Thesis Weekly Blog Post #3

Week 5: Interdisciplinary Project 2018

Week 6:

After an intensive week of interdisciplinary project, I am pretty anxious about nailing down my thesis concept on time. Since the last meeting with instructor, I was still struggling to distill the essence of traditional symbolic items, because these objects will be my examples to exemplify my argument the “meaningful objects”. I was not in favor of the sketches I have drawn in week 4. Over the past weekend, one of my classmates and I discussed about our individual’s progress and theme, we were trying to help each others to further clarify in our head. we had a very interesting conversation, I realized that I would have to conclude the commonalities from the objects that I was drawn to. Additionally, I received some feedback from the instructor as shown below:

I do really like these three Chinese (traditional/cultural) objects (Calligraphy, Beijing opera, oil paper umbrella) as a lightening rod for concept development.
They each have elements that are iconic to Chinese culture -yet they are outside of furniture which poses some interesting avenues to explore (rather than the typical re-interprestations of a ming dynasty chair). Anyway -I think this is a good track for exploration. (The opera in itself may be a very large subject… whereas the calligraphy or umbrella are a bit more symbolic…. and therefore maybe more accessible as a starting point?)
— Feedback from the instructor

As mentioned in the previous blog post, I am conveying an intangible function from a tangible object/example. Thanks to my instructor’s feedback, I have expended the idea of looking into calligraphy and started to focus on the Chinese Four Arts which include Guqin(music instrument shown in image 1), Qi(board game shown in image 2), Shu(Chinese calligraphy shown in image 3), Hua(Chinese painting shown in image 4). They were the four main academic and artistic accomplishments required of the aristocratic ancient Chinese scholar-gentleman.

From my personal nostalgia, I also deeply appreciate the dream landscape of Jiangnan, China. Over thousand years of histories, poets beautifully expressed the views they seen and stories they experienced in Jiangnan. Such rich backgrounds have made the place heaven like. The oil paper umbrella is an iconic object locally (image 1 and 2 below), it perfectly capture the Jiangnan’s poetic and romantic beauty.

Serenity, quietness, and calmness are three words that I would describe 2 and 3 images above. The individual of Chinese Four Arts has completely different in its application and form, but they all require the person to be emotionally calm to learn and practice. There is an ultimate personal serenity needed to master the medium, at the same time it requires physically and psychological movement to cooperate. Further, Jiangnan’s view embodies such natural poetic beauty and indescribable quietness. I think there could be interesting approaches to them as well.

Later, I came up some sketches based on the contrast principle of serenity and movement.

Here are the ideas best fit the theme: serenity and movement. The left image below shows a rocking chair design. This high wing back chair’s exterior surfaces are covered with cane allow moderate light to come through. The enclosure look of the chair back creates the feeling of safe and quiteness, and the blackened material could also make the user feel grounded. In the combination of both form and color, the user will feel emotionally calm and spiritually serene . Moreover, I would purposely design one of the wings lower than the another one, which creates a dynamic spiral movement.

The second image below shows a side table design. I draw inspiration from the natural lili pad to present the serenity of nature. Three different heights and sizes of the table surface creates the representation of growing (movement). The last two images present different approaches to serenity.

Ideas flow after received the feedback:

Their interpretation of the relationship between calligraphy and furniture making is an eye opener for me. They both contain tangible and intangible characteristics. Woodworking and calligraphy both require extensive amount of practice to master. In detail, as a craft person, he or she has to understand the material in order to do the job; a woodworker needs to know characteristics of the woods, and a calligrapher needs to understand the ink and the xuan paper. As the practitioners gradually gain skills, the skills have become part of the their body, they start utilizing the skill unconsciously as a whole, that is when they start forming their spirtual realm.

While a person completely submerges into the practice, his or her mind is in that spiritual world, but the body is in the motion of doing the work. In the spiritual world, the person’s focus reaches the peak and emotion feel absoutely serene; his/her mind constantly speaks with the material in order to form the work. At the same time, their physical movement is in control of the rhythm of thinking. Interestingly, during these processes, the concept of time seem disappears.

Overall, these mind work processes are intangible, but the end result of the practice is opposite. In another word, a beautiful calligraphy character or a piece of well made furniture is a projection of creative thought, and it is an extensive result of thinking through making. The intangible agency transmits through the tangible project.

