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Green, whimsy, irony: environmental theme for Hong Kong's hippest design exhibition

Green, whimsy, irony: environmental theme for Hong Kong's hippest design exhibition

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HONG KONG -- Green is a hot topic, and designers want to be part of the conversation at Detour 2011.

Eggshell candles created by KaCaMa Design Lab

HONG KONG -- Only approaching its third annual incarnation, Detour has managed to become the hippest design event in Hong Kong. Running from Nov. 25 to Dec. 11 this year, the large-scale exhibition of predominantly local artists’ works will be housed in a disused government building that was once a dormitory for married police personnel, just on the edge of the Central financial district.

The exhibition is always a fun event that allows visitors to go from room to room, and out to the courtyard, to explore dozens of whimsical installations. This year, it will also feature artists from Germany, Shanghai and the U.K., including Anna Garforth, who is known for her signage lettering made out of natural or recycled materials such as moss or leaves.

Garforth's contribution is fitting, as Detour's theme this year is both “Use Less” and “Useless.” Many of the installations, exhibitions and workshops will feature the reuse of discarded materials, while others will attempt to poignantly raise questions about the ways we interact with the environment.

“The theme is trying to bring out the message of environmentalism from many angles, in a multifaceted, multimedia way,” said Chris Ng from idN magazine, one of the event’s organizers. “The message will have to slowly seep into society, and we hope to be part of that.”

There will be an installation that turns a room into a vertical garden all along the walls, with a computer sitting in the middle of the room. The idea, said its designer Leo Chan, is to point out that people might spend so much time researching green issues online that they fail to enjoy the surrounding greenery.

Another room will hang potted plants that visitors can claim by attaching their names to them, but the new owners are expected to come back and take care of the plants for the two-week duration of the exhibition. “It will be interesting — in an ironic way — to see how may people can actually keep their plant alive,” Chan said.

Yesterdayskin will hold workshops on creating fashionable pieces out of unwanted clothing

Design group The Cave will exhibit furniture made of wood pieces salvaged from discarded shipping pallets. The group’s founder, Chen Jian-chi, explained that his team started looking for discarded furniture and other junk to outfit their studio, and then they realized the wooden planks from used shipping crates make great building material. From then on, “everyday was like going hunting, scavenging from materials in the street,” Chen said.

According to Chen, because shipping pallets are custom made to hold specific merchandise, they generally cannot be reused and end up thrown out. The Cave’s handmade chairs and coffee tables made with this wood have striking designs and are functional pieces. But "the final product isn’t the end. We also want to show that by putting in some effort, many things can be reused,” Chen said.

Prominent street-art duo Graphic Airlines wants to draw attention to recycling and promote a more bicycle-friendly city at the same time. They created a large stuffed polar bear out of old t-shirts and mounted it on a bicycle that they hope people will ride around the exhibition grounds.

“We want people to see that art isn’t such a serious thing — you can play with it too,” said Tat, one half of Graphic Airlines.

Alan Lo, chairman of Ambassadors of Design, the event’s organizer, said as environmental concerns build in Hong Kong and greater China, designers play an unusual artist’s role. “In the creative community, design stands out from the rest of art because it serves a function,” he said. “We notice problems around us and in society and come up with projects that are reactions to these problems.”

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure