Our manifesto states our interest in facilitating collaborative projects and discussions on Hong Kong. In this Zoom interview, design researcher Enya Moore interviews Vivien Chan, Juliana Kei, and Sunnie Chan about Hong Kong, design histories and collaborative research.
Enya Moore is a PhD candidate at the University of Technology Sydney researching design events globally, including Business of Design Week Hong Kong. After connecting online during COVID lockdown we decided to share some discussions we were having about HKDHNet in a more public forum.
Transcript edited for clarity.
Enya (EM): Should we get started with some of the questions? So the way I was suggesting to Viv was that I would just pose some questions about the network for you guys, because we thought maybe it would be a good place to discuss, generally because I wanted to ask you about what you’re up to, so i guess it makes sense to record.
EM: So in terms of the Hong Kong design history network, I’m very interested in my own research in positionality and subjectivity, and I was wondering, you know, obviously with the group that you formed, what different motivations were there for each of you, and what kind of positions were you coming from to this network?
Juli (JK): I think the first general one is the one we all share is we all kind of did or were exposed to the History of Design (HoD) at Victoria & Albert Museum/Royal College of Art (RCA). And really think about design as a way of reflecting on history and not just study of objects, right? Like that is the most straightforward thing. And that is one thing that we start off with, even though there might be people doing it in Hong Kong. But that’s never really thought about in the framework of design history or a network, people are just doing it from different ‘cottage’ industry or related discipline. And that is the prime [example] I think that is the one thing we all share is that we kind of wanted to do something of using design to reflect on bigger picture, history stuff, and think more critically about design history. And that’s how we started the network. And I think other than that, we have each individual perspective and approach. Yeah.
Viv (VC): And I think actually the sort of quote-unquote network already existed in that – when I started [at V&A/RCA], I kept being referred to other people that had done the course or were related to the course and they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, you’re going to be in Hong Kong [for research]. Why don’t you go and meet X person?’ Um, and so we somehow managed to have, you know, quite a decent body of people [interested in HK design history] that were in and around the HoD course. And so it was just like, well, it sort of made sense for us to gather and make a point of it. This is quite an unusual collection of people that were somehow all related or studying, or have interest in design history in Hong Kong, which is such a specific place. and then it also happened that the Design Trust Fellowship was starting, and all of these interests in design in Hong Kong specifically, and it just made a lot of sense to come together and make a point with it. I don’t know Sunnie if you had any…
Sunnie (SC): Hmm. I was introduced to this group of people when I went to London for the Design Curating Fellowship, sponsored by the Design Trust. And as I was like, I was there as like the second edition of fellows, so I was l naturally connected to the first, the preceding fellow who is Mina, who’s also in the group. So she kind of introduced me to this bunch of people, um, who else from Hong Kong and interested in exploring design history in Hong Kong, in their own academic fields. So I think it was, for me, it was kind of natural that we are connected because we are all like, from the same roots, but kind of based in different cities and focusing on different professional areas at the end. Like, although we’re all centered around design and Hong Kong, but we are, we all have our own specific professional interests. So for example, I went to RCA because I was interested in exhibition making and curating, but it was such a niche area in Hong Kong. So this fellowship gave me the opportunity to sharpen my critical view or aspiration in this area as a profession.
SC: And for people like Julie and Vivien, like they’re more in the academic area, but they are also rooted in different disciplines, like illustration and architecture. So we all have our little basket of passion, but we can kind of use this platform to crash and exchange and sometimes integrate in this platform.
JK: Yeah, I mean, for the network part is really what draws me because I come from a more architectural history background and I’ve done a research job in university of Hong Kong before in the architectural department. And I think that is probably a lot of critical discussion in terms of architecture and planning history.But like, architects are architects. They really only care about a certain scale of things and don’t really branch out. And for me, this is something that even at the very beginning, when Vivien started in talking about this, I said that what would be a good idea to maybe bring those existing research that has already been in certain aspects of design history that is more developed or doing interesting things, but they are probably because they are developed they don’t need to talk to other people, and to kind of just try to draw these things out and also like art history and all this different things that actually, that is interesting work, but they don’t, like Sunnie said, they don’t crash with each other that often. And the idea of the network is also like, to try to, hopefully we can encourage this kind of discussion and also again, speak more critically about history or design history rather than individual work. Right. Cause I think that is one kind of criticality that is in everybody’s individual work on like post-colonialism, feminism, or whatever, like a critical framework, but like a critical attitude towards historiography with something I think we all wanted to share as well.
