It seemed like time itself was melting, as past and present fused together at the From Yuhang Rong Design Library, China, exhibition at Maison & Objet 2019. Rong, which translates to ‘melting’ in Chinese, aims to do exactly that; by ‘melting’ traditional Chinese crafts, it encourages designers to breathe new life into these practices by giving them contemporary form and relevance.
China: A Successful Collaboration
The From Yuhang Rong Design Library story goes back to 2009 when Pinwu Design Studio (founded by Chinese product designer Zhang Lei, German furniture and car designer Christoph John, and Serbian furniture and interior designer Jovana Bogdanovic), inspired by the intricacies of the traditional Yuhang oil-paper umbrella, created the ‘Piao’ paper chair employing the same processes used in the making of the umbrella. Three years later, the Pinwu founders set up the Rong Design Library, a collaborative exercise with global designers. Running from 2012 to 2016, the first edition explored one traditional material (as used in Chinese crafts) each year—bamboo, silk, mud, copper and paper. A total of 72 designers from all over the world were tasked with contemporising these materials.
China: Traditional to Contemporary
In 2015, it evolved into the From Yuhang Rong Design Library as it’s known today, and has become a valuable repository of traditional Chinese handicrafts and materials. While the first edition focused on five materials, the second five-year-long edition, which began in 2018, focuses on five Chinese crafts—sun mao (joinery), dyeing, weaving, casting and knotting. Last year, 19 designers from around the world reinterpreted sun mao—with different joints paired with different materials. For instance, Swiss designer Sebastian Marbacher created the ‘Beam’ bench using a wedge joint to affix a lava stone slab to an oiled cedar wood block. “Inspired by the works of Chinese artist Fu Zhongwang, I tried to see the joint not from a technical perspective but from a sculptural one. With focus on the contrast of hard and soft materials as well as structure and proportion, this work is a lot about balance, much like the philosophy of yin and yang,” says Marbacher.
China: Strong Roots
He also relates woodwork to his home country: “Where I come from, especially in the mountain regions, we have a tradition of making furniture out of tree trunks, often very low tech, just using the material as it’s available. Spending time in the forest has made me feel entirely contented for as long as I can remember. The smell, the sounds, the light in all four seasons is just magic to me.” And as disciplines from across the world come together with Chinese craft traditions, the resulting creations are undoubtedly magical.