2 (or 3 ...) Questions for Aric Chen
by Harry / September 30, 2010

Earlier this month Aric Chen was named creative director of a new Beijing Design Week which will launch next year. We had the opportunity to ask Aric a few questions about this new showcase for Chinese design talent.

Congrats again on being named the creative director of the new Beijing Design Week. What details can you share with us at this stage? When is it? What's the focus? Why Beijing?

Thanks, Harry. We still have a year to go, so we're not yet able to announce a lot of details. But what I can tell you is that, having received the generous support of the municipal government, we'll be doing a largescale installation on Tiananmen Square. We're also partnering with London, including developing content with the London Design Festival. However, just as important, our job is to activate the entire city with design, which means working with museums, brands, galleries, schools, designers - from China, as well as from abroad - to mount events throughout Beijing. We'll create content, but in the end, it's about supporting the content that others create.

The dates will be September 28 to October 3, 2011, and the emphasis is on creating not just a platform, but a mechanism, for building a stronger design infrastructure - and greater design awareness - in Beijing and China. One question we often get is 'How will this be different from other design weeks?' Most obviously, ours is primarily a Chinese audience, in China, so we need to develop a Chinese model that responds to Chinese needs. At the same time, these are early days for design in China, so Beijing Design Week has the chance to become not just a showcase but also a means for channeling the ambitions, capabilities and interests that are already here towards becoming a true design culture. Perhaps even one that can, ultimately, offer a different perspective for the rest of the world. Which leads to your question: Why Beijing? We're the historical and cultural center of China. And I think that provides pretty good conditions for creating something deep-rooted yet new. Obviously, as Beijing Design Week, we can't accomplish everything ourselves, and certainly not in the first year, but we hope we can at least play a useful, supportive role.

Anyone who follows China knows that Chinese product manufacturers are now working on creating their own brands vs. making goods for others, will Beijing Design Week play a role?

There's no question that the focus in China is now moving away from manufacturing goods towards creating brands and products. This is a stage that every advanced country has gone through in its development and I don't think China will be an exception. There's still a steep learning curve, but I think we'll see some big results - maybe not tomorrow, but very soon. As for Beijing Design Week's role, we'll be meeting with Chinese companies, brands and manufacturers to get a better understanding of what they'd like to see. Then, with their blessing, we'll try to help however we can.

You were involved with the creative direction of 100% Shanghai, how will Beijing Design Week be different?

When Tobias Wong and I were creative directors of 100% Design Shanghai, we saw it first and foremost as a way to help nurture emerging Chinese talent. With 100% Design's backing, we were able to launch a Rado-sponsored competition for young Chinese designers (whose winning designs were put into production) while commissioning Chinese architects to create experimental furniture. We also mounted a pop-up shop that linked Chinese designers with Swarovski. But fundamentally, 100% Design Shanghai is a commercial tradeshow so there are limits to what one can do in that format. As we all know, design is about much more than the commodification of stylish-looking things - though we like stylish-looking things! But especially where design is such a young discipline, we need to build a firmer intellectual and cultural foundation for it. We want Beijing Design Week to help do that. That's our goal, at least.

There's a launch with an installation in Tiananmen Square, that name now has a particular significance to Westerners, or does it?

It would be naive to think that Tiananmen Square doesn't come with political connotations. But like every country, China is an evolving place and we've been given an incredible opportunity to send a strong message about the value of design in one of the country's most important public spaces. In the end, design is about people and how we define our relationship to others and the world-at-large. We think Tiananmen Square is the perfect place to make a positive statement, and are grateful that the government is giving us that chance.

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