Sunday, 30 June 2013

We Found Love in New Designers

It's no secret that I am a big fan of New Designers. I'm admittedly a bit biased, but in my opinion it is the biggest, most eclectic, exhilarating and frankly underrated design degree show in the UK - and as it's summer, there's no shortage of them to explore right now.

The best thing about New Designers is that there really is something for everyone and no two sights are ever exactly alike. For me textiles this year was particularly memorable - we're seeing boundaries pushed with experimental, unconventional materials, cutting-edge techniques and diverse outcomes, from fashion, interiors and furnishing fabrics to sculptural and conceptual surfaces. Interestingly the line between mediums seems to be increasingly dissolved; for example, clay as a form of textile, either as repeated compositions or inserted components.  Who knows? Maybe literally putting on your best china (check out Li Xiao Feng's ceramic couture here) isn't too impractical after all.

The 5 New Textile Talents to Know

Aisling Duffy (Edinburgh College of Art)

Aisling Duffy
Creating crazy coloured digitally-printed fabrics, 3D-embroidered and charmingly childish ceramic accessories, Duffy works in mysterious layers that reveal the private/public aspects of our lives. Her work has that infectious, slightly psychedelic 'happy effect' much like Meadham Kirchoff (which she counts as inspiration), Ashley Williams and Sophia Webster which is trendy and highly marketable right now.

Emily Plumbly (Norwich University of Arts)

Emily Plumbly
Plumbly is a mixed-media print artist who constructs intricate, fabric-like sculptures using a heated 3D textile medium that feel as intriguing to the touch as it does to the eye. A simple yet painstaking technique that creates unsuspecting, unique and experimental effects - her white spiderweb-like pieces have an ethereal allure and organic growth about them which distinguishes her work from the crowd.

Ellys Beale (Loughborough University)

Ellys Beale
Ellys Beale's fierce wolf and graphic Aztec fashion prints caught my eye in an instant. With a discerning eye for detail (her pieces would make stunning editorials) and high-profile placements with Mary Katrantzou, Matthew Williamson and Diane Von Furstenberg under her belt, expect to find her pieces at a high-end designer boutique near you soon. 

'Amble'  by Harry Owen (Camberwell College of Arts)

Harry Owen's exquisitely North-London made 'Amble' leather collection epitomises what contemporary English craftsmanship is about - lovingly handmade, ethically sourced, one-of-a-kind pieces that only get better with age. Crated using rare English Oak Tanned leather from Devon (which feels and smells lovely in case you're wondering), leather accessories such as this gorgeous backpack are timelessly elegant and practical.

Si Chen (Nottingham Trent University)

Si Chen
Chinese MA Textile Design Innovation graduate Si Chen shows us why minimalism is the design trend of 2013- subtle prints and simple shapes can be as powerful as loud colours, frills and patterns. Her inter-disciplined practice encompasses coordinated woven print garments, jewellery and prints as shown here. Titled 'Reflection of Shadows' the pale pink and monochrome geometric prints are based on fabric swatches created by the artist.

On the whole New Designers Part 1. was noticeably less chaotic and stripped back compared to previous years - welcome news to returning visitors (which you probably will be after your first). Gone are the unnecessary and eco-unfriendly printed maps, plus the layout was easier to navigate with more immersive multimedia displays rather than stands where you have to complete a 360 circle (If you're a student and think they're the best way to showcase the fruits of your three-year labour, they're not. They just leave visitors disorientated and make your work impossible to differentiate from the textile stands beside you, especially if you work in print). 

If you enjoyed this post, look out for the upcoming feature on New Designers' ceramicists.

New Designers Part 2 (focusing on visual communication, industrial and spatial design), opens July 3 - 6. 

(All images taken with permission of artist by me unless specified otherwise)

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Art of Hong Kong Eye, Saatchi Gallery

Amy Cheung, 'Toy Tank' at 'Hong Kong Eye'
Inside Amy Cheung's 'Toy Tank' at 'Hong Kong Eye'

Saatchi’s 'Hong Kong Eye' is an 18-course amuse-bouche of the region's brewing contemporary art scene. If there was any doubt, just look at renowned Swiss fair Art Basel's debut in Hong Kong last month – which attracted plenty of customers  (including Kate Moss and Roman Abramovich apparently) eager for a slice of the massively lucrative market.  

