In support of Beijing Design Week, Converse presented “Off Canvas” a street-level exhibition of typography design that canvassed the capital city in obscure places that mark China’s thriving creative subcultures.
With over one hundred years behind the brand, the exhibition celebrated two things vital to Converse’s heritage of storytelling– words and type.
“Off Canvas” showcased the work of international and local artists notorious for their artistry of words. Culling from the diverse worlds of graphic design, art, and graffiti, the installations revealed communities and canvases where China’s emerging scenes in indie music, art, fashion and skate are based. The work of artists Benny Luk (Hong Kong), Ying Yonghui (Shanghai), Nod Young (Beijing), Neville Brody (London), Ben Eine (London) and Niels Shoe Meulman (Amsterdam) compose a map that includes the quaint Wudaoying Hutong to the packed streets of Xidan to the art district of 798/D-Park to the façade of the live music venue Mao Livehouse. Check out the installations below.
Artists Benny Luk, Ying Yonghui, Nod Young, Neville Brody, Ben Eine and Niels Shoe Meulman showed their work in a mix of unexpected locations: from the quaint hutongs of Wudaoying and the bustling streets of Xidan to the factories of 798 and Mao Livehouse. Check out the installations below.
More artist bios
1. 顺/逆 / WITH–AGAINST
by Benny Luk
Fair current versus counter current, direct motion versus retrograde, downwind as opposed to upwind. The theme of opposites is central to “With” and “Against,” the sculptural piece by Benny Luk. Set in the Financial District, the work seeks to represent two seemingly-unrelated cultures, movements and mind frames that meet on the well-paved streets— the emerging market power of the Beijing’s finance scene, and the burgeoning skateboard movement of the local skate scene. The work is a contemplation of the motion relationship that finance and skate both share and diverge upon. Both scenes are in a dynamic and positive state of growth and forward movement, while the principles of their culture seem starkly opposite. Finance is a machine of the establishment, while skate is a lifestyle committed to be anti-establishment. Luk’s piece is composed of skateboards, and constructed to be transparent and open to interpretation. Luk views the sculpture as a “process,” as they are not “unconditionally stable.” His deconstruction of the strokes of the Chinese characters represents the changing state of the two worlds which he sees as constantly evolving with the effects of “time and cumulation.”
by 应永会 Ying Yonghui
Play is a literal name for an abstraction of nostalgic traditions of Beijing, captured in type. The original font is Ying’s own labor of love, having experimented meticulously on it for over four years based off an ancient Chinese script. Here in the Wudaoying Hutongs where an emerging commerce driven by enterprising young creatives is developing, he uses Play to commemorate the heritage of Chinese youth culture via the popular childhood games that used to haunt the alleys: shuttlecock, spinning tops, marbles, hoops, and jump rope. The spirit of “play” helped to organically engage and connect the community in the past, and may now serve as a unifying memory among the hutong again. To illustrate the dynamism of the games, Ying deconstructs each of the words and phrases into groups of movements, joined by abstract strokes that force the viewer to re-combine the phrases, just like a game. To emphasize the cheer and good will that these games brought, the character for “mouth”– which is depicted in a smiling manner– has also been emphasized in each word.
by Neville Brody
Vortext has grown out of Brody’s Antimatter font produced for Fuse 20, his magazine publication dedicated to experimental typography. Vortext is about the new creative potential released by urban regeneration as is the case in today’s fast changing Beijing. The work has sub-themes of disorder which leads to dynamic evolution, meaning you have to destroy to renew, and, the new renaissance through the cracks of urban decay, like green shoots growing out of the separations in old concrete. The colors Brody has chosen are deliberately optimistic mirroring the plastic culture which surrounds us. Brody feels the work reflects “exuberance through reclaiming the mechanical space (reconstructivism), humanizing the technological space and breaking down language to discover new meaning – where language becomes a living space”. Vortext has been designed especially as a one-off piece for Off Canvas by Converse.
by Niels Meulman aka SHOE
The ‘un’ and its stylistic form consisting of four calligraphic strokes symbolizes the power of reversal. Meulman’s ‘calligrafiti’-style of thick brush strokes draw attention to themselves as much as to the space between them. Ink, and the absence of ink create black/white, on/off and positive/negative. The artist contemplates the parallel to how all digital data is broken down to one’s and zero’s while everything in our material world can be separated into two opposing sides.
by Niels Meulman aka SHOE
Shoe selected the rooftop medium of Dashilar as a modern replication and nod to Chinese sidewalk calligraphy. The work is an interpretation of personal identity – his writing name – which he has honed internationally over two decades from the street to gallery. In his work, Meulman mimics the Chinese tradition of water as ink and sidewalk as paper, yet in the craft and tools of his distinctive trade.
6. 新浪潮/NEW WAVE
by Nod Young
Nod Young’s work here at MAO Live is a salute to the undying influence of the “New Wave” music movement upon his formative years as a student and now continuing into his adulthood as an artist. His piece is inspired by his nostalgia for new wave, which he reveres for its rebellious punk foundation, but his deeper fascination lies within the complexities of technology and art that further define the sound. His memories of his student days are inextricably linked to his soundtrack of The Cars, Duran Duran and The Police. As Nod navigates forward in his life, he finds his previous pursuits of new wave seem to be waning— he is less avid about seeing live shows, he finds himself standing further and further back in the crowds, and his well-worn new wave music collection stands idle. Upon deeper examination
however, the artist reaffirms the spirit of the movement still burns brightly, albeit manifested in a new fashion. He celebrates the seminal influence of the new wave from within, channeling the “passion, maverick, romance and senses” of it into his art work. His work represents a musical composition of new wave in an alternate form–with the stripes as his lyrics, the color as his melody, and vocals jointly comprised of his own, together with the viewer. This piece is a dual ode to both MAO live the venue, and to new wave, the music movement—two institutions of music that hold relevance then and now. His multimedia work serves as an epitaph to what’s “past,” and well as a milestone to the “future.”
7. 大冒险/GREAT ADVENTURE
by Ben Flynn aka EINE
As part of a global installation that Eine has painted in numerous other cities in the world, the artist proclaims a positive and uplifting message completely open to interpretation. The optimism of the work is equally founded in the brilliant colors and type. The range of emotions and meanings he has elicited from viewers of his piece has been a major inspiration and motivation for him to bring this message to China.
by Ben Flynn aka EINE
Happiness represents Eine’s suggestion of the dominating sentiment at play on Xidan Da Jie— the epicenter of consumerism for youth in Beijing. Using happy faces to comprise the word, Eine implies an even more exaggerated state of the emotion, posing it as a caption for the scene below. The artist contemplates the effects of Western-imported consumption trends and lifestyle upon China, questioning what truly fulfills and makes the people below happy. The fervor of consumerism in China brings to his mind the ‘80s adage of “We are, therefore we shop,” which he finds in full throttle despite the global economy being in the worst recession in decades. Eine wonders, “Do we really need any of this, or is consumption just a quick fix for a short burst of happiness?”