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It seemed like any other Thursday night at this stretch of shophouses along Guangdong Road except that a continuous stream of people had been entering and coming out of a narrow and dimly-lit staircase all night long. Tucked away in an unsuspecting neighborhood on the second floor of old shophouses is a small contemporary art gallery called da>SPACE and tonight marks the opening of the first Platform Toy Exhibition by Chinese designers in China.

The brainchild of Beijing designer WZL and Eddi Yip, one of the founders of da>SPACE, the “I” Designer Figure is China’s first platform toy. Platform toys are also known as canvas toys because they allow designers to express their creativity on a 3D canvas – the body of all-white toy figures. The “I” Designer Figure was first introduced in March this year and can now be bought in 8 countries worldwide, including Europe and USA.

Encouraged by the success, da>SPACE was inspired to organize an exhibition of “I” Designer Figures whereby Chinese designers/artists would be invited to collaborate on the project and decorate the “I” Designer Figures. Through I, China, da>SPACE hopes to become a platform for Chinese artists/designers – facilitating real life interaction as well as to unite them as China’s voice to the world.

Bao Jian is one of those designers who believes in the cause for interaction between designers. The Hangzhou native whose participating entry “I, Bao” draws inspiration from Chinese elements had some words of advice for young people who are interested in starting out – “Passion comes first before anything else and just keep on drawing.”

Artists/designers across China were given 2-3 weeks to personalize the toys that were distributed to them. In the end, 102 designers contributed to the exhibition and many more (estimated at an impressive 200/300) turned up for the opening reception. While platform toy art is a fairly new art form in China, it is extremely exciting to see the buzz this exhibition has generated among students, creative industry workers and even the most unlikely suspects, elderly local men in singlets and shorts from the neighborhood.

Bringing art to the people – both to those who have the impression that street art must be illegal in order to be street art and to others who have never been in contact with art before – is exactly what da>SPACE aims to do, which is also why da>SPACE makes sure its exhibitions are free of charge.

One of the attendees of the exhibition opening, Saint Tang Xu, a 20-year-old student revealed that her fascination with toys had started 3-4 years ago when she looked back at her childhood toys and realized she now likes them even more. Her most expensive buy would have to be a RMB 3,500 Blythe doll she got a friend to buy from Japan.

So who hasn’t already read about China’s rocketing economic growth in the newspapers? Now da>SPACE wants people to sit up and realize the explosive developments in China’s art scene too. For a start, I, China will hope to become an ongoing project which will involve more artists and more cities across China, eventually overseas ones too. With its schedules fully booked till March 2007, I think we can expect to witness more electrifying urban art collaborations from da>SPACE in time to come.


Date: 29th June – 31st July, 2006
Place: da>SPACE
Address: No. 84, Fujian Zhong Road, 2nd Floor, Huang Pu, 200001, Shanghai, China

Text and photos: Soh Wee Ling

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Stephen Cheetham