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Heritage Is Innovation: Memory And Meaning In Haw Par Mansion

A new exhibition from Design Trust Futures Studio brings history and new methods of making together in the former Hong Kong home of the founder of Tiger Balm.

  • Uphill Downhill Tiger (acoustic textural panels) by Polly Ho & Andy Wong (Hong Kong), mentored by Frank Leung & Irene Lai of via. (Hong Kong)



BY Tamsin Bradshaw

September 24th, 2019


As ‘The King of Tiger Balm’, Aw Boon Haw made a home for himself in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation in World War 2 – and it is this distinctive mansion that has become the platform for, as well as the inspiration for, an exhibition presented by Design Trust Futures Studio.

It’s a rare thing to get access to Haw Par Mansion, which was built in 1936 in the Chinese Renaissance style. In recent years, it has been repurposed as a music school, Haw Par Music, but, other than a handful of musicians and their teachers, few have seen beyond the doors of this distinctive building.

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Totem Tile Lights (lighting installation) by Florian Wegenast & Christine Lew (Germany/ US/ Hong Kong), mentored by Douglas Young (Hong Kong)

The opening of this exhibition, Heritage Is Innovation, however, marks the beginning of a time during which the public will be able to wander through the rooms of this beautifully restored space, experiencing something of its rich history.

And, with this exhibition, the mansion’s history – and indeed, the history of the city itself – is brought to life through the works of some of Hong Kong’s most talented young designers.

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Work from the Uphill Downhill Tiger series (acoustic textural panels) by Polly Ho & Andy Wong (Hong Kong), mentored by Frank Leung & Irene Lai of via. (Hong Kong)

On show until 30 September 2019, the exhibition looks at heritage, innovation and identity, using site-specific works by mentees of Design Trust Futures Studio, a long-term program whose mission is to encourage conversation, debate and dialogue about the role of design in contemporary culture through life-long mentor-mentee collaborations.

The mentees involved in Heritage Is Innovation are Elaine Yan Ling Ng, Julie Progin and Jessie McLin of Latitude 22N, Polly Ho and Andy Wang, Xavier Tsang, Adonian Chan, Florian Wegenast and Christine Lew, Ire Tsui, Sharon Tsang-de-Lyster, and Michael Leung and Rony Chan.

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House of Haw Par (souvenirs) by Ire Tsui, Rony Chan and Michael Leung (Hong Kong), mentored by Alexander Groves & Azusa Murakami (New York | London)

Curating, partnering and mentoring the exhibition are Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami (Studio Swine), Brendan Cormier, Douglas Young (Goods of Desire), Frank Leung and Irene Lai (via.), Professor Ho Puay-Peng, Hunter Tura, Lyndon Neri and Rosanna Hu (Neri & Hu), Michael Young, Roger Wu (Haw Par Music), Michelle Chu (Tai Ping), and Marisa Yiu (Design Trust).

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10 Scents & Sensory Fragments (multi-sensory design) by Xavier Tsang (Hong Kong), mentored by Michael Young (Hong Kong)

The works on show at Haw Par Mansion present design in various different forms, and many of the pieces are interactive. Xavier Tsang’s work, for example, blends scent with touchable, movable sculpture in the house’s former dining room, using smell to evoke memory and mythology, and to pay tribute to the Ten Courts of Hell, a gruesome yet fascinating mural that was the most infamous aspect of Tiger Balm Garden Hong Kong. The fantastical garden once sat next to the mansion but sadly it was demolished in 2004 when the site was purchased by a developer.

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Terra Mobile (functional sculptural objects) by Julie Progin & Jesse Mc Lin (Latitude 22N, Hong Kong), mentored by Professor Puay-Peng Ho (Singapore)

Latitude 22N’s work, a series of functional sculptures made of recycled yarn, tufted rugs and ceramic, are intended to be sat on, pushed around and played with. These sit on the roof, their organic forms echoing the dramatic silhouettes of the mountains behind and recalling the strange shapes that once filled Tiger Balm Garden Hong Kong.

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Dancing Phoenix (feature carpet) by Elaine Yan Ling Ng (Hong Kong), mentored by Lyndon Neri & Rossana Hu of Neri & Hu (Shanghai)

Back inside the mansion is Elaine Yan Ling Ng’s magical carpet – a rainbow of colour decorated with two fabulous phoenixes that sits front and centre in Haw Par Mansion’s entry hall. Designated by the Antiques and Monuments Office, this six-metre piece is the result of painstaking experimentation on the part of Ng and the artisans of Tai Ping. The team used innovative interactive fibres to create a dynamic carpet that changes depending on the temperature and the time of day, while still recalling the colours and creatures on the carpet that historically dominated this space.

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“We see heritage preservation as a positive, optimistic, hopeful moment during these times.”

– Marisa Yiu

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Upstairs in the master bedroom, visitors can explore the process of how this incredible rug was made, as well as discovering how some of the other pieces were made, too. It’s a beautiful dialogue between a heritage space, old ways of making, and new learnings about how we can design and create pieces that have meaning – and that evoke collective and personal memory.

“There’s something very special about the deep history and how it evokes memories and layers of experience of history and time,” says Marisa Yiu, who is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Design Trust. “This is a very special moment in Hong Kong history,” says Yiu. “We see heritage preservation as a positive, optimistic, hopeful moment during these times.”

Heritage Is Innovation opened on 13 September and closes on 30 September 2019 at Haw Par Music, 15A Tai Hang Road, Tai Hang. Entry is free.