Tag Archives: museum

Hong Kong: Creative Ecologies @ HK Heritage Museum – Like peas in a pod!

During our trip to the Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, we had a quick scoot round the rest of the place. Emphasis on quick – you’ll have noticed my usual grumble about crappy café quality (see Museum of Coastal Defence, History Museum and Botanical Gardens posts for further moaning) was missing from the Pixar write-up… because this time there wasn’t an eating facility at all!

Sadly, nothing was as awesome as the colourful display of Fei-Fei’s plus-sized cheongsams we stumbled upon when we visited the Age Of Couture Exhibition (a greater aesthetic juxtaposition you could not imagine!). Yes, HK ‘affectionately’ nicknamed their much-beloved actress cum singer cum media personality Lydia Sum something that translates as ‘Fatty’!

This time, we happened upon the Hong Kong: Creative Ecologies exhibition – or what of it had been placed in the foyer of the second floor. Dozens of identical ‘Tin Tin’ figurines, all decorated, styled and re-imagined in different ways by various home-grown artists and designers.

It was fascinating to see how so many people could take one identical thing and end up with something so different yet still recognisable. Designs ranged from the beautiful to the comical to the bizarre to the slightly macabre (I didn’t take a photo of the one that had been mocked up to look like a see-through human body, with all the vital organs glowing inside, as it freaked me out too much), whilst many had a uniquely HK flavour – one had a map of our MTR system, another had silhouettes of our trademark bamboo scaffolding system with workers hanging out un-harnessed and causing heart attacks to Western Health & Safety bodies.

My favourites were the ones who thought ‘outside the box’ and mixed it up a little. I noticed that whilst many of the fashion and accessory designers decorated their models, the artistes chose to do more abstract things – like one completely encased in a steel box, with just that recognisable pointing finger sticking out, or the one that appears to be melting. I was engrossed by the one that seemed to have sprouted alarmingly naturalistic-looking roots and was even growing foliage up top!

The only HK artist whose work I recognised instantly was Prudence Mak. That distinctive bright patchwork style couldn’t belong to anyone but the founder of cute quirky local brand, Chocolate Rain, who you will hear more of later…! Apologies for the picture quality – I haven’t figured out how to minimise the reflections caused by the glass cases – so I’ve compared it with a nice HQ photo from the Heritage Museum’s website so you can see it in all its detailed technicolour glory!

Hopefully these will be kept together as a display once the exhibition has ended and housed somewhere else, as they’re far more powerful and dynamic as a collection rather than if they were split up. It’s certainly nothing to warrant a special visit to the Heritage Museum (though apparently there was a Creative Ecologies gallery that I was too hungry to visit), but it’s a cool little diversion nonetheless! Enjoy!

Hong Kong: Creative Ecologies, 5 Feburary-11 May 2011, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, 2180 8188. See Hong Kong: Creative Ecologies Website for further details.

$10 admission, free on Weds. Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 7pm on Sunday and public holidays. Closed Tuesdays.

Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation exhibition @ Hong Kong Heritage Museum review

Every so often, I do try and escape the confines of my nail polish packed bedroom and see the real world. Previous escapes have included seeing a waterfall, a load of beautiful qipao, a load of quirky lanterns, a silent Hitchcock film and most recently, a stunning array of Spring flowers. My latest venture – a trip to Hong Kong Heritage Museum’s special exhibition, Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation.

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum is quite a trek away, up in Sha Tin near the Shing Mun river (get off at Che Kung Temple Station on the brown KCR line for a shorter walk), so any exhibition that has me making the long slog up there had better be a good one! The last time I visited was for the Golden Age Of Couture dress exhibition, held in conjunction with London’s V&A Museum, which was utterly spectacular (and which I will get around to writing about some time, promise!). Meanwhile, the fact that I am a Disney/Pixar geek of the highest order – prone to parroting facts learnt from audio commentaries whilst my boyfriend tries to watch and breaking into Under The Sea on public transport are specialities – meant the omens seemed good.

The Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation exhibition showcases various types of conceptual and character art done by the studio’s artists for all of Pixar’s work, giving some artistic insight into the painstaking process that goes into making their much-loved CGI films. Taking in over 400 items, from early pencil sketches to storyboards, maquettes (small scale models) and exclusive specially-designed media installations, it features some never-before-seen-outside-the-studio artwork, with Hong Kong’s Heritage Museum the first stop on a global tour. A similar exhibition toured five years ago (including a stop in Singapore) but it has been refreshed and reinvigorated with the addition of new items, such as a large and extremely popular section dedicated to Toy Story 3. There’s also the amazing Toy Story Zoetrope (which you can also see at Hong Kong Disneyland), featuring rotating sculptures of characters that seem to magically come to life before your eyes.

