Unidentified Acts of Design is an exhibition and research project that seeks out instances where design intelligence has occurred in Shenzhen and the PRD outside of the conventional notion of the design studio. The project aims to show how in a region of unprecedented growth, which has long served as the factory of the world, design acts can take on unconventional forms and occur in unpredictable places. By seeking out new definitions of what constitutes design, new actors and new objects are able to enter into the canon of the region’s design history, while an expanded sense of design’s relationship with the region can take shape. The display at 2015 UABB will also act as a “test ground” for some themes and content of the V&A Gallery in Shekou, due to open in early 2017.
Tracing the history of design in Shenzhen and the PRD is a tricky task. It is often lamented that while Shenzhen and the PRD have long served as the factory of the world, very little innovation in product, industrial and fashion design actually takes place here. Instead, design is imported from abroad direct to the factory, without design knowledge spilling out onto the streets and fostering a domestic design environment. But is this necessarily true? Surely, in a city that has grown from clusters of villages to a megalopolis in just thirty years, a rich mixture ofsocial and economic forces have converged to create fertile ground for innovation and development. Indeed, in dealing with the question of Shenzhen and the PRD’s design history perhaps we are not looking at all the possible and available options, but restricting our interpretation to models that are more familiar and acceptable to us, namely that of the “designer studio”.
With Unidentified Acts of Design, the V&A will look to the broader environment of Shenzhen to seek out historical and contemporary instances that could offer alternative readings of what design is and how it is produced: from the construction methods used in the 1980s and `90s that allowed for the city’s unprecedented growth, to platforms that manufacture and distribute DIY technology, to the making of Shanzhai products, to the development of one of the world’s largest social media platforms, WeChat. For the UABB, Unidentified Acts of Design will present objects related to these design stories in an attempt to contribute to a renewed reading of Shenzhen and the PRD’s rich and evolving design history.