Unique furniture designer, Li Naihan, first appeared on Design China in October 2011 with her Crates series. We caught up with her this month to find out what she has been concocting more recently.
What are you working on right now?
I am juggling a few things: I am continuing to develop my Crates and Fold series (the latter was released earlier this year) by experimenting with different materials and collaborating with other designers such as Nick Wu.
I have a number of ideas for new projects too; for example, developing a digital furniture collection that interacts with both the user and its environment. I also want to explore an old Chinese concept that involves shrinking iconic architecture into furniture and, subsequently, exploring the idea of owning something iconic. The process will be quite experimental whilst the resulting furniture will be moulded to fit the buyers’ ego.
I’ve also recently established an innovation lab with fellow creative, Benjamin Bacon. Finally, Caochangdi (where I am based) is also an official hotspot for Beijing Design Week (BJDW) this year, so we are putting together a really exciting programme for it.
Migration is a huge topic in China. How have people reacted to your Crates and Fold series, which deal with related issues?
It’s funny because I created these lines as a response to my own migratory experiences. Others, however, have managed to find new and alternative meanings in the works. In a sense, I have adopted quite an artistic approach to working: throw my idea out there, wait for people to react, and then develop a new product in response. On the whole, it has been very positive.
How does your background in architecture influence what you do now?
I think I am more open to experimenting. The concept and language of architecture is very broad now and everything has become a tool for expression. Working in the practical world of architecture is really boring and not creative at all; on the other hand, my processes are all about learning. I perceive furniture as small-scale architecture.
How do you feel about starchitects and the architecture world in general?
Both starchitects and buildings are needed. You need to be an egomaniac in order to be an architect and you have to invest in yourself in order to become famous. But everyone benefits from this pyramid: starchitects promote the discipline to a wider audience, which assists the younger generation since promoting the industry as a whole generates a path.
You grew up in a very unique atmosphere. Can you tell us more about this?
Both of my parents were creative in one way or another: my father was a composer, and my mother was a dancer. Many creative people (poets, artists, musicians etc) congregated in Beijing, so I was exposed to this environment from a very young age. I was also probably the only kid brought up in a film studio. Growing up in a stage setting meant that I made up my own world and became quite the exhibitionist!
You previously mentioned that Caochangdi will play a large part in BJDW this year. How do you feel about previous BJDW events?
Last year was chaotic — but it was also great. Without government support, no one pays attention to anything here. However, I see more and more young people taking part in the local design industry now, and design education is changing. Those from an international background are helping to inject into the design scene here, and Chinese youths that are educated abroad are now coming back to search for opportunity. Right now, we have the right environment and the right people – it’s the right moment for everything to happen!
For more information, please visit Li Naihan’s official website.