Sponsored by Prudential, Asia's leading corporate UK owned insurance company (the hint is in it's name), I was keen to discover how the show would, as its official introduction claims, “draw on (artists) specific cultural backgrounds to expose the city’s nuances” convincingly to new audiences.

Known as " The Pearl of the Orient", it’s easy to be seduced by the city's glossy patina: a teeming hyper-networked metropolis, breathtaking skyline boasting most Rolls-Royces per capita. But at what social/psychological price? This is unadulterated HK in the eyes of its own artists; where unspoken anxiety simmers headily throughout the exhibition. 

Amy Cheung's life-sized wooden 'Toy Tank' 

Standing in the first room is Amy Cheung's full-size wooden ‘Toy Tank’, a loaded choice of material for a symbol so potent. Visitors are invited play combat; crawling inside the vehicle, submerged in darkness. Video screens and joysticks let one navigate and unleash gunfire within a simulated Saatchi Gallery. Complete with realistic sound effects, the haunting atmosphere and unmistakable echoes of Tiananmen are inescapable. Curiously lying in its path is Adrian Wong's five-foot animatronic peanut soft toy, convulsing like dying road-kill. Novel child's play aside, these examples show how local artists are incorporating the cutting-edge technology in their work. Compared to the west, its apparent lack of established arts infrastructure and rules appears to work in its favour. 

Justin Wong’s 'Difficult Life Decision' encompasses two works. The first is a giant periodic table of stickered symbols across an entire wall. Parodying a typical gruelling cycle of work, stress and digitally-prompted demands, the day starts with "Email” and ends in “Blank”, contrasting with signs of human woes like “Why Me”, “Mortgage” and “Day Off”. It’s the blueprint of the kind of living mode Londoners are frighteningly catching up with.

Justin Wong 's 'Difficult Life Decision''

The second part is a kiosk that asks rhetorically “How Are U Today?” Conceived, explains the helpful touch screen, to “help overworked white-collar employees contemplate life or even create a new one”, by anonymously sharing their secrets, worries and pent-up frustrations. If Wong’s works visually encapsulate HK’s insanely-paced work ethic, the definitive soundtrack belongs to Joao Vasco Paiva's installation of MTR (HK’s underground) turnstiles. A clanging-metal racket so ingrained as a Hong Konger; I barely noticed how irritatingly loud it was it until now. 

On more contentious ground, questions about China’s cultural identity are painted in Chow Chun Fai's iconic movie scenes of Chinese capitalist dreams. Everyone wants a piece of China now, but there is less concern for its own people, let alone those who speak openly about it. Issues like corruption seem to be subtly implied in subtitled actors' quotes − “China is not ruled by Chinese anyway”. Unlike the 'Korean Eye' or 'Indonesian Eye', unsurprisingly this is as controversial as it gets. 

Chow Chun Fai, 'Legend of the Fist: China is not Ruled by Chinese Anyway'

That being said, I don’t think 'Hong Kong Eye' was ever intended to expose its dark side. Intensity has always been the way of life; China didn't prosper by luck. 

The most unique aspect shown is HK’s mongrel culture, owed to its rich history as a former British colony and international trading port. An incongruous collage of old meets new, east meets west under constant urban renewal. Ho Sin Tung’s 'LOVE HOTEL: Please pretend we’ve been to a lot of places' includes a collage of cards from locally-endangered seedy motels named after glamorous holiday destinations. “Venice Inn”, “Hawaii Guest House” and the delightfully misspelt “Romb Hotel” are kitschy delights you'd never find in a tourist map. 

This is an show where somewhat frustratingly, no message or agenda is explicit. Contemplative effort, imagination and open-mindedness are needed to appreciate HK’s cultural fabric – which is complex, idiosyncratic and contradictory. However its mystic allure is a promising sign of big things yet to come.

Images from top:,,,

Monday, 3 June 2013

London's Top 5 Treasure Hunts

Treasures old, treasures new, treasures worth the pilgrimage to...Inspired by Channel 4’s ‘Four Rooms’* and my Blom & Blom recycled lighting piece for Phoenix Magazine, trawling for treasure has never been more fashionable. Here are 5 fantastic events where you just might get lucky


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...