RCA show 2014

RCA show 2014

RCA show 2014 at their Kensington campus


There are many design graduation exhibitions in June and July but the RCA show is certainly one of the most popular one. The design industry is always looking for new talents, so this show is a good opportunity to meet the design stars of the future. There are two venues for the show, presenting the work of 575 post graduate students. I always seem to only manage to visit one, the Kensington venue because this alone would take up at least two hours!

Due to the huge amount of work on display, I probably skipped some fine stuff, the projects mentioned here are just some that stood out to me. If there is any info that is missing or incorrect, feel free to leave comments so that I can make amendments.

Mireia Gordi Vila‘s “Fragile explores packaging for shipping and created a flexible packaging system as a reusable companion to the packaged object rather than a disposable skin. It is an inquiry into the materiality and the typologies of transport packaging for valuable goods. Find out more about it via Dezeen.

Ayca Dundar‘s “Drop umbrella” re-examines the design of umbrellas (perhaps long overdue) and she came up with an umbrella that has a flexible and foldable structure that depends on material properties rather than hinges and joints. It offers a simple alternative to the complex structure of common umbrellas. When opened it has a unique organic shape with a surprising opening and closing movement. Find out more and watch a video on it via Dezeen.

I spoke to Alexandra Theunissen about her to toy-like display of “DYSsonance“, a project aiming to help dyslexic people understand, read, play and compose music. The “DYSsonance notation” is a graphical language based on colourful and simple shapes, which would aid a dyslexic person who is a visual thinker. An interesting concept and the end results look fun too.


Mireia Gordi Vila Chuhan LiangYen Chen Changyasuhiro suzukiJohanna Schmeergangjian cui Julian Melchiorri

Top left: Mireia Gordi Vila’s “Fragile”; Top right: Chuhan Liang’s “Rice Water project”; 2nd row left: Yen Chen Chang’s “Crafting electronics”; 2nd row middle: Yasuhiro Suzuki’s “Re-Cocoon”; 2nd row right: Johanna Schmeer’s “Bioplastic fantasy”; Bottom left: Gangjian Cui’s “The Rise of the Plasticsmith”; Bottom right: Julian Melchiorri’s “Silk leaf”


Chuhan Liang‘s Rice Water project examines how to turn ‘waste liquid’ into something more sustainable. The milky liquid left after washing rice has been used as a natural detergent for hundreds of years in eastern culture. Liang designed a series of tools for collecting and applying this, so that the liquid can be used as sustainable alternative of chemical detergents for domestic cleaning

Yen Chen Chang‘s project “Crafting electronics” is intriguing and fun! His project explores the combination of craft and electronics, and finding a balance in-between. One of his work is as grass carpet, which acts as a strokes sensor that controls a fan, and the harder you stroke on the grassy surface the stronger wind the fan generates. Another is a knitted ball/squeeze sensor which controls the juicer, and the harder you workout, the more orange juice you get later. Cool stuff! Find out more and watch a video of it via Dezeen.

Yasuhiro Suzuki‘s beautiful and organic-looking silk lampshades caught my eye at the show. The project, “Re-Cocoon” features lampshades directly moulded from silk cocoons through the use of a custom-built machine with a power drill that grabs strands from the cocoons placed below in a boiling pot of water. Find out more and watch a video of this via Designboom.

Johanna Schmeer‘s eye-catching installation, “Bioplastic Fantastic” investigates new types of products and interactions which might emerge from material innovations in the fields of bio- and nanotechnology. It speculates about the future design and use of domestic products made from enzyme-enhanced bioplastics. Find out more and watch a video on it via Dezeen.

I really like Gangjian Cui‘s concept behind the project, “The Rise of the Plasticsmith”. The project speculates on China’s post-industrial future, envisioning the rise of a new breed of post-industrial workers who will use plastic crafts to tell the glorious history of the industrial age. Find out more and watch a video on it via Designboom.

I was fascinated by Julian Melchiorri‘s “Silk Leaf & Exhale, an artificial leaf derived from silk protein and chloroplasts that absorbs carbon dioxide and emits oxygen and biomass via the photosynthesis of stabilised chloroplasts in the silk protein.  Silk Leaf can generate more oxygen and biomass than a normal leaf, depending on the number of chloroplasts embedded in the silk.  Silk Leaf could be used as lights (see above) and architectural surfaces that provide air purification.


