Victoria & Albert Gallery’s Inaugural Exhibition at Design Society Shenzhen Is All About Values

CD.3:1-2015 Mobile telephone Fairphone; Fairphone Android mobile telephone with packaging and ephemera, Fairphone, China, 2013; Phone from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Box from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; User guide from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Postcard from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Postcard from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Postcard from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Postcard from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Postcard from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013; Postcard from Android mobile telephone by Fairphone, China, 2013 GuoHong; Fairphone China 2013 Tin soldering paste, tantulam capacitors, tungsten used in vibration motor, gold printed circuit board
Portrait of Brendan Cormier. Courtesy of Design Society.
Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
View of Design Society. Courtesy of Design Society.
Installation View of Unidentified Acts of Design. Courtesy of Design Society.
Astrolabe, Iran, 18th century. Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Fairphone, Bas van Abel, 2013. Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. Courtesy of Fairphone.
Yuri Suzuki present Sharevari in Minding the Digital, a musical interface that translates the collective untrained body movements of the audience into a musical improvisation.Courtesy of Design Society.
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ART AND SUSTAINABILITY

Design Society is a new cultural center that recently opened in Shekou in Shenzhen — a complex that will put on its own exhibitions in addition to housing V&A Gallery, the first location of esteemed British art and design museum Victoria & Albert Museum outside of the United Kingdom. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition, which kicked off last December, is titled Values of Design and spans various time periods and geographical locations. The exhibition is the result of in-depth research as well as community input, and features different sections dedicated to different aspects of design.

We spoke to lead curator of the V&A Gallery, Brendan Cormier, about the exhibition, where the gallery is headed next, and the role of design in future society.

INTERVIEW: Elise Yau
IMAGES: Courtesy of Design Society

 

Portrait of Brendan Cormier. Courtesy of Design Society.

 

I am fascinated by how you categorise the development of design and the evolution of values in different cultures through these seven categories in Values of Design. One that I am particularly interested in is the copying obviously a big question in all of the discussions about Chinese design. What do you think about shanzhai, the practice of imitating and counterfeiting products? To what extent does it still reflect the quality of Chinese design and creativity?

I think shanzhai is really an instant phenomenon. What is it? It starts off with straight up copying because you can then sell it and make a profit. What is interesting is that the second you start copying an object, you also start modifying it. You rarely find a copy in the electronics market that’s a pure copy. There’s always going to be a tweak, a modification, or a new feature. In essence, there is an inkling of creative thought going into it from the very beginning. What we found really interesting is that over time and with enough iterations of these objects, it actually becomes something completely different.

[One example is] a phone designed for elderly people, which became a very popular product in the shanzhai market. There is not a single major phone company in the world that thought to make a phone designed for elderly people. It was just something that came through that ecosystem of rapid iteration and testing.

I would never want to say that shanzhai is the only representation of design in China — it is such a large country with a large design scene, but because of the manufacturing paths of Shenzhen, shanzhai has arisen in this environment. It’s shown a very interesting way of thinking and method through which products emerge. It challenges the original notion of design, which is designers sitting down, conceiving a product from start to finish, and then making it. [Shanzhai] products evolve rather than just being created.

 

Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

 

Have you done any investigations into the design scene in Shenzhen?

The intent is that Design Society will be embedded in Shenzhen and will build a network of designers and different communities. The V&A has helped foster that growth of a local network in a few ways. Eventually, we want that local network to be able to use this space, we want them to be able to give lectures and hold workshops and propose different exhibition ideas.

 

What do local designers hope to see at V&A?

We did a project two years ago called “Unidentified Acts of Design” to understand the design scene better. You’ll see a lot of different people from Shenzhen in these videos. We talked to lots of designers originally just with the simple question of, the V&A museum is going to come to Shenzhen, what would you want most to get out of that? What would be the best use of an institution like the V&A coming to Shenzhen? That was really important information to feed off of.

