⟨ Misc ⟩

Sham Shui Po is The New Brooklyn

foreforehead

Words / Elva Pang
Translation / Ian Tsang

「深水埗是一個很有趣的社區,你需要的東西都能在這區找到,是DIY的天堂,無論是街坊或商店都很在地。」foreforehead的店主Daisy說。在深水埗開店已經兩年,對小店來說,能經營兩年也不容易吧,尤其在經濟衰退的時候。從地鐵站一路走來,經過賣電器的棚仔、布檔,或是正在街邊炒菜、熱鍋下火光紅紅的街邊大排檔,街道上依舊人來人往,人們戴著口罩,如昔日般過日子,讓人感到這個社區擁有很強的適應力。走過熟悉的舊商店,來到大南街、黃竹街一帶,已經能感受到這個舊社區正在起一場小革命,foreforehead就是其中的一員。

foreforehead身處在十字路口旁的大廈,穿過人群、汽車,走上又窄又狹小的樓梯,打開一道木門,感覺像尋寶一樣,一如深水埗予人的感覺。Daisy:「這本來是布舖的閣樓,樓底比較矮。我在一邊牆造了木板牆,方便掛上藝術品,收起中間擺放產品的桌子時,人們能夠遠距離地看藝術品。很多人會感到很奇怪,為甚麼我在深水埗做一個藝術空間,開始時我只是抱著建立一個比較貼地的藝術空間的想法,找一些與藝術和設計有關的產品來賣,希望能吸引不同背景、文化的人,不再覺得藝術品是高高在上或是有錢人的投資玩意。當他們接觸到一些設計師產品後,能引起他們的興趣,繼而去接觸藝術品。把藝術融入生活是我一直想去推廣的事情。」

Daisy說選物店的特色就是以店主的愛好來挑選產品給顧客,看著店內的選物,她應該是個有很多想法又富幽默感的人。「我選的產品除了很接近藝術形式,也有實際的用途,希望人們的身邊能充滿他們喜歡的東西,也有一種與藝術品一起生活的狀態。例如美國Soft Sculpture藝術家Lauren DiCioccio因應美國實施禁用膠袋的政策而設計出的『Thank you』環保袋,外表如一般膠袋般容量大而耐用,用很精緻的刺繡方式去做很大眾的東西,外表有趣又時尚。另外,店內也有不少塑膠玩具,都是由本地設計師製作的。七、八十年代時,香港的玩具製造行業很蓬勃,即使後來已漸漸式微,但仍有很多獨立的本地藝術家如Leeeeee Toy等繼續製作玩具,並且加入了自己的想法,製造全新的塑膠玩具。」選物店有趣的地方是你會感受到店主對他選擇的產品有一份熱誠,拿起產品時,總會滔滔不絕地解說。Daisy:「有時候硬銷與推薦只是一線之差,這裡很多東西都是我用過的,發現只有親身使用過,才能與客人產生共鳴。例如荷蘭設計師Foekje Fleur以廢棄的塑膠製成的肥皂架Bubble Buddy,多孔的設計令肥皂保持乾爽,而且另一邊可用來刨肥皂,碎皂加入水後可製成肥皂水作清潔液使用,方便隨身攜帶。試過有客人因為朋友推薦而特意來買,即使沒有用過,試過後也能感受到產品的優點。」

一些物品看來平平無奇,但經店主講解背後的故事後彷彿對它產生了感情。「物品的背後有很多故事,旁人未必會知道。如來自千葉縣一間文具店出品的文具盒,由於女店主很想製作一個能夠傳給下一代的文具盒,她找了大阪一間造紙品的公司,使用樹木纖維加上鋁邊製作盒子,盒身很堅硬,至少能使用五十年。另外,除了可放在書桌上放東西,盒子附有一條橡筋圈,套上後便可以隨身攜帶。因為太太很想造一個文具盒,所以她的丈夫特意為盒子設計了適用的橡筋圈,這故事令盒子變得更有趣。」

