HONG KONG – When does a house become a home? When it is no longer empty, filled with individuals occupying it, and imbued with life. And this year, Swire Hotels’ The House Collective (THC), a group of refined, highly individual hotels in Asia, is launching the 2021 edition of their biennial art programme, ‘Encounters Across Cultures,’ to fill their houses with art and celebrate the immeasurable creativity that comes through multicultural collaboration.
With locales and spaces in Beijing, Hong Kong, Chengdu and Shanghai, The House Collective has invited artists from around the world to come together to create and explore the concept of space and movement through their art. After a year of restrictions and lockdowns due to the pandemic, it is no surprise that there is such great desire to return to the artistic field, and emerge with new work that encapsulates a sense of togetherness across borders.
“Each of The House Collective’s four properties are highly individualized in location and culture, and this year’s Art Programme celebrates these distinctive and authentic cities while also showcasing the universal connection they share to cities around the world through art,” Said Dean Winters, Managing Director for Swire Hotels.
This year’s programme is headed by Clarissa Tam, Art Programmes Lead at THC, and Patsy Lo, curator and producer of the art program. In exploring space and movement, this year’s programme will be realized through interactive video installations that are coupled with varying styles of dance movements. Each work takes inspiration from the architecture behind each House, and encourage viewers to appreciate the spaces they spend time in and even find new ways to experience them.
Speaking to Clarissa and Patsy over Zoom, we found out more about the 2-year preparation period that went into the programme, the conceptualisation of the work, and the collaborative process. “The programme itself came about as we wanted to become more active in bringing in artists and creatives into our spaces, with the idea that it would be a programme we could run for a long time,” says Clarissa. “And a lot of what we produced revolved around the idea of bringing people from different backgrounds together, a multidisciplinary project where artists were influenced by the architects.”
“Even when COVID-19 struck, we had a lot of optimism, because we were already working on the project, and we had such a great team. Once we got used to the new normal, it was easier to get into the swing of things and learn how to continue creating even under these circumstances.”– Clarissa Tam
The process, Clarissa says, developed quite organically, with the artists and architects understanding each other’s work and how it would interplay with each other. “The idea behind a house is that it’s a personal space, with individual characteristics, compared to hotels which are more about a standardized, consistent experience,” she says. “Every house then, celebrate differences, quirks, and the individual human aspect of it, and it’s a lot of fun.”
“In general, we give the artists freedom to work, and interpret the given space of the houses and unique spaces themselves. Our artists also come in with the spirit of open collaboration, who want to reach out to more people and push themselves to new heights in the process,” she adds. “These new artists are all about bringing in something new while working in harmony with given space, and it was important that they felt comfortable.”
Proof of the success of such collaborative methods comes through in the first ‘Chapter’ of the project, titled Shanghai Textures Meet Beijing Geometry, which runs till 30th October. First taking place at The Middle House, Shanghai, before moving on to The Opposite House, Beijing, this first chapter demonstrates the universal language of dance as French creative studio, acno, and Hong Kong-based studio, The Collective join forces with contemporary dance artists, Yu Jingying, founder of YING Dance theatre, and Li Xinmeng, the creator of NoSpace.
These collaborators designed a choreography that takes spectators on a journey through the architect of the two Houses, drawing inspiration from Piero Lissoni’s mysterious ceramic bamboo forest at The Middle House and Kengo Kuma’s glowing geometric forms at The Opposite House. Audience members themselves can also affect the installation with their movements, able to start or pause time with their body’s motions, or transforming into ‘moving sculptures’ that allows them to create art with their bodies.
Come 23rd September, Chapter 2: Hong Kong Serenity Meets Chengdu Contrasts, will begin its run at The Upper House, Hong Kong before shifting to The Temple House, Chengdu, and spotlights the distinctive styles of the two Houses. While the Temple House weaves Qing dynasty structures with contemporary designs, The Upper House embodies André Fu’s sense of understated luxury, and are brought out through the contrasting dance styles of ballet and hip hop.
Ballerina Hennes Yuen will lead the audience through The Upper House, a tranquil haven resting above the city, while hip-hop dancer Wan Siming taps into the young creative energy of the city’s hip-hop culture through the contemporary design aesthetic of The Temple House. Directed by Leo Liu with choreographed movements by Yuh Egami (of the Hong Kong Ballet) and Andrea Carrucciu (who played Macbeth in Sleep No More), the dancers combine their different genres to deliver a harmonious and arresting performance despite the contrasts in their styles.
“It was very fortunate that despite all the travel restrictions, we had opportunities like having André Fu (architect of the Upper House) walk our choreographer through the space, and explain his design process personally,” says Clarissa. “Just hearing André felt like listening to someone walking through a choreography as they moved through the space, explaining rhythm and pace, the idea of how the architecture was sometimes still and resting. It just goes to show that these different forms of art do connect, and offers our collaborators opportunities for more creative growth.”
