Every Nail Has A Story

By Jo Phillips

One nail, one screw, one hammer, one maker, sounds like it doesn’t add up to much but when you times that by around 24 million, it really does add up to something magnificent. In a land where every small component contributes to the whole, amazing can be achieved. At this year’s London Design Biennale, this is exactly the creative spirit the county of Taiwan put on with its presentation The Visible Shop. Find out more in. Every Nail Has A Story

The small land of Taiwan is an island country in East Asia consisting of consist of 168 islands. Located at the junction of the East and South China Seas, in the northwestern Pacific Ocean with its position being the perfect junction, it is a centre for trade and collaboration giving it a unique stand-point within the South Asian area.

A small yet very creative island made up of many small businesses whose premises sit side by side with people’s homes. During the Covid pandemic, the county realised that this unique geography of homes and businesses snuggly situated, was a real advantage at a time when people couldn’t travel, yet here they could still work and still collaborate with each other. This energy is very much part of the spirit of the country in its working and creative output.

Interestingly this small country which has seen many invasions over its history had a really different kind of blossoming in the 20th century. In the early 1960s, Taiwan saw a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the ‘Taiwan Miracle’.

Over the years since Taiwan has carved a role as an indispensable part of the global manufacturing supply chain. From literally, screws to full engineering, LED to super high-tech.

For many years the county even had the tallest building in the world. Designed to be the world’s highest green building Taipei 101  is bamboo-shaped and was officially a miracle building designed to withstand typhoon winds and earthquake tremors that are common in the area in the east of Taiwan. It started out classified as the world’s tallest building from its opening in 2004 until 2009.

The postmodernist architectural style evokes traditional Asian aesthetics into a modern structure employing industrial materials. The repeated segments simultaneously recall the rhythms of an Asian pagoda, a traditional tower linking earth and sky, also a stalk of bamboo seen as an icon of learning and growth, and finally a stack of ancient Chinese ingots or money boxes as a symbol of abundance. As modern an explosion of a building that it is, it was also constructed in accordance with the teachings of Feng Shui to protect potential tenants from bad influences.

This building in many ways sums up the very emotions and energy of the country. Modern with classical traits woven into its very core. Powerful yet made up of small parts, attention paid, to the small yet important details.

A county where much symbolism is ingrained. Spiritual yet practical. The Taiwanese economy is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, rather than large business groups. These businesses often sit right next door to someone’s home making for a very intertwined society. And this unique fact is part of the energy that is explored and celebrated in their current exhibition at the London Design Biennale 2023. The theme for 2023 is The Global Game: Remapping Collaborations 

Their installation “Visible Shop” celebrates Taiwan’s unique economy of small and medium-sized enterprises, alongside an irreplaceable role in the global manufacturing supply chain. Shown here by the use of individual metallic nuts, hinges, joints and bolts coming together into one ‘machine’

Intertwnnedinto the piece is a sense of singular cooperation that makes for a whole ‘movement’. The idea of small businesses and individuals all being part of the greater production of the country.

Through the creation of the “Visible Shop”, the curator Ling-Li, Tseng interprets these ideas by using programmed sets of electromagnets to demonstrate how each individual in Taiwan operates so precisely that when they work together as a whole, it forms the basis of an efficient national economy. The presentation won the best award at this year’s show.

As a curator, Ling-Li, Tseng specialises in evoking dialogues between artificiality and nature, with a quest for invention and technology which is reflected in the techniques she employs in her work. She has defined “Visible” into several area:-

Visible Distance, clusters are located near each other with a short supply chain economy. Visible Individuality of small and medium-sized enterprises with individual companies working with each other in highly collaborative and precise ways. They can work together as a whole while still retaining their visible, clearly-defined individual identities. And finally, Visible Liberty, Taiwan is a democratic country, and its freedoms are reflected in its legalisation of same-sex marriage, the high proportion of female leaders in both the public sector and commercial settings and its abundant design inventiveness.