IMG_8760 Savvas Zinonosjiayu liuRCA show 2014suhee leeHyungchung KimIMG_8744 Peter Shenai

Top right: Savvas Zinonos’ “Voice boxes”; Main: Jiayu Liu’s “Within Invisibility”; 3rd row middle: Suhee Lee’s “Sound-writer”; 3rd row right: Hyungchung Kim’s “Kairos – Wind Sculpture; Bottom left: Chrysostomos Tsimourdagkas’s “London Temple”; Bottom right: Peter Shenai’s “Change ringing bells”


Aside from design products, many impressive projects could be found at the Darwin building by students from the Visual Communications, Information experience design and animation departments.

Savvas Zinonos‘ “Voice boxes (see above) is not only interesting to look at but it also trys to capture, document and contain every single movement of the mouth during speech production in a box. The designer is interested inthe process of speaking and communicating through translating it into different mediums and containing the ephemerality of speech in a physical space.

Chinese student, Jiayu Liu‘s (see above) “Within Invisibility” explores the connection between one’s perception of a city and its data. The multisensory experience was created via live wind data from 40 major Chinese cities, each represented by two fans. Wind speed change over the past six hours is proportionally condensed into six seconds, and visitors could feel the wind speed via the collected data.

Similar to Jiayu Liu (see above), Korean student, Hyunchung Kim‘s “Kairos – Wind Sculpture is also based on wind data. Viewers can watch the speed of the wind according to the real-time wind speed data feed from a selected city.

I had the opportunity to speak to another Korean student, Suhee Kim about her “Sound-water” project. Interestingly, Suhee converted an old typewriter into a musical instrument, and it was utterly strange and fun to hear sounds when I was encouraged to play with the typewriter. Very cool indeed!

Change Ringing” is a collaborative artwork (very Zen-like) by artist Peter Shenai and composer Laurence Osborn that forms around a playable sculpture, which doubles as a percussion instrument. The instrument incorporates a set of six bronze bells, each of whose shape mathematically corresponds to statistical sets derive from the increase in summer temperatures/climate change across the Northern Hemisphere over the last 100 years. The entire row of bells, therefore, constitute a ‘tone row’ that narrates the story of climate change through sound. The tone row provides the basis for a composition, written by Laurence, for ten players: nine solo string instruments and a percussionist playing the bells themselves. This composition, entitled ‘Change Ringing’, was performed at the LSO Soundhub Showcase on June 28th. I love this creative project and would love to attend their future performance in London!


Daniel Libeskind in London

 London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre

London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre on Holloway Road 


Polish architect Daniel Libeskind was in London during London’s festival of architecture, though he was not here for the festival, instead he was here to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre on Holloway Road.

I have never been inside this building previously but I remember seeing it from a vehicle for the first time years ago and was quite baffled by it. Although the facade looks intriguing, it is completely out of place on the aesthetically grim Holloway Road. I had no idea who built it but I was certainly curious.

When I received an email invitation for the event at the Graduation Centre, I jumped at the opportunity to book myself a place before the event was sold out. And as expected it did.


 London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre


Daniel Libeskind is a controversial figure in the architectural world because of his unusual credentials and architectural style. His buildings are often bold, imposing, asymmetric with jagged edges and sharp angles, and most of the time, they don’t seem to be in harmony with their surroundings at all!

At the talk, I learned that he was a professional musician before he became an architect and his wife (and business partner) supported him until he got his first major commission after winning the competition for Berlin’s new Jewish Museum in 1989. Libeskind was already 53 then and the building took 10 years to complete.

I visited the museum in Berlin a few years ago and I had mixed feelings about it. I didn’t like the facade/exterior very much, but I thought some of the architectural space inside was brilliantly designed. However, the overall result was not very consistent, not sure if it Libeskind could be entirely responsible for this because from the talk, I got the impression that he had issue with the museum’s curation and exhibit formats.

In my opinion, the London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre is a more successful design, probably due to its smaller size and more creative freedom. Upon completion, the Graduate Centre has won many accolades including the RIBA prize in 2004, and the Jeu d’Esprit award 2005.


