The art of creative ceramic at Atelier Murmur

Xinhe, Jinjin and Zhuo ‘Jo’ form a collective of 3 young Chinese ceramic designers who together experiment the art of fine ceramics under the name “Atelier Murmur”. Their studio is based in Hangzhou, in China. This city is famous for its beautiful lake, the “West Lake”, and for its preserved and restored traditional houses and streets nearby. If you intend to visit China, you really should consider to go there!

A story between France and China

Xinhe, Jinjin have lived a few years in France, from Marseille to Paris, where we met then and became friends. Zhou also studied in France for some time. They now all moved back to China to open a bigger studio in the Art Village, surrounded by the beautiful green tea fields.

We’ve had the pleasure to visit their newly installed studio, and to discover their brand new own big ceramic oven, a dream equipment for many ceramists.

I knew their ceramic work for some time, and we already own some beautiful pieces they designed, yet it was exciting to discover how they make them in their studio. From the liquid clay to the shaped object like a glass or bowl drying in a plaster mold, I realized how little I knew about ceramic-making. It has very little to do with potery!

Creation is all about taking risks

Moreover they are designers, not just makers, and as such they experiment with creative ways to facture pieces, using tree leaves or textile ribbons to imprint custom textures to the ceramic.

It’s a trial and error process. They take a lot of risks in the process of trying new things, and as such they are familiar with failures like broken pieces. As they explain: “you don’t learn if you don’t go out of your comfort zone”. As a software developer we’re also familiar with this way of thinking…

With a mainstream culture of materialism in China these days, it’s very refreshing to see young innovators like the Murmur artists working together to make their creative idealism become a realistic way of life. They know that money and business success is not the only “quality of life” metric there is. Doing what you live and living up to your true aspirations matters a lot.

That said, it does not necessarily have to interfere with commercial success either. They’ve been selling a lot of all hand-made and unique pieces like glasses, bowls and jewels in Paris streets when they started. Now they have orders for batches of hundreds of pieces, for art galeries and various clients, yet still all hand-made in their studio.

Even if they love the creative work most, from time to time they also love to sell face to face with the customers in order to get direct feedback, and this is important for them. Again as an agile software developer we’re also familiar with this way of thinking!

Find out more about their creations at Atelier Murmur.

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Shanghai World Expo 2010

In late May we’ve been to the Shanghai World Expo 2010 for two days. Here are pictures and feedback on this huge event.

As for our overall impression: if you happen to go to Shanghai, you may go see the Expo 2010, but don’t plan to go there just for that. Just as Adam Minter noted in his blog (quite useful to prepare how to visit the expo):

if you’ve traveled internationally, there’s absolutely nothing inside of any of the pavilions that you haven’t seen before

This sums up our visit quite well, I was almost disappointed in fact.

Huge spaces, huge queues

For the two days we’ve been there, the queues were absolutely terrific, up to 3h30 for the Japan pavilion and the Oil 4D movie for example, and just a bit less for the most demanded pavilions. This also means we did not visit them, waiting that long is not our cup of tea.

The 3 days tickets were no longer available, we could only buy tickets for the day, not even for the next day, meaning you have to buy them each morning. Many shops that advertise they sell tickets no longer have any (we are talking 20 days after the official opening).

We also had the feeling that the Expo definitely targets only Chinese citizens, not foreigners, for example the movies have no subtitles.

Big big thanks to all the volunteers in the Expo!  These young girls and boys that speak English are all really nice and helpful, they are the real -and only- face of the Expo, and they make the huge and rather unfriendly outdoor spaces easier to deal with. And you know what? They are not paid, but they don’t even have the right to visit themselves, apart from buying their own ticket… (at least they told me that when I asked)

Our favourite pavilions

The Dutch pavilion is my favourite, with its crazy little town in the air.

The Dutch pavilion
The Dutch pavilion

Each house in this weird village features interesting works by artists and designers, and the ground level is free and offers a place to rest on the fake grass. The principle of the “main street” with a continuous flow of visitors just means you don’t have to wait in a queue, and the view all around is beautiful, especially at the top.

The Australian pavilion is also great, for the humour of the static presentation, and also for the show which is both technically fascinating and is one of the few to address the theme of the Expo: “better city, better life”.

In this pavilion again, the continuous flow of visitors plus a smart way to enter and exit the theater makes the queue not much of a problem.

The General Motors pavilion offers a nice anticipation of what the future of the car might be, at least in countries like China, where everything is possible. Queue time was between 1h down to 20mn when we eventually visited it. I did appreciate how a brand like GM had the courage to present such a technical dream, although it reminds similar ideas from Toyota. The queue time remains reasonable thanks to no less than 4 theaters operating at the same time around a shared stage.

The pavilion of Denmark (also continuous flow, hence no queue) is nice, with its little mermaid and the funny presentation of “how we live in Denmark” (rather weird to be honest), and its crazy and convoluted bench, and again a great view at the top.

