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“Design is about Molding a Space between Man and World”

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Name: BEATRICE LEANZA

Occupation: Creative Art Director for this year’s Beijing Design Week

Having worked with the likes of controversial Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, and written extensively on contemporary art in Asia, Beatrice Leanza is quite a resource when it comes to revealing what China’s art scene has to offer. Unsurprisingly, Italian-born Leanza was invited to be the creative force behind this year’s Beijing Design Week (BJDW) – a platform that will debut work of designers, as well as create a platform for more creative innovation in China.

 

Q: Is this year’s BJDW a continuation of last year of is it a completely new theme?

A: We are using the same structure as last year, such as the design and exhibition forum. We are using the same categorisation but a different way of story-telling. This year we are covering key iconic and socially important areas of Beijing to make the story telling more resonant.

This year’s Beijing Design Week strives to be a platform for the contribution of both local and international designers to develop designs and projects in many different areas including cultural, environmental, architectural, infrastructure and even public services such as the redesign of public toilets, better transportation and better parking in hutong areas. We also want to foster collaboration with construction companies and business people. We want to promote collaboration between art, design and technology.


Q: How does China plan to shrug off its ‘made in China’ reputation? Are you seeing more innovation? Can you give some examples?

A: Chinese that have studied in both China and abroad are really working within this realm with cutting edge techniques. In this way China is really lively and active. These designers are really trying to bridge the gap in areas that have not been covered yet. Fortunately, there is not just an attempt to mimic. Design culture is very much present from architecture design to digital content production.

BJDW activities will focus on how design can improve a variety of social issues, such as how to deal with an aging population, how to improve healthcare and trasportation and how digital culture/innovation can really impact on the quality of life in the 21stC.

This also includes design which cuts across a temporal axis. This includes what younger and more established designers are doing with their own heritage in China ranging from visual material culture of times past to discovery of new techniques and use of traditional materials such as bamboo, wood or ceramics. Tangible cultural heritage of Chinese origin is an expression of how there is a contextualised attempt to frame design heritage in the context of China.


Q: Everyone is talking about sustainable design these days, is this going to be a focus in this year’s BJDW?

A: I think that design in whatever realm is really moving towards defining and molding our relationship with our living environment. How design operates in the space between man and world from historical architecture to public space in your neighbourhood. Design needs to bear in mind issues such as an increasing population and develop cutting edge ways of making industrial production more efficient with improved industrial technologies. Even though there is an implicit emphasis on sustainability we are not necessarily using the words green or eco-friendly. It’s just about making communication and dialogue between two ends.

 

Q: Please name some people involved in BJDW that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

A: BJDW is made up of so many contributing partners. We are really a platform on top of which public and corporate partners can join in. Nothing could happen without the partners we have locally, for example the investment we receive from our local partners. We wouldn’t be able to operate or impact on the more professional end if we weren’t an initiative supported by the Beijing government. We create a common platform where all these different parties can come together. It’s about coming together as opposed to concentrating on specific people.


Q: What do you think about the copycat industry in China? Do you think it is changing or do you think this is going to be a problem for a long time to come?

A: From professionals to those in academia, from brands to designers and architects, they are all propagating a new environment to push and change this extremely static discussion. Recently the original Florentijn Hofman duck came to Beijing, realised in Beijing by its owner. This is where BJDW is unique and quite an ambitious project. We want to become a platform and reference for design ideas, for the design community at large and the audience is made of both the very general public and the professionals. We aim to raise awareness of creativity with individual characteristics. This is what we are speaking about when we talk of copywriting; respecting individuality. BJDW has a 360 degree coverage. It is ambitious but I believe that it can have a positive impact and promote progress whereby we will achieve a little bit more every year. We cannot change things in one easy step. It is a gradual process and this in itself is quite a valuable message

 

Bonus Question: What’s your least favourite/ favourite thing about Beijing?
A: I’ve been here for 10 years and I think in that time I’ve become immune to certain Beijing diseases. The traffic and pollution, these are probably the most annoying things. However, I think I’ve been here for so long that it’s quite easy to come in and out of this context. I have moments when I really look forward to coming back. Sometimes I have no feeling of my European roots at all. I think I’m a master of the middle way after being here for 10 years.

 

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