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BELGIUM CALLING

The curious yet sober touch of Belgian design descended upon Hong Kong in December, as part of Business of Design Week. Iliyas Ong reports.

Belgium Spirit


BY Janice Seow

December 17th, 2013


For six days in early December, Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week (BODW) played host to the best of Belgian design. ‘Belgian Spirit’ unified the three regions of Belgium – Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels – to cogently express the Low Country’s curious yet sober design language. A series of workshops, exhibitions and seminars was held as part of the design week, including the purpose-built House of Belgian Spirit ‘pavilion’ and the travelling exhibition ‘Tales of Heroes’.

Belgium Spirit

The House of Belgian Spirit served as the headquarters for Belgian design for the duration of the week. Not only did it present products and furniture from popular brands from the European nation, such as Tamawa, Artglas and llinell, the pavilion housed the ‘Tales of Heroes’ exhibition; the latter featured more than 45 design objects that attempt to negotiate the opposing impulses of nostalgia and modernity.

Belgium Spirit

“Nostalgia and innovation can form an amazing duo when innovation is used to create more prosperity, while the speed and superficiality of our society, the economic laws, the disposable culture and the lack of historical awareness even so are eliminated,” the curators, Inge Vranken and Christian Oosterlinck, write in the exhibition notes. “The time has come for some reflection.”

Belgium Spirit

Utanolog, a ceramic teapot designed by Antwerp-based studio Unfold, harks back to 1975, the year when British computer graphics professor Martin Newell digitally rendered his wife’s teapot as an experiment in 3D modelling. The resulting digital blueprint eventually became a reference point widely used among the computer graphics community. Utanolog mimics the strict geometry of Newell’s virtual teapot, translating its iconic polygon shape into the physical world and steeping an everyday, utilitarian product in computing history.

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In comparison, the House of Belgian Spirit pavilion sought to address the theme of unity between the three distinct Belgian regions as well as between ‘Tales of Heroes’ and the more commercial exhibits, according to scenographer David Carette of Demain, il fera jour. The House, constructed with PVC and wood, comprised three areas: a networking area, a 16.5m by 12.5m space for ‘Tales of Heroes’, and display rooms for commercial brands to parade their wares. The latter were arranged in the shape of a ‘U’ (a subtle nod to the word ‘unity’), within which sits the other two areas.

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“The idea behind the pavilion was that no one could be isolated,” says Carette. So, taking inspiration from bamboo shoots, the 41-year-old designer separated the commercial work and ‘Tales of Heroes’ with repeating PVC panels that attendees could swivel to pass through. That these panels were translucent also subdued the frontier between the discrete areas.

“Additionally, I didn’t want the House to be too cheesy, and we had to show respect to the people we were visiting,” adds Carette. “I like the idea of Asian design in the House; the idea of repetition with the translucent panels is very organic.”

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Products on display in the House of Belgian Spirit included, among others, eccentric timepieces and homeware from Tamawa; ornate glassware from Artglas; and austere lighting from llinell. While each brand had its own signature style, they were linked by an aesthetic that is at once pragmatic and imaginative. Even the items in ‘Tales of Heroes’ carried this unmistakable Belgian flavour.

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“Belgian design is very mature,” affirms Carette. “We have been producing design objects for a long time. It’s not new. So it’s a very mature market, and the designs are really solid. Belgian design is always poetic, and can also be very conceptual – intellectual but with a poetic aspect. And you can also find unexpected and quirky things.”