and history, I believe we can do it. To be a hub of creativity, Shanghai needs the backing of a variety of art forms. It is not only about design industry, but also about having a global leading authority. And this exhibition shows this authority, for both designers and curators.” 

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