“Crates” Series Created A Stir At Weeklong Event
One of the standout designers who caught our eye at the inaugural Beijing Design Week, which closed last week, was Harbin native Jingjing Naihan Li. Based in Beijing since the mid-1980s, apart from a stint in the UK, Li — co-founder of the arts consultancy Bao Atelier — is one of the few contemporary Chinese designers currently specializing in furniture. With a personal and professional fixation on the transience one sees in a city like Beijing, where migrant workers flock in the millions each year, Li’s latest collection, “Crates,” re-imagines furniture as not simply functional, but modular and mobile.
Showcased during Design Week at No. 8 Dawailangying Hutong in the Dashilar Design Hop district, Li’s “Crates” series very much echoes the look and feel of the “pop-up” shop, with outwardly mundane wooden shipping crates unfolding to reveal everything from couches to foosball tables. As Li herself said, her crates — which were inspired by her experience unpacking shipping boxes full of artwork for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan — make clear reference to “the moody impracticality of globe-trotting.”
In addition to the inspiration gleaned from her time in Milan, Li’s “Crates” make another, more timely, reference to the gradual destruction of Beijing’s “fringe” neighborhoods, the hotbeds of creativity that have defined the last 30 years of Chinese art and design. These areas, in which artists have congregated in recent decades, are regularly slated for demolition to make way for sprawling residential areas and, as such, prevent residents from ever setting down roots. After spending years living in these fringe neighborhoods, including one area currently in Beijing’s crosshairs, Caochangdi (where she is currently based), Li’s “Crates” series calls back to the reality that individuals living in these areas must be ready to pack up their belongings and move at a moment’s notice.
By putting a design spin on the transience that has become a part of modern Beijing life for millions, the simplicity, elegance and ingenuity of Li’s crates made clear to us that she is undoubtedly a designer to watch.