VC: Yeah, actually, when Sunnie came along and we also spent some time together with the team in Hong Kong, there was also this realization that design is happening (laughs) Design is happening and it’s not being recorded in a way that’s [critical], I mean, oftentimes it’s quite nostalgic or again, yeah, it stays within the same circles. It might be, I mean, in terms of language as well, it might be accessed in only one group. And so as well as the academic side, we just knew that all of this was happening and we knew that Hong Kong had this history of craft, of manufacturing, of all this skill, design skill. Then that was really a missing link between a lot of these things that we have either been involved in curating or architecture, or I’m sort of more interested in like more in the zine community may be, but there’s just not this connection between all of them. We kind of hoped and envisioned or envision now, like now we’re a year in [to the project], to connect all of these dots. Yeah.
SC: And I think there’s also another observation as someone based in Hong Kong, like the previous or the ongoing understanding or study of Hong Kong design is still rather formalist, I would say like, it’s still focused on a particular style or particular language or certain groups of practitioners. The understanding of this as a subject matter, you know, as a culture, it’s still rather weak. I would say it’s still rather simplified. And as I said, quite formalist, and sometimes it is quite detached from the overall history of Hong Kong, you know, that there are a lot bits and pieces in relations to industrial history or manufacturing history of Hong Kong, maybe in the architecture field, there’s more serious study. And research in this area as a historiography. But in other areas like fashion or graphic design or, or even industrial design, it’s still pretty detached and it’s still as a trading subject rather than a culture in relations to, you know, our cultural identity or our understanding of the culture of Hong Kong.
JK: And that is gigantic gaps, so big a gap, like for example, no one talk about cold war design in Hong Kong, although every single thing was manufactured in Hong Kong at that time. Like, even like, we just see this huge obvious gap everywhere. And I think that might be something that we kind of like (laughs)
SC: the gap might be too big, or maybe there are just too many gaps around and sometimes it’s a bit like how should we handle this? It seems every area that we are interested in are gaps. Yeah. And I’m sure like when Vivien came to Hong Kong to visit some of the archives together, we also see there huge gaps of assets, of these materials in Hong Kong as well. (laughs)
JK: I studied the pavilion, the Expo pavilion in Hong Kong. Very straightforward. Typical subject. No one has done that yet again, just like. The basics. I went to the archive, 45 boxes… no plan, no drawings, all receipts of what they spent on… because the colonial government they need to have accountability on what they have spent. So we have like every single thing, I know how much they spend on plexiglasses, but I don’t have a single picture or a drawing of how or what they make out of that plexiglass (laughs). So we don’t know how to reclaim that. But I think that is also why we think a network is a good place to… Like these are interesting things… these are things that are part of Hong Kong design history. Right. And I think that is kind of things that we wanted to share and discuss because as a single architectural design, or design historian it might be even more difficult to grapple with this question of archive or what they decide to keep or what they don’t keep. I don’t think that’s anything sinister there, its just like, because the colonial government has no one who cares about the visual culture.
EM: Well, yeah, I think you can exactly see it in, you know, contemporary collections where people are trying to, for example, document what’s happening with COVID. That has happened as a result of there being a very particular desire to collect and curate what’s happening. And if that wasn’t existing in that particular culture at that time, then it’s just not there. So I think it’s, I think it’s very interesting what you say about all of the gaps, but also the reasons for the gaps and how you’re also going to fill in that information, because Juliana, I saw your presentation about the pavilion online, and it must be interesting then, because in terms of how you start to create that kind of picture, because it must be quite a discursive analysis of the way people talked about things or explain things, or, what kind of materials were you working with beyond receipts?
