Mas­ters of De­sign

For suc­cess in the fu­ture you must recog­nise the past. So say Alan Chan and Stan­ley Wong on the eve of an ex­hi­bi­tion they’ve cu­rated to pay trib­ute to the city’s cre­ative flair. The de­sign gu­rus dis­cuss their am­bi­tious project with Mar­i­anna Cerini

Hong Kong Tatler - - August - Pho­tog­ra­phy lau­rent se­gretier Styling an­son lau shot on lo­ca­tion at the asia so­ci­ety

For suc­cess in the fu­ture you must recog­nise the past. So say Alan Chan and Stan­ley Wong on the eve of an ex­hi­bi­tion they’ve cu­rated to pay trib­ute to the city’s cre­ative flair. The de­sign gu­rus dis­cuss their am­bi­tious project

“D es­ign is every­where—and Hong Kong brims with it, from the lat­est fur­ni­ture store to the ty­pog­ra­phy on the menu at your lo­cal cha chaan teng. We should give it the at­ten­tion it de­serves. Don’t you agree?” It takes just a few mo­ments lis­ten­ing to an en­thu­si­as­tic Alan Chan on the sub­ject of his lat­est project to de­cide that, yes, we def­i­nitely should.

Luck­ily, the de­sign and brand­ing guru had a plan—and a part­ner in its ex­e­cu­tion, long­time friend and fel­low artist Stan­ley Wong. The re­sult is Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong, an ex­hi­bi­tion en­com­pass­ing “de­sign at large” made and nur­tured in the city. Its some thou­sand works are grouped in 11 cat­e­gories— graphic & pub­li­ca­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy, prod­ucts & toys, fash­ion, space, ar­chi­tec­ture, mu­sic, film, me­dia, advertising, and comic & il­lus­tra­tion— and are on dis­play at City Hall in Cen­tral from Au­gust 6 and Comix Home Base in Wan Chai from Au­gust 17.

The cu­ra­tors of this trib­ute to our city’s cul­ture and of­ten-over­looked cre­ative flair could not be bet­ter equipped for the project. A vis­ual artist, col­lec­tor and en­tre­pre­neur, Alan founded his epony­mous stu­dio, Hong Kong’s first ma­jor de­sign brand, in 1980, and later es­tab­lished the cul­tural venues Gallery 27 and Space 27. His works have been col­lected by in­sti­tu­tions such as the Mu­seum of De­sign in Zurich, the Na­tional Art Mu­seum in Bei­jing and Hong Kong’s own M+, and have ap­peared at the Shang­hai Bi­en­nale and other in­ter­na­tional events.

Also an advertising maven, Stan­ley has worked as cre­ative direc­tor for a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional advertising com­pa­nies. Like Alan, he started his own de­sign ven­ture, 84000 Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and branched into con­tem­po­rary art, from film­mak­ing to pho­tog­ra­phy, with his work be­ing shown at im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional events such as the Venice Bi­en­nale. He is known in the art world un­der the pseu­do­nym an­oth­er­moun­tain­man, and widely ac­claimed for his Red White Blue se­ries, works that in­cor­po­rate dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als—fabric, plas­tic, can­vas—in the three hues.

Col­lec­tively, they’ve won more than 1,000 awards in the cre­ative sec­tor. It’s hard to think of a duo more qual­i­fied—or more in­tel­lec­tu­ally and ar­tis­ti­cally in synch—to put to­gether a show of this kind. Re­peat­edly through­out our in­ter­view, they fin­ish each other’s sen­tences. They take turns an­swer­ing ques­tions, the other adding de­tails or com­ments. Alan is the more ex­tro­verted: he can hardly sit still as he dis­cusses the con­cept for the ex­hi­bi­tion, talk­ing ex­cit­edly, scrib­bling down notes he’ll later share with the team and oc­ca­sion­ally jump­ing up to point at a Pow­erpoint pre­sen­ta­tion on a big screen. Stan­ley is qui­eter, more re­strained,

but he clearly holds his opin­ions with equal pas­sion. Their affin­ity is ob­vi­ous, and not just on an in­tel­lec­tual level; their out­fits are com­ple­men­tary and their black round-framed glasses match.

“We’ve been friends for decades,” says Alan, “and have worked very well to­gether on projects in the past. When I first came up with the idea for the show two years ago, I knew I had to have Stan­ley on board. We bal­ance each other—al­most like hus­band and wife.” With that, Stan­ley chimes in: “More than that! Alan’s wife once said I prob­a­bly know him bet­ter than she does.”

But as much as they clearly en­joy work­ing to­gether, both are quick to em­pha­sise that Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong isn’t about them, nor about their per­sonal profit. “The show is about the city and its per­son­al­ity,” says Alan. “That’s where the fo­cus should lie. We’ve been in the business for forty-some­thing years, so we re­ally know it up­side down. Very Hong Kong, Very Hong Kong is our way to give that knowl­edge back to so­ci­ety.”

