Inspired by the nature around her, Yuanfang Tang creates narratives where magical moments happen and the results are colorful jewels.
In this collection, I tell a particular story: one day a garden appeared under the sea and its flowers attracted many sea creatures who came to see the beauty of the garden and to play with the flowers. It is a pretty romantic one.
Yuanfang Tang, how did you start designing your jewellery collections?
I studied jewellery design. It's part of the subject of industrial design at my university in China. Our educational background is a bit different from traditional jewellery education because it is quite into new technologies. So we didn’t just study how hand-made jewels are made, but also how to use new technologies in our jewellery creation. Therefore, at that time, we learned a lot about 3D design. During my four-year projects, I just wanted to present the feeling I get when I think about the tropics, so I designed my first jewellery collection involving birds and tropical fruits. I used some kind of surreal approach to tell the story, so when you see these pieces you can stretch your imagination and maybe you can picture yourself on this kind of island on vacation, no work, no pressure. I was very glad that people loved it. Also, it was the first time I realized that what I like can be accepted and appreciated by others. It was at that moment that I started to trust my feelings.
As for the second collection, when I moved to Italy I was very intrigued by the Italian markets ("il mercato italiano"). Almost every week I would go there and buy fresh veggies and fruit. It was pretty exciting, so I decided to create such a veg collection. I called it "The veggies go wild", I put a lot of colors in it to show my feelings about Italian life and the Italian way of being which is so sweet and happy. Again, in Italy, I created a collection called "The sea of fragments" in which I want to involve some marine elements inspired by my time in Italy during which I went to many meditation sessions on the beach and ate a lot of seafood. All this just made me so happy that I wanted to create this marine collection. In this collection, I tell a particular story: one day a garden appeared under the sea and its flowers attracted many sea creatures who came to see the beauty of the garden and to play with the flowers. It is a pretty romantic one.
Therefore, after all the collections I had designed, I gradually created my curiosity cabinet. This is one of my dreams. In the future I want to have a proper cabinet, literally. I will put my small objects in each box.
Can you tell us how nature affects your pieces?
Actually, I have had this feeling for nature since I was very young, because when I was little my mother used to take me very often to the mountains and we did a lot of hikes there. Since then I like to go out into nature and I always see myself as a traveler or tourist. I think an important experience for me was last year when I went to Sicily, on an island called Lampedusa for a 10 days volunteering camp. There we took turns on the beaches to protect that particular beach for the turtle to lay eggs. That experience was a wake-up call to my inner responsibility. Then, every day we went swimming, scuba diving, and when I was down there it was very surprising to me to see that under such a clear blue sea there was so much rubbish, it was unacceptable. It left a question mark in my mind: how can my design have an impact on people?
What I'm really good at is creating a positive feeling and a positive experience, so for my part I can intrigue people to find beauty in nature and tell them how great nature is.
At the time, I chose to leave Italy for the Netherlands to engage in sustainable projects. They were about plant-rich diet and food design research and it was really interesting. Also, this year during the COVID-19 pandemic I had to stay at home in Holland for a whole month for quarantine, but I was very lucky because in front of my home there is a large park where I went every day to run and spend a lot of time in nature.
I realized that the more I am in nature, the more I find my true nature. It really awakens my conscience, so it's very magical because sometimes I like to run in the woods and I can feel the inspiration flowing through me. And every time I take a turn and come back home I always bring with me some new ideas. Then, I gradually connect the dots.
In that period I realized what I wanted to do, as if I really wanted to find purpose in life. Now I know what I can do is build connections between humans and nature in another way. I know sustainable design is one kind of approach. Companies can think about reducing carbon emissions and working on it, but I'm not really good at these things. What I'm really good at is creating a positive feeling and a positive experience, so for my part I can intrigue people to find beauty in nature and tell them how great nature is. Maybe this way people will choose to go into nature more and really appreciate it, rather than harming it on purpose, because they will have that greener consciousness in mind. What I’m doing is creating this kind of good feeling and good experience.
How does the technique you choose impact your work?