JK: We do have…like paperwork is okay. The government does have a lot of newsletter back in the days for the colonial government. So we do have that kind of stuff. Um, but then, but that is already like, I think we are already a step forward. Right? Like even going back to the RCA, if you only do a discursive analysis of a certain type of design that that’s already…’naughty’ (laughs) No, you know it’s not acceptable, but that already requires some kind of justification of why you analyze like, things that have happened in this kind of massive way through discursive analysis. And I think we just always kind of, there’s always things you can study, but we also kind of always try to grapple and need to justify, like why this is design study. Because I think that is also another problem of going, like, even in Hong Kong, like when we present a project – historians are mad at us because we don’t take the history ‘seriously’ enough. And for the public or like the design field, they will say ‘where are my pretty pictures?’ And I think that is something we’ve, we all try to play with here as well. And because as Sunnie said that that’s an expectation of design history as still quite something quite formal. And that is not like that is no value for that, but also it’s not always doable in Hong Kong. And I think that is why pushing people to a certain type of subject matter because the desire is something that is formal and pretty, and then they work in things that are available.
VC: Yeah. And I think this adds our conversation into the wider conversation of Design history like non-Euro American design history, right? (laughs) I mean, design history already being a very niche area within wider visual culture, material culture, history, discipline, but also just these are the types of questions that a lot of other territories are asking and in a way where we’re adding to the table, you know, okay – where Hong Kong is considered a highly developed ex-colony with a lot of [archival] material to deal with. But also it’s so much and yet not enough… And in a way where part of our idea of what we can do [as a research network[ is pointing out, here are some archives that we found that aren’t called ‘archives’ that we can deal with in a different way, or, you know, collecting is such a big part of Hong Kong culture. It’s like, okay, when does this collecting culture become mobilized as part of like an actual, rather than nostalgic, analytical critique of materials? And part of that is also we’ve spent a lot of time in archives for this debut project for the London Design Biennale and part of that is thinking, okay, beyond this project, what is it that we want it to do in order to engage these archives more, to encourage students, maybe potential future students in design history, to think about archives in a different way as not just boxes and boxes of receipts. (laughs)
JK: Yeah. I don’t think anyone in Hong Kong as a university student ever thinks about design history as an option or as a vocation or any, like it just never, never go into their mind, like it doesn’t exist.
SC: Well, but in another way… like a design objects, so quote-unquote ‘design objects’. So these kinds of objects of ephemera have been a growing area, growing interest to,as a general discussion or as media attention in Hong Kong because of this growing urgency of like, you know, rescuing Hong Kong culture or protecting Hong Kong culture. But you know, it’s sometimes mixed with a sense of nostalgia or like over-sentimentalize or, politicized… but there is this kind of interest I would say. I wouldn’t say there’s no one in Hong Kong, not interested in quote-unquote ‘design history’, but maybe they say it in an oversimplified way?
VC: It’s just not known that it’s something you can study
JK: yeah. I mean, my point is students don’t consider that as a vocation. People who engage with it are people who already maybe have a career in either history or design or media, or visual culture and they sort of already have their life when they start to think about this, but I would bet there’s not many, 17 year olds in Hong Kong [thinking about this], I mean just in design history or design culture even, or even visual culture in general as a vocation, that is really rare. And I think that.
EM: And in terms of, so Viv, you mentioned as well that you saw all these kinds of strands and themes. For example, when you’re studying design history and kind of saying, okay, well, this is actually still happening in the contemporary context. Is part of the vision then for the network that you in a way kind of solidify that design history in Hong Kong so that it can be, I guess, employed in a contemporary context as well for people to have a greater understanding of those kind of contemporary design discourse and what it actually means and what it entails?
VC: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s definitely part of the vision is to add to this growing group of [design discourses], and you can really see it in the movement as well. You can see the amount of interest and value that Hong Kong people have for the creations that are made, the things that they’re making, and also knowing to record them. But it’s also finding that space to expand that – okay, you’ve got this brilliant body of material, you also happen to have, you know, connections with all of these people who are still alive, who are still producing. I think it’s really to tap into that frame of mind and say, okay, how can we flip this so we can think critically on it and put it in the wider discussion of, for example, like grassroots making, or DIY culture, visual culture, urban design, like all of these things that Hong Kong is, right now, very in tune with, um, but it’s, but we’re still seeing a missing scholarship that could be put into the cycle of all these global ideas of design.