We arrived early afternoon on a non-school holiday weekday and the queue was the biggest I have ever seen for a museum in HK. Having seen some photos taken by people who went on Easter Holiday weekend showing 300-strong queues, thank God we went when we did! Much of the artwork shown was obviously never intended to be displayed in a gallery and as such, there’s a limit on how huge a crowd can cluster around an A4 sized drawing and get much out of the experience.

Picture from Pixar artist Lou Romano’s blog, where you can also see his entire colour script for Up

There are two galleries devoted to the exhibition, the first dealing with character and the second with environment and scene-setting. The huge number of children visiting will obviously enjoy the Woody, Buzz, Sully and Mike models that greet you at the museum’s entrance, yet whether they have much appreciation for conceptual artwork of, say, Parisian landscapes in Ratatouille remains to be seen. Sure enough, the first exhibition gallery, which boasts the large Toy Story 3 section, a fairly big selection of Monsters Inc stuff (poor old Wall-E, one of my favourite Pixar films, sadly only gets about a quarter of a wall!) and lots of maquettes of characters, is the more family-friendly and consequently, much busier and noisier. Meanwhile, the second gallery is a much more tranquil and sedate experience!

As a full-blown Disney geek who exhaustively watches all the making-of features on her DVDs (or did before they started moving them to Blu-Ray only), some of the artwork was familiar to me already, especially for the earlier films, and I’m not entirely sure you garner that much more from looking at the originals rather than digital copies. Some art (particularly storyboards and colour scripts) have even been enlarged to suit the gallery experience more, in which case you’re looking at reprints anyway!

[By the way, you’re not meant to take photos inside the exhibition galleries. Not that this stops many HK folk. But I play fair, meaning the photos in this post are either taken outside or by scouring the net to find the pictures I’m referring to! (Further proof, incidentally, that lots of it may already be familiar to us geeks.)]

Pictures from Hong Kong Heritage Museum and Oakland Museum Of California

Nevertheless, the artwork itself is brilliant. What part of the exhibition you enjoy the most is strictly down to taste but my favourites were the wistful colourful designs for Up and its dreamy South American landscapes (you get to see a life-size version of the Paradise Falls mural that Ellie and Carl paint above their fireplace in the film) and the spiky dynamic work by Lou Romano for The Incredibles (the style seen in the film’s credits) – looking at the art, I could practically hear that exhilarating thrilling score pumping into my head!

A few interesting titbits to note: some character studies are annotated with comprehensive notes seemingly from John Lasseter himself (‘Dot is not so cute with 4 arms!’, ‘No antenna here’), with some Finding Nemo sketches stamped with a fish bearing John Lasseter’s head saying ‘I guess it’s alright’, whilst others are marked as checked by the man himself with a doodle-like representation of Lasseter’s face!

I’m also in awe of the fact that so much life comes out of these pencil sketches alone. Just a few lines manage to create a sense of motion and vitality even before the mammoth digitalisation process begins. I love this one of Russell, above, which totally captures his bustling sense of movement – Disney geek-dom ahoy, the character’s original name was changed to the onomatopoeic Russell to reflect his inquisitive nature. There’s also two maquettes of Russell where each and every Explorer Badge has been sculpted, with different designs on every single one!

The Up storyboards and colour scripts are also fascinating. There’s one storyboard just of that first 10-minute dialogue-free segment ‘Married Life’ and, in just a few small still-life pictures, it still managed to make me well up! Truly powerful stuff.

The second ‘environment’ gallery feels a lot more abstract in comparison to the ‘character’ one. You enter a room where the walls are covered with animations of the doors from Monsters Inc and the effect is quite hypnotic. I really loved some of the (at times, surprisingly dark) concept art for the settings of Monsters Inc, whilst all the pictures involving those huge cascades of doors are just wildly imaginative and wonderful. This gallery also contains, for me, the absolute highlight: Artscape.