I always think that the digital approach is best used to create something that is not accessible with the traditional approach because otherwise it would be pointless. With my works I try to create these particular shapes, these surfaces that cannot be achieved with the traditional way. This means they can be more complicated, more complex structures, and I can maybe involve some connecting structures to get flexibility. I also use this surreal language to present these objects, so for me the dragon fruit is no longer a real dragon fruit, but it turns into a sea and/or a fish that starts swimming. This way when people look at my creations they will discover something they have never seen before, it will really intrigue their minds. They will be surprised, and I think the important part for me is that all people can see the things they don't see and have in their real life. That’s what we are all craving - for fresh new things.
Can you tell us about your style and your way of working?
I would say my style is colorful and with a particular sense of humor. I don’t like very abstract arts, so my works are not very difficult to understand. I use a few tricks and a lot of colors because I think colors are necessary for our life, and especially during this time we all need colorful things around us. Personally, I believe that if you stay true to your true self, if you are closer to your true self, you will perceive the world in a more colorful way, whereas if you are very bored, apathetic towards your world, then the world you perceive will be gray and with a lot of saturation.
As for my creative approach, I usually start with the sketch, but at the same time I prefer to have this object of inspiration in front of me, so even if it comes from my imagination I still try to “touch”, “feel” it through my inspiration, then I try to shape it with 3D models and in the end I choose to print it with a 3D printer. The last step is hand dyeing it, so I boil the dye and then soak the printed pieces for a few minutes and the color will be permanent.
I also started considering myself an artist because many people have told me that my works come mainly from intuition, so they are not that rational. For me it was surprising, because, in my opinion, design must have a use, a function, but I actually love that part of creating technically, it is a kind of art.
What influences you?
I can say that nature and daily life have a great influence on my work. Ever since I was little I have always had this sort of particular preference for objects on a smaller scale. At home I have a large collection of small objects, like these tiny sculptures. Maybe it is the scale that I like and I feel good at what I do. When I start creating jewellery I feel like I can control these little pieces easily. In the future I would like to finally get out of the limits of small-scale jewellery. In fact, next year I want to create some bigger works because I constantly ask myself: what is the boundary between design and arts? I have always considered myself a designer because I studied design, but this year I also started considering myself an artist because many people have told me that my works come mainly from intuition, so they are not that rational. For me it was surprising, because, in my opinion, design must have a use, a function, but I actually love that part of creating technically, it is a kind of art.
Maybe it’s jewelry that imposes restrictions on me because I always think that jewelry is a project meant to be worn, so it should be of the correct scale, wearable, and consequently has function. Probably, as far as my next project is concerned, I just want to create something without necessarily having a function, I want it to be just art, so I can have more freedom to create and then maybe I will turn my art into something closer to design. I think first I want to explore more freely and transform ordinary things.
Speaking of the future, tell us what are the aspirations for your brand?
Last September I officially launched my own brand called Yuanfang Jewelry and it took me a while to think about it because I honestly believe my creations are not fashion jewelry, but I would call them “art jewelry”. I realized that if you start a very commercial brand it means that you have to spend a lot of time on production, and management, and in all honesty I am not very interested in those aspects. My passion is the creative part and I’m trying to keep this part the main activity of my life. I have personally chosen to keep this jewelry brand as an art jewelry brand. Consequently I don’t need to produce huge quantities, I just need to produce limited pieces. That way I can continue to create these pieces of art that will nourish people’s minds instead of just decorating their bodies.
Which creative element is essential to you?
Essential for me is to have a light heart. It's very important to be light-hearted in creating because if you take it too seriously your mind will lose its essence and the inspirations won’t come. I believe that if I want to be in a creative process, I must first treat myself as if I would take some time to play and that game will really give me the energy I need and put some brave ideas into circulation.
Another key part of what I'm doing is the experience of being able to organize some workshops… I decided to design these kinds of processes so that people can come and make DIY jewellery using autumn leaves. For example, I designed these frames and people came and brought the leaves they had collected and put them inside the pieces. Basically they are creating their own jewels, objects... and at the same time they are learning from nature, because in the city, especially the big cities like Shanghai, people, and the children in particular, have few opportunities to get in touch with nature, with the limited resources of nature in the city. For this reason there are things like natural deficit disorder which means that if you spend very little time in nature you can lose the connection with it. It's not like a disease but more like a phenomenon. And I think people, especially children living in metropolises, should be encouraged to embrace nature from an early age, otherwise they will grow up not knowing what nature is, forgetting that we are all part of it.
Follow Yuanfang and her creations here.
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