Beatrice Leanza, an Italian curator, and critic have a rich background in art, design, and architecture. She has extensive experience in the industry, having previously worked as the creative director and co-founder of The Global School, China’s first independent institute dedicated to design and creative research.
After a MA degree in Asian studies from Ca’ Foscari University, she began her career working with Ai Weiwei as a curator at China Art Archives and Warehouse. (Mehta 2020) Based in Beijing since 2002, she founded a creative studio named BAO Atelier in 2006, and also served as creative director of Beijing Design Week from 2012 to 2016. Leanza has also been the chief curator of the international research program “Across Chinese Cities”, which featured at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014, 2016, and 2018. This initiative intended to provide a platform on the international stage of the Venice Architecture Biennale to deepen the understanding of China’s rapid-fire urban development. It catalogs the cultural, political, social, and economic factors that were at play to inform its transformative process. Each edition focused on topics that resonate as urgent or pertinent to architecture globally, such as regenerative and socially driven practices, processes of community-making, and the emergence of material and methodological applications of traditional building canons in contexts both urban and rural across various Chinese regions. She roots from the school of thought that design works at its best when it withdraws from devising end-goals and rather applies adaptive capacity to the transfer of methodologies. The biggest reward of “good design” is acknowledging it exists in an interstitial place between discipline and creative generosity.
As a member of the international advisory board of Design Trust Hong Kong, she set up B/Side Design, an organization that formulates strategies of urban and social impact in areas of socio-economic transformation in China. She published the book “Ideas in Action – Critical Design Practice in China” in 2016. In the book, Beatrice Leanza offers an insight into selected research and practice-based initiatives which originate from the Chinese context and elicit a common perimeter of criticality accompanying their making. The instances investigated an interest in the reconstruction of participatory ethics in the urban realm. The focus lies on projects that help in assessing a recalibration between top-down and bottom-up approaches informed by collaborative making and can thus generate refreshed notions of contemporary situated knowledge and location-specific identity. Ideas in Action – Critical Design Practice in China is the first of its kind publication in both Chinese and English language to survey projects developed by China-based designers that critically indulge in the transformative dynamics of the country’s post-globalization cities. The book is in form of an almanac, featuring 115 projects spanning across a variety of disciplinary articulations from architecture and urban renewal to ephemeral interventions, product, and editorial ventures. The shared significance of this assembly of positions is brought to attention through their dynamic detouring within the remedial scale of actions and networks of co-doing and combining of knowledge. The book stirs up a lesser-known image around the role and sentiments motivating practitioners’ engagement with entangled phenomena of urban, social, and economic change in the PRC. (Watchers 2016)
Before moving to Lisbon and taking up the direction of MAAT (the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology), her stint in Beijing for over 17 years combined with a background in Asian studies in the field of art history, her research direction was deeply affected by the reality that surrounded her in those years as a curator. Her core research lies in the realm of how urban change permeates disciplinary environments from the visual arts to spatial practice and design thinking. The Global School is a project seeking to promote alternative educational practices and disruptive pedagogies engaging at large in the field of design and architecture. As someone that works on the operational aspect of a museum, she is very comfortable with spaces that do not attempt imposing hierarchical and programmatic blueprints of use. (Circolo Del Design 2020) Today as the curator of MAAT – a space, where relationships of thought and meaning can be recreated anew every time, she acknowledges that the space molds to varied forms of appropriation by the creators, practitioners, and curators that come to interact with it. The only rule that space presents is a duality of light and darkness, the best service architecture can do to cultural experience, a liberating one.
Post taking over MAAT in 2020, she has been posed with a multitude of challenges. However, she believes the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic over institutional practice must be taken as an opportunity rather than a liability. She acknowledges that one solution will not fit all. It is a productive time to set priorities anew, rethink business models, and set forth honest strategies that can truly emplace long-lasting beneficial effects for the inclusivity and open-mindedness that museums worldwide aim to achieve. Beatrice Leanza foresees a form of “meaningful provincialism” to become a new territory for a cultural agency to be rethought in concept and practice. A truly informed foresight.
Circolo Del Design. April 01, 2020. https://www.circolodeldesign.it/whats-on/WPAC/beatrice-leanza-3ca0fcd2-2ea5-434b-9301-b1e742983485 (accessed 2020).
Mehta, Meghana. StirWorld. October 17, 2020. https://www.stirworld.com/inspire-people-between-discipline-and-creative-generosity-beatrice-leanzas-idea-of-good-design (accessed October 25, 2020).
Watchers, Young China. Young China Watchers. 2016. https://www.youngchinawatchers.com/featured-young-china-watcher-beatrice-leanza-creative-director-bside-design/ (accessed 2020).