Incorporating a metal supply area and a workshop, the Taiwan Pavilion’s installation showcases the collaborative nature of industries in Taiwan, and outlines the diversity of business. Interactive activities are available at the Magnetic Table in the Pavilion, which allows the audience to use their creativity.

Here .Cent asked the team behind the work to share their feelings, processes and own interpretations of this unique work.

Q: When looking at this work what crossed my mind was it reminds me of a film like Metropolis, and the work by Carl Andre called Steel Zinc Plain from 1969. The idea is that a ready-made can be beautiful but that the work is always about each cog in the wheel. How does this feel to you as the creator? Are there any specific artists or filmmakers that did influence this piece for you?

Curator Ling-Li:

The subtitle of Taiwan Pavilion’s Visible Shop is “PARTS WITHOUT COVER,” where each visible component reveals its unique aesthetic, as well as their collaboration with one another.

Our inspiration comes from everyday life, particularly when passing by hardware stores and being captured by the exposed sections of square iron pipes and extruded aluminium. The functional material aesthetics become part of street decorations.

These ready-made objects exist as raw materials, awaiting definition and assembly into others. We appreciate this state, as it offers numerous possibilities and room for imagination. It is reminiscent of Taiwan, where our identity is also blurred, yet this blurriness is filled with meaningful information and energy.

Q: Why did you choose metal as a material to express something that is actually very emotive, caring, kind and expressive? When metal is cold, hard, and exactly the opposite of the warmth and connectives of community.

Curator Ling-Li:

As an architectural designer, I often visit construction sites and processing factories. Despite the cold backgrounds of these factories, the fabricators always warmly engaged in discussions with us.

The process of solving problems together felt very heartwarming, especially considering that behind them were dangerous machines. This contrast between cold devices and warm humanity further exposes the sense of community.

Facing manufacturing requires courage and practical determination, and the manufacturing process connects different individuals. When I was young, it was common for families to engage in subcontracted manufacturing in Taiwan. While assembling components, we would chat and build connections.

Q: Also, the colour palette is dark and not particularly friendly as well as the shapes being sharp square and not warm and fuzzy. Again, why did you choose these combinations of cold colours and hard shapes to represent your idea?

Curator Ling-Li:

Taiwan is a region constantly under construction, with various small factories scattered throughout the corners of cities. Our urban landscape still bears a sense of “incompleteness,” where the unfinished state and the rough edges imply numerous possibilities.

We admire countries with beautiful traditions and streetscapes, but we are also content with being the ones involved in construction and defining our own environment. The coldness before completion carries a warmth, just like the temperature in these iron factories. It is the temperature of construction, the temperature of shaping.

Q: The movement of little pistons going up and down is quite mesmerising. Why did you feel the need for them to represent the concept? Could you explain how it works and what does the movement mean?

Curator Ling-Li:

We are fond of the idea of magnetism, as it allows objects to be both independent and capable of moving together. The unseen magnetic force influences the various components. We are delighted that, based on this concept, the exhibition can feature the electromagnetic iron works by the artist team – Loudly Lighting Studio

Artist Yao:

This is actually an electromagnet. When it is electrified, it generates a downward suction motion. I enjoy working with a single material and limited objects. We find ways to let the material express itself, to see its characteristics. The materials can individually leap and also come together to form a cohesive composition. At the same time, they produce sound, creating a visual and auditory melody.

Q: Could you please explain the play of light that you have used? What does this represent?

Artist Yao:

I enjoy creating a sense of boundary when viewing artworks. The lighting in the exhibition space is divided into sections that illuminate the space itself and sections that illuminate the artworks. In the spatial areas, there are alternating patterns of light and shadow, which borrow from the vocabulary of theatre. Then, in the later sections, combined with low tones, the changes in light and shadow become even more intriguing. I want to communicate with the audience using more relaxed language.

Q: We can see that this exhibition is about community, but it would be great to understand how you all work as a community, and all of you come together to make something that personally represents so much about your own country.

