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Interview with Nicolas Cheng Can you briefly describe us your background, and your activity? I was studying Interior Architecture in Hong Kong and London before enrolling in a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven (2006) and Master's Degree in Metalsmithing, Jewelry and Corpus at Konstfack, University (2010). At the moment, my practice focuses on design and art jewelry. I’m interested to cross boundaries, merge different knowledge, skills, tools, and create hybrid languages. Most of my works are investigating how poetic concepts can be emotionally merged. And my aim is to provide new challenges encouraging the viewer or user to think and discuss. Since graduating in 2010 I’m based in Stockholm working both on individual and collaborative projects, such as Conversation Piece, on going research project with jewelry artist Beatrice Brovia. [http://www.beatricebrovia.com/] What is “self-production” when applied to design, in your opinion? I think it is quite tricky nowadays to think what‘s the meaning of self-production in design. You never hear of people asking what is self-production in art, because supposedly, in most cases, the artwork is made by the artist directly, who is controlling the whole making-process to the end. Maybe it could be nice to think what is mass-production in art nowadays as well. For me, self-production can be considered from many different aspects. There is an interesting transition happening from the mass- to the self-produced: from hypothetically unlimited same looking objects to pieces that mostly come in limited series and that proudly show the imprint of their maker. For me, self-production is very much related to a certain idea of craftsmanship, where hands get dirty, material and shapes are experienced directly and the imperfection, the unpredictable are most welcome, leading to new directions in the making-process. Do you consider self-production as a viable and possible strategy for your design activity? I work mainly with self-production. My approach is hands on and the pieces I make are mainly unique or limited series aimed to the collectors’ market. It would be not honest to say that this is a profitable way for designers: even when works are sold, it never covers up for the time spent conceiving and making them. It is a practice that needs to be integrated with side activities, in order to make a living. At the same time, grass is not that much greener if you design products to be mass-produced: the royalties system is also problematic. For me, Young designers today have to re-invent the system and find sustainable solutions for both producing, promoting and selling their work. What does self-production mean, practically, when applied to your products? I consider myself a designer and craftsman at once: I enjoy to work hands on, producing unique pieces or limited series. By controlling the process thoroughly, I can be sure the quality, the details and the evocative power of the design is intact and true. I am inspired from the past when things and their making-process were more simple and sustainable: local materials, resources, methods were used and the craftsman was designer, artist and producer all at once. I tend to produce all I can by myself and my process is really material-driven: I experiment a lot with materials and allow them to surprise me. At the same time, if some projects require working side-by-side with others, like craftsmen who can offer deeper insights and expertise, I’ m very happy to start a dialogue, sharing knowledge and ideas, finding new solutions. Self-production in my practice stands in when “design” and “craftsmanship” integrate each other.

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Can you describe us your experience at Open Design Italia 2010? Was it positive? It was a very positive one: I received many good feedbacks and I could engage in interesting conversations with the audience attending. Which aspects would you describe as positive of this event? and which advice, if any, would you give to the organizers? To be a first edition, I found the organization and the staff to be very professional. I appreciated the historical setting and the space was well organized, with a smooth flow of the audience. As a suggestion for the next editions, I would try to fine-tune and strengthen the concept of self-production. I felt there were too many categories under the same roof: fashion, design, architecture, vehicles, tableware, decorative arts… the all idea of self-production became maybe too wide and felt incohesive at times. Which products did you present at ODI? I was presenting three projects called “The weight of light” (lamp), “Childhood Memories” (writing object – stationary set) and “150ml” (ceramic vessels set). (images pag.3) You won the 1st prize in the ODI competition. How was the exhibition audience’s feedback to your objects? It was a nice experience; the audience was very curious and excited to interact with the products (especially the lamp, since it required the user to add or remove 100g brass weight in order to adjust the intensity of the light). The Childhood Memory project also was received with enthusiasm: it is more a poetic piece rather than a functional one, because of its unexpected material (egg-shells pressed together). Do you enjoy direct contact with your customers and audience? Yes, very much. Sometimes it is nice to explain your work directly to the audience: you can receive honest feedback. I feel the direct contact with the audience is a very precious source of insights. It is a vital exchange and the more varied the audience, the more interesting it gets. Exhibiting in platforms such as ODI or the Salone del Mobile is always very refreshing, in this sense. Which access to customers and market do you have in your professional practice so far? I’m represented by a Brussels based contemporary art gallery, Galerie Caroline Van Hoek,: my art jewelry work and some objects I made in limited series are available through the gallery. [http:// www.carolinevanhoek.be] Are you preparing any new products in this period? Which ones, if you can describe us? I’ll present three new products for Open Design Italia-Selected. The First piece is called Childhood Memories II, which is a “ring-object” that, when worn, keeps track of the flow of the thoughts of its wearer. The material is eggshell, so the piece can be seen as a further development from the first Childhood Memories series. The second work, is a series of door furniture called “Conversation piece: On the doorway”. This project, a collaboration with Beatrice Brovia, was presented for the first time at the Milano Furniture Fair last April: at ODI-Selected I’ll show a selection of pieces. Each pair of door-handles explores ideas of home, familiarity, ornamental/functional. The material used are both mundane (textile, copper, salt) and precious (ebony, jet, silver..) The third piece is a lamp cast in a block of colored acrylic with interchangeable light shades made out of thin slices of stone. (images pag.4)

Nicolas Cheng’s website http://www.nicolascheng.com/ Interview by Francesco Bagni. Images by Nicolas Cheng. Online 3rd Nov 2011.

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Interview with Nicolas Cheng