Close encounters of the art kind

Art installations at downtown Xintiandi are encouraging the public to explore the way they interact through visual art and design.

Art installations at downtown Xintiandi are encouraging the public to explore the way they interact through visual art and design. An extension of the four-day Design Shanghai, which ended yesterday at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, the Xintiandi Design Festival showcases 26 installations.

Visitors will encounter a variety of pieces with the theme “Back to the Social Origin — Acquainted, Encountered.”


Visitors try to find out the whisper-tubes among all the transparent pipes of the interactive installation “A Whispering Tree” in front of the Xintiandi Plaza, which was designed by Kokaistudios.

Childhood is one of the major inspirations. “The Whispering Tree” in front of the Xintiandi Plaza came from Andrea Destefanis’s experiences of playing with his daughter, the Venice-born architect and designer said.

In the shape of a willow tree, it comprises dozens of transparent pipes, hanging down like branches. Among the 40 pipes, 16 are whisper-tubes with which people can talk and listen to each other.

It might take some time to figure out which are the whisper-tubes. And to make it more complicated, “you don’t know who is on the other side of the tube,” said Destefanis. “You can be saying things you might not even tell your best friends.”

He said the work is to encourage people to communicate.


“Time Traveler” by Penzo Cao of Verve Studio

Penzo Cao of Verve Studio also goes back to his childhood memories with his “Time Traveler” tracing the “essential social life” of childhood when he played and made friends in the lane after school, shared snacks, fought for toys, argued and reconciled. The whole installation is in translucent red, resembling “the sunlight we saw through our favorite crystal marbles,” Cao said.

Two bamboo chairs inside invite visitors to enter. Symbols of conversation and socialization, bamboo chairs can be seen in almost every installation.


Visitors take selfies with the installation “Enchanted.”

Ti Gong

 “Enchanted" by Hector Liang

Designer Hector Liang painted the chairs red and scattered them under the tree on the plaza of Xintiandi Style. His design piece “Enchanted,” eight metal hemispheroids in shiny red, lies in front of the shopping mall, attracting passers-by to take pictures. “I hope people walking past can stop to touch and play with the balls, or check out themselves through the mirror faces,” Liang said. “That’s the adventure I’m expecting.”

Ti Gong

“Cloud-mountain Altas” by architect Zhuang Ziyu


An inside view of “Cloud-mountain Altas”

Zhuang Ziyu built a labyrinth with layers of metal mesh curtains of different lenghts. Unlike a normal labyrinth, “Cloud-mountain Altas” presents various routes according to participants’ heights. Children can easily crawl through under the curtains, while adults have limited access.

The installation “presents a metaphoric interpretation of urban social life,” the Beijing-based architect said.

Ti Gong

“Un-natural Selection” by Atelier I-N-D-J 

Designer Ian Douglas-Jones of Atelier I-N-D-J reflects on how global consumption affects the environment. Inside a shop window, his “Un-natural Selection” features butterflies, a fragile species with a relatively short life span, but which live on forever digitally via 3D scanning. The artwork showcases how humans abuse their power over natural selection.

“This is urgent,” he said. “We must rethink our impact, change our behavior and design solutions.”

The exhibition runs till March 17.

Special Reports