Swedish Fake China

In 2009, designer Nille Svensson was asked to create products on the theme of identity for an exhibition. He chose to explore Chinese porcelain. Contemporary China, at least from a Western perspective, is often regarded as a place where things are produced but not designed. However, it was the Chinese who introduced chinaware. This plate set concedes to stealing elements from the classic blue-and-white motif of the East while reminding us that cultural influences have shifted over time. The design solidifies that change can be good, but that history is as important.

Click to enlarge each image and enjoy the image irony

ABOUT FAKE CHINA – From The Designer

On the 12th of September 1745, the sailing ship Götheborg, part of the Swedish East India Company fleet, returned to Sweden from Canton after more than 30 months at sea. It is believed that over 35 members of the crew died during the journey. Only 900 meters from its home harbor in Gothenburg, the ship ran aground and sank. The cargo of several thousand pieces of china was lost and the sailors who did not survive the journey had died for nothing. This story of the harsh reality of commerce has always fascinated me.

When I was asked to create something on the theme of »identity« for the Notch exhibition in 2009, I first thought a lot about how contemporary China, at least from a Western perspective, is generally regarded as a place were things are produced but not designed. China’s design identity is also associated with the issue of plagiarism and fake products. I then came to think about the sad fate of Götheborg, and the extremely high demand of Chinese ceramics in Europe at that time. A high demand created out of the fact that the knowledge of how to manufacture ceramics of such quality was not locally available.

As the understanding of production techniques spread, manufacturing of chinaware started in Europe as well. In many cases featuring designs that looked »Chinese«, or were direct copies of Chinese originals. The design was made with the main purpose to add a quality of authenticity to what was basically product piracy. The most famous of these designs is perhaps the »Willow design« made around 1790. The company behind this plate even invented a fake Chinese legend based on the motif just to further promote the authenticity of the product. The motif and the legend has in turn been copied and spread widely ever since. There is even an animated Disney film based on the willow tree legend.

From the early plagiarism, the designs grew and permuted and became the starting point of the British and Dutch porcelain-tradition as we know it. Contemporary designers and artists even relate to the Willow-motif as a kind of starting point. The copy has grown to become an original and as such carries cultural integrity in its own right as it has transformed through the states of copy – original – culture – tradition. What we today may regard as a highly valuable (collectable) item was originally created as a simple copy.

It is a healthy reminder of how cultural influences and values shift and change over time. Not only geographically, but economically and demographically, the general presumption that the Western world is where things are designed and originated, whilst the East is where they get produced and copied will not prevail forever.

With all this in mind I went to the Museum of Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, stole designs and design elements from plates in the collection, and created my own »fake china« plates, while convinced that nobody can copy anything without adding something to the story.

The result is a small step of cultural evolution.

– Nille Svensson, designer


FAKE-CHINA is included in the Röhsska Museet permantent design collection.

In Stockholm, Sweden FAKE-CHINA are available at Svenskt Tenn — http://www.svenskttenn.se/


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