Jewish museum Jewish museumJewish museumJewish museumJewish museum

Berlin’s Jewish Museum


Although I don’t consider myself a big fan of Liberskind‘s architecture, I found his talk very interesting. He seems charismatic, down-to-earth, funny and unconventional. He was able to handle the negative comments/ questions very well and was not at all bothered by them. He did not stop praising his wife for her organisation skills and support, and he explained the reason why he refused to work in China for years (until recently) even though many international renowned architects have all left their marks there. His reasons were partly based on ethical grounds, and partly due to the country’s poor building regulations and requirements (although he did not explain why he has changed his mind).


daniel Libeskind daniel Libeskind

Daniel Liberskind


After the talk, I realised that even for an architect, it is necessary to be convincing, and possesses the ability to deal with politics, crises and most of all, people. Despite the constant criticism from architecture critics, Liberskind continues to thrive, I wonder if it has something to do with his perseverance and people/management skills? Whatever the reason behind his success, he will continue to be in the limelight especially with this year’s opening of the new World Trade Centre in New York and various other major projects that are being constructed around the world. The critics can continue to criticise, but Liberskind is definitely here to stay.


Japanese cultural events in London

Being one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in the world, it is easy to find different arts and cultural events in London including many Asian-related ones.

Since June I have attended several Japanese cultural events which offer a glimpse of the past, current and future arts scene in Japan. As someone who sources from different parts of Asia, it is not just the designs that matter, but understanding the culture, people and habits is equally important to what I do.

Firstly, I went to see a new play “Super Premium Soft Double Vanilla Rich” by Japan’s most exciting theatre director, Toshiki Okada at the LIFT festival. Interestingly, the play was shown at Artsdepot in North Finchley, which is a very ‘off’ West end theatre location!

Okada founded the company, chelfitsch in 1997, and the name is the baby-like disarticulation of the English word “selfish.” It is meant to evoke the social and cultural characteristics of today’s Japan, not least of Tokyo.


A clip of the play on Youtube (with commentary in Italian)


Set in a typical Japanese convenience store (where I spent most of my pastime when I am in Japan), the play takes a darkly humorous glance at Japanese consumerism through slacker language, meditative movement accompanied by J-pop and J. S. Bach. Okada‘s theatrical language is unique, bizarre and its intentional sluggishness is probably not be everyone’s cup of tea (judging from the audience’s reactions).

I am not sure if it was due to the language or subtitle issue, but I felt that something was lost in translation. There were some humourous and capitivating moments but there were also confusing and boring moments. I thought the concept sounded better on paper but the play somewhat failed to deliver what it promised.


seiichi hayashi seiichi hayashi

Seiichi Hayashi in conversation with Ryan Holmberg


Seiichi Hayashi is a legendary illustrator and manga artist in Japan, so I was excited when I found out the artist was in town to talk about his work. The talk with Dr Ryan Holmberg (an art and comics historian) took place at Japan Foundation and it was as expected, a sold out event!

In Japan, Hayashi is most famous for his illustrations feauring a young girl in kimono (see below) for Lotte‘s Koume plum candies, which debuted in 1974 and are being used 40 years later! He has been a leading figure in the avant-garde cultural scene of late 1960s and early 1970s Tokyo, and was a regular contribuor to the iconic manga magazine Garo.


lotte koumelotte koume

Lotte’s Koume candies, available at the Japan centre in Piccadilly


It was interesting to hear the artist talked about his previous projects, spanning from illustrations, comics, animations to art etc. Yet what struck me most was when Hayashi said that he doesn’t like to repeat himself, so he is always exploring new territories. And this I think is the most crucial mindset for any one who in the creative industry (to break boundaries and test new grounds), despite how old or successful you are.


macoto murayama macoto murayama

Macoto Murayama’s talk at the Japan Foundation


The second event I attended at the Japan Foundation was a talk by a young Japanese digital artitst, Macoto Murayama. Murayama first studied architecture before switching to design and information systems.

Murayama‘s passion for plants, traditional botantical illustrations and 3-d graphics has allowed the artist to develop work that is truly unique and beautiful. His detailed dissections of flowers and plants in digital format are not so different from architect’s blue prints of buildings. Interestly, the artist does not rely solely on technology during his design process, he actually begins the process by using traditional methods like dissecting and sketching (see video below).


