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Wei Li's Encased Leather Luggage

3D models of the human form meet handmade leather for functional art

by David Graver
on 20 February 2015
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While exemplary luggage brands abound, we've never quite seen anything like artist Wei Li's most recent collection, dubbed "Encased." Li evokes physical attributes, by way of body, balance and tension—from actual human models. 3D renderings lead to mold construction, as Li ultimately modifies high end leather so that it bears something sensual, equal parts soft and strong.

"I guess I didn’t start the project knowing that I’m creating body-shaped suitcases. It kind of naturally evolved around my two separate interests: sculpting the human body and working with leather. I’ve always been interested in the human body as a vessel of emotions and sensations," she shares with CH. "I’ve also been working with leather for a while, experimenting with different ways to manipulate it. Eventually I came to the idea of an 'encased' body." With this concept, tensed muscles and sinewy attributes become an element of expression more so than a literal representation of the body.

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Li began by collecting reference images of the manifestations of architectural beauty in the human figure, including both body sculptures and photography. Touching upon tension and emotion, she replicated the positions and roughly sketched them, before scanning with the free iOS app 123D Catch. Upon cleaning the scan, she CNC machined the molds and worked the leather by hand.

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"The digital fabrication technology [3D scanning and CNC machining] basically made this project possible," she continues. "As an artist I’m especially interested in inventing new processes, and combining new digital fabrication methods with traditional craft is definitely one area that I’d like to explore more. I think one common mental trap when people talk about technology/digital fabrication is that they assume that things created with digital technology have specific, artificial aesthetics. I personally think there’s a rich area where new digital technology and traditional craft collide to create things that couldn’t be imagined before." To finalize each piece, Li 3D-prints specialized zipper handles in bronze, based on her own hands. They function as a signature on a work that's as much about its subject as it is the creator.

The "Encased" luggage pieces are available for purchase, through discussion direct outreach to Wei Li, and she also plans on making further bags customized in conjunction with the physical forms of potential buyers.

Images courtesy of Wei Li

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