The result of fifteen designers working with twenty master craftsmen was on show in Milan last week. Meaning ‘change and transformation’ in the context of Taiwanese philosophy, Yii is an intriguing blend of traditional and contemporary dialogue between crafts artists and designers from Taiwan.
The concept for Yii was conceived by the Taiwan Craft Research Institute, who invited Gijs Bakker to be creative director. Bakker was fascinated by Taiwanese culture and gave it a central position in the project, consciously avoiding participation of any Western designers in Yii.
And this step was a positive one, pushing this venture beyond an ‘East-meets-West’ concept: There were forty five pieces in all, and three themes; “Inspired by Nature,” “Cultivation” and “Sustainability”
Each piece whether in limited edition or mass production possesses a narrative and an authenticity. It is an approach that convincingly responds to the blank reaction a lot of the smooth and elegant designs of the last decade conjure.
“It is all very skillful and careful work,” Bakker says. “And unlike a lot of the talk about being sustainable, this has real legs.”
Director Jeng-Yi Lin will serve as the main curator. The first theme exhibited is “Inspired by Nature,” upholding nature as the root of everything, protecting and working harmoniously with nature. The work combines a bamboo woven chair and silk produced naturally by silkworms to produce a sleek white chair masterpiece, completing the “Cocoon Plan.”
The second theme on display is “cultivation” – beginning with learning “respect for nature” then combining methods and attitudes unique to Taiwan to develop the pieces. The “Brick Plan” series uses Taiwan’s industrial method of grinding brick and cement to transform crude materials into refined and elegant vases and china.
Lastly, there is “sustainability,” where Yii’s brand spirit balances “nature” and “cultivation” to achieve harmony and sustainability. The work transforms scraps of driftwood into a refined wooden cabinet.
Among the incredible craftsmanship were some unusual material choices – designer Rock Wang combined a bamboo woven chair and the natural cocooning process of silkworms to create a sleek white sofa masterpiece, whilst driftwood took the form of brush strokes in Po-ching Liao’s ‘Calligraphy Cupboard’.
For Yii the designers (who were mostly younger) held the upper hand in so far as they were allowed to select the craft that best suited their vision, but it was the craftspeople who had the intellectual mettle. “And that went beyond having a superior understanding of their materials,” says Bakker. “They had a better grasp of the local culture and the very specific way Buddhism and Taoism and their associated symbols play out in society.” By this he means how deceptively small details like the position of a dragon’s head can resonate with important meanings.
Making it to Milan was never a part of Bakker’s original contract or even on his mind, but as the project evolved and more pieces were completed even he was stunned by the quality.
Now fifteen designers and twenty craftspeople are presenting forty-three products in silver, wood, ceramics, textile, glass and bamboo. “Bamboo is very important in Taiwan,” says Bakker. “The climate and soft hills are the ideal environment in which to grow it, but because basket weaving is no longer necessary in temples, the skills are dying out. This is why it is important that we revive such tradition via design. We can give it a new life.”