JK: And I think also doing design history, or doing anything in Hong Kong, is quite a bit of a networking thing. Like I think that’s also a lot of tales like, you really can only access a certain archive because you happen to know it exists because it’s not searchable. And also if you go into the archive, oftentimes you rely on one old man who knows what is in there rather than a catalogue. And I think there is also this practical aspect of a network. We hope it can grow, and I think that is something or part of the beauty and the culture of Hong Kong. And we recognize it and maybe the network eventually itself can become something of a system for something that is not systematic. And we shared this kind of, ‘Oh, if you go to that archive, talk to Dr. Chan instead of Dr. Sum, and that will let you let [in]’, like, it’s almost like a game, but it is really how a lot of things happen in Hong Kong.
EM: And in terms of the pavilion for London Design Biennale, a lot of what you’re talking about, talks about… I guess the network in a very generous way, it’s not just about grouping together a few design historians that know each other, but it’s about thinking about the future space for future scholars and students and people in wider publics that can engage with the materials that you’ve found and the ideas that you’re working with. So was that the kind of starting point for the pavilion that you were really thinking about that broader audience and communicating some of those ideas or where did the idea for the pavilion start out?
JK: I think the pavilion maybe started with more like what Sunnie and Janice have been doing as curators. And then we think that maybe the first thing is to try to bring in a good amount of designers into what we are doing, and then reaching out to things that is already in the realm we are catching and like what Vivien said, Sunnie and Mina have done a lot of work in Hong Kong, bring designers into archive, but also by joining the dots between archives and designers for their conversations. So that is kind of the very initial step without much thinking, we’re like, ‘Oh, we can do that’ by at least letting those practitioners [in]. And I think also we can’t [be] confident that if Hong Kong has a pavilion in London Design Biennale, that it’s not just the participating designers, but just in general, like the creative industry, let’s look at some picture of it and even just bring it as this thematic, design history. And just to insert that into the mind of, like, we have a pavilion that talk about design history was really just the initial idea.
VC: Yeah. And I think it started out actually from, uh, where we’d all kind of met for the first time. And then Sunnie had to go back [to Hong Kong], she’d finished the fellowship and we’d been talking so much about our research and you know, that the idea of history in terms of its materials is dispersed, as it is the case for a lot of other ex-colonies, but we just found that interesting, you know – how does a place kind of root its own history, if, if the materials that tell it are everywhere and are so dispersed, and we were seeing this connection that is not only colonial, but such a physical connection between London, specifically, and Hong Kong. And that was the starting point. But I think as a team, we already knew for our [team] culture, we wanted to ensure that we weren’t going to have this top down hierarchical manner of dealing with this and producing this. I mean we’re already a team of six. So we knew that, and we were adamant that collaboration was going to be an integral part of how we were going to produce the pavilion. Um, and we wanted to extend that to design as I guess, because you know, Sunnie especially is so close to the design world in Hong Kong and a few of us have already been working in design fields [there]. We were like, okay, we want this dynamic to be a dynamic, and not just like, we’re going to tell you what this whole thing is going to look like. And we were excited for that, for what that would produce.
JK: Yeah. But if we want to be really honest, we’re just very, very angry at the previous pavilion. (laughs) That was really the starting point.
SC: (laughs) that was the prompt!
JK: And I think this goes back to the bigger picture of Hong Kong representation of itself outside of the world is always nostalgia. It’s always ‘dragon’, it’s always ‘egg tart’. It was always ‘craft’. It’s always presenting itself as this humble fisherman village of the far East or the pearl of the Orient. And we were just like, come on guys! And I think that is the prompt. Like…we were just like we can’t let this happen again. Hong Kong is not just … I mean, our angle was the previous pavilion, still presents Hong Kong like it was in the 1970s, when the Americans stay there, go there to spend money and like, enjoy food, like that kind of imagery of Hong Kong.
SC:…like a subject of consumption.
EM: I think that’s always a good starting point for research or a project (all laughs) is that point of anger and then questioning that anger and unpacking the anger, (laughs) I mean we could always be angry, but it’s not very productive (all laughs)
SC: And I think we have to turn to a more public-facing strategy to have designers involved in the creative process from the very beginning is key to us because we don’t want to interpret the subject matter, or the interpret the theme, just from the design historian’s-slash-curator’s perspective. We want designers to have their own voice as well. Um, but our role as curator is more as a way to bridge. To facilitate designers, to have a wider, broader access to materials and archives and to facilitate the understanding of history or to yeah…. To bring more and open up more discussion on that, rather than we came up with a solution and asked the designers to produce it for us. So I think that is quite key to us, as you know, as in this project as well.
