When architects hold retrospective exhibitions, they tend to be dry, polite affairs meant to massage the egos and boost the CVs of their subjects. They normally aren’t places to play ping pong after midnight. Or crazy three-way soccer. Or experimental music. But Marisa Yiu and Eric Schuldenfrei are not ordinary architects, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that their studio’s new two-week exhibition, ESKYIU PLAYKITS, is no run-of-the-mill retrospective.
“It’s not frozen in time like most retrospectives,” says Yiu, who founded ESKYIU with Schuldenfrei in 2005. Just the opposite: PLAYKITS is an immersive experience that will shape-shift over the next two weeks, with its physical configuration changing to host sports, dialogue and music. The retrospective element comes from the way the exhibition tackles the things that ESKYIU has been researching for the past ten years: how to use technical innovations to create spaces that are collaborative and welcoming, rooted in the local context and environmentally sustainable. “It’s disguised as play but it’s asking some pretty serious questions,” says Yiu.
It brings together many of the same partners that ESKYIU has worked with over the years. Swire Properties sponsored the use of its art space, Artistree. Ink painter Eddie Lui created a logo for the show; textile artist Movana Chen used recycled fabric to make a logo based on the Chinese character for “play” (waan2 玩). Film star Daniel Wu donated a 3D printer, while Nike provided a Nike Grind, a new type of material made from recycled shoes.
ESKYIU used that substance to create furniture and other objects for the exhibition. Firm but springy, it is spackled with colour from hundreds of shoes that have been ground down to pulp. When Playkits is over, it will be recycled once again to pave the sports ground of the Man Kiu Association Primary School in Ngau Tau Kok, while a giant hurdle designed by ESKYIU will be donated to Youth Outreach, a programme for disadvantaged young people.
In the meantime, visitors to the exhibition can plunge themselves into a playground as suited to adults as it is to children. “It’s about getting everyone engaged with their own personal strength – you don’t have to be an athlete,” says Yiu. Between November 17 and 22, the space will accommodate yoga, running challenges, late-night ping pong and three-way football, whose pitch has six sides and three goals – a game devised by Danish Situationist philosopher Asger Jorn as a kind of real-life logic system. “We’ll see what happens,” says Yiu. “It could be chaotic, but people could also make their own rules.”
On November 22, the three-way football pitch will host a three-way discussion between entrepreneurs, designers, artists and other creative types, including M+ architecture and design curator-at-large Aric Chen. That will be followed by the final stage of Playkits’ programme: music.
Working with the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble and Sound Islands, ESKYIU will turn the entire exhibition space into a giant instrument. Using sounds and objects from eight sites around the city, including the West Kowloon Cultural District, Plover Cove Reservoir and Nam Shan Estate — each significant to some aspect of ESKYIU’s research — musicians will create a new one-hour composition based on site recordings. Microphones embedded throughout the space will record vibrations in the Nike Grind material, exploring the resonance of the exhibition itself.
Yiu says the instrument is based on the guqin, a seven-string zither that has been part of Chinese musical traditions for thousands of years. With a range of four octaves, its unassuming nature belies the soul-stirring music it can produce. “It’s such a simple instrument but it has a long history with literati culture and engaging with the landscape – and it is highly improvisational,” says Yiu.
Just as the physical material of PLAYKITS will be recycled into something else after the exhibition is over, the musical composition will serve as a base for future experiments in place-based music. Like all of ESKYIU’s projects, this one evolves over time, leaving plenty of loose threads that can be woven into something new. “We didn’t want to do a static exhibition,” says Yiu. “We wanted to do something with longevity.”
ESKYIU PLAYKITS runs from November 17 to 28, 2018, at ArtisTree in Taikoo Place. Admission is free but some events require advance registration. Click here for more information.