Tulip Pyramid is a 17th-century Dutch invention. However, its form, its motifs and its material imitate Chinese porcelain and pagoda.
I began this project to continue the process of replicating and transforming which is the history of Tulip Pyramid. I wanted to explore the question of ‘creativity in copying’ and the question of identity.
If a Tulip Pyramid were to be imitated in nowadays China - a country which is a mixture of common and private ownership, of collectivism and individualism, troubled by the issue of counterfeiting and appropriating intellectual property - what would result be? I invited five young Chinese designers from different design disciplines, to reflect the culture and the history of imitation and innovation. They each designed two layers of the pyramid. I claim ownership of the final product together with these five designers, to further explore the intellectual property of this object.
I see myself as a Tulip Pyramid. My origins are in China and I’ve been transformed in the Netherlands. What does that make me?
The education in the Netherlands gave me another perspective of design. I found a flexible area outside the practice of design for mass-production, using my personal experience to ask questions about mass-production in a design discourse. For a second pyramid, I imitated and mixed up famous Dutch designers’ iconic works with my former works, to question their influence and the institution that formed me.
Graduation is the starting point of this long term project. I expect that in the future, this project will keep growing and develop into mass-production.
I invited five Chinese designers from my generation to copy one of the large Tulip Pyramids together with me. Rongkai He，Cheng Guo , Weiyi Li , Dangdang Xing , Dawei Yang are from different design professions, including graphic design, industrial design, programming and traditional ceramics. The reason I chose these designers is by researching their former works I found potential links with this project. I contacted them and we communicated digitally, mostly using a mobile chat application.
First I shared the information and my research in a common folder with them, and gave the commission to each person to copy two storeys of the Tulip Pyramid. Each designer was free to use his or her own method of copying while keeping to the original size and the typical blue-and-white color. I had my own two storeys to make, and at the same time, I was the organizer, coordinator and sometimes their assistant. This pyramid will be a combination of our personalities and visions of history.
The original Tulip Pyramids traditionally came as a pair. I wanted to make another pyramid and provide a design method based on my own personality. The collaboration was a way of putting different languages together, and using the languages of others as a design method for an individual. Echoing the collaboration of other pyramids, I decided to find five renowned Dutch designers and study their works. The challenge was that I didn’t want to make another pyramid with clear boundaries of layers and merely display which designers’ language I was using because that would create a distinctly predictable result. Instead, I wanted to find a balance between playful creation and serious research. The research aims not only to support an aesthetic vision but also to interact with the material and methods used by these designers.
When I considered their works as material for a pyramid, I tried to imagine that I was the 17th century Dutch potter seeing the image of a Chinese porcelain pagoda for the first time. I was free to understand what I saw without any rules or known interpretations.
On the top of the original Tulip Pyramid is the statue of Queen Mary II (1662–1695), because the initial design was made for her. I viewed this as the symbol of ownership of the vase, so I invited Rongkai He to create a similar symbol emphasising common ownership on the top.
He designed a performance for us in a Chinese chatting application called WeChat, the main tool we used to discuss the project for over three months. The text box was stacked like the structure of the Tulip Pyramid, so we texted with the certain order of emojis designed by Rokngkai He that imitated the appearance of the vase. He recorded the performance and turned it into an animation afterwards. Our collaboration is highly dependent on the Internet and some of us have never met in real life, but we know each other’s profle pictures from the chatting app.