Text by Jeanne Tan
Translation by Xiyang Wang
Photo by Ilco Kemmere
Judith and Gunter Wehmeyer are co-founders of Studio BoomWehmeyer. The studio regularly moves between the UK, China (Jingdezhen and Shanghai), and now the Netherlands (Arnhem).
Urban design and research projects brought us to China in 2004. Since then, we’ve been evolving a network and initiating discourse with Chinese and international designers in China around a common concern for the meaning and role of the changing design landscape in China. We started working on large-scale urban research, but also on small-scale craftsmanship in the porcelain industry; somehow this seemed to be the right approach for us to start to bring the human scale into our conversations.
China has been in the news for more than a decade regarding its growth and speedy transitions of society, business, infrastructure, and identity. Design has also undergone huge developments. Design should ultimately address human needs and put the human experience at the core of the process. Of course, with China being in transition, this was the right place for our studio to mix transition and discourse in design with the roots and identity of China. We have been working intensively in China on rethinking this needs-transition connection, as it’s an area with no clear instruction manual. The reward is in seeing this change happen and we learned so much through seeing the Chinese themselves adapt to this fast change and its consequences for living together as a society. It has raised a lot of questions and also answers.
If you’re really interested in China, go there to first immerse yourself in its culture and to breathe it in. Observe, engage, interact, and please work outside the expat scene with Chinese creatives to experience the growing creative scene beyond the facade of the design scene in the big cities. China is a big country dealing with so many issues. Depending on your line of work and long-term interests, you should make sure to connect with the designers and creatives who actually do the building and make this new future happen in China.
You start seeing things in a different perspective when you distance yourself from all the hype about China. It’s not really about them and us but more about understanding how we are interconnected.
Something that is very present in Chinese culture is fireworks. Every celebration, welcome or goodbye begins with fireworks. Our Chinese contacts brought along loud firecrackers when we had a good kiln firing or when a building opened. Last January when we finished a five-month porcelain process, we took the initiative and laid out big rolls of firecrackers near the truck that transported the finished pieces to wish it a safe journey. When you start lighting fireworks at your house on a regular basis, you could say you’re truly living like a local.
This interview was published in Connecting the Dots #6 for South China in 2012.
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