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The work of Beijing-based Benwu Studio, formed in 2011 by young graduates Wang Hongchao (b. 1989) and Peng You (b. 1989), combines conceptual and material vocabularies sorted through what historian Georges Teyssot would call a “typology of everyday constellations.” Appropriating from Bachelard’s and Benjamin’s investigations, Teyssot looks at spatial-symbolic relations as cultural models derived from specific forms of inhabitation.
In just three years, Benwu Studio has in this sense produced an array of projects, including a number for high-end clients like Hermes, Vacheron Constantin and Baccarat, that embodies a keen sense of observation for contemporary rites of usership and material histories infused with traditional Chinese “craft-thinking.” The Experiment Objects series (2012–present) is such an exercise in participatory exploration, wherein the quality of found matter is repurposed into new scenarios of use and value. Twig Vessels (2012–2013) is a tableware collection obtained by application of industrial processes of laboring material to natural branches and twigs—infilled with colorful jesmonite, these ordinary goods take up an aesthetic aura of sculptural quality and found beauty akin to that of literati rocks. Similarly, the Musical Instruments series (2013–2014) is an exercise in structural and material composition that reengineers ready-made utensils into sonic instruments—a refashioning of the objects’ own performance as bodily extensions. Both projects continue a strand of research started with the Household Waste Factory (2012), a system of domestic recycling employing leftovers like fibres from paper and food to fabricate tools for practical in-house needs. The Sticky Rice Compound, for example, is 100% biodegradable and durable material that can be moulded into 3-D tiles for interior decoration or used to fabricate packaging material as well as to repair cracks in walls or wooden objects.
Contemporary rites and material histories infused
with traditional craft-thinking.
More recent experiments are expressive of contextual applications recovering under-utilized methodologies of traditional making into contemporary lifestyle. The Shanghai Apartment project, presented at Salone Satellite during Milan Design Week 2015, includes a set of furniture pieces and everyday vessels inspired by the small-scale spatial scenarios of typical Shanghainese houses. Here traditional crafts meet smart technologies in a refreshing game of composition, a versatile interior-scape for the contemporary urbanite. 4×4 is a collection of four ceramic pieces combined with four different silicon utility lids that offer more than sixteen different functional permutations, ranging from coffeepot with filter to pepper & salt, oil & vinegar, storage vase, tea pot, etc. The Fugu Bag is an inflatable sack made of carbon fibres double-side coated with polyurethane and assembled through high frequency welding techniques rather than traditional sewing, that can be pumped and deflated in less than a minute, and is meant to protect the ever growing carry-on technologies we use in our daily endeavours. In the same guise, the Square The Circle Lamp integrates a USB-charging wall feature to a minimalistic and stylish lighting device.
Benwu Studio will present a series of new projects for “hutong-living” at Beijing Design Week 2015, and is one of three practices part of a special exhibition for the first edition of Dubai Design Week in late October.
Founded in in 2011 by Chinese designers Hongchao Wang and Peng You, Benwu Studio is currently based in New York and Shanghai with expertise and experience in luxury product, furniture and interior design. Benwu Studio has been invited to take part in this year's Beijing Design Week, on view from 23 September–7 October, and in the first edition of Dubai Design Week in late October.
Beatrice Leanza is a Beijing-based curator and critic, Creative Director of Beijing Design Week and founder of BAO Atelier.
Image: Living Material - Twig Vessel by Benwu Studio