Artscape is a highly-immersive, richly-detailed wide-screen projection that takes you inside the artists’ sketchbooks and experience environments from all the films in first-person. Frankly, it’s more 3D than most 3D movies. It’s indescribable and something you just have to experience for yourself. You feel like you’re swooping through the jungle and dashing across water in the chase sequence from The Incredibles, that you’re ant-size amongst the blades of grass, leaves and army of workers in A Bug’s Life or that you’re hurtling through the galaxies in Wall-E (oh ok, that one did feel a little like a Windows 95 screensaver!). I particularly fell for the Parisian scenes from Ratatouille – one of my least favourite Pixars – which felt like you were flying above the rooftops, looking down and around the city in all its romantic glory. This is all done by some trademark Pixar magic that manages to turn 2D drawings and paintings into a 3D visceral experience. Stunning.

Pictures from The Art Of Ratatouille book, featured on Pixar Talk

Despite the cutesy Pixar characters, Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation was definitely not designed with small children, nor I suspect the HK hoards, in mind (for example, there are kiosks where you can watch interviews with animators that can only be used one person at a time, whilst I struggled to see the small screens showing early Pixar shorts in just the small crowd that day). Whilst I enjoyed it, if I’d have seen queues of hundreds, I’d have definitely turned back round – I just don’t think you can give the artwork the attention it deserves if you’re having to elbow your way in or become absorbed in the detail if you can barely hear yourself think.

Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation is a largely captivating exhibition, although one which requires you to appreciate the animators’ work as art rather than pure entertainment. It makes you recognise the scale of Pixar’s achievements and value the dedication and talent of their artists even more. This is stuff that deserves to be on walls rather than hidden away in dusty backrooms and I would love to see a similar exhibition for Disney films (some of the concept art for their older films, as seen on DVDs, is just stunning). So, yes, worth the trek to Sha Tin. Make it on a week day, though!

Check out some more fun Pixar artwork here

Pixar: 25 Years Of Animation, 28 March-11 July 2011, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, 2180 8188

$20 admission, $10 on Weds, including free memo gift pad containing money-off vouchers. Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 7pm on Sunday and public holidays. Closed Tuesdays.

The Evergreen Classic: Transformation of the Qipao @ HK Museum of History review

Warning: picture-heavy post!

So eager was I to see Hong Kong Museum of History’s exhibition about the qipao (also known as cheongsam), my boyfriend and I showed up a month early and trotted along to the special exhibition hall on the ground floor – only to discover a display about some ancient Chinese tribe instead. Yawn. Whilst my history geek boyfriend was delighted that we got to spend a lazy day in the regular exhibition (The Hong Kong Story – review of that here), it gave us a chance to scope out the space that the qipao would be shown in – and we weren’t impressed. It seemed small, cramped and my boyfriend predicted that we’d be in and out within an hour. How wrong he was!

Having managed to turn up in the right month, The Evergreen Classic: The Transformation of the Qipao proved to be a stunning surprise. I had worried that it would pale in comparison with the wonderful couture exhibition (loaned from The V&A) at The Heritage Museum last year; in some ways, it managed to be better. Some 280 qipao, of all shapes, sizes, colours and textures were displayed (apparently, some with waists so tiny that custom-made mannequins had to be ordered in!), with the exhibition flowing along nicely as it detailed the evolution of the qipao from its origins in the 17th century to the modern designs we’re now more familiar with – and, despite the amount of dresses, as well as information boards, 400 pictures and videos, it didn’t feel cluttered, cramped or messy. The best part – you could really get up close to the dresses (only the oldest were displayed behind glass), marvel at the exquisite detailing and take lots and lots and lots of photos! All things you couldn’t do at the couture exhibition, in case you’re wondering.

Look but don’t touch!

So what did we learn? The qipao originated amongst the Manchu nobility of the Qing Dynasty in China, where they were long, wide and loose. Looking oddly unisex in appearance, with only fingers and the tips of the toes visible, it wasn’t exactly flattering to the female form! Even so, the detailing, embroidery and vivid colours and patterns are beautiful today, hundreds of years later.

Gradually, the form moved with the times – the dress became shorter, the fit became tighter, the famous Mandarin-style collars got higher, short bell sleeves became popular and slits were introduced to make walking easier (and show off some skin!).