An interesting behind-the-scene video of the artist’s design process by Autodesk in San Francisco


Murayama‘s work reveals what can be achieved with digital technology and the possibilities of adopting and applying it in other fields. Murayama spent six months of 2013 living and working at Metal Culture in Southend-on-Sea working on UK indegenous flowers. Now the results are being presented at a new exhibition, “Botech Compositions: New work by Macoto Muryama in Metal Culture’s Liverpool base, Edge Hil Station for the first time in the UK. The exhibition is part of the Liverpool Biennale and will be on display until 26th October.


Macoto Murayama and Lenta, “Botech Composition-1” by Frantic Gallery & Abandoned Audio

Conceptual art exhibitions & performance in London

ai weiwei's Forever

Ai Weiwei’s ‘Forever’


Last month, I visited Lisson Gallery to see the new exhibitions of two renowed contemporary conceptual artists, Ai Weiwei (until 19th July) and Richard Long (just ended).

I have quite mixed feelings towards Ai Weiwei because I often think that his political activism, colourful character and public relations seem to outshine his art work. Not that the artist lacks substance, but without his arrest and continuous controversy, I wonder if he would still be considered as one of the world’s ‘greatest’ contemporary artists? As a human being, I admire his courage and persistence, but as a viewer, I find some of his work cold, calculating and manipulative.

At the exhibition, his installations of stainless steel bicycles stacked and layered together are part of an ongoing series, ‘Forever’, named after the well-known Chinese bicycle brand that has been mass-produced in Shanghai since 1940. The work mocks the assembling and copying that occur in China and the fact that the symbolic cult design is steadily dying out while being replaced by smog-emitting cars. I found the installations aesthetically interesting to view but that is about it.

Elsewhere in the gallery, there are a variety of hand-carved objects like two marble recreations of his father’s armchair, sets of cosmetics bottles made from jade, marble gas mask, coat hangers, handcuffs and Beijing taxi window handles that are made of glass.


ai weiwei ai weiweiai weiwei's Foreverai weiwei's Foreverai weiweiai weiwei ai weiwei's a study of perspective


My favourite items at the exhibition are the glass taxi window handles because of the story behind them. In his documentary shown downstairs, he spoke to different Beijing taxi drivers who complained about the government insisting that they removed the window handles for fear that political activists and protesters would transmit their leaflets through car windows near Tiananmen Square. Unbelievable!

The exhibition also displays his well-known ‘A study of perspective’ photo series, where the artist’s middle finger is positioned in front of some of the world’s most notable man-made landmarks around the world. Whether I or others like his art work or not, it’s besides the point because the artist has succeeded in making his statements clear to the world through his art work. In this day and age, talents would not get you very far unless you are able to create hype around you and what you do. And Ai Weiwei is a master of this.


richard long's four waysrichard longrichard long's four waysIMG_8414

Main & bottom middle: Richard Long’s ‘Four ways’; Bottom left: Richard Long’s ‘With no direction known like a rolling stone’; Bottom right: a piece of ‘street art’ outside of the gallery


In the other gallery on the same street, British conceptual artist Richard Long‘s work couldn’t have been more different. His work focuses on the existential notion of the solitary exploration of nature, inspired by walks in rural England and trips from around the world. As someone who became keen on hiking/walking in the recent years, I appreciate Long‘s respect for nature, which is evident in his art work. He usually works in the landscape but sometimes uses natural materials in the gallery. He often arranges them in basic archetypal shapes and forms, which appears to be simple yet surprisingly powerful in a confined indoor space.

The most eye-catching work at the exhibition was ‘Four ways’ installed in the front room, composed of 2 diagonal lines of delabole slate from Cornwall. In other rooms, there were texts/graphics documenting his walks, wall pieces made from clay and mud, as well as a room full of photographs taken while he was in Antactica and the Swiss Alps.


serpentine gallery serpentine gallery

Marina Abramović’s 512 hours at Serpentine Gallery


Although Lisson Gallery also supports performance artist, Marina Abramović, her new performance in London, 512 hours is being shown elsewhere at the Serpentine Gallery (until August 25).

