It’s not every day that the President opens a design exhibition herself, and even more so when that exhibition takes place at the Presidential Office.
But this comes as no surprise, given the strong design talent in Taiwan, as demonstrated by Australian designer Annie Ivanova’s dedication to create an entire book on the subject. However, accessibility to this wealth of design talent is limited by language, as Ivanova noted in an interview. Despite this, there is hope an exhibition of this scale will help to boost Taiwan’s design visibility in the global marketplace.
“From the works on show in this exhibition, we can see that design is changing our society. We hope that by providing a place for this exhibition, people will better understand the value of design. The [Taiwanese] government will continue to support the cultivation of design talent. Let design enhance our quality of life; let design promote economic transformation; let design become Taiwan’s national strength.” President Tsai said on the morning at the opening of the M/m Exhibition.
M/m stands for Maximum / Minimum, says Frankie Fan, director of XXtralab Design and curator for the exhibit, as well as a former judge for the Young Pin Design Award. The exhibition features award-winning designers and brands from the Golden Pin Design Awards.
The idea is that the products are “minimum,” or small, while the impact is “maximum,” something that cannot be measured. The subject of the exhibit is “翻轉,” which translates roughly to “inversion,” but also has the meaning of turning around or upending, as in upending the status quo, or turning one’s luck around.
The designers in the exhibit were chosen for their impact in bringing Taiwan to the global stage. “These designers are telling stories,” says Fan. “They represent the earth, locality, where they are from. I specifically chose a selection of older designers and younger designers.” The “older” designers are housed together in one area of the exhibit and the “younger” designers are in a different room. A clear passageway with acrylic cut-outs representing slides connects the two, and a projector plays an introduction to the exhibit.
There is a clear thematic cohesion, with the older designers adhering to traditional crafts while the younger designers are showcase more digital forms.
Created by Tony KM Chang and Chou Yu-Jui, the brand Yii collaborates with skilled local craftsmen to present Taiwanese cultural perspectives to an international audience in a unique design-centered way. On display is “43”, an armless chair designed with bamboo master Chen Gao-ming 陳高明. It is constructed of 43 pieces of Taiwan-grown moso bamboo and won Best Design trophy in the 2015 Golden Pin Design Awards.
Jason Chou of Just In Case uses embroidery in his collection, as well drawing inspiration from calligraphy to play off an East Meets West aesthetic. Just In Case has been well received worldwide and will be exhibiting at New York Fashion week in September.
The exhibit also features embroidered pieces and an example of calligraphy in fashion. A banner with eight influential fashion figures, a parody of the Eight Immortals in traditional folk mythology, is displayed behind the clothing. Among the figures are Rick Kawakubo and Yoji Yamamoto from Japan, who is credited with bringing the ‘wabisabi’ aesthetic to the world stage. “These people represent some of the most influential people in fashion,” says Chou. “Not only are they amazing designers in their own right, they have created something permanent in the fashion world.”
Vivienne Westwood, another figure represented, is noted for her work on environmentalism and protest of fast fashion. “Actually, that is why I have this tattoo,” Chou indicates his arm.
“We utilize a lot of these ideals in our fashion, such as recycle, remake, and reuse. Handmade is another theme, since anything handmade cannot be fast fashion.”
Sandwiched between Just In Case and Yii, THAT! Inventions utilizes Taiwan’s advanced passive heat induction technology to create useful household goods such as heated ice cream scoops and butter knives, as well as cooling slabs and ice trays that can create cubes in a mere 10 minutes.
“We came up with the name after a home and houseware conference in Chicago two years ago,” says founder Hsieh Jung-ya. “People kept telling us ‘That is amazing!’” The products are indeed amazing—and amusingly named. The ScoopTHAT! ice cream scoop and SpreadTHAT! II butter spreader utilize the user’s own body heat to solve the familiar conundrum of rock-solid ice cream and cold butter.
THAT! products have already helped Taiwanese design in the global marketplace, with designs previously sold at Sur La Table and the aforementioned ice cream scoop used at all Movenpick ice cream stores and restaurants in Taiwan nationwide.
The “young” designers room features three designers. SHA Design, by cross-disciplinary designer Sha Yao, shows Sha’s EATWELL collection, which was created for the geriatric community. It was created through a series of experiments and involved over 100 design models and studies of 21 day-to-day activities of senior citizens. The collection epitomizes her quest to integrate sociological thinking into design, proving that design is more than just winning awards or serving as a cultural ambassador, but that it can serve to solve societal problems as well.
Rayark Inc. is another intriguing pick. Yu Ming-Yang, the founder and CEO, created the company with a commitment to create the most original gameplay with the highest possible graphic quality. This winning combination is evident in Rayark’s success – over 60 million players around the globe.
“Actually, Rayark only has a small percentage of the market in Taiwan, maybe 5%,” says curator Fan. “95% of their players are overseas.”
A fabric rendition of the screen from rhythm game Cytus is on display, with its signature female cyborg form. Other games by the company include Deemo, which focuses on piano music, and Implosion, a mecha game.
Given the high level nature of the exhibition and attendance by top figures in Taiwanese politics and design, including the Minister of Economics Chih-Kung Lee (李世光), and of course President Tsai, it is clear that Taiwan is sending a message to the world regarding its design prowess and hopes for economic recovery via that route. The quality of talent on display as well prove the nation’s competitiveness on the global stage in the realm of design.
“Design M/m Taiwan” will open to the public today (July 13, 2017) at the Presidential Office Building, 1st Floor, Rooms 9 and 10. It will close in December (Parties larger than 15 people must first register online.
For more information on visiting the Presidential Office Building, visit: http://english.president.gov.tw/Page/124
(Feature photo from Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan))
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