“We’re be­ing very am­bi­tious [with the pro­gramme], but Hong Kong needs an event like this,” adds Stan­ley. “It’s es­sen­tial to show sup­port to the lo­cal cre­ative scene and to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about what we’ve ac­com­plished as an artis­tic com­mu­nity.”

Shift­ing between past, present and fu­ture, their ex­hi­bi­tion sets out to ex­plore the el­e­ments of de­sign in­her­ent to the city, from the play­ers that have shaped the idea of “De­signed in Hong Kong” to the ev­ery­day items that are so in­trin­si­cally lo­cal: street signs, clothes, Can­topop songs, crum­bling ed­i­fices and bee­hive-like res­i­den­tial and business com­plexes. By do­ing so, says Alan, the hope is to “give new mo­men­tum to the cur­rent pack of vi­sion­ar­ies and de­sign­ers.”

For this first edi­tion, the pair chose 20 en­tries to rep­re­sent each cat­e­gory. Se­lect­ing them proved to be a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “We’re both from Hong Kong,” Alan says. “We love this city. Choos­ing what to dis­play was quite emo­tional, but or­ganic, too—which is why the show feels so poignant to me. It’s our cel­e­bra­tion of what it means to be­long to this me­trop­o­lis.”

“There’s a strong—and quite sad, if you ask me—dis­con­nect between the new gen­er­a­tion and the city’s cre­ative past,” Stan­ley con­tin­ues. “Most peo­ple to­day don’t even re­alise the long jour­ney Hong Kong has gone through. They don’t know where they stand, which in­her­ently means they don’t know how to look ahead on their own, with­out try­ing to im­i­tate the West. Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong stirs from th­ese con­sid­er­a­tions and aims to il­lus­trate that we do have plenty to be proud of.”

“Stan­ley is 100 per cent right,” con­tin­ues Alan. “Hong Kong creativity is good. It can be

bet­ter, that’s for sure, but it is good and it has been good. So, no more un­der­es­ti­mat­ing it. That’s im­per­a­tive if we want to re­ally leave a mean­ing­ful mark. Only when you un­der­stand where you’ve come from do you learn how to move for­ward. Who you are. We want to ad­dress all this.”

Such re­solve might be be­hind the city ad­min­is­tra­tion giv­ing its bless­ings to the ex­hi­bi­tion, and pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port. “When Stan­ley agreed to join me in the cu­ra­tor­ship, he sug­gested pitch­ing the project to the gov­ern­ment,” Alan ex­plains (Stan­ley promptly adding that Alan’s vi­sion was too good not to go big­ger with it). “They loved the idea and of­fered their back­ing—although much of the plan­ning has taken place in my of­fice and with my staff,” Alan laughs. “So far, we have a team of around 10 vol­un­teers and four full-time peo­ple on it. It’s taken a lot of our time and re­sources, but we’re fine with that. Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong could kick-start a new chap­ter in the city’s cre­ative scope. Hence we’ve pro­posed turn­ing it into a bi­en­nial ini­tia­tive.”

“Some­one else would have to cu­rate the next edi­tion though,” Stan­ley in­ter­jects, “so Alan and I can take a step back and rest a lit­tle. It would also be in­ter­est­ing to see fel­low Hong Kong de­sign­ers give their in­put on the se­lec­tion process.”

“Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong is part of the artis­tic re­nais­sance Hong Kong is go­ing through,” says Alan. “M+, Art Basel, the Af­ford­able Art Fair … All of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions and events are po­si­tion­ing the city as a world-class arts hub. We want this ex­hi­bi­tion to have that same reach, with the in­volve­ment of the lo­cal cre­ative com­mu­nity at large.”

The pair are also work­ing on a bilin­gual pub­li­ca­tion on the city’s cre­ative his­tory and evo­lu­tion to be re­leased later this year un­der the same ti­tle as the ex­hi­bi­tion. “They will serve as ar­chives of the city’s de­sign and artis­tic ta­lent,” says Stan­ley. Alan takes it up a notch: “They’ll be the Bi­ble of Hong Kong’s creativity.”

I am not sure whether it’s their en­thu­si­asm, their am­bi­tious vi­sion or both, but by the time we say good­bye, I feel a sense of ex­cite­ment about what the show might come to rep­re­sent for Hong Kong’s cre­ative scene, not just here but on the in­ter­na­tional level.

“The dream would be to turn it into a trav­el­ling show,” Alan tells me be­fore I leave. Judg­ing by their res­o­lu­tion, that’s likely to hap­pen sooner rather than later.

Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong runs from Au­gust 6 to 20 at City Hall and Au­gust 17 to 29 at Comix Home Base. More de­tails on the pro­gramme can be found at veryhkveryhk.com

Love Let­ter to the City “We are both from Hong Kong, and have a deep, per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with the city,” says Alan. “The show is our trib­ute to it.” Alan wears a coat by Mai­son Margiela

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