Three years ago when Amy Chow was asked to curate Confluence 20+, a world-touring exhibition series that showcased works by Hong Kong designers, she fretted about bringing Chinese tea culture to Europe.
She approached Lee Chi-wing for help and he came up with the Mobile Standing Tea Bar – an all-in-one design that allows people to gather and enjoy an authentic cuppa, in a similar manner to Europe’s tea culture.
The pair then received the opportunity to work together again at the In Harmony: The Way of Tea exhibition, which is running until July 19 in a revitalized historic building at 7 Mallory Street, Wan Chai.
Following on the heels of exhibitions on bamboo, Chinese characters and craftmanship, the tea edition is the fourth part of Design Spectrum’s thematic exhibitions on a design philosophy universal to East Asia.
But the exhibition is more than just about a cup of tea. “In Chinese, the character for tea is made up of grass, human and wood,” said Chow. “The exhibition aims for visitors to explore the relationship between man and tea through thoughtful designs from the perspective of culture and nature.”
Divided into four separate rooms that focus on tea leaves, teaware, tea-related projects and an interactive tea area, respectively, the layout remains similar to the previous exhibitions. It even adopts the same space division and construction materials used in the bamboo edition.
“At the end of each exhibition, there’s always more rubbish produced than the exhibits on display,” said Chow. “Since the day I knew we were going to have four exhibitions in the same place, I have always been thinking of how to make it sustainable.”
The exhibition starts with a zen-style room, where eight different kinds of tea leaves are displayed on a station in front of suspended white banners featuring famous tea-related quotes. Mounted on the right wall are packages from different brands.
“As a designer, I think making tea is like a process of design and craftsmanship. Whether it be the choice of tea leaves, the use of tools or the method of brewing, it is full of information,” said Lee, participating designer and cocurator. “So we also present creative packaging designs as they are part of the process.”
The last exhibit in the room is a set of pottery teaware by pottery studio Toki Nashiki, which was founded by two local young ceramists Ryan Hui and Wy Lee.
Aspiring to create ceramics that are both practical and can stand the test of time, the teaware set hides an Asian philosophy within, Lee said. “You must move your hand one way from right to left to finish the brewing process, which is very calming. The one-direction practice is like our life, which is always about routine and simple details.”
The second room focuses on tea-related equipment – ranging from traditional to contemporary and luxurious to affordable. The curators believe that while catering to different drinking preferences, the exhibits also reflect how those habits have changed.
One example is the teaware sets designed by Lin’s Ceramics Studio in Taiwan, whose designs are mostly inspired by natural elements such as the moon and water, as well as ancient Chinese fables.
A smart tea brewer developed by local wellness technology startup Lify is also presented. The appliance allows users to brew a cup of herbal tea from herbal discs, similar in concept to coffee capsules.
Walking through to the third space, which features Annie Wan’s pottery inspired by everyday objects and bamboo-made teaware designed by Feng Cheng-tsung, Lee said the room aims to appreciate Earth for providing humans with resources for living.
The last area, where the Mobile Standing Tea Bar by Lee stands, provides on-site brewing supported by local tea brand Basao, alongside tea tasting and tea ceremony workshops.
Lee also designed a small garden in the naturally lit atrium of the building. Centered by a Chinese pavilion-like wooden structure, the patches of herbs and fruits are tended by local urban farmer Joyce Ng, and on-site planting workshops are open to the public.
With a sustainable approach in mind, nearby residents can take the plants home to continue farming after the exhibition.
“We have seen some residents coming here frequently to follow up on the condition of these plants,” Chow said. “We hope that we can help people to interact with nature amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.”
(This article was published at The Standard on May 15, 2020: Weekend Glitz: Beyond the brew )