I have previously written about Marina Abramović (twice actually on her documentary and institute) and I thought her work, ‘The artist is present’ at MOMA in New York was raw, ground-breaking and powerful. Hence, I was curious about her new performance despite the mixed reviews.

Normally, I hate queues and would avoid them as much as possible. However, this time I was prepared to queue for a while if necessary, so I picked to do this on a sunny and warm afternoon during the week. The queue was shorter than I expected and I waited about 30 mins before I was let in.

After leaving all our possessions in the lockers outside (hence no photography), visitors would enter a large white room full of people sitting at rows of wooden desks counting rice or seeds of some sort. In the other rooms, there were people lying down on beds, sitting on chairs facing the wall and people walking ‘mindfully’ or standing on a plinth in the middle of the room. While there were many assistants (all dressed in black) giving directions to the visitors, Marina was nowhere to be seen.

After spending about 15 minutes wandering in and out of the rooms observing others, I finally saw the artist emerged. She spoke to a few visitors and then held a young girl’s hand and led her up to a plinth. By this time, I was rather bored and decided to leave after spending about 20 mins inside.

An elaborate exercise in mindfulness‘ was how art critic Laura Cumming summed it up in her article for The Observer and I couldn’t agree more. In April, I spent 168 hours doing ‘nothing’ silently with a group of strangers at a Zen retreat in rural Devon, yet nobody saw it as art nor did they think my actions were radical. I understand that Marina is trying to spread mindfulness to the public through her work, but claiming this to be radical is quite ludicrous. I think that most people would have preconceived ideas or judgements before their visits, some may want to be emotionally charged while others may be cynical and dismissive. Hence, it is no surprise that some may be overwhelmed by their experiences while others experienced the opposite. Even though I had no expectations before I went, I left feeling disappointed, so perhaps I was secretly hoping to gain something out of it.

The so-called performance perhaps reinstated the artist’s psychological power and control on her visitors. I found it self-indulgent and it would be hard for the visitors (myself included) not to be self-conscious because they are aware that they are being watched by others including the cult icon herself. How much of the emotions generated in this space is genuine and how much of it is being manipulated? I doubt the visitors can answer it themselves.

When I got home, I couldn’t help but wonder the power of fame on people, especially on artistic people who struggled to get recognition for a long time. When fame arrives one day, it also has the ability to remove certain qualities that these artistic people once possessed. Marina, Zaha Hadid (whom I used to admire a lot) and Wong Kar Wai to name a few. I think that artistic people are most creative and true to themselves when there are creative and financial constraints. The reward of fame or celebrity status may create total freedom for them, but this along with narcissism may also be their worst enemies.


Help save Smithfield market!

smithfields market

The beautiful interior of Smithfield general market


I never intended to use this blog to advocate for a cause or an issue, but the more I write, the more I realised that there are many issues that matter to me (and to many others) and I simply cannot ignore them. I feel that it is important to help and spread the word even if only a few people are going to read this.

This entry is about the future of London’s historical Smithfield Market as the it is at risk of being ripped apart and turned into a office and retail complex by investors and property developer (Again, it’s all about potential financial gains for the rich and powerful). The interior will be demolished and an office block will be built on top of it (imagine how hideous it will look)! Please take a look at these photos to see this beautiful Victorian structure, if this is allowed to go ahead, it means that many other heritage buildings are at risk too.


smithfields market


Please sign the following petitions if you think that the iconic market should be preserved, we only have a few weeks left until a decision will be made, so there is still time to save it. Please also forward these links to others who care about London’s history, heritage and architecture:

Save Smithfield Market

38 Degrees


Save Smithfield General Market Facebook page


*UPDATE: Within a week after this entry was posted, it was announced that Smithfield market has been saved! I feel so delighted and relieved! I just hope that the building will get listed and its interior refurnished to restore its former glory like Borough market! This also proves that property developers cannot use the word ‘regeneration’ to do whatever they want to our historical city!


London festival of architecture: Balfron Tower

balfron tower


The month-long London festival of architecture this year was full of interesting tours and activities. I took the opportunity and book myself onto a tour to visit the iconic Grade II listed Balfron Tower in East London by British Hungarian architect, Ernő Goldfinger. (believe it or not, Ian Fleming did name his villain after him and had to pay the architect compensation when he threatened to sue).

