Dazed Digital


Nini Sum's IdleBeats

May 24, 2011

The prolific Shanghai artist and one-half of the acclaimed IdleBeats studio talks city inspirations

  • Text by Terence Teh

From oil painting to illustrating to screen printing, Nini Sum is a prolific artist from Shanghai, who together with Gregror Koerting founded the awesome screen print and design studio, IdleBeats. Ever since her debut exhibition, "Parallel Universe", Nini Sum has been rising to the top of her game, with an incredibly diverse style that hops from surrealism to pop... It's a new vision of Chinese street art that has evolved into folk tales and a unique Shanghai style. "I moved to Shanghai because it's close to my hometown Nanjing and I love to go back see the Great Walls once two months or so," smiles Nini. "Shanghai's like a black hole, spins fast while spreading out plastic-ish smell, fascinating but also dangerous. I can't resist living here, at least for the recent couple of years."

Satellite Voices: how did IdleBeats start, what projects and creative outlook?
Nini Sum: IdleBeats was just a fun idea I had, making nice art and sell them for real affordable price so that normal people can have original art rather than Ikea plastic. It kept growing since I met my partner Gregro Koerting - the greatest but shyest and nicest artist from Germany. Now besides print making we also do fun design and illustration works, a lot of them are for bands and cool musicians - album art, gig posters etc. We are also inviting artists around the world to make more an art print series, it's temporarily called 'IdleBeats and Friends'.

SV: How would you describe your style of work?
Nini Sum: I like trying out different medias, painting, computer art, screen printing, pencil drawing, sculpture, installation - doing one thing or following one style all the time drives me crazy. The inspiration comes from daily life and a part of them are the pictures that my iPhone takes. Then I process these real scenes with some brain cells as well as screen-shots from daydreams, so it becomes like a pot of soup with real eggs and surreal chicken.

SV: Can you tell us the story behind one of your pieces?
Nini Sum: "Mr.Fish's Dinner" is a gig poster I designed, then hand-pulled for Shanghai-based music crew Sub-Culture. IdleBeats works with Sub-Culture to invite different artists to design their monthly poster then screen print a batch. This is the January one (see left). I think i've seen it in my head somewhen last winter and it stays there wouldn't go away.

SV: Where do you live in Shanghai and what inspires you about that area of town?
Nini Sum: I live downtown SH, in the French concession area, a 10 minute walk from the studio. It's like a world village or small-scale New York City, easy access to tacos and 5rmb fried rice, nice coffee and fresh fruit, night clubs and trees, tall office buildings filled with money smell and old flats with silver-hair nannies. It's nice to just bike or flip flop around at a chill summer morning and run into some friends who are trying to find their way home.

SV: What does your city mean to you?
Nini Sum: That I'm able to choose how to live.

SV: What artists in Shanghai are doing it big for you right now?
Nini Sum: Well, living here is like a movie itself, Shanghai's filled with plastic smells and surreal scenes, these things sometimes make people frustrated but they are actually real excitement if you treat em nicely but not being too greedy.

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