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Interview with Yu-Liang Chen, NewLocal Art Studio

Home > Designer Interviews > Yu-Liang Chen, NewLocal Art Studio

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Yu-Liang Chen, NewLocal Art Studio (YCNAS) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Yu-Liang Chen, NewLocal Art Studio by clicking here.

Interview with Yu-Liang Chen, NewLocal Art Studio at Tuesday 28th of July 2020
Yu Liang Chen
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
YCNAS: I have been particularly interested in beautiful and interesting things since I was young. Under the company and guidance of my father, I took up painting, which started my appreciation for aesthetics and interest in the creative. I entered art class after I started studying and began to learn about working with various media creatively. I found out that art helps me express abstract ideas, that the creative process allows one to have a deep dialogue with oneself, and that it conveys one’s true mood and thoughts. During my university years, I specialized in interior design and began to think about how art can be combined with people's lives. Practicality and functionality became important points in my future creations. After entering grad-school, my creative thinking had an even greater change. The school had us study in rural areas of Taiwan. Practical field research experience gave me a deep understanding of what “remote countryside” and “depopulation” mean and started giving my works more meaning than just to express my ideas. I hope my art could speak for the remote villages of Taiwan so that more people would know stories about the rural areas of Taiwan through art. Rather than aiming to become a designer or an artist, I have been thinking for a long time about how art can be understood by more people, how to break down restrictions and frameworks, and if elders who have never gone to school could understand my work. What I enjoy is not the process of being an artist, but how to further breakthrough my limitations with each creation, how to further attract more people to experience and appreciate the core value of art, and more importantly, how to help people better understand the Taiwanese countryside through my work.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
YCNAS: Our team started in rural southern Taiwan in 2004. We turned Tugou Village in Tainan City into our base to practice “community design and rural art”, accumulating years of experience and promoting the concept of “the entire village is an art museum”. In 2010, we recruited more young designers and artists to form a team to work in other rural areas in the south, searched for a model of “co-creation” by residents and artisans, and planned and implemented community space transformation movements in hope of letting more people discover the beauty of the countryside through art. Our concept is that when art enters the countryside, it should maintain a humble attitude, emphasizing social movements involving residents, using optimistic and positive elements for production, and even combining community living spaces and integrating useful functions. Professionals (including designers and artists) who care about and understand the mood of the place and whose focus is integration playing the role of storytellers for the place by internalizing field information and local perceptions. The end product re-interprets local life, culture, history, and memory and actively acts as a medium for people to re-encounter, understand, and learn from the land. We hope to create a “neo rural revolution movement” for Taiwan’s villages through design.

FS: What is "design" for you?
YCNAS: Design is an important process for me to disassemble, reorganize, and revitalize my thoughts. For the rural areas I have been following for a long time, design also needs to play the role of screenwriter and director for local stories. Whenever I step into a new village and understand local stories with my heart, I know that I should be able to get more people to see the beautiful things here. These may be landscapes, local elders, or local industries. All of them rely on design to re-write their story, arrange the actors (creative elements and materials), and finally show their perfect performance (works).

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
YCNAS: I like to create works that fit local stories, especially works that are not biased towards any background, such as urban or rural, age, and education so that illiterate elders can understand them. For Taiwan, art has always given people a sense of distance, and even the appreciation of art is defined as a luxury and leisure activity of the rich. I have always wanted to shatter this concept and to fill the gap between urban and rural areas to make the countryside important hubs of artistic appreciation. The works I create do not need trained professional guides, as long as you come to the countryside, all residents living here are guides, because the background of these works is their life experiences and stories.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
YCNAS: Designs I like come from the lives and culture of common people. I also like the works of famous masters at home and abroad, but I prefer down-to-earth designs which are extended from the lives and habits of local people. For example, advertising and campaign banners posted on the walls of Taiwan may seem messy to outsiders, but I have always appreciated the way of posting, wording, and style. The stacked oyster shells in Taiwan’s fishing villages and even the placement and storage of “Abih” (Whisbih, an alcoholic energy drink) bottles that workers have drunk are all interesting to me. These are often sources of inspiration for my designs.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
YCNAS: My first work was created when I entered the countryside and established a studio in early 2004. The work was not created for residents, but to build a house for the last buffalo in this village (the house has now been demolished). The process was very interesting. We used to come up with a variety of novel house designs, and we also held a critique and vote by the residents. Eventually, the most traditional house in rural Taiwanese areas, the “Tujiao House (rammed earth house)” was selected. I always thought designing and executing were all simple tasks, but at the moment of construction, I realized that I could only work on paper (drawing design layouts), and even the layouts might not be understood by constructors. Although my first work did not have a gorgeous appearance and fantastic design techniques, it was built in the most traditional construction methods. The local elderly taught me these techniques and monitored the construction. This played a big role in my later works, including how to explore the local area, materials, and techniques and using them to transform materials and construction methods.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
YCNAS: I have no favorite material, platform, or technique. I like to take on more and various challenges, but I prefer materials and techniques that can be combined with local crafts, construction methods, or traditions. For example, mosaic art is actually similar to fragmented ceramic art in temples, and bamboo weavings in rural Taiwan are fabulous. Sometimes I think about how new creative materials can be combined with bamboo weaving techniques. The root of my thinking comes from the local.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
YCNAS: I think I’m most creative when chatting. Chatting is a very relaxed activity where everyone can express their opinions freely. When friends from different backgrounds get together they spark a lot of creativity. Also, I like going to the countryside to chat with residents. The residents in the community are adorable. When you ask them what they think about something, everyone is polite and say they have no opinion, but when sitting at a tea table and everyone has had some tea, alcohol, and snacks, the elderly always brag about how good they were when they were young and talk about various events. In fact, a lot of creative thinking is produced through this kind of bluffing. In addition, I like to travel. Traveling is like a supplement for my work. It allows me to generate many creative ideas after being exposed to various matters.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
YCNAS: In addition to creative methods, I also pay a lot of attention to whether my designs are down-to-earth. I don't want my works to look abrupt in the countryside. The so-called abruptness does not refer to the appearance of the work, rather the material, Techniques, colors, concepts, etc. I insist on concepts and techniques that connect with the place. I hope that my designs can convey the message of the place so that more people can see it, and even local residents can understand thinking when they see my work.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
YCNAS: Whenever I design, I ask myself again, “do I really understand the land I live in?” My works are not just artistic creations, most of them are physical works located in rural communities in Taiwan. For residents, my works may be a beautiful space with practical functions, such as pavilions, seats, road signs, etc. When I want to present a design and local stories appropriately, I always have to explore more local elements constantly. Sometimes it is cultural and historical data, and more often I walk into the place and listen to the oral histories the local elders have to offer. When you discover more stories or even get a deeper understanding of rural issues, you will sometimes feel sad and sometimes indignant. In the end, you always need to re-think and synthesize various information and then consider how to present the issue with joyful elements. Design teaches me how to look at and solve problems optimistically and positively.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
YCNAS: Almost all of my works are related to practical functions for rural residents, such as tables and chairs, pavilions, gathering places, etc. As a creator, I’m always pleased when a piece of work is completed. In addition to these basic sensibilities, I get the greatest sense of accomplishment when I see what I have made is being used here, and even helps develop a variety of unexpected user behaviors because these people continue to inject more vitality and stories into my creation.

