Marking its 50th anniversary this year, B&B Italia’s ‘Up’ chair was the inspiration for a recent exhibition at the West Bund Art & Design Fair in Shanghai.
The West Bund Art & Design Fair in Shanghai, curated by Davide Quadrio of Arthub Asia, was the setting for contemporary Chinese artist Chen Wei exploration of B&B Italia’s ‘Up’ series’ connection to the past, present and future of our aesthetic and domestic lives. Entitled ‘∞’ (Infinity), the multisensory installation featured LED sculptures, representations of distant planets, and abstract floating imagery, while referencing Swiss photographer Klaus Zaugg’s 1969, retro-futuristic campaign for the B&B Italia furniture icon. The installation crystalised the imagined future of 50 years ago via the lens of the digital world we live in now.
Wallpaper*: You have named this project ‘∞’ (Infinity). Why did you choose this title?
Chen Wei: The infinity symbol references both the bonding of past and present, and the femininity of the ‘Up’ series. I enjoy being in my studio, sitting on the ‘Up’ chair; I don’t know if I can call this sensation an ‘embrace’ or a ‘return’ – I can only clearly define it by using the infinity symbol. The chair reminds us that progress and return always co-exist in our life journey.
Wallpaper*: Fifty years ago the ‘Up’ series – made from expanded polyurethane that could be compressed and vacuum-packed for shipping – was regarded as groundbreaking and futuristic. How did its form and fabrication inform your work?
CW: I watched a compressed capsule being expanded and unfolded. Several minutes later, a chair appeared. I conveyed my feelings and my response through an LED and video installation, narrating the fluidity of time and the metamorphosis of space.
Wallpaper*: Space exploration and the moon landing were central to the 1960s, and influenced the design and marketing of the ‘Up’ series. Did they also inform your installation?
CW: There are plenty of institutions celebrating of the moon landings and reviewing their influence on contemporary culture. But for me, the key point is imagination. Nowadays, we seem to be no longer passionate about landing on another planet. The new ‘moon’ is the virtual net. The new world is the virtual habitat of cyberspace. We are writing a fresh chapter, pursuing our future in a new way.
Wallpaper*: How do you interpret the ‘Up’ series’ femininity and its feminist message?
CW: The chair is definitely feminine. When I first saw the images of the ‘Up’ series, it reminded me of two words: ‘future’ and ‘body’. I can feel the futuristic imagination of the 1960s within the curvy aesthetic. As for the ‘body’, I should mention that in Chinese mythology, the female is regarded as the origin of everything.
Wallpaper*: Gaetano Pesce took an artistic approach to the ‘Up’ series, and it is exhibited in both art galleries and design museums. In your opinion, are we now seeing a creative and cultural merging of the art and design worlds?
CW: Have they ever been separate? Art and design are both part of culture, impacting on each other and interweaving. I believe that the creative process should be free from conventions. I started 16 years ago as a designer, seeking inspiration from art. I was an art enthusiast and eventually became an artist. My art is deeply affected by my background as a designer.