Between the 1920s and 1960s, various elements came and went according to fashion – long or short skirts, plain or patterned, revealing slits, one or two pieces (like a tailored suit), being worn with Western-style fur capes or cardigans – all these trends came and went depending on whatever was “in” at the time. As with everything great and good in the world, the Chinese communists attempted to ban it – it’s figure-hugging form doubtlessly decreed too sexy for their austere tastes.

As women entered the workforce and discovered the need for more practical clothing, the tight-fitting qipao fell out of favour, making way for comfortable outfits from the West, although it survived as everyday dress in Hong Kong for a little longer, until the 1970s. Nowadays, the cheongsam is mostly famous as a national dress, worn by Asian beauty contestants, waitresses in Chinese restaurants, students at old-fashioned schools and Oriental stereotypes in movies. However, elements of design still live on in many modern garments and contemporary designers constantly play about with the form to create new, inventive takes on the qipao – with the Museum of History commissioning Hong Kong Polytechnic’s Institute of Textiles and Clothing to create some pieces for the show.

As you can see, I have dealt with the history of the qipao in a few short paragraphs and although the information boards provide a running commentary, the dresses practically speak for themselves. Because there is such little relevant information, reading these boards quickly becomes repetitive and boring, especially towards the end where there’s only so much you can write about a waitress’ uniform or a Miss Hong Kong costume. But skip these at your peril – they often include fascinating photographs, whether of the strange Manchu people with their hair piled high in some precursor to Princess Leia or more contemporary images, showing glamorous Chinese women in qipao with film-starlet hair and art-deco styling.

I was also disappointed that the exhibition failed to make much of the qipao’s strong showing in films. In the 1960s, The World of Suzie Wong and its qipao-clad star Nancy Kwan made a strong cultural impact, making the cheongsam fashionable amongst Westerners – the name Suzie Wong is still a cultural checkpoint today. More recently, in Wong Kar-Wai’s multi award-winning In The Mood For Love, Maggie Cheung wears a different custom-made cheongsam in each scene (46 in total). It’s not just for beauty’s sake either – the outfits deliberately play into Kar-Wai’s sensual evocation of mood and time, whilst the constricting nature of the cheongsam is symbolic of the theme of the moral and social restrictions placed upon the characters. It would have been nice if The Evergreen Classic had acknowledged the impact of these films on the qipao and its place in the Western mindset, with stills and video clips even if they couldn’t get hold of the costumes themselves.

But these are minor quibbles – seeing the qipao up close, in all their glorious intricate detail, is just breathtaking. You can see the fragility of the fabrics, how the striking embroidered buttons often mirror an element of the pattern, the individual stitches on the sleeves. Amazing stuff. I guess the average person, owing to their exposure to the cheongsam in its more traditional forms, views the qipao as a timeless classic yet it’s fun to see how it adopted the fads and trends of the time – especially in the 60s and 70s, where some of the garish patterns are just as headachingly horrid as they are on Western clothes!

I also loved the modern constructions near the end (like the one shown earlier being fingered by a visitor), although some of these felt like advertorials for their designers.  The ones above were some of those designed by PolyU – the one on the left reminds me of something Vivienne Westwood would design (cutesy gingham print combined with the rock edge given by the back detail) whilst the ones on the right, entitled ‘Deconstruction of the Qipao’, look fit for Xena: Warrior Princess! I love how the designer has taken elements of the qipao, like the collar or the typical floral embroidery, and transformed into something totally new and modern. It would be amazing to see these kind of dresses on the red carpet, whether on Chinese or Western stars, or as stage outfits for some of the more outlandish performers out there (need I mention Gaga?!) – the quality, workmanship and sheer show-stopping quality of these outfits had needs to be seen to be believed.

Only one question remains – why oh why hasn’t a catalogue been produced? And, since it ends on 13 September, why oh why haven’t you been there yet?! [Although a lot of the pieces are on loan from real people, I’m hoping a more permanent form of this exhibition eventually makes it to The Heritage Museum – you’d best be reading LCSD!] For just $10 (and that includes the main exhibition as well), it’s a must for anyone who basically appreciates nice stuff. My boyfriend’s not into fashion at all (as his wardrobe attests, ho ho) but even he seemed to enjoy it. Go forth and qipao! And if it’s too late… here’s a few dozen of my best photos to make up for it (click for enlargements).

P.S. My favourites were from the 1950s and 60s, so there may be a slight bias. Apologies, fans of ye olde qipao.

