Every year in March, Asia Art Archive
(AAA) hosts a booth of a very different kind at Art Basel in Hong Kong
. The programme, called Open Platform, supports live events in the form of 'meetings without walls', involving curators, artists, students and more.
AAA is a non-profit organisation established to document Asia’s recent art history. As the independent organisation points out, it’s "more than a static repository"; rather, it’s about driving new thinking and nurturing contemporary art in our region – something that Open Platform helps achieve.
AAA Art Basel 2015 booth. Designed by Studio Christian Wassmann & Francesca Grassi, New York in consultation with Sky Yutaka Ltd., Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Christian Wassmann
Working with a jury, AAA selected COLLECTIVE
to work on Open Platform 2016; headed by Betty Ng, the Hong Kong-based design studio emphasises the connection of theory and practice, and the growth of Asia’s art ecology. Meanwhile, design firm Sky Yutaka
acted as coordinating architect on the 2015 booth, working with Studio Christian Wassmann and Francesca Grassi, who were lead architects on the programme.
COLLECTIVE and Sky Yutaka came together on 27 January for a lecture at Bloomberg on the opportunities for art practices in Asia. Here, Betty Ng and Sky Yutaka’s Sarah Kwok Yan Lee and Yutaka Yano talk about Open Platform and fostering art through design.
Betty, please tell us about COLLECTIVE’s design for AAA's Open Platform booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2016.
Our proposal to the call for the Asia Art Archive (AAA)'s 2016 Open Platform booth commission responds to the unique site of Hong Kong as a place for developing a contemporary art ecology in Asia. We offer an enclosed space for focused and ongoing dialogues, bringing together thinkers and practitioners from all corners of the globe on the occasion of Art Basel in Hong Kong.
Betty Ng, Architect and Founder of Collective. Image courtesy of COLLECTIVE
The exterior material vocabulary of two bands of reflective surfaces consciously holds references to the generation of conceptual artists focused on tactile materiality, from Dan Graham and Robert Smithson to the Arte Provera movement, as well as Rasheed Araeen and Liu Wei, in offering an exceptional marker of identity for AAA, which has made important contributions to the critical discourse of Asia. At the same time, the blurring of boundaries, between inside and outside, through the mirrored surface, provides both the needed focus for discussions on the inside and a visual continuity that offers reflection and engagement with the public on the outside.
Sky Yutaka was involved in choosing the design team for this year’s Open Platform programme. Why did you go for COLLECTIVE's design? Was the fact that you designed the booth last year helpful when it came to choosing COLLECTIVE this year?
The entries were presented anonymously and, together with the jury comprising AAA, Art Basel, and as part of the advisory committee with Colin Fournier and MAP Office, we made the joint decision to award the winning scheme after assessing a diverse range of submissions and further shortlisting to three schemes.
Having participated in the construction of the previous booth, we were well aware of the technical constraints, conditions and challenges with the site, and the new challenges a different, larger location presents. Understanding the user's perspective gave us an insight into ensuring that the proposal had the potential to develop with these requirements and following our interview with COLLECTIVE, we all felt they had the approach and enthusiasm to bring this to the next stage.
What are the challenges involved in designing a booth like this?
The booth this year has a different location and larger floor area compared to the previous ones. Given the limited timeframe and a constrained budget, we have to be extremely resourceful, while not giving up the core values of engagement, display, and dialogue. The AAA team has been extremely helpful and we are confident to be able to maneuver through the conditions.
While we were developing the Excessive Enthusiasm: Ha Bik Chuen and the Archive as Practice
exhibition for Asia Art Archive's library, with our experience of building in Hong Kong and working with contractors, we worked with the team to manage and realise the construction of Christian's O-Structure booth.
Exhibition view of Excessive Enthusiasm: Ha Bik Chuen and the Archive as Practice, 11 March-3 July, 2015, Asia Art Archive. Image courtesy of Asia Art Archive
At the outset, we spent time with Christian, a Swiss architect whose studio is based in New York, to understand the design intent and establish certain principles that would enable the structure to be realised locally. There was a particular geometry and setting out of the structure which required precise drawings to fit in to the site context and we interpreted these whilst establishing a construction sequence so the production house could more easily manufacture and pre-fabricate offsite for ease of installation prior to the programme opening.
Through a period of discussion with Asia Art Archive and the lead architect, the design successfully addressed the brief. This called for a clear and open booth, which had the concept of creating 'meetings without walls' and an architectural identity for AAA. The booth also needed to have sufficient presence as part of the art fair and within the busy public area of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. It met a number of spatial and functional constraints that combined AAA's needs, including the presentation of a range of publications and programme collateral, as well as the technical needs of the booth for lighting and acoustics.
'Cultural Residencies in China' Open Platform session at Art Basel 2015. Image courtesy of Christian Wassmann
How does the Open Platform booth help nurture the city's art ecology?
Even though our project will only be up for less than a week in March, and potentially longer elsewhere, we think it helps contribute to the diversity that is important both to the 'arts ecology' and to good urbanism at large. We have brought our experiences – garnered in some of the best design offices and think tanks abroad – and have localised this kind of 'global knowhow' within the specificity of Hong Kong. Even in the way we work, carefully in many ways going back to the fundamentals, we think methodologically it contributes to the heterogeneity and creativity of the city.
AAA's mission is to design and build a discursive and live events platform for Art Basel in Hong Kong and create valuable opportunity for the creative community to gather stimulates conversation through the discursive and live events programme, something that's much needed in Hong Kong. The cultural partnership of AAA with Art Basel this year provides added opportunity, through another open call, for others to benefit by receiving and using the platform to conduct programmes beyond Art Basel.
Open Platform allows for significant discussions with an international cultural community to take place locally and in developing future programmes to do the same. The scale of the project also encourages conversations on a more human scale, inviting people together. And the fourth annual Open Platform programme continues to contribute significantly to Hong Kong's cultural context.
Art Basel in Hong Kong runs from 24 to 26 March this year. Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai. artbasel.com/hong-kong
Asia Art Archive