Two Decades of Creative Design in Hong Kong: Confluence 20+

Elaine Ng's responsive textile chandelier

This month, visitors to City Hall will be greeted by Confluence 20+, an exhibition showcasing 20 Hong Kong designers’ works. Among them is a collection of meticulously handcrafted oak and walnut tables, chairs and shelves that has won Hong Kong-born, London-based designer Samuel Chan numerous awards.

One of Chan’s newest pieces is an angular bookcase made of American white oak, comprised of different sized modular pieces, making its size and configuration flexible enough to suit any kind of interior. It was recently awarded the Design Guild Mark 2017, sometimes described as the Oscars of international furniture design.

“It can also be used as a room partition – it is completely flexible,” explains Chan. “By setting each shelf at a slight angle, it gives the shelf a sense of movement.”

Chan’s elegantly understated yet highly functional furniture is just a taste of the works on display in the exhibition. It includes some newly created pieces unveiled for the first time by designers from a wide range of disciplines, from art, architecture and ceramics, to household products, jewellery, fashion and digital entertainment.

Samuel Chan’s elegantly understated yet highly functional furniture – Courtesy HKDC

Curator Amy Chow Yuen-mei says the title reflects the merging of two streams that come together to form a powerful river. “[It] is a nod to the fast-paced world of design in Hong Kong where collaboration and multi-disciplinary networks are ever more important,” she says.

The event is the second instalment of a four-part series that is intended to evolve, with new works added as it moves from its earlier inaugural showing at Milan’s prestigious furniture fair in April, to Seoul, Hong Kong and finally Chicago later this year. Chow says she wanted to highlight the collaborative power of Hong Kong’s designers. “We are open-mind, eager to learn and most importantly we are curious about our future,” she says.

The timing of the show, which marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese sovereignty, also provides a broader view of the creative influences that come from Hong Kong’s unique blending of Chinese art and craft traditions with an international perspective garnered from the city’s unusual position at the nexus of East and West. Since many local design companies were set up in the mid-1990s, Chow says the exhibition is a glimpse at how these firms have evolved over the past two decades.

On show is an eclectic collection of designs including graphic prints, furniture, and decorative objects by a diverse roster of talents from established designers alongside younger creatives. The accomplished architect and designer Chi Wing Lo delivers a standout showing with a geometric tea set and a series of ink stones that are a master class in minimalist form and hand-polished tactility. “The objects around the tea ritual can help to add a sense of calm, to take you into another world,” says Lo.

The prolific graphic and product designer Freeman Lau is also showing a new work, with a quirky folding chair inspired by traditional pawnshop signboards, while interior and furniture designer Alan Chan presents his elegant modern take on the Victorian courting bench. Nearby, art historian and cultural consultant Kai-yin Lo displays Song Dynasty-inspired ceramics alongside her own contemporary jewellery. The iconic forms are highlighted within the visual context of a map showing the Silk Road underscoring the importance of the ancient trading routes.

The exhibition also includes designers who have made Hong Kong their home, with the Royal College of Art in London-trained designers Nicol Boyd and Tomas Rosén, who founded Office for Product Design in 2007, and have since made a name for themselves with tablewares and furnishings inspired by the city.

The artist Stanley Wong (also known as Anothermountainman) adds his own inimitable local touch with his iconic redbluewhite series, including a pair of new vases that pay tribute to the Italian designer Alessandro Mendini. “They were made for this year’s Salone in Milan and reflect the shape of Mendini’s iconic vase that he then asked 100 different artists and designers to decorate,” says Wong. “My material transforms it into something else, sort of like the 101st design [laughs].”

Meanwhile, architectural designer Gary Chang’s installation focuses on flexible design with a micro apartment installation while the architect James Law considers the future of urban living with his Alpod prefabricated mobile unit. C.L. Lam highlights environmental concerns with his Green Table set with contemporary cutlery, tableware and decorations made from converted food scraps and biodegradable waste like coffee grounds.

Modern technology is also on show, most notably with textile designer Elaine Yan Ling Ng’s unconventional responsive installation featuring three chandeliers implanted with sensor-controlled robotic arms. Font designer Sammy Or adds a unique perspective on Chinese script with his installation featuring different weather composed of XinGothic Chinese characters.

New work unveiled at the exhibition by local potters Jessie McLin and Julie Progin is a distinct highlight: translucent porcelain bowls featuring surfaces patterned with oxidised iron waste collected from military and car production waste in the porcelain capital of China, Jingdezhen, offering an ethereal, creative commentary on the city’s rapid change.

“For this new work, we worked with Mr. Wong, a master of creating eggshell-thin porcelain,” says Progin. “Our idea is to continue the research projects we’ve done reflecting the changes in Jingdezhen where we’ve been working there for around nine years.”

Irony collection :Translucent porcelain bowl by Julie Progin & Jessy McLin – Courtesy artists

Other must-see — or to be more precise, must-experience — exhibits include product designer Lee Chi-wing’s contemporary mobile tea bar, an inviting social space that invites people to slow down, talk with each other and appreciate modern tea culture.

There’s also Kingsley Ng’s new conceptual work, inspired by the Chinese character for leisure 閒 (gaan1), which consists of the character of moon inside that of a gate, and evokes the poetic atmosphere of moonlight streaming into the house. The serene dove-grey unfurnished space with a radio playing extracts of current affairs news from the past 20 years is an eloquent, thoughtful reminder of the myriad of creative forces at play in the city today.

Confluence 20+: Creative Ecologies of Hong Kong runs until June 28, 2017 at City Hall. For more information click here.

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