JK: I mean, I think Hong Kong designers can always do design. they can always ‘do’ things. I think what we really care [about] is the method here. And I think like this whole pavilion, it’s kind of like a methodological experiment. Most of our conversation is about the method and we really rarely seriously care how it looks like… I mean we of course we care how it looks like of manifestation of the ideas, but like, we’d never have a conversation, for example, of like how tall the plinths should be, or what the aesthetics are like. It’s not that we don’t care, but we know that actually the Hong Kong designers are more than capable of resolving those things.
VC: Actually our choice of …So we started the process by approaching studios. Mostly coming from Juliana and Sunnie, actually, from their knowledge of their colleagues in Hong Kong. but we were specifically targeting design studios who had individuals or teams who we knew had that research ethic as part of their process. So one of our earliest choices [for example] was Charles Lai and aona, an architectural studio based in Hong Kong and he’d been working on a PhD to do with Shanghai plaster. And we knew that there was a background of materiality and material culture research as part of his work. So we actively looked out for that.
SC: (laughs) and there isn’t much choice in Hong Kong anyway,
VC: Yeah but you know, a lot of those individuals [designers] wouldn’t necessarily project that research as academic
SC: As in you know professional preference. (VC: Yeah.) As in their professional portfolio. Yeah. It’s [seen as] more like a sideline project or a hobby project, that kind of thing. But we want to, I think one of the key goals or a key objective of this project is we really want to raise the awareness of this kind of research-led practice. Which is rooted in a key interest in history. So I think that is something kind of lacking in the design practice in Hong Kong, still at this point. History has been kind of used or applied as kind of a symbol. You know, like a, like a superficial symbol, like a formalistic symbol, but without enough consideration on the context, like the cultural, the cultural and historical context of these materials. So, um, so I think this is something that we, we want to address. Because we have so much, we have such a rich resources of materials in Hong Kong, but they are kind of still being visited and observed in a superficial way to me, at least. So there’s still a lot [that] can be done.
VC: I think that’s to do with the nature of the market, right. And specifically in Hong Kong being highly competitive, a lot of the design students go back and then needing to have to be competitive. And, I mean, part of that is about design history education, but then the other is like, okay, what’s going to be useful to them. In most cases, the things we noticed were passion projects that were part of their design portfolio. But it was really rooted in a commitment to that interest in local culture. So part of our role in a way was to kind of prod that and push that to the front and say this is what we think is really important about your work and your practice. Can you really make…. I mean, this is an opportunity for you to be able to push that to the limit. And we hope that the LDB pavilion would be more like an experiment for them in a way.
JK: Yeah. I think sometimes the criticality is there, but also I think a lot of Hong Kong designer [forgo it] because the client doesn’t need that. So they don’t spend a lot of time to write it, to represent it or even to really sit down and like… actually they have that criticality in there, but they don’t communicate it. And at first I say, if you are a studio in London or New York, there is the market or needs for you to also represent that critical aspect. And I think, I think at least the collaborator we see, I think they are designer who already have that critical attitude towards history but having the LDB pavilion is also opportunity to give them room to really sit down, read it, write it, articulate it. And like these things about how to communicate, push them, to communicate it in that rather than just embedded in the design, because I think sometimes those criticality are embedded in the design itself.
EM: And could one of you, describe what the pavilion is going to look like (laughs) in terms of some of the ideas that you’re talking about, because I know I read the description, but it would be good to hear from you. (all laughs) This is a futuring exercise.
VC: So the idea comes from this idea of mythmaking and storytelling of Hong Kong history. So during the process of this project, I mean, we’ve been visiting archives, we’ve been talking to a lot of archivists and collectors and also everything that was happening in Hong Kong at that moment, you know, there was this real desire and emphasis from a lot of the people that we were talking to about having agency over the story of Hong Kong, you know, inclusive of that is history, right? And this tension between the colonial story, which still heavily persists, as we can tell in these kind of nostalgic presentations of Hong Kong, and the kind of on the ground, grassroots things-happening-now kind of story. We really wanted to ensure that we captured that. So we, rather than using the archive, and like transplanting, you know, objects and things in that kind of typical object analysis we thought, okay, how can we empower our visitors to write this history and it might be, you know, it might be subjective. It might be, you know, fictionalized and like bells and whistles to it. But it’s part of this storytelling. So the premise of this pavilion is that we will actually have two bases. So one in Hong Kong, one in London, and the idea of the pavilion is for visitors to be able to communicate with each other and tell the story of Hong Kong in their own way. Or ask questions or talk about dreams and speculations.
