‘She’s Stone’, 2020
DESIGN AND THE Wondrous: On the Nature of Ornament, is a new exhibition which has opened at the Centre Pompidou x West Bund Museum Project, in Shanghai, China. It looks at the history of designed objects in the last quarter-century, focusing on examples which defy the twentieth century’s spurning of ornament by turning to nature, adopting it both as a design principle and as an endless source of motifs. The exhibition juxtaposes examples of contemporary design from the Pompidou collection with recent pieces by contemporary Chinese designers. Our eye was caught by this astonishing piece by artist and designer Lin Fanglu. It looks like carved stone, or the natural growth of some strange lichen, plant or fungus. It is in fact thickly knotted and sewn fabric, built up in layers of stitch, the intertwining patterns mimicking organic growth. The brain is delighted by the liveliness of the result – the multi-sectioned, monochrome piece creates a landscape of different depths, dimensions, patterns and textures, like a series of fields or barnacled rock formations. But the mind is also moved by the sense of time this piece embodies: the literal time taken to create it, through the designer’s slow and complex fabrication process, but also the deep time of geology and organic growth that it gestures towards. Linking both chronologies, is the time of human history, itself memorialised in stitching techniques that date back millennia.
Lin Fanglu studied at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, earning degrees in Fine Art and in Household Product Design. She focused especially on the folk traditions and costumes of ethnic Chinese minorities as sources of inspiration for her textile art. She states boldly, “I insist [that] Chinese design innovation should rest on the traditional cultural foundation.” Her own research on dyeing and embroidery brought her into contact with women from the Bai community in the Chinese province of Yunnan, where she spent a year exploring the creative potential of their thousand-year-old craft tradition. She explains, “The more positively I absorb creative elements from traditional images and forms, the more radical and original is [my] expression.” While there, in 2016, she created an installation of various works made using this technique, including wall pieces, installations and armchairs. She spoke then, in reference to their density and scale, about “the sense of memory that I wanted to mould”. This ‘She’s Stone’, created in 2020, while a work of singular originality, is also a gesture from one woman artist to the countless women whose skills and sensibility underlie her own unique creativity.