Curator Ling-Li:

Taiwan is a small place, and we may not have vast technology, but we strive to do small things well. Every small component is important, and this embodies our most crucial spirit, as well as our belief in democratic values.

Q: If you were to give Taiwanese design a signature in words, how would you overall explain the aesthetic?

TDRI (Taiwan Design Research Institute):

If we were to define the Taiwanese design aesthetic in words, it would be described as a seamless fusion of tradition and modernity. Taiwanese design embodies a harmonious balance between preserving cultural heritage and embracing contemporary influences. It showcases a unique aesthetic characterized by clean lines, meticulous attention to detail, and a profound appreciation for nature. This aesthetic creates a sense of serenity and connection to the environment while incorporating simplicity, functionality, and elegance.

Additionally, due to Taiwan’s strong original equipment manufacturing (OEM) background, design not only focuses on aesthetics but also integrates advanced technology. An excellent example of this is Taiwan’s world-renowned bicycles, which excel not only in design but also in functionality and performance.

Q: What makes Taiwan’s design stand out in a global design world?


Taiwan’s design stands out in the global design world for several reasons. Firstly, our rich cultural heritage and diverse influences from East Asia and the West provide a fertile ground for creativity and innovation. Taiwanese designers draw inspiration from traditional craftsmanship, local materials, and cultural symbolism, infusing their creations with a distinct Taiwanese identity. This fusion of traditional elements with modern design sensibilities creates a unique aesthetic.

Additionally, Taiwan places a strong emphasis on technological advancements, research and development, as well as maintaining a robust manufacturing and OEM supply chain.

This allows designers to explore new possibilities and push the boundaries of design. Taiwan’s industrial clusters are located in close proximity to each other, and the short supply chain economy demonstrated significant operational advantages during the pandemic.

The integration of digital innovation, sustainable design practices, and smart technologies into various design disciplines sets Taiwan apart. This commitment to technological advancements drives innovation and ensures that Taiwanese design remains at the forefront of global trends and developments.

The Taiwan Design Research Institute (TDRI) plays a crucial role in driving innovation and promoting research in design, making Taiwan’s design stand out globally. By encouraging research initiatives, providing a platform for collaboration and knowledge exchange, and nurturing emerging design talent, TDRI enhances the quality of design output, fosters a vibrant design community, and helps Taiwanese designers gain recognition and competitiveness on the global stage.

The TDRI encourages young people to be part of the world of design is a top priority and mission for the Taiwan Design Research Institute (TDRI). Through various initiatives and projects, TDRI aims to nurture and inspire the next generation of designers. One such project is the Golden Pin Design Award, a prestigious competition that recognizes outstanding designs rooted in Chinese-speaking cultures.

The Taiwan Design Expo, another significant project organized by TDRI, showcases the best of Taiwanese design across various disciplines and offers collaboration opportunities with different city governments.

TDRI also organizes the Young Designers’ Exhibition (YODEX), which brings together the works of graduating students from different design disciplines. With a large annual attendance of over 80,000 visitors from Taiwan and abroad, YODEX provides young designers with a platform to exhibit their talent, engage with peers, and gain exposure to the design industry. This exhibition fosters international creative exchanges and contributes to the pursuit of promising design careers.

Furthermore, TDRI’s collaboration with the Ministry of Education on the Design Movement on Campus project reflects a commitment to early engagement with design. Through competence-oriented education implemented in public schools, Taiwan focuses not only on exams but also on fostering hands-on abilities, a sense of aesthetics, and the ability to co-create with others.

The Taiwan Pavilion proudly presents the “Visible Shop” exhibition from 1st June at Somerset House during London Design Biennale, 2023. The exhibition is jointly sponsored by Taiwan’s Industrial Development Bureau, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture. It is organised by the Taiwan Design Research Institute (TDRI), curated by Ling-Li Tseng, with overall design by Serendipity Studio and installation design by Loudly Lightning.

If you enjoyed reading Every Nail Has A Story why not read Mastering Metal Here

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