Wade Wang (王善揚), a twenty-something from China’s Fujian Province, is on the other side of the Strait for the first time. So far, he has been to Eslite Bookstore to collect an award — a second-place finish for his digital animation about his father. He has also spent a day at an art exhibition in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.
“I went in and thought the gallerists really cared about the works. It wasn’t even their own — they just came over to talk about it and shared their interpretation. [Taiwan’s] art culture seems quite rich,” he says.
For a designer working hard to make it, it’s a nice reprieve.
“When I was little I wanted to become a great man like my father, a police officer. Ultimately I chose to do art, and then my other family members said, ‘You learn art, is that suitable?’ They worried. My father, though, supported me and didn’t place any pressures on me,” Wang says.
YOUNG DESIGNERS TODAY
Fathers and gallerists aside, the structural pressures on the modern young designer are strong and mostly unpleasant. There’s the growing need to know the business end, plus soaring education costs and a surplus of designers from degree programs vying for limited opportunities.
Chanon Treenet, grand prize winner of the Taiwan International Student Design Competition, feels the pressures intensely.
“I could not stay in the UK after my graduation because I needed to apply for a visa. To get the visa, I could not do my style of experimental work. I would maybe have needed to apply for a job as a cartoon animator,” says Treenat, 27, a soft-spoken animator from Bangkok, who won the NT$400,000 grand prize.
“In Thailand, there is a market for my kind of work, but it is very small,” he says.
His film Neither Lit nor Dark and Wang’s Memories are currently on view at Eslite Bookstore on Dunhua Road, along with other winners of the Taiwan International Student Design Competition.
This year, the international jury awarded cash prizes to 37 designers under 30 in four categories — product design, visual design, digital animation and brand-specific design — plus one grand prize from any category.
As in previous years, winners have avoided political briar bushes and international society’s big flashpoints, working instead to solve uncontroversial problems like East Asia’s ageing population.
There are products for seniors such as Easy Cut — a medicine bottle with its own pill-cutting device built into the cap — and Cyclecart, a grocery caddy that can be folded into a walker.
The gold medal in the product design category went to Taiwanese college seniors Lee Hsi-i (李思誼) and Tseng Yu-cheng (曾郁程) for their Balance Lever Seesaw Game (槓桿翹翹板遊戲) — a seesaw with an adjustable fulcrum. Its mission is bittersweet: allowing an only child to enjoy a seesaw with a portly parent, possibly his only playmate in a society with a declining birthrate.
Among the lot, Treenet’s Neither Lit Nor Dark is the rare design that barely makes an effort at being commercially viable.
“Many audiences watch it and tell me they do not understand,” he says. “Normally when people make animation they make cartoon animations. I tried to do something a little different.”
Neither Lit Nor Dark follows a boy as he walks home through dim alleys and ochre fields. There’s no narrative, only scenes, and the sound of the boy’s breathing puts the film in a weird place — he’s afraid of something, maybe a caged mouse that’s spinning alone in a wheel or a thundercloud releasing ribbons of black rain in the distance. With each step, the rasping accelerates and seeps out louder from the surround sound system, until you want to shut it off.
“I want the audience to feel fear. It’s horror animation,” Treenet says.
In Thailand, he’s trying to make ends meet, bouncing from commission to commission while aiming at art that is radical.
“I will put my funding into a longer film that I can show to people. Eventually, I hope to do work that is big,” he says.