Contemporary Art/New Media in China
Defne Ayas and Zhao Chuan
Interview with Jutta Friedrichs
- In what ways has living in Shanghai influence your work?
No matter where, the environment always influences or depending on the
level of engagement, shapes one's character. Those changes can be slow
and subtle and may only manifest them self much later. I think living
here in China will influence my work even long time after I will be
gone (or perhaps I'll never leave, who knows).
For my last line, my main inspiration was contrast, which I found a
lot in a city on a fast train of trying to overcome old traditions and
poverty. The city's increasing awareness of environmental issues
contrasting the excitement for consuming the newest products
(pollution through production) was an other inspiration to combine
natural with manufactured elements, aesthetically as well as in the
- How do you resolve the matter of being a Western artist working in
I don't know if there is anything to resolve. It provides a chance to
engage with something new, which sets my experience, myself and in the
end my work apart from most other artists and designers in the world.
There were and are personal issues to address of how to develop a new
aesthetic true to myself and my new environment. Funny enough, in the
beginning I was given the impression that I had an advantage of being
a foreign designer here in China. I easily got credibility. Very
recently the tables have turned. There seams to be a new sudden,
wildly urge to find China's exotic super designer of tomorrow and with
a foreign passport, I am now often excluded from competitions. Either
way has no relevance to the quality of the design but the
differentiation and exclusivity has become a marketing tool, following
the trend of the Arts.
- I read that you used to design Italian kitchens. Is there any
specific reason why you chose to concentrate on designing furniture
upon moving to Shanghai?
I moved to China for a tempting product design position. I had 70
products produced with the first two years. It was a very condensed
experience but soon I didn't feel comfortable anymore throwing one low
value product after the other into the world. Products often end up in
drawers and most of the time have a much shorter lifespan than
furniture. Furniture occupies a beautiful space in between the body
and the environment/architecture communicating between the two. It is
always exposed as oppose to products of occasional use. Good furniture
gains value over time whereas electronics for example loose value fast
and with it fades its design.
- The wood in your furniture is quite beautiful. Is there anything
you distinctly look for when choosing wood for your pieces? Do you
feel this is important?
Of course. Design is all in the detail and the material is one
important detail. I love the idea of creating colourful pieces with
natural materials. All the wood is naturally finished, showing it's
original colour and grain. I handpick the veneer for the first
samples. Since it is a natural material, the grain shape and width,
the contrast and colour can vary a lot. Getting it right can make a
- Recently, the lines between art and design have increasingly worn
thin. Do you feel any need to categorize your work as one or the other?
Historically a differentiation between the two didn't exist. The
distinction is a product of the industrialization. The consumer/
market has more power and is demanding certain product in a certain
style. In a way, addressing a brief (designing) is a lot easier than
setting your very own guidance as an artist. For MÜ I have fully
followed my own call but I have still created functional and sellable
pieces. I guess there, I felt for the first time that I was touching
the border between design and art. The pieces, I am working on now, I
consider much more as art. They will be exhibited in a gallery and be
communicating pieces of my thought process. I often think, it is a
waist of time that everybody spends so much time thinking and talking
about the difference between art and design. However, I think there is
a difference. Maybe we just need a new word for the people that work
in the grey zone "dancing on both parties" - perhaps creators - then
it can be easily confused with curators...great, another blurry zone...
- Twelve Experimental Exhibitions – A Documented History