We touched on a few different kind of nodes to do that. So one of them is thinking about writing in the sand, right? It’s part of this kind of ritualistic way of fortune-telling using specific tools called a fu gei which is this kind of stick, essentially, that’s for writing in the sand, kind of manipulating the sand. So that’s one element, and then we have another element which is talking about this. Legend called, Ah Kwan Dai Lo To, which is [translated to] Ah Kwan leading the way. And this is like a colonial fantasy, essentially that’s talking about this Chinese man who comes to show the people Hong Kong
JK: Isn’t it like Pocahontas in Hong Kong? In a way shorten the story.
VC: (laughs) in a way yes! Yeah. It’s essentially Pocahontas in Hong Kong and then he leads them the way and like shows them around this Island that would become Hong Kong. And they have this image that relates to this legend and that image has been reproduced in lots of government and public materials, like bank notes and logos. And so we wanted to say, let’s start with that and play with this. We’re asking in a way the audience to manipulate it and take over this story, to produce something new. so yeah, I mean, it doesn’t exactly describe what it will look like, (laughs) how we want to want it to behave essentially.
EM: Now, did you want to add anything else Sunnie or Juliana?
SC: Well, I think the idea of having a two city display, a simultaneous display in Hong Kong and London, is an idea from the designers actually. Because they want to, because the theme of the Biennale this year is Resonance. So we are all the participating countries and cities and regions that we are all like creating to respond to this theme. So I think for the designers in particular, what resonance means to them is, is something, um… Resonance could be geographical, it could be very literal, like the resonance between Hong Kong and the UK and London, but also, as we are talking about history, the resonance is also about transcending time and transcending culture as well, in a way language. So, the idea of having it in the two site display, they want to have what has been scribbled on the sand, like, like a, like a quote un quote fortune-telling rituals, kind of like simultaneously display and transferred to the opposite side. So what is written like, for example, what is written in London Um, there will be a Photo scanning device and projection in real time to the site in Hong Kong. So what is written in London will be seen by the audience in Hong Kong, and the audience in Hong Kong will be able to respond like writing on sand as well, to respond to what they have seen from the scribbles in London. And in, in many ways that is, um, how would you say… I think that they’re trying to introduce this game of like a ‘Chinese Whispers’ that – it’s coincidentally called ‘Chinese Whispers’ – but it’s kind of like by this means of communication, like writing abstractly on the side, like, and then reinterpreting or responding from the other continent in the real time, like they’re expecting kind of loss of information or loss of translation, should I put it that way? That is something that is inevitable in the way we understand history as well, or historical events. Like something that we thought we saw that we thought is real and authentic. It could be lost. It could be distorted. It could be reinterpreted in, in different ways by different people, due to our subjectivity. So I think that is something that designers cleverly want to address as well. Like they allow this kind of loss of information or miscommunication along the way, as a way that we can embrace history. Yeah.
EM:Yeah. I think that whole idea of focusing on the connection between the two cities, um, has a lot of resonance before COVID, but also during, because at a lot of contemporary design events, you have the idea or the agenda that it’s going to be a collaboration or a partnership between, you know, what’s often between two cities or two places where there’s a guest or a host country. And the level at which that engagement takes place can often be superficial or perhaps there isn’t the structure in place for that engagement to take place at a deeper level. So to focus on that connection between the two cities, not with people coming to visit London from Hong Kong, but actually having the thing in London and people being able to communicate through that I think is really interesting. And particularly when now we might not be able to travel to the events, how do we maintain those international connections that are really important for, you know, cross cultural cross, transnational dialogue. How do we still maintain those connections when we might not be any longer able to visit each other? You know, because there’s a lot of conversation now around how, you know, how these future events are actually going to take place because we are going to have to reconsider travel. I think this is a really interesting example of starting to understand that, you know, things aren’t going to take place in silos, but they may take place very differently and how are we going to address that? I think it’s also forward thinking without even.