Later on, I have concluded the idea of thinking through making and spirital serenity. I think there are two things feeding back and forth are thinking and making, they are communicating throughout the entire work process. However, there is one only thing stay still, the emotion. It could be a very interesting approach to furniture that I am going to make. For example, a rocking chair creates a back and forth ( two movements ) physical moveablility by the rockers; and the high back wings create an emotional sense of calmness. I was also think about the spiral chair back could present the flow of the time based on the Einstein's Theory of General Relativity ( I think I have gone CRAZY here!!!).

Additionally, I was inspired by an Korean furniture maker Sanghyeok Lee ( I am very interested in creating a mechanism (air pressure or gears) that could make two of the lili pad table tops moved by each other. Of course, the third table will stay fixed to represent the serenity.

In the process of writing, calligraphers seem to wander in a spiritual space, which is also an expression of showing inner sensations. The rhythm of the calligraphy is created by the movements and pauses in writing. The writing of Chinese characters is a combination of dynamic and static activities. The flow and pause of the brush in writing Chinese characters form the rhythm of calligraphy.
— Siqi, D. (2018). Chinese characters and the spirit of place in China. Technoetic Arts, 16(1), pp.99-111.
1. The every ending is potentially a beginning; between the beginning and ending, the practitioner’s movement are continually and subtly responsive to the ever-changing conditions of the task as it unfolds.
2. Rhythm, movement must be felt. And feeling lies in the coupling of movement and perception that, as we have seen, is the key to skilled practice.
3. Rhythm, then, is not a movement but a relation between movements. Working rhythm goes hand in hand with concentration. An arrhythmic and distracted performance with the saw is unlikely to lead to a regular line.
— Ingold, Tim. “Walking the Plank: Meditations on a Process of Skill.” Defining Technological Literacy, 2006, pp. 65–80.

Annotated Bibliography:

1. Lupo, E., Giunta, E. and Trocchianesi, R. (2011). Design Research and Cultural Heritage: Activating the Value of Cultural Assets as Open-ended Knowledge Systems. Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal—Annual Review, 5(6), pp.431-450.

This research paper aims to give evidence to the value of incorporating culture and cultural heritage in design research, and demonstrate how the design discipline can contribute in the Cultural Heritage (in its tangible and intangible aspects, from artifacts to processes, practices and performances), through designing sustainable, socially and economically, repertories of knowledge evolve and transform the nature of cultural heritage. The article presents an experimental project” Inspired by Beijing Opera” which proves this heritage activation by design, that opens the patrimony to new interpretations without losing the concept of its traditional matrix. This paper is very helpful to guide my research method on traditional cultural heritages, especially on converting intangible meaning to tangible object. By interpretative design process, identify, clearly distill and conclude the essence of a cultural patrimony in its cultural archetype and expressed by visual form and material. The paper uses very strong example to demonstrate its opened-ended knowledge system, however its argument is only limited on the single project.

2. Bailey, R. and Townsend, K. (2015). Craft and the handmade: Making the intangible visible. Craft Research, 6(2), pp.157-163.

The article use four example to illustrate as part of an expanding landscape of both commercial and public sector platforms, contemporary applications of the handmade craft can serve to generate new experimental modes of thinking and making which not only challenge our preconceptions of what craft is, but also what it has the potential to evolve into.

3. Hue, M. (2009). Promotion of spiritual development: exploration of the self and spiritualism through the practice of Chinese calligraphy. Pastoral Care in Education, 27(1), pp.63-76.

The article argues that heritage calligraphy serves as more than a utilitarian function; the author aims to examine the cultural meaning of Chinese calligraphy and its practices in general, and specifically its connection to spiritualism. The methodologies of narrative approach and textual analysis were employed based on interviews. The article uses examples from school practitioners to raise the importance of calligraphy for spiritual development. The Chinese calligraphy and woodworking have commonality in many ways, they are both the practice of spiritual discipline. This article is a great resource for me to explore the spiritual realm and find the supportive evidence to spiritual serenity. But this article introduces the philosophy of Dao; it is a bias religious approach for some people, which is something I need to aware and avoid.


