On 8th December 2018, Design Trust co-presented a special panel “Contemporary Heritage/ Translating Culture” at Business of Design Week (BODW) 2018’s forum “Culture and The City”.
Ewan McEoin, Senior Curator at the Department of Contemporary Design and Architecture of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), shared with us the role of design activism in curating contemporary heritage, and how it shapes and informs cultures, while challenging the status quo. Through different commissions given to designers in the last five years, through different exhibitions, NGV has explored how design impacts economy, and questions the past, while developing propositions, and influencing discourse. Ewan talked about the projects he commissioned that challenges design curation in discourses of ecology, politics, and social issues, under five titles. "Cause and effect" was about the mass use of electronics and plastics and their waste impact and recycling capacity. "Design heritage" and "Design narrative" examined the traditional crafts, how they informed culture, and recontextualized material culture. "Prototyping the future" related to the redefinition of materials, production lines, robotics and algorithms. Finally, "Evolving Traditions" was about culture as reference and the form of future. Ewan concluded with emphasizing that curating contemporary heritage is about industrial systems, culture, economies, but our role as curators, designers, and consumers is to learn from the past to create better futures.
The second presentation by Jefa Greenaway, Co-founder of Greenaway Architects, was about indigeneity and revealing layers of history and memory. He talked about indigenous cultures as part of a diverse society, influencing the urban planning, the design education curriculum, and changing the design guidelines today. Engaging with indigenous community is what good designs offers, he emphasized. As Melbourne regains public space, we understand responsibility of designers in revealing the layers of memory and understanding the places we locate. Through his own projects and collaborations, Jefa asked the question: "Can we embed indigenous perspectives, sensibilities, knowledge systems into our cities?" For him, we need to develop responses to this question as designers, in order to reconcile a colonial past, connect to culture in a culturally respective way, create cultural resilience through time, and activate agency for indigenous people.
Marisa Yiu, Co-founder / Executive Director, Design Trust, opened up the panel by reconceptualizing the idea of curating contemporary heritage as translating culture, and by touching upon the notions of sustainability, ownership, shared values, and total design. She talked about the position of design practice, investing in the tangible and the intangible as agency. Bringing new voices and young generation to design, how craft can play a role, and the roles of cultural tourism in the shaping of the 2019 Design Trust Futures Studio programme, undergoing planning for the 1930s building Haw Par Mansion.
Elaine Yan Ling NG, Founder of The Fabrick Lab in Hong Kong, talked about her projects on textile making, the Guizhou project: "how do we create an ecosystem for heritage craft?" and emphasized how we need to not just think of heritage in a museum otherwise the value of making of it will be lost. Afterwards, she talked about her design proposal for Haw Par Mansion, in textures. She talked about the problem of authenticity, looking into the motifs and colors, carpet techniques responding to textures of the house, and bringing narratives together.
Suzy Anetta, Editor-in Chief, Design Anthology, HK, responded to the presentations by asking more opportunity for dialogue, and Jefa by questioning cultural authenticity – as the world grows – people want to experience and connect deep in time – as engaging experience through the built environment. Ewan mentioned the risk of cultural appropriation- how to make it respectful? and pointed at the importance of facilitating cultural knowledge, and engaging in and being respectful to the indigenous knowledge, and asked "How does Hong Kong respect its own culture in its built environment?"
The process of generating layers of history, the issues of balance between infrastructure development and cultural conservation, the difficulties of understanding the culture and people, and the characteristics and dynamics of the local context were some of the specific issues that were addressed regarding Hong Kong; design can contribute to change, but these complex processes need to be navigated, along with a sense of optimism through exploring new notions of curating “contemporary heritage” as vital.
Jefa Greenaway (Greenaway Architects, Melbourne)
Ewan McEoin (Senior Curator, Department of Contemporary Design and Architecture, National Galery of Victoria, Melbourne)
Elaine Yan Ling NG (Founder, The Fabrick Lab, HK)
Lyndon Neri (Founding Partner, Neri&Hu Design & Research Office, Mainland of China)
Lars Nittve (CEO & Chairman, Nittve Information Limited, Sweden)
Jason Frantzen (Partner, Herzog & de Meuron, Switzerland)
Marisa Yiu (Co-founder / Executive Director, Design Trust, HK)
Suzy Anetta (Editor-in Chief, Design Anthology, HK)