handshake with the future: shenzhen’s maker plus culture

The world has glommed on to Shenzhen’s Maker culture, but what is often left undetected is just how Maker Plus the city actually is. Yesterday afternoon at Handshake 302, we held the opening for projects by interior design students from the Guangdong Xin’an Polytechnic College. During the opening, the conversation about their work focused on bridging the distance between design and implementation. A key thought came from Lei Sheng, Handshake 302’s master craftsman (seriously, he can make anything): in an information age, information isn’t the most important element for creativity. Instead, the knowledge of making things with our hands–craftsmanship–is the key to a successful design career.

The student works suggested a fraught relationships with urban villages, where many of the students grew up and also where many will live upon graduation: a crowded bus installation, a screaming mouth emerging out of iron bars, a skyscraper and urban village, and a door that opens on a path to a black hole–the future is “fill in the blank”, after you choose a tool. Interestingly, however, students had less to say about the meaning of their works than they did about what they learned from the process of designing, purchasing materials, and installing their works. The emotions of cooperation, they said, ran the gamut from frustration to happiness and relief with side dishes of anger and intimacy (to mix metaphors). In other words, design was important, but the ability to realize that design fundamental to success.

Polytechnic is one of the top associate programs in the province. It attracts students from outside Shenzhen as well as the children of migrants who live in the outer districts. They have a three year program. During the first two years they attend classes and during the third year have internships. However, the school’s ethos is decidedly paternalistic, with the administration less worried about students acquiring practical knowledge than they are about students having accidents beyond the campus walls.

Or at least this is the impression that emerged in conversation, where students opined that the most important learning happening with workers, on construction sites, and joining in their teachers’ projects. How does design go from being just a piece of paper to actually becoming an object. The key factor wasn’t so much economic exploitation, but rather without experience it was not only difficult to find jobs, but also to figure out how to negotiate complicated social relations; everyone agreed that workers’ names should be included in all design projects because without talented workers to interpret designs, nothing would every get built.

Every Sunday in July at 14:30 (except July 21), we will hold salons with students from Xin’an Polytechnic. They’ll be talking about their work and future possibility designing and making Shenzhen.

Impressions of students with their work, below.

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