From collections inspired by Japanese fast food and Cyberpunk, to the role material innovation plays in sustainable practice, Oria Zhang’s delightfully subversive jewellery is designed to provoke, educate and amuse.
The Chinese-born, London-based artist graduated with a BA (Hons) in Jewellery Design from Central Saint Martins this summer and it was her quirkily cool graduate collection, Cyber Noodle Rush, that made us want to find out more about Zhang and her idiosyncratic brand, Oria Qi.
Cyber Noodle Rush 2021
Maia Adams: What themes do you explore through your jewellery?
Oria Zhang: I like to design works that make people laugh or feel humorous, and which integrate interesting objects and small elements of life. I also like to study topics related to future science and technology and – through my jewellery – I’m eager to explore what people's lives might be like.
MA: You meet someone at a party. How do you explain your jewellery to them?
OZ: I believe my design is joyful, fun and absurd; it integrates exaggeration with wearability. It’s made from traditional metals crafted into perverse shapes, which leaves people with a feeling that’s simultaneously familiar and alien. My hope is that people can express their conventional and alternative sides when wearing my jewellery.
Cyber Noodle Rush, 2021
MA: What inspired you to transform the humble noodle into jewellery for your graduate collection?
OZ: I wanted to use instant noodles – a fast, convenient, processed food – to represent people's increasingly technological life. As the basic requirement for human survival, food is highly connected with technology. In my jewellery, the shining gold metal surface together with the shape of a ubiquitous type of fast food represents my thoughts on the value of, and desire for, industrialised food in a future world.
MA: You have declared an interest in material innovation. How does this show in your jewellery?
OZ: Exploring new materials, and how they interact with the body, helps me to generate concepts that reflect the time we live in.
In Cyber Noodle Rush, for example, I used 3D printed resin. I chose this material and application to reflect my concept of high-technology and low living in the Cyperpunk world. Spraying the resin pink transformed it into flamboyant jewellery that represents the fast phase of technology versus the low quality of living hidden just under the bright surface.
The other material I used is mother of pearl. I built all the shapes – which were inspired by dried onion, eggs and fishcakes in instant noodle soup – in CAD and then laser cut them before finishing by hand.
In my earlier Twisted Metal pieces, I used waste copper and bronze wire to make a flat metal sheet, transforming familiar but unwanted metals into jewellery with beautiful textures. Working in this way allows me to communicate the concept of environmental protection to my audience through a combination of beauty and practicality.
MA: It sounds like you have an interest in sustainability too. What role did this play in Cyber Noodle Rush?
OZ: I wanted to address our fast-consuming, materialistic society, and the wider conversation around environmental protection. This led me to explore aluminium which is found in large quantities on earth’s crust. Not only is aluminium durable and lightweight, it’s also infinitely recyclable.
I created 3D printed aluminium ‘stones’ which I set in gold-plated copper rings. In this ‘metal inlaid with metal’ technique, two completely different metals collide. Unlike the polished precious metal settings that are traditionally used to enhance gemstones, there is a strong contrast in my work between the dim, rough and odd-shaped aluminium ‘stones’ and the shining metal. The large difference in colour and texture forms an absurd and unexpected visual effect.
Skull earring; Crazy Cities, 2020
MA: As a Chinese jewellery designer in London, how has studying and living in this amazing city shaped your work?
OZ: This diverse city has brought me a keen sense of material change and design process.
My studies in London enabled me to learn about the evolution of contemporary jewellery and how attitudes to shape and materials have changed over time. For example, in the past, new materials like acrylic distinguished contemporary jewellery from traditional jewellery, but now, environmental protection is a topic of concern for all designers, and the use of more uncommon recyclable materials has become a trend.
MA: Which other jewellers, or artists, do you admire and why?
OZ: I am a big fan of Solange Azagury-Partridge. Her doodle ring is quite inspiring. She juxtaposes casual lines with exquisite stones in a way that is extremely pop and fashion. She switches back and forth between advanced materials and abstract topics. Casual yet orderly, the combination of colors and materials, as well as themes, creates a visually magical experience.
I also like Peter Chang very much. The jewellery items he makes have special beauty and balance, and each piece is like a small sculpture. I am fond of Claes Oldenburg as well. His works transcend time, turning food with a short shelf life into permanent abstract sculptures, mysterious and full of vitality, familiar and strange. I really like the timeless feeling his works bring.
Cyber Noodle Rush, photo @buibiukkkk; Crazy Cities 2020
MA: What’s next for Oria Qi now that you have graduated?
OZ: I hope that as a jewellery designer, I can produce more special works that will trigger people to think about life, the environment, and the future. I also want to continue my focus on the aesthetic possibilities of discarded materials so as to show people the complete work while drawing their attentions to the materials used to make it.