⟨ Misc ⟩

Observing the city

Connecting Visionaries: Interview with thecaveworkshop

Words / Phaedrus Lam
Photography / Kimio Ng

走在香港碩果僅存的工業區,沒有擁擠的人潮車陣,空氣甚至比市中心好得多,可是抬頭張望時,天空就仍是被高矗的大樓擋住,景觀整個亂七八糟。

與諸多的設計室一樣,The Cave把他們的基地設在觀塘工業區,那是香港文創產業的集中地。簡單以我們身處的大廈為例,低矮的五層建築裡,就集合了網路電台、音樂媒體、皮革工房等多個文創相關團體。原本,我是想藉著訪問機會,闖進The Cave的工作室裡偷看,不巧他們原來在裝潢期間,現場一片紛亂;大夥只好移師陣地,轉在大樓天台進行訪問。

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.

與螢火蟲們,坐在開闊的天台花園,他們分別是Eqqus和Chau,The Cave的兩位活躍成員。甫安頓下來,與二人最先聊到的,是關於大眾對他們的長期印象,Eqqus這樣講道:「很多人不清楚我們在經營甚麼。我們最主要項目其實是設計,不過有很多人誤為我們是木工、藝術家。最初我們的確以木工為主,但經過這三年的蘊釀,我們已經很少親手做木工了……我們開始在減少做木工部分,因為木工牽涉太多專門的器材、技藝,我們也不想被人定性為木工團體,想要專注在設計部分。」

與其說The Cave是木工,倒不如說他們愛就地取材,從最早期的雜木卡板,是因為身處在工業區,環境四周都有取之不盡的廢棄卡板,他們便著手造木,包括工作室裡的傢俱,都是由他們收集素材、親手打造。「我們第一份作品是一張茶几,而雖然說是茶几,但那其實只是用木箱改造。那時候工作室還很空曠,做了這張茶几後,大家都會圍坐在茶几前聊天。直到現在,我們還沒有想過要丟棄它,因為每當成員間有要事討論,大家都很自然而然地向茶几走去。」

從生活中汲取靈感,從而挹注回生活裡,猶如自然生態中的循環不息。

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.

俯拾皆是靈感,<Bracket Chair>亦是一例,這張椅子利用了直桿及橫桿作支撐點,靈感是來源自生活經驗中,平常易見的搭棚工法,是為香港的傳統特色;從表面看不出來,底裡卻是豐饒的本土元素,新近作品<Our Chair>也一樣。

「你看它手柄的部分,其實是雨傘的柄把,是回應近日在香港發生的運動。」Chau解釋到:「然而從設計的角度看來,<Our Chair>手柄的設計,其實是反映人與人之間的關係。譬如我幫你拉椅子,好像可以理解作一種紳士行為,然而在歷經這次運動後,拉椅的行為就在這件設計中獲得提昇;我們想要表達的,是其實每個人都可以為對方拉椅子。」

“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.”

土地,是創意產業的最大共約數,而不論是設計師、藝術家,都總會在創作中留下成長的痕跡。The Cave的作品有不少都指涉本土,當中有褒揚的,也有貶抑的;而不感意外地,二人都都確實對自己的成長地,有或多或少的微言,Chau說:「在香港無論是設計抑或藝術,情況都很淒涼,很難有機會作出新嘗試,而一旦嘗試失敗,就要付出巨大的後果。譬如說我是做雕塑的,在香港買一塊大石頭當材料,可能要九千多元,但在台灣等地方只要五千多。在香港,創作成本高很多。」

而不僅是創作和生活成本高企,本地年輕設計學生的視野,也令二人憂心仲仲。他們談到,之前收過許多國內外設計學生的詢問信件,從中看出了國內外學生的差異。

「本地學生覺得自己只可以做實習,來學習,然而很多國外設計學生,是想要跟我們合作,甚至是自己一手經營創作。」Chau補充說:「我很喜歡法國建築師勒.柯布西耶,他曾經講過從一座城市的觀察,可以窺探出當地人的思維。為甚麼說到這個呢?在一個城市你抬頭看到天空有多闊,思維就有多闊。在香港我們根本看不到天空,你大概就可以看出香港的思維闊度。」

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.”

舉凡各種苦況,都足以壓垮創意的幼苗,然而你問他們會否失望、沮喪,二人的反應卻顯得樂觀;原因是The Cave從草創時開始,就沒有抱著賺大錢的想法。「做設計創作的人,都不可以太計較,太被這個經濟主導的社會牽著鼻子走,應該要堅持自己認為對的方向。」Eqqus續說道:「在這個年代,你很難成為只專注在一個領域的藝術家、設計師。這是個全新年代,我們要嘗試更多種新方法,去接觸更多的不同媒介,汲取靈感後用在自己的設計上;很難說你是平面設計師,就只願意接觸平面設計。」

訪問臨近尾聲,我問道他們成立The Cave五年了,個人的簽名式會是甚麼?二人苦思良久,終於還是由Eqqus抖出答案,他說:「像我這一雙鞋子,我有查過它的相關資料,那是Jack Purcell在驘得世界冠軍後,以他本人名字出品的鞋子,那會是一種簽名式。然而你問我們的簽名式是甚麼,我覺得那是——『未知』。我們現在還沒有甚麼簽名式,而我相信應該要窮一輩子之力,走到最後才能回答,甚麼才是我們的簽名式。」

簽名式,體現的方法有很多種,那既可以是賽場上的運動員,也可以是專注一致的工藝職人,而甚至是設計、藝術、商業等所有領域。當中除了時間的浸淫,達成條件離不開——用最纖細入微的創意,最能改變世界的大野心;明日的經典,都是如此鍊成。

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.

離開訪問現場,我自個兒在工業區游蕩。我對這裡已經很熟悉了,頭頂那片被切割開的天空也是,於是我想起Chau剛才說的——「天空的闊度,決定了當地人思維的闊度。」

我既沒有天真地以為,設計和創作會有充實的物理力量,可以把這個城市推倒重來。然而,當我們回歸到設計的初衷,設計是為解決問題而生,而只要一個地方充斥問題,就自然會有設計師的位置,去讓風景一點點地變美,生活也一點點地變好;用創意的手腕,伸手放進未來,守候愈多的精彩突破。

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.