JK: Well, it’s interesting. So we also kind of already know, like quickly can grasp the reception of what has happened from London now. Like to be very honest, like we know who is the audience at the LDB, how they will approach a topic of a critical or like a history, nothing, nothing serious. And I think that is what is more interesting, we really don’t know what the audience in Hong Kong will react to a pavilion like that. Like in London, that’s like no big deal. And I think at least I’m very excited of like whether the Hong Kong designers will say ‘This is shit. I don’t want to engage with this’ and that is still worthy for us to sit down and reflect, maybe we are just like, it’s a lost cause we don’t know. And I think that would be something really, really interesting too, to see.
EM: Yeah. And I think it’s really interesting in terms of what you’re doing from a decolonizing perspective, because you’re also not just presenting a format in Hong Kong and saying, this is going to work, this is what this is supposed to look like, ‘please engage now’. You’re putting something out there and saying, okay, well, if it doesn’t work, then, um, we have to think about what works in this context. And I think that’s a vital thing to be doing.
SC: I think Enya what you have just pointed out just now it’s, it’s really interesting because you know, to have that kind of obsession or urgency, or pressure on having the right, finding the right way of addressing history is exactly what has been happening in Hong Kong. You know, people have been quite desperate in, you know, preserving, building the archives or building the collection or finding a so-called justified narrative of, you know…of addressing certain events or addressing the bigger history of Hong Kong has been an ongoing debate. Either from the government side or from the grassroots side, there’s this kind of tension and competition. So I think what we are trying to present, or what the designers are trying to present is, is quite a mockery, I would say. What if this is there’s no official history or what if all these will just be lost in time. And how are we going to interact, if that’s the case?
EM: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s a really important criticality to bring to people about design history, because when you present things, that’s why I think the Ah Kwan showing the way was such an interesting example, because you’re not telling the audience that it’s wrong or that it’s incorrect, but you’re presenting it as what it is, it’s a colonial myth and you can engage with it in whichever way you want and it’s part of history.
SC: And that is a fiction, it is an urban legend
EM: you know, like one perspective, really.
SC: So I think we present it as a historical object, but at the same time it is something unverified. It is still unverified. Yeah. So like where did it come from? Who created this myth, it’s still untraceable at this point. So I think that it also reflects a part of our understanding of our history as well. Like we were received,we absorbed so much along the way as we grew up, like, we heard so much about this city, we are like, Oh, ‘this is so representative of Hong Kong, that is so representative of Hong Kong.’ But at the end, like it’s kind of mixed and it’s being constantly challenged at the same time.
VC: And I think you can really, alongside, you know, us talking and thinking about this pavilion, you can see it manifest in what’s happening with with the movement in Hong Kong that really went global and really went communicative. You know, it, it translated itself onto Twitter, and became like these huge collections and pushes, not only in terms of a political agenda, but also just the things that are happening now, um, good and bad, here we’re going to collect people’s dreams and ideas of what they want for the future. And I think that also reflected in how we’re thinking about this pavilion is, okay, like there’s a desire to spread out and say things and do things together. And that sense of togetherness was really, I mean, for me, at least, I could see this mirroring in how we were dealing with this platform, which for the LDB, it seems, like Juli was saying, it seems so contained it’s for such a specific audience, but we can really skew it to be something else.
EM: Do you know where you’re at with it now? It’s postponed till the same time next year.
JK: Oh, no. A little earlier it will be first week of June. Nine months from now. And I think like every other curator and every other exhibition design postponing nine months is exactly the right amount of time we need. Yeah, I think that is, I was updating our project timeline, and I was like ‘Oh, this is actually just about right’, we actually can’t take a break ther is nothing postponed, but we just have to move it in a humane rate and we’ll get there (laughs)
EM: we were, we were nine months off on our scheduling, but now we’re right on track (all laughs)
JK: Yeah I think that’s nothing special. I think that is quite typical for most.