Other pavilions with not much queuing that we enjoyed: Vietnam (skinned with bamboo), New Zealand (again a continuous flow, also addresses the theme with the question: “what is better life”), Nepal (smart design in two phases, where not many people actually go to the second phase, another good idea to reduce the queue), Cuba (smart small pavilion, with just a good bar where you can buy a good drink), State Grid (with its immersive video cube), Japan Business (promotional but not too bad), CSSC (exhibition about sea ships now and in the future), and the Czech pavilion where everything is presented on the ceiling.

And a special mention for the North Korea pavilion, self-entitled “Paradise for People“, which is a summum of kitsch with its fountain and a “back to the 80’s” institutional video. Hard to explain that feeling…

And now some pictures in random order.

Architectural madness

If you like architecture, and we do, then on the outside the Expo offers a real-size gallery of architects dreams. Each pavilion is usually built to last 6 months and must be impressive enough yet green enough at the same time. The most common strategy used to that end makes use of a thin skin of something (anything lightweight indeed) to wrap a more conventional or temporary construction.

Pavilions that I find especially beautiful from the outside are the pavilions of Spain (with large petals made of small wood branches), Emirates (all golden metal), South Korea (geometric volumes in laser-cut aluminium), Australia, Germany, UK (always looks like 3D rendering, even for real), Vietnam (bamboo), Denmark, Canada (all skinned in wood), Russia, Estonia (colourful), Mexico (with the wings), Portugal (a nice mix of natural cork and red neon) and Luxembourg (looks like a monster house).

Movies and LED screens everywhere

World Expo are supposed to demonstrate stuff never seen before, or at least impressive and novel techniques and ideas; we must be very bored then, or there is nothing novel left today (which I don’t believe so), or novel things are too complex to explain or too abstract to demonstrate, or perhaps we already know everything thanks to the Internet, but every major pavilion is more or less entered around a show in a theater using immersive techniques such as 3D and every possible kind of screen madness.

LED technology is also the grand winner of the Expo 2010, with giant LED screen everywhere outside and inside each pavilion. Video-projection resists, with some video-mapping techniques, but has already lost the battle.


Pictures taken with a small Canon compact camera, in the usual Shanghai fog.

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Huang Shan Mountain – China 2010

La chaine de montagnes Huang Shan (Montagne Jaune) est un site avec des paysages absolument fabuleux. Cette beaute se merite avec ses pieds, au prix d’une ascension de pres d’une journee. Nous avons passe la nuit en haut pour pouvoir assister au fameux lever de soleil qui apparait au dessus de la mer de nuages, un spectacle vraiment magnifique. Et au retour nous avons fait escale dans le petit et charmant village de Hongcun.

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Milano Design Week 2009

De retour après 4 jours passionnants et super fatiguants aussi ! Au programme de nos visites, les hall Classic (pour rire), Design (pour voir le marché), Euroluce (toute la lumière, dans tous ses excès), et bien sûr, notre préféré, le Salon Satellite avec tous les jeunes créateurs innovants ! Et puis dans Milan, le soir, la folie dans la Zona Tortona, et le musée du design temporaire de Superstudio Più.

Back to Paris after four days at the Milano Furniture Fair, exciting but very tiring ! At the menu of our visits, the Classic hall (to laugh a bit), the Design hall (the market at a glance), Euroluce (everything about lighting, including excessive things), and of course our favorite, the Salone Satellite hosting many young and innovative creators ! And after the fair, at night, the fun in the Zona Tortona, and the temporary design museum by Superstudio Più.

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Chicago Business Trip June 2008

June 2008, Business trip to Chicago for an extended week of business meetings at CME, mostly about sharing best design and architectural ideas with some of the experts from CME. At leisure time, the food was good (we went to the good places), I did the architectural boat tour to fully discover the architectural wonders of the windy city, went to Buddy Guys to hear some genuine blues music, and even went to the beach, all that along with my very friendly Chicago colleague Peter. Was nice to see you and work with you guys!

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China September 2007

Wonderful trip to China (Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou and the surroundings) where my now family-in-law took great care of me, from good food to places to see and many other goodies. Thanks again, I felt I was home there!

Superbe voyage en Chine (Nankin, Shanghai, Suzhou dite la petite Venise chinoise, et tous les alentours) où my désormais belle-famille prit grand soin de moi, de la nourriture soignée aux centre d’intérêts à visiter parmi bien d’autres bonne choses. Un grand merci encore pour m’avoir accueilli comme un membre de la famille!

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Santorini Paradisio 2006

Santorini est une île minuscule mais magnifique, surtout dans la veille ville. La simplicité traditionnelle constraste avec le luxe des boutiques et des hotels: piscine, spa, terrasse privée, le tout devant le paysage splendide du volcan effondré  dans la baie. (oui nous avons gouté tout ca…)

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