China Design Now

Lam Hung’s Peace of Mind poster for a Zen Buddhist centre, Hong Kong, 2001
The V&A’s current flagship exhibition has a very clear, chronological layout, which is a little surprising considering its slightly clumsy title. The show itself begins in Shenzhen – the site of the first McDonald’s in China – and, perhaps more significantly, the birthplace of contemporary Chinese graphic design. Throughout the exhibition, China’s lust for iconic style and mischievous trends is depicted via a dazzling array of poster designs, illustrations, animations and quirky films: many of which frequently reference, on the one hand, the Buddhist way of life and, distinctly on the other, the visual potency of Maoist China.

Dots
Lam Hung’s Peace of Mind poster for a Zen Buddhist centre, Hong Kong, 2001

The V&A’s current flagship exhibition has a very clear, chronological layout, which is a little surprising considering its slightly clumsy title. The show itself begins in Shenzhen – the site of the first McDonald’s in China – and, perhaps more significantly, the birthplace of contemporary Chinese graphic design. Throughout the exhibition, China’s lust for iconic style and mischievous trends is depicted via a dazzling array of poster designs, illustrations, animations, photography and quirky films: many of which frequently reference, on the one hand, the Buddhist way of life and, distinctly on the other, the visual potency of Maoist China.

From Shenzhen, the exhibition moves to Shanghai (known as the ‘Paris of the Orient’), where both consumerism and urban culture have exploded. This is epitomised in a display of Nike trainer designs that take inspiration from Tibetan headdresses, scroll paintings, meridian foot points and ‘xiao long’; the steamed dumpling that Shangai is famous for.

Trainers
Nike Air Max NL1 ‘Kiss Of Death’ premium trainers

Apparently, for the xiao long trainers, the stitches, the criss-cross patterning and even the colour of the leather are all designed to evoke the bamboo steamer used to cook this favourite dish. The logo, too, is a small saucer with a pair of chopsticks; not something that you necessarily expect to see on a pair of Nikes.

Black lithograph
Poster by Han Zhanning

Many of the posters that feature in the exhibition rely heavily on calligraphy but employ contemporary twists to give the ancient art a new lease of life. The posters are also printed on a range of materials; from handmade paper, black lithograph (above) through to silkscreen.

Tea
Shirtflag T-shirt

Tie
Shirtflag T-shirt

There is, understandably, a considerable amount of work on show that shows the influence of Mao. T-shirts by design studio, Shirtflag, use images from the Mao era, deconstructing their political meanings by mixing them with symbols of global culture; such as the much-loved Gameboy.

Plugzine
Plugzine

Plugzine thumbnails
Plugzine

While the all-too brief taste of creative publishing is provided by Plugzine (above) and Frontiers magazine, the introduction to design group, Perk Shop, may leave you scribbling names on the back of your hand for future reference.

There’s also an eclectic collection of CD sleeve designs (many are cheaply produced or handmade) and a vast display of independent music magazines that serve to give the exhibition a blast of the underground design scene that has taken root in the country.

1st
Chen Shaohua, poster for the first Graphic Design exhibition in Shenzhen, 1992

The exhibition as a whole is certainly refreshing and places China as a country determined to make its mark on the contemporary design world, despite being a late starter. And in order to catch up with the West, the burgeoning Chinese design community is working full speed ahead.

china design now
China Design Now, Installation shot, (c) V&A images

See the V&A Museum’s China Design Now page for full details of the exhibition which runs until July 13.

More from CR

25×4

Channel 4 at 25

Hot & Cold in London

Hot and Cold issue three (boxed)
Hot & Cold is a collaborative art zine project created by Californian artists Chris Duncan and Griffin McPartland. Each issue invites up to 20 artists – with more joining as word spreads – to participate in creating this hand crafted, limited edition zine. A new exhibition of their collected work has just opened in London…

One Day Like This video, Elbow

Simple ideas can still be the most powerful, as evidenced by this video for Elbow’s new track One Day Like This

Lost: the D in D&AD

Hat-Trick Design was nominated for its Lest We Forget stamp in Graphic Design,
one of only two nominations in graphics categories this year
While an unprecedented six Golds were handed out at last night’s D&AD awards, the Graphic Design section produced just two nominations and no pencils. We asked former D&AD President, Michael Johnson, and Sean Perkins of North why they think graphics was so under-represented (last year seven Silvers and four nominations were awarded in the section) and what D&AD – and indeed the wider design community – should do to change this situation in the future…

Graphic Designer

Fushi Wellbeing

Creative Designer

Monddi Design Agency