Xiao Tianyu

On July 20, 2012 by Design China

Orig­i­nally from Liaon­ing Province, Xiao Tianyu is a Beijing-based designer who grad­u­ated from CAFA in 2010. His grad­u­a­tion fur­ni­ture series, Har­mony, demon­strates his sig­na­ture style: com­bin­ing local Chi­nese cul­ture with a more con­tem­po­rary design aes­thetic. Design China spoke with him recently to find out more.

Why did you decide to study at CAFA?
I didn’t pick CAFA, CAFA picked me. I orig­i­nally wanted to ven­ture into game design but, fol­low­ing my tutor’s advice, I took up a course in fur­ni­ture design instead.

How did you feel once you were immersed in the fur­ni­ture design course?
I was actu­ally dis­ap­pointed at first because there seemed to be a lack of both stan­dard and sys­tems in the course. Pro­fes­sors mostly taught what they were per­son­ally inter­ested in and I didn’t really take my stud­ies seri­ously. This was until I trav­elled to the coun­try­side and wit­nessed craft processes first-hand, which had a great impact on me; I almost switched to a dif­fer­ent course alto­gether! How­ever, I also hap­pened to meet Song Tao at this time who revealed to me the poten­tial of fur­ni­ture design.

Can you tell us about some of your work­ing processes?
I work a lot in col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­ers; for exam­ple, I recently col­lab­o­rated with UCCA and ELLE. I also believe that col­lab­o­rat­ing with crafts­men is cru­cial for the devel­op­ment of Chi­nese design because tra­di­tional cul­ture is extremely impor­tant. Fail­ing to con­sult our craft her­itage com­prises the qual­ity of a final prod­uct and how it is made. Design­ers who do not think in this way will be for­ever depen­dent on West­ern design aes­thet­ics; they will not be able to sur­pass a super­fi­cial under­stand­ing of design.

We as young design­ers also have a lot to learn from Chi­nese crafts­men; they them­selves are mas­ters since they pos­sess great cul­tural knowl­edge. This is the direc­tion that I am inter­ested in. In some respects, we have a lot to learn from Japan where design edu­ca­tion is basi­cally a con­tin­u­a­tion of crafts.

What was the inspi­ra­tion behind your Har­mony series?

This was my grad­u­ate project, so I did a lot of the­o­ret­i­cal research behind the idea. To put it sim­ply, I observed dif­fer­ent ways of sit­ting. Fur­ni­ture from the Ming Dynasty era, for exam­ple, encour­ages one to sit upright in quite a regal man­ner, whilst slouch­ing on a sofa is con­sid­ered a more com­fort­able way of sit­ting. Har­mony is a mar­riage between the two.

What are you work­ing on right now?
I’m devel­op­ing my own porce­lain series and work­ing on some com­mer­cial projects such as fur­ni­ture for resorts and hotels. I am also focus­ing on set­tling down in my 798 studio-store. I found the space ear­lier this year (in Feb­ru­ary 2012), so there is still some ren­o­vat­ing to be done.

What has been the biggest chal­lenge so far?

One huge prob­lem is man­u­fac­tur­ing. The big fac­to­ries here are not sup­port­ive of inde­pen­dent design­ers and they only agree to mak­ing pro­to­types. Some­times, the qual­ity of these pro­to­types is not very good. When work­ing on a new idea, one often has to stop halfway through the design process to ques­tion whether the final out­come can even be man­u­fac­tured. One often has to col­lab­o­rate with big money – those who may not nec­es­sar­ily have good taste — in order to sur­vive. We can­not depend on cre­ativ­ity alone. Even though a lot is being done to pro­mote the local design indus­try here, the dis­ci­pline is still not widely respected.

What advice would you give to oth­ers?
Well, the sit­u­a­tion right now (at least in Bei­jing) is that design­ers are quite seg­re­gated; they usu­ally focus on their own work. We need to start open­ing up – to col­lab­o­rate more, share resources and help the com­mu­nity to develop col­lec­tively. Shang­hai does a lot bet­ter than us in this respect because dif­fer­ent cre­ative groups are always work­ing together.

What is your focus for the next cou­ple of years?

I want to con­tinue with and elab­o­rate on my fur­ni­ture series; con­tinue work­ing with Song Tao and Wuhao Curated Shop. I am also plan­ning on a work­shop in Jingdezhen for next year. Hope­fully, this will help me to focus on my own porce­lain series.

Thanks to Lynn Zhang for translating.

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