Behind the project’s success, Clarissa also had immense help from teammate and collaborator Patsy Lo, who curated and produced the programme. “The House Collective commissioned me to work on this project, and Clarissa was the one who called me up to get involved,” says Patsy. “We talked a lot about the potential dance and architecture had together, and how there was so much to excavate from the space, from the Italian aesthetics to the Eastern elements, and how the emotions are expressed both through the space and the body when you combine the art forms.”
“There’s a lot of common ground between the art forms, and as I went around each House, watching the choreographer blend these ideas and inspirations together showcased how rich their imaginations were, and epitomised their sense of creativity,” she adds.
“There’s this one part of the choreography where you see the dancer just leaning on the reception desk, and he’s creating architectural shapes through dance,” says Patsy. “They’re reacting to the shape of the spiral staircase, highlighting the shape and aesthetics of the space, and capturing the spirit of the place. Another example is if you look at The Temple House in Chengdu, it’s based on Szechuan rice terraces, and the hiphop movements choreographed are made to resemble how the rice in the paddy fields move in the wind. All these different angles and corners people may not have noticed, they all come out through the art of dance.”
“Something as simple as how a colour makes you feel can be a form of inspiration, and the entire process, it’s challenging the artists to create these magical moments from opposing forces, like hiphop and ballet, and putting them together, to translate these architectural structures into movements with emotion. It is our differences that shed light on the many possibilities, rather than divide us, it brings us together, teaches us to trust each other, and to amplify a seemingly simple art project to be so much bigger than it is.”– Patsy Lo
“It’s fascinating to see how the space actively influences each choreography, impacting the way they move and really drawing from these feelings of how COVID has limited them from going outside, giving so much more space to reflect on the space we’re in,” chimes in Clarissa.
As for the support they’ve been given, Clarissa explains how they’ve been given The House Collective’s full blessing towards achieving their vision, and works closely with Patsy to overcome any and all difficulties they faced throughout the project. “We do have a lot of support in terms of the brand, and the group has always been passionate and active in working with art to creatively impact their spaces,” says Clarissa.
“With COVID, it’s important to engage people with something besides a deal or a discount, and to create an experience to really inspire them when they step into the space. It’s our job to bring something new to the table then, and something they connect to on an emotional level. That is the kind of thing that is good for their well-being.”– Clarissa Tam
“Yes, it can be hard to stay positive amidst the pandemic, but I’ve been very fortunate to have Patsy onboard with me, and work together to overcome all these challenges we didn’t foresee in our planning,” she continues. “That sense of trust allows us to make something beautiful and inspiring and creative together, and even when we disagree, we still trust each other because we know we share the same goal and values in mind. And especially with such a long time with no performances, no work happening at all, working on a project like this gives us and all the artists hope through creativity.”
All of this links back to the programme’s title – Encounters Across Cultures, exemplified by the sheer diversity of ideas, art forms, disciplines and locales that come into play. “All these artists with different points of view and cultural backgrounds coming together in the name of creativity, that’s why we kept going throughout COVID. We believe in the value of such a work that goes beyond the commercial, and captures the spirit of cross-culture collaborations,” says Patsy.
“In selecting Hong Kong artists and choreographers, we thought it was important to have some local relevance, and since the last project, the programme has only expanded, with multiple choreographers attached to each work, and tagging them to different houses, allowing the scope of the work to evolve as well,” she continues.
“Most of all, there’s been so much support from the House Collective team, and knowing how the people around you have the same intent, you have faith in them knowing you’re not facing this task alone, and strive to always better ourselves each day. This project would not be possible without Clarissa and I trusting in each other, and I’m honestly glad to have her by my side throughout this journey.”– Patsy Lo
“Architecture is created by humans, for humans, but through this programme, I hope we can take a step back and look at our living space and environment as a whole, and all these structures we’re surrounded by,” says Clarissa. “We are all connected, from the tiniest of creatures to the furthest reaches of the universe. And that’s the power of art and creativity – that it allows you to think about life in a different way, see things from a new perspective and scale you might not have otherwise.”
“Through dance, this art programme explores how movements can be a captivating medium for perceiving, experiencing, and articulating architecture,” concludes Patsy. “It hopes to remind us to slow down and observe the details, to dive into our surroundings. To be present within the space. To look up.”
The Encounters Across Cultures 2021 installations run at the following spaces from The House Collective across the specified dates:
○ The Middle House: 9th July through 29th August 2021
○ The Opposite House: 10th September through 30th October 2021
○ The Upper House: 23rd September through 14th November 2021
○ The Temple House: 6th November through 31st December 2021
More information available here