Chen Cheng: Dancing on my own

Jewellery / 22 Feb 2018 / Shirley Chen, Chen Cheng

There are more and more young Chinese talents start to attract global attention, Chen CHENG is one of them. In this year’s most important event showcasing the emerging designs with 3,000 participants— New Designers, Chen Cheng brought out her graduation collection ‘Dancing On My Own’ and won the Goldsmiths’ Company Award for Jewellery. The only other major prize for jewellery was attained by another Chinese designer, Sheng Zhang, who is from the same class as Chen Cheng in Birmingham City University (BA (Hon) Jewellery Design & Related Product).

Chen Cheng believes that contemporary jewellery is interactive because it demands a response, which can either be physical or emotional. Through kinetic movement and visual interaction, her work is designed to be explored.

“My pieces invoke play. Every element is movable, and this quality enhances the physical movement of the wearer”.

Combining her own aesthetic and working style, Cheng has taken inspiration from shapes and moving modes found in the human body, which are also expressed through modern and traditional ballet dancing. Applying this motion to express the mystique and magical forms of the human body was the key determining process in her jewellery design.

Using fine wire and simple metal shapes to create the minimal forms allows the audiences to pay close attention to the movement of the work. Akin to dancing, each piece’s “performance” holds its own surprise in style and character.

Cheng hopes that her work will encourage the wearers to touch, feel and discover the meaning behind her work. She hopes that through a deeper appreciation of such interaction, jewellery can be better understood and more people would be able to appreciate the different expressions and styles of contemporary jewellery.

Dancing On My Own


CDC interview with Chen Cheng

How did you find the inspiration for ‘Dancing On My Own”? Why did you choose Ballet dancing as your research?

I like to get inspired by things surrounding me because I think that my work could have the soul only when it is carrying my personal thoughts. Accidentally, I joined a dancing class last summer. While I was learning, I found that dancing is an extremely difficult thing to persist in, no matter from a physical or phycological perspective. The body got tired, and keep practising the same routine made me feel bored. I was thinking, in order to dance, you have to break through the limits of both your body and mind.

Do you think that making jewellery is such a similar thing, which needs excessive practising and difficult to persist in?

I think everything is not easy, when you want to do something well you need to pay the price. Although our bodies do have limits, our minds don’t. When we manage to break the limits of mind, we can extend the limits of our bodies. For example, what differentiates a professional dancer from a normal person? In the end, you will be amazed by what you can achieve.

So when you get the inspirations from dancing, how can you transfer them into designs?

This is a painful process. I would like my piece to carry the message, to speak for itself. I was wondering how to deliver the message without words, like a puppy, when she moves or woofs we know she’s hungry. Then I was thinking, combining with the dance influence, maybe I should make my jewellery move first?

The moving jewellery is indeed fun! But how can you make sure it speaks the right message? Like the ongoing debate about modern art, do you think the designer’s intention matters at the end? Or are the audience’s options more important?

For an art piece, I think if there are more diverse options towards it, it is more successful because it makes people think. As for a design piece, apart from the basic functions, we need to give it a ‘life’, that is its concept. The designer’s intention is to deliver the correct concept. But there are exceptions, as the saying ‘there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people's eyes’, isn’t it? If people can’t understand my work, I will go criticise myself. You sell jewellery, but others see it as an engine, isn’t it bad? Quite a few people think that my pieces are about the universe, the moon and that sort, I was actually pretty sad. But gradually I think they did look alike, so I don’t blame them. Nowadays there are cakes that look like motorcars, proving that human creativity and imagination is very powerful. Initially, I wish people to know my jewellery pieces through playing with them, finding that it is difficult to control their movements on the hands, then to understand my design concept.

Cheng's sketchbook

Talking about breaking through the limitations of body and mind, when you were making this collection, did you come across some unforgettable difficulties? Have you ever felt that you had reached your limit?

After all, there is a thing called talent. Everyone has different limits. For you, it is the limit, but for others, maybe not. My concept is based on myself. The most difficult part of this project is how to make it ‘move’. I need to do lots of research and experiments, to finalise a perfect movement for my pieces, how fast or slow it should spin. I have encountered some physical difficulties at the same time. I was allergic to resin, and I cut my hand from the high-speed spinning machine which moves like an electric fan.
Every piece needs to be polished to a mirror finish, from the rough sanding paper to the finest one, and finally with a cloth. Just the polishing process can take at least 4 hours for each piece. I was doing this so much all the time that my fingerprint couldn’t unlock iPhone.

Polishing process / before gold-plating

Image by Chen Cheng


Instagram: chen_jeweller

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