Have you travelled to China previously, or was this a new destination? And what inspired you to visit?
I loved Hong Kong and Japan and wanted to see what China was like in comparison. I was also interested to see the architecture and recent explosion in commercial culture.
What were your expectations? Was the reality very different?
I don’t think I had any clear expectations, but I don’t think I realised quite how busy Shanghai would be. Tokyo has a massive population, but people are more aware of each other’s personal space. On the subway in China we would be literally crammed in. People would just push straight in front in queues, things like that. I got used to it pretty quickly. I kind of enjoyed it in some ways – it was so different from London.
Did you know much about Chinese art and design before you went?
To a degree. I love seeing every kind of design when I visit other countries. Learning how people communicate and express something really simple and mundane can be really interesting. Even just a basic sign in a toilet can be so different. It’s these subtle things I love.
You went to the capital, Beijing. Is there a comparison to London in the design world sense, or are they too different to make a comparison?
Too different to make a comparison! Beijing is amazing. Visiting the Forbidden City’s something I will never forget. It was just so enormous and cinematic, it blew me away. Every tree was immaculately preened and lots of the more natural features in the gardens are man-made – such as rocks dug up from the ocean – so they have a surreal, designed feel about them. It made me think of Disneyland, but Disneyland with an ancient cultural history.
You also visited Shanghai. What did you think?
Taking the bullet train there was amazing. Seeing the country and the landscape changing was much more interesting than flying. When we got off, we went to get in the taxi queue. It literally had two thousand people waiting in line. It was the longest queue I have ever seen. We ended up getting the subway with our luggage. When I got out the other end we were on East Nanjing Street (their Oxford Street). It was as busy as Oxford Circus on Black Friday, but on a regular Sunday afternoon!
What were the highlights of your trip for you personally?
The toboggan down the Great Wall was amazing. We went up in this rickety old chair lift, and then came down on these little individual toboggans that cut through the mountain. It was amazing – and very dangerous! The Great Wall was also unreal. You just can’t fathom how big it is – and how gruelling it must have been to guard it. That’s some Game of Thrones shit!
I also saw some excellent architecture exhibitions, and I met a few local creative people for dinner that I had reached out to before I travelled. It was really interesting getting their perspective on the cities they live in.
Were you aware of the struggles of artists like Wei Wei, working within the regimes? Could you work in a situation like that?
I think the most intense part was the internet limitations. I couldn’t access anything on my computer. I could only really look things up on my mobile. Dropbox was off limits, so interacting with the studio was impossible. I found it very difficult. It must be very frustrating for anyone who relies on the internet to do business – no vimeo, google, youtube, dropbox, gmail, I couldn’t handle it. I’ve relied on the internet to build my entire business and I can’t survive without it. Obviously, people have ways of communicating and collaborating to work around the limitations but, as a tourist, I felt totally cut off from the world.
Should we expect a Chinese influence in your forthcoming work, even a subtle one?
I don’t know. I find my references much more subconscious. I don’t directly include them in my work knowingly. Everything is absorbed and then expressed without me paying much notice to it. I like it that way. I think it means you make more original work. I think, if anything, it will effect my film-making, rather than my design – just because the spaces were so epic.
Would you consider collaborating with Chinese artists? Or exhibiting in China?
I’d love to exhibit in China or collaborate with some of the cool people I met when I was there. Watch this space!
A few shots from Kate are included here.
*For those who follow Kate on Instagram – you can see her tobogganing down The Great Wall.