Do you remember those Pin Art executive toys that were all the rage in the 80s? I confess I don’t really, or at least, not from their heyday. I discovered the odd curios that survived purges; the ones that languished forgotten amidst forests of photo frames.
Do you remember that tingly delight as you pushed your hand against the pins (or your face if you were small and thought it might be a good idea) and everything moved, creating a perfect imprint of whatever you pushed up to it?
Now imagine wearing something that responsive, enjoying the feeling as each individual pin or – in this case – bead rippled with your movement, with the shape of your collarbone, the twist of your head. This was my first, unforgettable experience with Wanshu Li’s jewellery. Did I mention that it glows under UV light?
The launch of Craft Design House coincided with the launch of our first exhibition, an exhibition that celebrated innovative craft and design in Scotland, and encouraged designer makers to challenge themselves with their practice. Wanshu Li took part in this exhibition, and her collection included some incredible pieces, but her showstopper was a green collar. It was so tactile that I couldn’t stop myself from holding it in my hands and watching as each link and bead undulated, or from stroking it as I reverently laid it on its plinth. I had never seen anything like it.
‘I would like to provide wearers with a live and intimate wearing experience for the body.’
Her jewellery is intended as a ‘multi-sensory experience’ involving touch, sound and vision. Her unique work is characterised by the free movement of every single bead, painstakingly painted and attached individually, and the soft sounds they create as they move. Each piece, and each bead of each piece, develops a luxuriously sensorial relationship with the wearer as it plays uniquely upon the skin.
Originally from the town of Harbin in northeast China, where she first displayed her creative flair and attended her first jewellery workshop, beginning her love-affair with jewellery, Wanshu studied Jewellery and Silversmithing at the Beijing University of Technology, and then pursued postgraduate study at the ECA.
‘For me, [living in Edinburgh] was the first time that I lived and studied in a foreign country for such a long time. After gradually being familiar with my studies and life here, I found myself becoming more independent, confident and open-minded especially in developing my work. In order to find more inspiration, I often go to museums, galleries, and travel around Europe.’
Edinburgh appealed to Wanshu for its artistic atmosphere and cultural diversity and inclusiveness, but travelling in general is vital to her work. She actively seeks out new cultures and perspectives and relishes the continuous fresh sources of inspiration that she gains from travel.
Exploring and pushing the materials with which she works is Wanshu’s favourite stage of her jewellery-making process, and her graduate collections led her to experiment with UV light and florescent materials as she sought to capture the essence of ‘free-swimming marine animals such as jellyfish or coral, which are soft, light, and glowing with characteristic amazing colours’ and made her determined to combine a sense of movement and light in her work.
In the future Wanshu Li hopes to collaborate with fashion designers, lighting designers and dancers to push her work and challenge her practice in different ways. We can’t wait to see what she will come up with next! Wanshu Li is currently working with the Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show, courtesy of an introduction by Craft Design House. The fashion show will take place on March 11th.
Find out which of our other designer makers will also be involved in the show via our Journal over the coming weeks.
Check out this video interview and footage of Wanshu Li’s incredible jewellery-making practice by our very own filming duo Pete and Eilidh!
Wanshu Li’s work will soon be available via Craft Design House, keep an eye out on her showcase.
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