FS: What makes a design successful?
YCNAS: I don’t think there are so-called successful or failed designs. All problems return to yourself. Do you think this design is a challenge you want to accept? What do you want to express in this design? Do you want everyone to feel your thoughts? When you identify with yourself, you can break through repeatedly every time you create. I think this is the key factor in making successful designs.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
YCNAS: Almost all of my works are related to practical functions for rural residents. For me, in addition to design techniques and materials, it is more important to consider integration and connection with the place, whether the concept is related to the local story, and whether the practicality of the work fulfills the needs of the residents. These are all aspects that I consider.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
YCNAS: Design should have no restrictions in terms of field of study. Many people think that if one’s professional field is medicine, one can only integrate their work with medical research, or if their professional field is music, they can only do so with music performance. These are preconceived ideas that first divide the field of oneself and society. Before I set foot in the countryside, I lived in the prosperous Yancheng district of Kaohsiung for a long time. I never knew what remoteness was, let alone how the Taiwanese countryside. When I entered the countryside for the first time in 2004, the impact of the dilapidated environment and the extremely high population of elderly people made me realize that art is my professional field and if I wanted to make myself more diversified, I shouldn’t feel like that the rural areas need my profession to help them do something, but how my profession can give a voice to the countryside, and even how to survive here. I think professionals in various fields are not responsible for society and the environment, because the word “responsibility” is too heavy, and it will wipe out the enthusiasm of young people who are new to society, so I think the concept that should be established is “What can I do” and “How do I live here”. Naturally, everyone will find a long-term coexistence model with their society and environment.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
YCNAS: I think the development of design has undergone many changes in the past few years. The past education model may have positioned the field of design where only designers or artists are involved. But lately, under the introduction of diverse and innovative information reception models, various fields have begun to come into contact with design. These all start from our lives, which may be the food industry, transportation, or even religion and culture. They are all related to our lives and are more popularized and bourgeois.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
YCNAS: My works are permanent art installations located in different villages in Yunlin, Chiayi, and Tainan. My works are always on exhibition. If you wish to take a look at my works, you could arrange a trip to the rural villages of southern Taiwan. Apart from getting to see my works, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful faces of Taiwan.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
YCNAS: My works are inspired by the lives and culture of the common people in Taiwan. It should be said that I am a very local person. I like to travel into alleys, markets, and settlements. Only then can you see the truest features of life, from which comes my inspiration and creativity.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
YCNAS: My design style is very diverse. If you have an in-depth understanding of Taiwan’s labor and rural culture, you will find that my design style has a lot to do with them. There is no secret to my design methods. I simply go to the place and learn from the residents, then collect and transform interesting elements into various creative elements and present them.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
YCNAS: I was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, which is known as a harbor city. In fact, many important past commercial ports and heavy industries in Taiwan were located here. The culture, industry, and living habits developed in these areas inspired me and opened up my desire to connect my creations with places. I currently live in Houbi District, Tainan City, which is an important agricultural area in Taiwan. The living experience in these small villages made me want to combine design with history, culture, and ordinary people's lives.

FS: How do you work with companies?
YCNAS: Companies are creative platforms and play the role of matchmaker. We often recruit designers, artists, and even educators from different fields to work with us. We are mainly based in the rural areas of southern Taiwan and we look for local residents and craftsmen to participate in a “Co-creation” model to plan and implement community space renovation movements.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
YCNAS: To search for self-worth in your works and self-identification are key.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
YCNAS: 30% Zoning out: let go of preconceptions and biases while consuming all kinds of information. 30% Traveling: a relaxed way to find inspiration. 35% Self-reflection: self-talk, integrate all kinds of thoughts, organize creative thoughts, and then produce them. 5% Food for the mind: alcohol and nicotine serve as catalysts.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
YCNAS: It depends, the time span of every project is different. The main factor is teamwork and time control.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
YCNAS: Most of my clients are residents of rural southern Taiwan.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
YCNAS: We work as a team. Having professionals from different fields in respective positions is the only way to create multifaceted works.

FS: How can people contact you?
YCNAS: E-mail:sean90104126@gmail.com Phone:(06) 6622-868 (+886 for international calls)


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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