Collar detail on some of the older qipao

Love how glam these Shangainese girls look – traditional clothes but hair and make-up that would make any 1930s Hollywood starlet proud. And check out those cheeky side-slits!

Both red (it’s our lucky colour after all) but look at the contrast between old and new – from loose to fitted,via tailored business suit and seemingly Art-Deco print.

These were my favourite qipao of the exhibition; they belonged to 1950s’ HK film star, Lin Dai. The photo does not do the black cheongsam in the first picture justice – up close, you can see the lace embroidery overlay and its a subtly elegantly sexy effect. The design and prints of these are so clean and simple that they still look amazing today.

Put your sunglasses on! As I mentioned, some of the prints are very ‘of their time’ i.e. hideous now (ok, the blue florals aren’t too bad – they just look like china and give me a bit of a headache). But the detail is still gorgeous up-close.

No such prints on the school uniforms! Apparently, a lot of students who have these uniforms complain vociferously about it – and once you’ve had a tight Mandarin collar round your neck in a typical HK summer, you’ll understand why!

Close-ups of the button clasps used at the collar.

I love these photos. They ‘capture a moment’ – a time when the cheongsam was everyday wear in HK.

I guess these are the simpler kind of qipao you could imagine for everyday wear – but even then, the lace embroidery is still so beautiful and complex up close. I’d be constantly worried about damaging them at work!

I’m a big fan of fashion sketches and found these fascinating – they’ve been drawn in that typical 50s’ style and show how the Chinese woman could Western up her outfit with a cardigan, fur wrap or jacket. It’s really unusual to see obviously Asian women being drawn in fashion sketches as well, rather than just a generic silhouette.

From just looking at these, you’d say 1970s right?! The frilly sleeves on the left are a new detail and the one on the right reminds of the classic Missoni print and colours, matched with the green contour lines, which are reminiscent of the whole Christopher Kane body-con thing that is happening now.

I imagine the ones on the left are more for evening wear – the midnight blue one with the sprig of glittery embellishment just looks so sleek and modern, it’s unbelievable it was made decades ago! I liked the one on the right just because the print was so subtle (squint hard to see it!) yet really lovely, fresh and youthful.

I’m also a fan of these retro drawings of stylish qipao-clad ladies that were often used in advertising in the 1930s (famous now for featuring on the Two Girls line of toiletries and cosmetics products). It’s something that the HK Museum of History has capitalised on with this very clever series of adverts, showing these traditional drawings alongside modern qipao, which look very like the ones in the pictures, that are part of the exhibit.

The dress on the left was worn by Michelle Yeoh at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival – a beautiful, fluid, elegant take on the qipao (love how the lines of colours emphasise the shape of the body). The middle one was worn by HK film star Josephine Siao in the 1970s – the traditional embroidered borders were taken from her mother’s collection from the 1930s! And I just liked the watercolour-style print of the one on the right, ok?!

Occasion-wear qipao! The one on the right was worn by hostesses at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony (red and gold, classic combination!). I believe the one on the left was Siao’s wedding dress – it’s interesting that the typical qipao details are not on the dress itself but on the cape thing over it – and the cute flower appliques on the (bridesmaid’s?) dress are so pretty!

The qipao worn by Miss Hong Kong 1977, Loletta Chu. Beautiful unusual colour and floral design – definitely a stand-out at the exhibition.

This is where it gets fun, as modern designers try and put contemporary twists on the qipao whilst remaining true to the design. I think these were stage costumes for one of HK pop queen, Anita Mui’s, concerts. That cape design on the far left is so gorgeous and wintry feeling, the floral design of the second one is composed of thousands of beads (probably pain-stakingly sewn on by hand!) and the leaf detail on the other one is actually rather risque – it’s see-through! The one on the far right, again with some transparent details, is designed by Blanc de Chine and the rest may well be too but I can’t remember.

More modern qipaos, with some close-ups of the stunning details (far right is of the train of one of the dresses). I think these would make amazing wedding dresses.

And after all those photos, I hope your brower’s still working!

The Evergreen Classic: The Transformation of the Qipao is on at the Special Exhibition Gallery (on the ground floor), Hong Kong Museum of History, 23 June-13 September, 2010, $10 per person. 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, 2724 9402.

Exhibition pamphlet available here.

All photos taken by me or from the museum’s website.

After the exhibition has finished, you may be able to find some of the qipao either in the museum’s regular exhibition or at The Heritage Museum in Shatin.