At the beginning, we were thinking a lot about how whether we should be doing primarily Chinese design. We have a large Chinese collection at the V&A. But actually what most people were saying was, “If I hear that the V&A is coming to Shenzhen, I want to be able to get a snapshot of the V&A. I don’t have the chance to go to London, so I want to be able to actually get an idea of the V&A through those objects”. It made us change to something that was more reflective of the entire collection, rather than being a specific focus on one aspect or another of it. That was really useful.

 

View of Design Society. Courtesy of Design Society.
Installation View of Unidentified Acts of Design. Courtesy of Design Society.

 

How would you describe your role as a curator at V&A?

My position as a curator who makes exhibitions is to reach people and to show them a world that I think is interesting, and to point out really interesting questions and insights about design that can then help them have a more critical framework for looking at the world of everyday objects. The most amazing thing is, we are surrounded by objects every day and we take them for granted, but when we develop critical tools to understand them, it enriches your day. I am happy to take this role London, but I am also very happy to do it in Shenzhen. The reality is that we have more objects in our collection that we can show in the museum. So opportunities like these are fundamental to going out to new audiences and reaching new places, and trying to hold discussions and seeing what happens from them.

 

There are objects from all over the world in this exhibition. How do they all connect?

There is an aim to try and create, as much as possible, an attempt at a universal dialogue about design. To do that, you make connections between objects from vastly different time periods and places. It becomes really interesting to show how an object from one place or another basically operates with the same principles and the same design thinking.

 

Astrolabe, Iran, 18th century. Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Fairphone, Bas van Abel, 2013. Values of Design at V&A Gallery, Design Society. Courtesy of Fairphone.

 

Do you think that design can prompt social change and create a better world?

I’d say that no individual designer through a design will likely make a better world, but we put this quote up over here, “Design creates culture, design values determine the future”. Every object that we consume is a vote of confidence to produce more of those objects. Every time we pick an object to populate our house or to use, we are saying we value these objects, and more of those objects will be created. These value decisions are really personal. Designed objects in isolation are neither good nor bad, but in aggregate they can have positive or negative effects. If we all love sports utility vehicles, obviously that starts to have a negative impact on the environment. Design can change the world, but design can also destroy the world. It just depends on how we use it.

 

The other show, Minding the Digital is heavily digitalised; it’s about how designers use technology over time. Do you think digitalisation changes our perceptions of the world?

Digitalisation is just a medium. That medium is still informed by our values. The digitalisation and the amount of innovation happening is a real opportunity for us to double check what our values are and what kind of future we want. I think Carrie [Chan, senior curator at Design Society] was trying to ask that in her exhibition Minding the Digital. “Here is this new technology. What do we want to get out of it?” I think it is really important to be asking ourselves that right now.

 

Yuri Suzuki present Sharevari in Minding the Digital, a musical interface that translates the collective untrained body movements of the audience into a musical improvisation.Courtesy of Design Society.

 

What are the future plans for V&A and Design Society?

This gallery is here for two years, and then after that the partnership gets renegotiated. The V&A is providing an institutional software for a new museum. The new museum creates the hardware. V&A comes in with content and, to a certain degree, training and certain operating procedures. That is designed to get the new institution growing, although they are already going full steam ahead and they’ve made this amazing other gallery next to us. It is really up to Design Society to decide what they want to do next. If they are open to more collaboration, then we’ll do more. At the moment, this is the main V&A Gallery and there will be two touring shows that will come here as well, but beyond that there are no plans.

 

 

Values of Design
Now till August 4, 2019
V&A Gallery
1F, the Sea World Culture and Arts Center, Design Society

 

 

About the Curator

Brendan Cormier is primarily an investigator and communicator about design, working with different mediums, from exhibitions to publications, to events and speculative projects. With urbanism as  foundation, he try to unravel the significance of design at all scales, and what it means for daily life.

 

 


 

Elise YAU (Editor of CoBo)

Elise YAU is an editor and writer specialises in design, lifestyle and luxury topics. She has written extensively for Ming Pao Weekly, City Magazine and HK01, and she is the author of book projects regarding design, architecture and Hong Kong culture. Currently based in Hong Kong, Elise is immersing the art world after joining CoBo, the first Asia community platform for collectors.

eliseyau@cobosocial.com

 

 

 

 
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