The 27-storey residential building in Poplar was built between 1965-67 for London County Council as part of the Brownfield Estate. It was once the tallest residential building in Europe and stood as a monument to idealism in social housing. The architect later added two more buildings, Carradale House and Glenkerry House on the same estate to complement the original tower. However, his brutalist style was not very popular with the public nor many of his peers at the time, and it was only in recent years that people started to appreciate his designs. A year after Balfron Tower was built, Goldfinger used it as a model and built a similar 31-floor Trellick Tower (which is also Grade II listed) on Golborne Road in West London completed in 1972.


balfron towerbalfron towerbalfron tower


When I was younger, I remember passing by the Trellick Tower while traveling to/from the airport on the A40, and I did think it was a bit of an eyesore because it looked rather dull, dirty and completely out of place. However, I was always intrigued by it and often wondered what it was like inside… Over the years, my perspective regarding brutalist architecture has changed and I finally began to appreciate the ‘beauty’ of these imposing and grey structures. Apart from the photographs, I have never seen the Balfron Tower in person (I have never even heard of Poplar before the tour), so I was quite excited to be able to visit such an iconic building.

The building is now vacant because it is about to be refurbished as part of the wider regeneration project for the surrounding Brownfield Estate by Poplar HARCA (Housing and Regeneration Community Association). The refurbishment of Carradale House is completed recently, and now Poplar HARCA is working with PRP architecture and English Heritage to restore the tower.


balfron tower balfron towerbalfron towerbalfron towerbalfron tower


Our tour was led by two Ralph and Michael from London Urban Visits, who took us up to the top floor to visit a one-bedroom flat followed by a three-bedroom maisonette. The first flat is bright with decent sized rooms, but the best thing about it is the spectacular view of London from its living room and balcony. The maisonette is surprisingly spacious and the rooms are very well proportioned, unlike the ones in many new residential buildings these days. Even before the refurbishment, I can see the appeal of these flats because they are very well designed and extremely functional. Personally I would not mind even living in the smaller one-bedroom flat because it does not feel ‘small’ to me.


balfron tower balfron towerbalfron towerbalfron tower balfron tower

The breathtaking view of London from the top…


We were also told that a housing scheme run by the Bow Arts Trust has offered some artists temporary residence in the emptied flats until renovation officially begins. Simon Terrill is one of the artist living there now and you can check out his work here. Another cultural event that is taking place at the tower this summer is the production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by theatre company Rift. The play will last from 8pm until 8am the next day, so audience will have to stay overnight in the tower (Unfortunately this event is completely sold out now)!

Refurbishment may appear to be good news to the previous residents but in reality, the refurbished flats will be sold off privately when they are completed. The social housing was initially built for the less privileged people in the society but now they are being evicted to pave way for the wealthier people. How ironic is this? Yet this is not an isolated case in London, is this the Government’s idea of a ‘BIG society’ (i.e. big profits come before the welfare of the citizens)?


Carradale HouseCarradale HouseGlenkerry HouseChrisp Street Market clock towerGlenkerry House poplar

Main & 2nd row left: Carradale House; 2nd row middle & bottom left: Glenkerry House; 2nd row right: Chrisp Street Market clock tower; Bottom right: Poplar DLR station


London has always been a multicultural and diverse city where the rich would live amongst the poor, it is not like Paris where the wealthy would concentrate in the centre whilst the poor live in the suburbs or banlieues. With a few exceptions, these suburbs are where most low-income foreigners or immigrants live, and now they also considered as troubled areas with riots, high crime and unemployment rates. Yet London is now becoming more like Paris, gentrification in parts of the city esp. in the east end means the lower income group are constantly being evicted out of their neighbourhood. Most of the new housing being built in the city are luxury apartments targeting at foreign investors rather than social housing for the low income group, and Boris‘ so-called ‘affordable’ housing in reality is only affordable for some… e.g. people will need to earn more than £44,000 a year to rent a 2-bedroom council flat in Southwark.

Social and wealth segregation is becoming more obvious in London, and sadly, this is not the London I grew up in and I do not want to this city becoming a ‘bourgeois’ Paris. Any sort of segregation whether it is social, wealth, ethnic or religion will be problematic as inequality of wealth widens and discrimination deepens. I dread to see what London will be like in the future if this segregation continues…