Designing the Life of Tomorrow at Asia Society


February 5, 2013 | BY Tim Cheung

The current exhibition at Asia Society challenges 12 Hong Kong designers to rethink the future of our living

Following the few months after curator Fumio Nanjo titled the exhibition The Imminent Domain, Asia Society was shrouded by excitement, and trepidation. The Hong Kong centre in Admiralty opened in February 2012, and is no stranger to hosting notable exhibitions, including a dazzling event with works from the Rockefeller Collection. But Imminent was “a bit intimidating”, admits executive director S. Alice Mong. What felt daunting was the subtitle of the exhibition Designing the Life of Tomorrow, one that Mong and her team “feared”.

These five simple words opened a door of opportunities that felt too grand to contain, goals too ambitious to accomplish. “But when we saw William Lim’s Bamboo Curtain going up [at the centre], we knew something special was coming.” Mong added.

From battered to remarkable, we take a look at Asia Society’s HK$385-million restoration project in Admiralty.

William Lim Bamboo Curtain

Visible within miles, even from Wan Chai, the furiously red installation by the renowned Hong Kong architect and interior designer is a creation uniquely Hong Kong, and bears a historical significance to Asia Society. The Bamboo Curtain perches on a contemporary footbridge of the centre, which was the British Army’s former Explosives Magazine Compound, and brings serenity across the expansive, revitalised site, connecting the future with the past. Lim suggests that to envision future life, one must look into the past.

“I think there’s a lot of hidden wisdom in how Hong Kong got built,” Lim says. “And part of it is bamboo scaffolding.”

As more than a visual delight that combines the traditional, contemporary, and sustainable sides of Hong Kong, the installation features a sea of loosely hanging bamboo shoots that double as a wind chime, while a solar panel is installed atop to collect energy for its lights. “So [my piece] might bring up a new set of questions: ‘When there’s no sun, we might not have electricity at night, and when there’s no wind, the chime doesn’t work.’ May be it tells us that we shouldn't take things for granted,” he adds.

Contrary to the title, it is “the past” that has become a common denominator underscoring the exhibition. When Nanjo pushed the envelope by challenging 12 Hong Kong designers to define future living, a place where only imagination and vision lives, a clear linkage to heritage, with a sense of nostalgia, manifested in almost all works.

Kay yin Lo

“The curator Nanjo-san really took it a challenging step further,” laughs participating jewellery designer Kai-yin Lo, referring to the subtitle of the show The Life of Tomorrow. “I mean, how do we predict [the future]? For me, as a historian, I think the truth underneath is constant and eternal, and yet our interpretation, reconfiguration and expression may be different.” To live up to the belief, Lo has focused on her signature usage of gemstones that often depict eternity in her works.

In order to combine the new and the old, young jewellery designer Nicholas Cheng spent two months in Beijing researching and working closely with cloisonné craftsmen on a set of vessels he showcased at Imminent. In Cheng’s mind, traditional craftsmanship is approaching its late age and is pushed towards the verge of extinction by modern technology and economy. With that Cheng poses an imminent question, “While the past and future may coexist, will stainless steel containers eventually envelope these cloisonné vessels?”

Nicholas Cheng

Apart from inviting all collaborating artists to venture into the land of unknown, chief curator Nanjo says, “Something special about this exhibition is that [the artists] are all pushed towards artistic expressions. You’re not just looking at small objects in a glass box, but you feel that you’re surrounded by their works. You go through their works, sometimes.”

In the video above, we speak with some of the artists to ask about their definition of “Life of Tomorrow”.

Imminent Domain: Designing the Life of Tomorrow*
Date: Now until March 31, 2013
Venue: Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty
*Exhibition is free admission to all

To view the biography of each participating designers, please click here.

Videography by Tyrone Wu