自2010年成立，The Cave一行七人，從原先的漫無目的，到後來初研木工，用卡板等回收物料作設計；其近年作品如——＜Bracket Chair＞、＜Boltie＞，都獲得設計界的好評，足跡遍佈在香港Detour、日本Good Design Award、巴黎Graphisme et Design；如像是逮到夜幕降臨，拼命在發光的螢火蟲，令眾人都無法忽視的存在。
Walking into one of the only industrial areas remaining in Hong Kong, no crowds nor cars can be seen and even the air smells better than how it is in the city. When we lift up our head though, the sky is still covered by tall buildings, creating a landscape that is rather a mess.
Like many other design studios, The Cave has based themselves within the Kwun Tong industrial area, a hub for Hong Kong’s cultural and creative industry. The 5 stories high compact building gather units such as Internet radio groups, music label offices, leather workshops and other creative organizations within. I wanted to take this interview opportunity to visit The Cave’s studio, but they are going through their renovation period and the interiors are yet to be ready, so we had to move up to the rooftop instead.
Established since 2010, The Cave has a team of seven people. From being aimless in the beginning to starting to learn about the art of carpentry; they started to design with pallets and other recyclables, resulting in recent works such as the “Bracket Chair” and the “Boltie” which has gained praise in the market of design. Leaving their footsteps around the world at Hong Kong’s Detour, Japan’s Good Design Award and Pari’s Graphisme et Design; they are kind of like a group of fireflies striving to glow in the middle of the night, making it hard for people to neglect their existence.
Sitting with this group of glowing individuals on the open rooftop, The Cave’s two active members, Eqqus and Chau, first talked to us about the long term impressions that the public has of them. “A lot of people don’t know what we are doing here. Our core agenda is actually design, but a lot of people mistake us as carpenters and artists. At first we were sure we wanted to use wood, but after 3 years we rarely do carpentry works with our own hands any more… We have been reducing our carpentry section because it involves too many equipments and skills. We don’t want people to characterize us as a group of woodworking people; we want to focus on the part of design.” Eqqus said.
Rather than labeling The Cave as a group of carpenters, it is much better to say that they are just good at using what they can get their hands on. From the earlier stages of using hardwood pallets that can be found in the industrial area to gathering these disposed materials and remaking them into furnitures for the studio, everything has been personally sourced and constructed. “The first piece we produced was a coffee table. Even though it is called a coffee table, it was really just a wooden box. Because the studio was quite bare back then, this coffee table is where we’d all gather and talk. Until now, we have never thought about throwing it out. It has become the natural spot for us when the team needs to discuss about something.”
Drawing inspirations from life and then injecting it back, they have created an endless cycle much like the ecology of nature.
“Bracket Chair” is one of those products that was inspired by daily life. Using the intersecting vertical and horizontal rails as the chair’s support, it was inspired by the scaffolding works often seen around in Hong Kong. Containing a traditional characteristic of the city which is not easily spotted from the product’s surface, it represents a strong local element. Such concept is also shared by their latest design “Our Chair”.
“You see that the handle part is actually taken from the shape of an umbrella handle, resonating with the recent movement that has just happened here in Hong Kong.” Chau explained. “From its design, the handle design of ‘Our Chair’ actually reflects the relationship between people. For example, if I help you push in your chair, the behavior can be understood as being a gentleman’s act. Yet, after this movement, the action of pushing a chair is enhanced into a new expression; that anybody can help anybody push a chair.”
The idea of land has been something that often appears as a topic of concern in different creations. Whether for designers or artists, their creations often incorporate traces of the creator’s growth. Works by The Cave often involve local notions, sometimes it acts as a compliment and sometimes it acts as a critic. Unsurprisingly, the two have more or less been dissatisfied by this piece of land in which they have grown up in. “Whether it is about design or art, the situation is very sad in Hong Kong; it is very difficult to have the opportunity to make new attempts. If one was to fail at such an attempt, a huge consequence needs to be repaid. For example, if I was a sculptor and I bought a large piece of stone for my sculpture in Hong Kong, it could cost up to HKD $9000. But in Taiwan it only costs around HKD $5000. The cost for creation in Hong Kong is much higher.” Chau said.
Not only are the cost of living and the cost for creativity much higher here, the ambition and visions of young local design students are also worrying. They have received letters from design students from abroad and it was easy to see the difference between them and the students here.
“Local students think they can only do internships and learn from us, but a lot of design students from abroad would want to cooperate with us, or even start something on their own. “ He added, “I really like the French architect Le Courbusier, he once said that by observing a city you can pry out the thoughts of the locals. Why am I mentioning this? Because when you lift your head up to see how broad the sky, it can actually tell you how broad the locals there think. In Hong Kong, we can’t even see the sky, from this you can probably guess how narrow the common thinking is in Hong Kong.”
During various states of hardship, a seedling of creativity is crushed. But when you ask them if they are disappointed or frustrated, they appear relatively optimistic. This is because The Cave has never thought about earning a lot of money. “People who do designs and are creative can not be too picky or be too driven by this economic society. One should stick to the direction that they believe is right.” Eqqus continued and said, “In such an era, it is hard to just focus on one single sector of design or art. This new world drives us to try out more methods, to be in touch with different mediums, to be inspired by it and then use it in one’s own design. It is hard to be just in contact with graphic design even if you’re a graphic designer.”
Towards the end of the interview, I asked them what their signature style is after establishing The Cave for 5 years. They pondered for a long time and Eqqus finally answered, “Like this pair of shoes which is named after Jack Purcell who has won the world champion, as the information that I have found stated; it would be regarded as a sort of signature style. But when you ask me what our signature style is, I think it is the “unknown”. We don’t have a signature style yet, and I think we can only answer you when we reach the very end, until we have spent all the energy we have in this lifetime.”
There are many ways to reflect the definition of a signature style. It could be represented by athletes on the field, or a group of focused craftsman, or even through the realms of design, arts and commerce. In addition to the time that needs to be spent, the ultimate goal remains the same- which is to ambitiously try and change the world with the most delicate sense of creativity. Tomorrow’s classics are created in such a way.
When we left the building, I started to wander around the industrial area by myself. I was already very familiar with the place, as well as the dissected pieces of the sky. Then I was reminded of what Chau had said, “The broadness of the sky determines the broadness of the local’s thinking.”
I am not naive to the point where I would think creativity and design has the physical strength of changing the cityscape, but when we go back and consider the origins of design, it has always been there to solve problems. In a place filled with problems, there comes the need of designers. We should all start by treasuring the slight changes that designs can bring, so that sceneries can slowly become more beautiful and life can feel just that much better. Use the technique of creativity to reach into the future, so that more and more wonderful breakthroughs can be anticipated for.