VC: Yeah, but we were thinking, you know, when the world went on lockdown, we were like, well, ‘how, how can really people talk about resonance? It’s just totally changed, as of this year!’ So we need, I think as well as just like practicality wise, I think a lot of other pavilions, I mean, in a way we had a head start with having to think about what was happening in Hong Kong, but you know, how was Italy going to think about resonance now after COVID and, how, you know, how are we going to respond? And I suppose also as one of the, maybe smaller countries that are taking part, like we also needed to think we might not have the, the monetary tools or the backup that some other places have. And I think it was really good that the LDB decided to postpone it so that more of us, like these like smaller territories, could actually pitch in and stay involved in this conversation.
JK: I think it also like within the context of this, year’s, LDBs quite interesting that it manifests itself with the current, biggest [issue] – I think at beginning they really want to push with climate resonance, so that ecological stuff kind of post-human view of the world as a way of thinking about resonance.And I think a lot of pavilions with early participation is really doing quite strictly ecological perspective, very post-human perspective, and including Italy. And I think that was where even for us, it was just a technical aspect of whether we can finish the pavilion or not. But we thought the message, because it was already quite murky, and our message is about uncertainty. So it was like, okay, how can you still present like a post-human view of the world with this kind of, a pavilion with only grass and land or mud, when there is this other [issue], like, I’m not saying the two are mutually exclusive from each other, but it’s just like, this is something, seems…Not easy if you’re still going to present the same design as it was nine months ago. And we also need to think about whether our message change or our design change in, in that way.
EM: And yeah, and also challenging in a Biennale context where there’s pavilion, you know, different regions and countries being represented alongside each other. It just really throws into relief the different experiences of different places during COVID and how we start to understand each other’s experience in that. Because, for example, in Australia there’s, to date, been 103 deaths and that’s terrible, but compared to New York, it’s so much less, and everybody’s experience in lockdown, has been so drastically different, that it feels like you’re just suddenly very aware of different realities taking place at the same time, in a way that I don’t think we really were before.
JK: Yeah. And I think like previously we think of ourselves as an ultra connected world, no? like everything is connected. There is no difference between here and there. And now I think everybody probably has a more critical reflection of our own territory, our own soil and what is our physical surroundings, because for the foreseeable future, we can’t leave.
EM:Yeah. And the boundaries of those, because they’re very clear now. (laughs)
JK: Yeah. Cause in the UK, the lockdown rule is not that straight, so we can still theoretically travel around the whole country. But I know that maybe that you can’t travel to the state or province, right?
EM: Yeah so certain States are locked down. So in Western Australia they’re locked down and Queensland are also locked down. But yeah, it just, as places open up, it starts to get quite complicated because now New Zealand has completely eradicated COVID from New Zealand. And they’re talking about, you know, trans-Tasman bubbles, but I don’t know what happens if the States and Australia aren’t open to each other. So those, I mean, in my research, I’m really interested in those kinds of divisions between municipalities and regions and everything. So it just those things start to become very clear, but also quite arbitrary in a way, because what do the distinctions actually mean?
JK,SC,VC: Yeah. Yeah.
EM: I’m going to have to go, um, in a few minutes because I have to make a call at half past.
Did you want to chat about anything else? That was really interesting. And I’m so glad that we got to talk about it
JK: Yeah its a reflection moment for us as well.
VC: Yeah, we’re at this really important moment, I think where we, you know, LDB got postponed so it’s like this point where we can really reflect on essentially a year and a half of working on this network, of working on this pavilion and it was really a moment for us to think beyond the pavilion and just be okay,where do we want to take this? So I think having this discussion really helps us solidify in a way, like what our intent is and how we can keep, you know, moving forward in a way that feels genuine to us. Yeah.
EM: Yeah, because I think you can easily, particularly with exhibition making you easily get sucked into this deadline of presenting something. And then I think there’s often this realization that it’s, especially when yours is based within this impetus for the network, it sometimes loses the wider impact that you hoped that it had had because of that deadline that’s kind of looming. So I think it’s great that you’re able to take a step back and think about what, you know, is it still standing by those things that you really wanted to address.
JK:Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much, a nice to meet you.
EM: Nice to chat, and great that we could catch up on zoom as well because, I’m finding that I’m using lots of people that I probably wouldn’t see usually. but yes, it would be lovely to stay in touch and, um, maybe chat again at some point, um, as well.
JK: When our pavilion is more consolidated, I think it would be really nice to show you!