In 1955 Toshiba released the world’s first commercially successful electric rice cooker. Few years later Mao Tze Tung’s propaganda posters promoted home appliances tuning advertising purposes with the regime’s philosophy. No mistery that “Asian design” is a very large concept. With the exhibition Shifting Objectives: Design from the M+ Collection, Hong Kong new museum of visual culture, previews its groundbreaking design collection that aims to sum up the continent’s imprint by showcasing more than 120 selected works from many Asian countries spanning from 1937 until now.
RELATED STORY: Read more about Hong Kong architecture and design…
“This is our first design exhibition, and also a preview of our entire design collection that will inaugurate in 2019”. Says to ArchiPanic Aric Chen, lead curator of M+ design and architecture department. “The exhibition offers a pluralistic approach that, we hope, shows how the roles and meanings of design shift across time and place“.
The exhibition is divided in two main parts. The first section, Histories, was shaped by the social, cultural, economic, and political milieus of, respectively, post-World War II Japan, post-independence India, China under Mao and Hong Kong’s manufacturing and export heyday of the ‘50s to the ‘80s. The fifth “room” re-examines Postmodern design of the 1970s and 1980s, offering a new interpretation of that international phenomenon as seen primarily through the work of its Japanese practitioners.
Highlights of the Histories section range from key designs by Yusaku Kamekura, Sori Yanagi, Charlotte Perriand, Shiro Kuramata and Ettore Sottsass, to Mao-era propaganda posters, iconic 1960s and 1970s plastics by the Hong Kong brand Red A.
The second section, Constellations, takes a more open-ended approach to design, leaning towards the contemporary. 40 works suggest several ways of situating design and the object. On show works by Japanese studio nendo, Hong Kong designer and artist Stanley Wong, Chinese designer Li Naihan, the Swedish group Front, and British designer Jasper Morrison, but also the Sony AIBO (1999), and items recently acquired at Huaqiangbei, the electronics district of Shenzhen.
Many the issues involved including the reinvention of craft, assemblages of found objects, digitally-enabled design and fabrication processes and the reformulation of text, images, and interactions but also the prism of power relations or evolving notions of copying.
How is Hong Kong design scene evolving? Which are the major challenges, risks and opportunities for HK designers and creatives?
Aric Chen: “There’s a lot of support for design in Hong Kong, and thanks to the efforts of a lot of people, there’s a lot more awareness of design, and room for designers to show what they can do. That being said, I think there’s work to be done in growing and maintaining a stronger ideas-driven, discursive culture, and that’s hopefully something M+ can contribute to”.
“With Shifting Objects we approach the exhibition’s temporary nature not through creating vessels for display but we treat it as an architectural intervention” says to Archipanic Betty Ng, founder and director of COLLECTIVE, the studio that designed the exhibition.
“The first five sections of the collection, offer a historical overview in five interconnected and traversable, but differently shaped rooms, with the form of each room echoing the aura of the represented eras. In contrast to the more defined ‘rooms’ of the historic sections, the final section “Contemporary Constellations,” is an open field showcasing more recent design products that still await canonization, ranging from drones, shanzhai objects to open source and digital production processes”.
Photos: courtesy of M+, Hong Kong.