Meiyi Yang is a Metals and Jewellery Design MFA student at the Rochester institute of Technology. With a deep interest in fashion and costume design, she explores the relationship between jewellery and clothing as they relate to the human body as an expression of individuality. Aesthetica talk to the artist about the overlapping lines between design and self-expression.
A: How did you start developing your ideas for Jewellery Design, and how did being raised in Shenzhen help to influence this?
MY: I originally started with industrial design major. However, it turned out that industrial design was not what I expected after two years of studying. With a unique sense to clothing and styles, I would rather devote myself to designing instead. Growing up in a traditional Asian family, my parents always wanted to me to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. But I started learning jewellery design without any hesitation.
Shenzhen, one of the largest jewelry markets in China, is my hometown. Over the past 30 years, it grew from up sleeping fishing village overnight to a modern metropolis in China. It is the city where hard work pays off, where you can chase your dream, and where everything is possible. Ever since I was child, I was influenced by this mentality: inspired by Shenzhen’s high-speed development I felt as though I could achieve more.
A: How do you think that contemporary design responds to culture and shapes the way that we live our lives?
MY: Contemporary design and culture are influencing each other, and they are succeeding together. Design, a purposeful and conscious creation, is intended to design people’s life with purpose of meeting consumers’ demand by bringing the created products into their lives. People living in the world make contact with each other through designed products, which inevitably produces all kinds of problems. To solve such problem, we need to create things. Diversified products make it possible for people to have more lifestyle choices and people’s lifestyles are influenced by these products.
Meanwhile, people’s lifestyles also influences design. Lifestyle includes food, clothing, shelter, traveling, working, relaxing, consumption and other means of daily life. It is therefore directly related to design. Take digital products as example, mobile phones, computers and camera each has its own function, appearance and size. People may choose any one of them based on their consumption preference subject to their budget constraints. Their choice reflects their view of life and value orientation, and is affected by their lifestyles. People’s choice of lifestyle can be directly seen from their choice of designed products. For instance, after the World War II, the European countries needed to be rebuilt and common citizens especially women were eager to live a new life full of vitality. At that time, the well-known French fashion brand Dior introduced the concept of “new look”, which significantly changed the stereotyped clothes without distinction of sex during the World War II. The new designed clothes showed women’s beautiful body shape and their elegance and charms.
A: Why do you think that it is important to observe details, and is this something that you reflect on within your practice?
MY: Yes, I believe this is something is reflected within my practice. As jewellery artists, after completing a piece of work, we will often go through the stage of taking photos. Therefore, the selection of background, model and lighting as well as the placement of articles are also parts of the work. I especially pay attention to expressing a piece of work, and I hope more to represent a story rather than only the piece of work. Besides, I am quite critical for the material, colour and type of background fabric as well as the selection of models. For a model specifically fitting for a piece of work, in my opinion, the temperament and personality of her cannot overshadow the theme, but present the power of the work for everyone. Hence, details, which may be tiny and easily ignore, may determine results at times.
A: To what extent do your designs take inspiration from the everyday?
MY: To a very large extent, I believe that life influences my creations. For me, art originates from life. I used to carry a book and camera with me because sometimes inspiration and ideas may can crop up at any moment. When seeing things that may resonate with me, I would like to write them down to my “Information library.” Certain seemingly-unrelated items (e.g. buildings, bridges, food and transport tools), moreover, may be a part of my material library.
The nature also endows me with endless inspiration. I live in a big city, but I prefer to the life in a small countryside. I feel that everything obtained by human is a gift by the nature. Thus all articles reasonably exist in the world originate from the nature for inspiration. It is then a wonderful thing for me to drop a day’s work and drive for six hours to a small village, searching for beautiful scenery and peace.
A: Could you describe your interest in the body as a platform for individuality?
MY: People now are obsessed with social software. Sometimes things can be clear via phone or meeting in a few words, but most people choose to inform the other via SMS. With the advantage of modern technology, more and more opportunities for photographer are developed. People then start to judge a person and know his/her life through photos on social software. But all those are insincere.
In my place, one’s body is actually the most intuitive and real platform for expression. His/her taste in clothes, tattoos, colour of lipstick, hair style as well as the contents and attitude of talking with others, are all the most real selection him/herself and can express them the most.
A: In an age where digital methods and technological advancements are only expanding – how do you intend to develop in terms of the materials you use and the designs you create?
MY: I really enjoy the cross-sector combination of machine and hand-made process and appreciate the scintillation generated of two different articles crashing into each other. My previous experience of industrial design endows me with many new methods for jewellery making and provides me with advantages different from these manual craftsmen. I used to be obsessed in 3d printing for creating jewelry. With several years of handicraft training, however, I discover the beauty of craftmanship. Compared to the art work made of cold machine, a piece of work being polished repeatedly with time and effort invested shows a special emotion and touch. I believe I would insist on making handmade jewellery.
1. Meiyi Yang, IN BETWEEN. Medium: Aluminum, Mylar, Brass, Leather, Silk, Organza (2016). Photographer: Dongni Yang. Model: Maia Dobbs