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Interview: Gwenaëlle Chassin de Kergommeaux

We talk to the GCDK De.Sign principal about eggshell maps of China, furniture re-purposing and more

by Alessandro De Toni
on 05 December 2012
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Created in 2004 by Gwenaëlle Chassin de Kergommeaux as an artistic outlet, GCDK De.Sign is an unconventional furniture design company started in Paris and is now based in Beijing. Chassin de Kergommeaux bases her work on careful research of aesthetics and materials, using eggshells, silk, gold leaf, sharkskin, mother of pearl and lacquered wood in her finely crafted pieces.

Starting with vintage furniture from the 1920s-1960s, the designer applies her unique eye and rich but unexpected cadre of materials to bring them to new life in creative and often surprising ways. In addition to re-imagined antiques Chassin de Kergommeaux creates contemporary custom pieces from scratch.

In 2008 Chassin de Kergommeaux moved to Beijing, where she continues to explore and expand her work, with a specific focus on eggshell maps of China as a way to represent her adopted country. Pieced together as delicate mosaic inlays, the maps blend the tradition of Chinese craftsmanship and cultural heritage with a view of contemporary China.

To learn more about GCDK De.Sign we visited Chassin de Kergommeaux in her work space in an old alley of Beijing.

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How was your passion for interior design and decoration born?

I have always liked to go to flea markets in Paris and find old furniture to fix. It was a good way to experiment with lacquer and shark skin, and it worked well for three years back there. People liked the idea of something unique and the fact that I was giving a new life to something old. I had an atelier in Paris and I was sharing the space with other artisans and creatives, which was great because we were organizing joint exhibitions together.

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Some of your materials like lacquer and sharkskin are traditionally used in China. Did you already have any experience in China before relocating to Beijing?

Well, I actually had a boyfriend of Chinese origin and we decided to move here together, so I had to start from zero to build my clientele. What was very interesting is that I was already using techniques that are traditionally from China. For example lacquer, eggshells and sharkskin were materials that were already used here for a long time, some of which faded away, so it was even more important for me to follow this way, but starting from Chinese furniture. And I also thought that it could be difficult to get known at the beginning, but people here could be interested in seeing how a foreign artist uses old Chinese techniques. It was not very easy to find old furniture here, in China there's not really the habit to look for old stuff. So at the beginning I decided to design some on my own and have them custom-made—decorative screens in particular.

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You started with vintage furniture but in the last two years you have been focusing on eggshell maps of China, how did you develop this idea?

I had the idea to craft something which could in some way represent China. Actually, we had a map of China at home and a friend of mine once asked me why I never thought about making one with eggshells. I didn't like the idea back then, but a year later it kind of matured in my mind and I asked myself, "why not?"—eggshells could be a way to express Chinese cultural heritage and symbolism.

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Eggshell is a material which multiplies and gives you the idea of an expanding mass of people. Moreover, when I arrived in China in 2008 it was the peak time of economic boom and so I got the idea of a country whose burst of growth was like an explosion in millions of fragments.

I started from very concrete ideas in terms of representation, for the first one I drew inspiration from Chinese white and blue porcelain, the second one had the picture of a crane, a symbol of longevity and wisdom, and later on I adopted a more conceptual representation of Chinese demography; the increasing density of fragments in the major cities, urbanization and population movements out of the rural areas. I've also started experimenting with different type and shades of eggshells.

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GDCK De.Sign creations can be found in Beijing at Wuhao. For custom-made pieces and delivery outside China, contact Chassin de Kergommeaux directly through her website.

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