Hong Kong deTour 2020 Showcases How Design Adapts and Evolves in a Post-pandemic Future

New Office Works, Brief Encounters, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of New Office Works and deTour.
Whatever Inc, FLOCK, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of Whatever Inc and deTour.
CoLAB, I’mperfect Lives: A Taste of Decay, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of CoLAB and deTour.
CoLAB, I’mperfect Lives: A Taste of Decay, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of CoLAB and deTour.
NOSIGNER, Identity Face Shield, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of NOSIGNER and deTour.
deTour 2020, PMQ, Hong Kong, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of deTour.
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Social distancing and isolation have essentially stalled and transformed our way of life. This year, annual Hong Kong design festival deTour imagined life moving forward and the role design will have in it.

 

TEXT: Olivia Lai
IMAGES: Courtesy of deTour

It’s impossible to make any detour from the all-encompassing issue that is COVID-19 this year. With that in mind, the annual Hong Kong design festival deTour returned as a virtual online experience as well as a physical exhibition at PMQ between 27 November and 1 December* without shying away from the topic by doing just the opposite—embracing the new world that we live in.

Curated by Hong Kong-based design studio Trilingua with the central theme “Matter of Life”, the design festival posed the question of how we adapt in society and maintain meaningful social connections in the age of a global health crisis—a burning question the 15 selected international and local designers at the festival enthusiastically answered through a collection of interactive and immersive installations. Ranging from self-contained book burning rituals to stickers that trigger a sound effect akin to coin collecting in video games to indicate two-metre gaps, the featured exhibits were displayed throughout the compound interwoven between various shops and gardens as though the works themselves were actively taking part in social distancing.

 

New Office Works, Brief Encounters, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of New Office Works and deTour.
Whatever Inc, FLOCK, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of Whatever Inc and deTour.

 

A sizable digital display awaited visitors the moment they stepped inside the courtyard of PMQ, a mixed-used venue for art and design built on a historic site in Hong Kong’s central district. Titled FLOCK (2020), the large installation is a commissioned work by multinational design collective Whatever Inc. that sought to connect people in an unconventional way. By creating avatars of visitors captured in a flying pose, the image is then extrapolated and imposed onto a giant mural screen. The audience then see themselves joining the rest of the ‘flock’ made up of previous visitors as well as online audiences who uploaded their photos to the deTour website to fly in harmony. Comparisons to Windows screensavers can be made here but the installation invoked a sense of innocence and joy in seeing yourself in a populated cluster. It also drove home the fact many have not flown overseas and this is the audience’s way to take flight.

Innovative designs have the ability to transform ordinary objects into surprising positive outcomes. Design duo CoLAB achieved this by showing how technological food processing and fermenting can turn raw beans and vegetables into beneficial foods for the masses such as kombucha and kimchi, inviting viewers to rethink their definitions on good bacteria. Meanwhile, Orient Occident Atelier turned the traditional Hong Kong practice of sun-drying fruit peels, vegetables and fish into an art form. Pushing the conversation on solution-driven designs, architects Arnold Wong, Keith Chan and Stephen Ip constructed The Recycling Glass Brick Spiral (2020), a miniature wall made up of recycled beverage bottles remodeled into glass bricks. It was a simple demonstration of one of the many potentials of recycling, creating a dialogue on whether sustainable housing via recycling can be possible and highlighting the need for a more transparent urban space at the same time. It’s also worth noting a third of the bricks were made of Corona beer bottles, a possible attempt to redefine the word ‘corona’ on the designers’ part.

 

CoLAB, I’mperfect Lives: A Taste of Decay, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of CoLAB and deTour.
CoLAB, I’mperfect Lives: A Taste of Decay, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of CoLAB and deTour.

 

On the other side of the same coin, other creatives have interpreted the events of 2020 as a preface to a progressively declining society where values people have taken for granted are challenged. While face masks and shields have been literal lifesavers this year, Japanese design firm NOSIGNER tackled the festival’s theme with Identity Face Shield (2020), an eerie display of masked mannequins with pixelated faces printed on them. The collective took their DIY face shields—whose template easily transforms an A4 clear file into a usable shield that’s since been adopted by medical professionals—to address the deterioration of personal identity protection where the shields are used not to protect one from infectious diseases but rather, from exposing one’s identity. In a time where tools like tracking and tracing are instrumental in combating a virus, free movement in the long run is rightly called into question.

 

NOSIGNER, Identity Face Shield, 2020, installation view at deTour 2020, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of NOSIGNER and deTour.

 

Hong Kong multimedia design collective WARE was certainly prepared for the worst as they dove into a dystopian future and imagine breathable air as a luxury. Presented as a fictional pop-up store and showroom, airbank® offered packaged air from countries including Australia and Sweden, as well as oxygen generated from living plants, both of which could be breathed in by visitors via oxygen masks that gave out small bursts of air. Displayed in two glass cases, the exhibit presented a visceral imagery on how we take natural resources for granted and whether this adaptation is a route the world wants to go down.

 

deTour 2020, PMQ, Hong Kong, 27 November – 6 December 2020. Image courtesy of deTour.

 

Interactivity has always been a key element at deTour but the festival has managed to find ways to keep things participatory and playful while respecting safety measures for its first socially distanced exhibition. There was a slight lack of cohesiveness with the tour being interrupted by retail shops but the physical exhibition was well-worth visiting for those in Hong Kong. Complemented with various workshops, a dozen panels and talks, and a host of concurrent events on location, deTour’s programme provides great insight into innovation yet to be explored and the exhibition was a breath of fresh air—quite literally—for those suffering from withdrawal for their art and cultural fix this year.

 

deTour 2020
27 November — 1 December*
PMQ, Hong Kong

*Originally slated to be on view through 6 December, the physical exhibition has been closed early due to the  current COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong. The virtual components remain accessible online.

 

 
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