This article aims to explain why Chinese traditional aesthetics is an uncommonly distinctive cultural phenomenon which created by the spiritual values of a great civilization. How did this wonderful spiritual culture form over the history? Chinese aesthetic is a result of absorbing new content in every period of dynasty; and creatively reform and evolve become ever richer and more multi-layered. Specifically, the paper discussed about the rise of visuality in calligraphy and argued from calligraphy, artist’s inner culture and individual personality are visibly conveyed. It is a great example of convert intangible into tangible, and could help me to expand and connect my idea to my culture. Additionally, the evolution of Chinese aesthetic is an interesting and historical approach to innovation and creativity, it is exactly what we are doing, making changes for the future. Unfortunately, the author only touched the surface of what I want to present in my thesis.

5. Tsui, C. (2013). From Symbols to Spirit: Changing Conceptions of National Identity in Chinese Fashion. Fashion Theory, 17(5), pp.579-604.

This article argues that the evolution from the use of traditional Chinese symbols to the Chinese spirit within the fashion design world signifies a new form of Chinese nationalism: instead of delivering Chinese culture in an explicit, direct, and exterior form, Chinese designers have switched to convey their unique “Chineseness” in a subtle, indirect, and hidden form. This article provides a great pioneer example to people and guide the direction of future of the traditional furniture making, I think Chinese furniture should not limited on the symbolic form, such as Ming Dynasty Chair etc., the power of the culture should come from its spirit and essence. I would like to emphasis this spirit by not only present the cultural spirit on the furniture also create the spiritual link between the user and the furniture. The author uses many interviews to prove the idea of from symbol to spirit in contemporary Chinese fashion design. But, I think it is maybe not convincing to compare fashion industry and furniture design.

6. Siqi, D. (2018). Chinese characters and the spirit of place in China. Technoetic Arts, 16(1), pp.99-111.

This article explores the history of the Chinese characters and the rules for creating them; then, it reports on the possible transfer of these rules and principles to the design of architectural spaces. It is trying to find out how traditional building could become contemporary without losing its connection with the past. I think it is very useful article in terms of relating architecture to calligraphy, because the composition of the architecture is just like the composition of furniture. The rhythm we see in the calligraphy is a synonymous subject we see in the balanced design. The partial of this article could relate to the idea of thinking through making in my thesis.

7. Ingold, Tim. “Walking the Plank: Meditations on a Process of Skill.” Defining Technological Literacy, 2006, pp. 65–80.

In this section of the book, Tim talks about a process of himself making a bookcase out of raw wood and illustrates three themes of fundamental significance for the proper understanding of technical skill: the processional quality of tool use, the synergy of practitioner, tool and material, and the coupling of perception and action. I really enjoy reading his idea of quality of the outcome depends at every moment on the care and judgment with which the task proceeds, which explains my nucleus professional ethic of attention to detail in every single step. He also argues that rhythm and movement must be felt, they are the keys to skilled practice. Rhythm is not a movement but a relation between movements, and working rhythm goes hand in hand with concentration. Interestingly this idea overlaps the concept of the rhythm of the calligraphy is created by the movements and pauses in writing, which is also an expression of showing inner sensations. Overall, I could draw ton of connections between calligraphy and woodwork from this article, but I also think I need to find some counter arguments against him.

8. LUCculture. YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2013, Thinking through Making. Professor Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

In Tim Ingold’s speech, he argues that making, as an inherently mindful activity in which the forms of things are ever-emergent from the correspondence of sensory awareness and material flows in a process of life. In other words, making is to project the form onto the material. The theory and the mental work come before its application and execution. The creativity generates from the flow of the transformation process of material, from the movement of the imagination and sensory awareness and from the process of improvisation, thinking through making. Every object is a way station to the next one, and every thought is a passing moment in a process of thinking, which means every ending is a beginning. He uses weaving and stone as examples to explain history of material of making art in order to emphasis the importance of understanding material. More importantly, Tim believes that thinking through making generates knowledge from inside of our own practice. I think thinking and making both are ongoing activity, and there are both having correlations to the spiritual world I am arguing in my thesis, because I think thinking is psychological work and making is physical work, but the rhythm is presentation of sensation.

Interesting talk of Thinking through Making from the Professor Tim Ingold, University of Aberdeen, Scotland.