Material Tales: The Life of Things

17 September – 17 October, 2021
CAFA Art Museum

Curators | CAFA Art Museum:
Ji Yujie, Zhou Bo, Naiyi Wang, Tianchong Xue

Curator | Design Museum London:
Eleanor Watson

Exhibition Project Managers:
Silvia Meloni and Erika Batey

Original Exhibition Design: vPPR Architects
Original Graphic Design: Twelve Design Ltd.

Press Release (EN): Download PDF
Press Release (CN): Download PDF

The Design Museum presents its first dedicated touring exhibition in collaboration with the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) exploring the legacy, stories and sustainable futures of the material world

Opening for the first time at the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing, the exhibition charts the journey of the materials that have defined modern life through their origins, uses and evolution to current environmental and industrial consequences

Visitors will see designs that aim to foster greater respect and care for the world around us, from products made from innovative materials such as vegan leather grown from coconut waste to projects with local impact such as native corn species in Mexico

Featuring early prototypes to design experiments, alongside a wealth of images, film and process materials, the exhibition includes work by visionary designers including Charles and Ray Eames, Carlo Scarpa, Marcel Breuer, Ettore Sottsass, Ma Yansong (MAD Architects), OnEarth Architecture, Song Xiewei, Kathrin von Rechenberg, Kinor Jiang, Lyu Yue, Wang Kezhen, Chen Min, Zhang Zhoujie, Huo Yijin, Hao Zhenhan, Lin Fanglu, Zhang Lei, Jovana Zhang, Christoph John, Faber Futures, Fernando Laposse and Sanne Visser.

As we face the realities of the Earth’s limited resources, designers and users alike are seeking greater clarity around how objects are made and at what material cost. The first dedicated touring exhibition from the Design Museum, Material Tales: The Life of Things opens on Friday 17 September 2021 at the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing, China and will take visitors on a journey through the origins, uses and evolutions of matter to explore the material world around them.

Featuring over 80 iconic exhibits from the Design Museum collection, 30 Chinese contemporary designer’s works, as well as innovative materials in development today, the exhibition will inform and inspire visitors to understand and care for the complex processes that go into everyday objects. From early examples of mass-produced furniture to the latest experiments in bio-fabrication, the exhibition explores the materials that have defined modern life, and how we might learn to make better use of them in future.

The first section of the exhibition introduces some key materials – such as wood, clay, metal, plastic and fibre – illustrating their unique properties through large-scale microscopic images and mounds of raw materials. In ‘Origins’, visitors will also explore the emotional qualities of materials through a variety of iconic and everyday design objects.

Moving into ‘Transformations’, discover the power of mass manufacturing, through the technical possibilities and overwhelming scale of the materials that are being processed and mass produced today. Step behind the scenes of how our modern material world is formed, from awe-inspiring space craft and everyday drinks cans to the flat pack furniture that revolutionised modern interiors. Featuring original work by Charles and Ray Eames, Gio Ponti, the Bakelite Corporation, David Mellor and many more.

In the third section of the exhibition, ‘Consequences’, visitors will be confronted by the human impact of global systems of material extraction and consumption on the environment in a newly commissioned film by Zuketa Film Production. Discover the legacy of these material industries through case studies exploring mining, rubber and intensive cotton farming, including a super-scale graphic produced by World of Matter exploring global systems of extraction.

The exhibition ends with a look to more optimistic material futures and how designers are working to find more intelligent and sustainable ways of working with finite resources. Featuring the work of a dozen contemporary designers – including Male Uribe Fores, Waugh Thistleton Architects, Marlene Huissoud, Hao Zhenhan, Ya-chu Kang, Lin Fanglu, Dechen Yeshi and Yang Hongjie – the ‘Evolution’ section offers an inspiring overview of material design today. From large scale industrial interventions such as Cross Laminated Timber to local projects focussing on handmade designs, this section reminds visitors that materials design is a constantly evolving field that plays an important role in tackling environmental and societal issues.