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SPACESHI: romantic past & inescapable future

Brand Profile

Conceived at the crossroads of the ancient and the modern, indie dark-horse jewellery, Shi Yao takes his inspiration for his SPACESHI design house from places both intimate and highly conceptual. Created using the artesianal techniques his hometown is famous for, Shi Yao's pieces show a deep love and respect for the terroir that bore him. With each painstakingly whittled pendant, SPACESHI brings us at once closer a romantic past and an inescapable future. Steeped in history, nostalgic for the charm of early human civilisation and yet desperate for what's to come, SPACESHI's hand-carved pieces are wearable sculptures, each as entirely unique as a supernova.

Shi Yao Profile

Born into an aerospace community in China's Shaanxi province, Shi Yao grew up surrounded by machinery, factories and fighter jets. Raised by an aircraft engineer father, he inherited a love for hands-on work and a fascination with the stars. With many days spent watching his father work and tinkering alongside him, Shi Yao developed a knack for crafting and an interest in miniatures. He would go on to hone those skills during his time at Xi 'an College of Fine Arts, where he connected with master artisans who trained him in the classical carving techniques we see in his work today.

Design Concept & Stories

 
 

 

Shi Yao, obsessed with Chinese civilization and has infinite yearning for space, concentrates the secret of the universe in his sliver-made astronaut.
 

 

From growing up in an aerospace community, to majoring in woodcarving at Xi 'an Academy of Fine Arts, then quitting his job to start design business in 2017 and finally founding SPACESHI in 2019, he has been incorporated influences traditional culture and childhood memories. Adopting traditional techniques to present avant-garde design feature, he empowers hand-sculpting with modern vision.
 

 

These hand-carving pieces provide texture, and a warmth that can't be recreated by machine. Using the lost wax method of hand carving wax to create silver casts that are then, themselves hand carved for further details; each carving is treated as a stand-alone art piece.
 

 

A closer look at any SPACESHI item provides, through the attention to detail and the gentle strokes left behind from human intervention, that is the truth. Each piece truly is a work of art.
 

 

This is no more obvious than with his Armor & Lion Dance collection, in which Shi Yao demonstrates a mastery of the ancient future. With hand- cast pendants created as a mix between the armour of the Tang dynasty, and a 21st century space suit, the collection seamlessly balances themes of the past and future.
 

 

Space suits are a common theme in Shi Yao's work, and not without reason. Space exploration is the designers life-long dream, but that's not the only personal touch he's added to his work. His designs are peppered with references to his own personal mythology, one only has to look.
 

 

Shi Yao never gave up on the dreams of his childhood, instead cast them in silver to share with all of us. Each of his pieces holds within it the tenderness of those dreams, a love for the history of ones home and a sense of wonder. And of course, a whole lot of silver.

Interview Q&A transcript

 
 

1.You were raised surrounded by technology in an aerospace community. I bet that influenced your work! Tell us a little about your childhood.

In the community where I grew up, you often see factories and fighter jets, which made me curious about space as a child. I also witnessed the launch of Shenzhou V and VI. I can still remember that feeling of excitement.
 

2.How did you get into sculpture? Do you still remember your first piece?

At about four or five years old, I learned to carve with a razor blade. Then, when I was in the third grade, I made a small clay figure in school art class. From then on, I threw myself into carving. I would always be carving small hand figures with my carving knife at school, even during class. At that time, we didn't have too many toys, so I would make some model planes and rockets to play with.

3.The concept of outer-space is very futuristic. Many space-themed designs are made with innovative materials and modern techniques, what made you choose a traditional way to make them?

I really wanted to incorporate cultural elements into my design and make astronauts with Chinese characteristics, rather than just following the standard picture of a Western astronaut. I've loved sculpture since childhood, played with mediums like clay sculpture, wood carving, jade carving and silver carving, etc. Out of all the materials I've worked with, I like the three-dimensional texture and luster of silver most, so I chose to work with silver for this line.
 

4. You grew up and studied in Shaanxi, a place known for many traditional skills. How was that experience for you?

My hometown places great importance on traditional art skills like paper cutting, shadow play, New Year paintings and so on. While in university, I spent a lot of time visiting cultural heritage masters and studying various traditional handicraft skills. Then I found that all these techniques have something in common — an attention to texture and color scheme — so I tried to combine them into craving.
 

5. Among all of your pieces, which one is your favorite and why?

My personal favorite is the Lion Dance collection, which is inspired by the Lion Dance and contemporary armor. Based on the armor of the Tang Dynasty, I created a retro style spacesuit, the armor symbolizing guarding universal peace. The figures position is based on the lion dance, which gives the small astronaut a more powerful stance, while also symbolizing a vigorous and brave spirit and auspicious wishes.

6. Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.

I never thought about giving up carving, and never forgot my childhood dream. I always created in my spare time and tried to create more styles and combine more techniques. In 2017, I left my hometown and came to metropolitan Shenzhen to start my own business. SPACESHI was officially established in 2019 as a brand, and I set up my own studio in a Creative Park in 2021.
 

7. What values does your brand stand for that you want to convey to consumers?

Space exploration is the epitome of my childhood dream. I think a lot of other people have dreamed about becoming an astronaut, but when they grow up, they become more realistic and the dream fades. I want my work to be a reminder to people to keep their ideals and enthusiasm even as life grows more complicated, and stay true to their dreams.

8. There are also many every-day elements in your works, such as snowboarding, guitar and so on. Are there any stories behind those?

These are all my hobbies. I like to try new sports and meet new people, so sometimes fragmented design inspiration just comes to me. For example, the Meri Snow Mountain Ring was inspired by my trip to Shangri-La, and I designed the Rocker astronaut to show my love for rock music. That's my philosophy. Life is not only about making money and working, we must love life and have ideals. So I want to share these values and remind my fans to enjoy life.
 

9. How long does it take from conception to production? Can you tell us about your creative process?

My design method is quite special. I do not draw design drafts, instead I carve directly on wax when I get inspiration. I like to complete the creation in one go. Because I think drawing and casting are like creating twice, and I really believe in first-run inspiration. The whole process is to carve wax, then mold, and send it to factory to cast silver, finally to carve directly into the silver cast piece. If the design is simple, it can be done within one or two weeks, but sometimes it can take 7-8 months, as I may find some details need to be perfected. In some cases I'll revise 30 or 40 times.
 

10. All of your designs are hand-sculpted, which has to be time consuming. What motivates you to keep doing this for years?

I try not to just throw myself into design, leaving all my life behind. I consistently develop hobbies, and try out new mediums when I get inspiration. Because of my lifestyle, there is rarely a dry spell for inspiration, or a sense of boredom.

11. What are your design principles?

My design principle is to be original. In my opinion, originality does not just mean not copying others' works, but obtaining inspiration from raw things, like nature, history, culture, and my personal interests. I won't adjust designs according to trends. One of the ways I find inspiration is to visit museums and dig out the historical background, then combine my own life experience and perception to create something new.
 

12. What kind of feeling, or identity, do you want people to express when wearing SPACESHI jewelry?

I think my customers are those who keep dreaming, just like me. They don't follow trends, but stick to their self-held beliefs despite the flow of culture.
 

13. As SPACESHI grows, can you tell us about your new plans in the near future?

I plan to launch two product lines to speak to a global audience. In addition to the current handcrafted silver, there will be a more cyberpunk elements upcoming in a pioneering product line. I'm hoping to experiment with new technologies such as 3D printing, but my main focus will always be handcrafts that maintain cultural significance.

 

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