由最初想建立一個藝術空間,到現在成為了深水埗的特色小店之一,foreforehead總是和這個社區脫離不到關係。「我們第一個舉辦的展覽《一埲牆》,邀請了四位藝術家在我們提供的水泥板上創作,是一個很貼近fine art的展覽,但後來發現無論如何營造寧靜的氣氛,總不能抵抗窗外熱鬧的風景和聲音,好像是五顏六色的汽車、店舖、推車仔和修理汽車音響的聲音,這些元素也成為展覽的一部分。上年聖誕節期間舉辦了《深水埗街招日常》,就是一個很有社區特色的展覽。在這區的日子久了,便會發現街招是很有深水埗特色的東西,好像今早看到有人貼了一張尋鸚鵡的街招,由設計、印刷和張貼都一手包辦,大概因為這裡的人不是經常上網獲取資訊,這種直接又便宜的發佈資訊方式便成為日常的溝通模式。這展覽邀請了十一位本地藝術家為這區的店舖設計街招,並以後巷作為展覽場地,令看展覽的形式變得更貼地和有趣。」

從舉辦一個由foreforehead為中心的藝術展覽,到與社區緊密連繫、很有深水埗特色的展覽,Daisy說這是她始料不及的轉變,而她也愈來愈喜歡這個社區。「一周年的時候,我們推出了自己設計的產品,其中一款是印上『Sham Shui Po is The New Brooklyn』的原子筆,這就是我對深水埗的想像。」近年深水埗進駐了許多特色小店,包括有藝術空間、咖啡店、唱片店和選物店等,為舊社區注入一股新的活力。「六、七十年代時,有很多新移民搬入布魯克林區,不同背景、文化的人衍生了各種次文化,如Hip-hop、紋身等。這區的租金相較曼克頓區便宜,做文化、藝術的人開始在這裡建立工作室,因此出現了獨立的藝術空間、唱片店和紋身店等,成為一個新興的地區。現在的深水埗也是這樣,人們來foreforehead看展覽,也會到添福小食店吃漢堡,或是到鴨寮街逛地攤,新舊並存令社區變得更有趣。」創意往往由一群對城市充滿著想像的人開始,默默地為社區帶來新的轉變。

“Sham Shui Po is a very interesting community, where you can find everything you need. It is a DIY paradise, in which both the residents and the shops are very down-to-earth,” said Daisy, the owner of foreforehead, which opened its door for business two years ago. It is no mean feat for a small-scale store to survive for two years, especially in the face of an economic recession. After emerging from the metro station, I passed through a hawker bazaar selling electronic appliances, stalls selling textile, as well as Dai pai dong food stalls in the midst of preparing a stir-fry over a blazing flame. As usual, the street was bustling with people coming and going, wearing a mask and going about their business as before. It gave one the impression that the community has managed to adapt easily. When I entered the neighborhood of Tai Nan Street and Wong Chuk Street after walking past familiar old stores, I already got the feeling that this old community was brewing up a little revolution, in which foreforehead is among the participants. 

foreforehead is located inside a building standing beside an intersection. After weaving through the crowd and cars, I climbed a narrow and tiny stairway, leading to a wooden door, which I opened, feeling as though I were hunting treasure, which was consistent with the image of Sham Shui Po. Daisy said, “This space was originally the attic of a textile store, so the ceiling height is relatively low. On one side of the wall, I have installed a wooden wall for the convenience of hanging artworks. Once the table for displaying products is put away, people can look at the pieces from a distance. Many people consider my decision to create an art space in Sham Shui Po very strange. At the beginning, I just had the idea to create an art space that was more down-to-earth by finding some art or design-related products to sell, in the hope of attracting people from various backgrounds and cultures. I no longer think that artworks are far removed from the masses or are investment tools for the wealthy population. After being exposed to some products by designers, people will be interested, which in turn prompts them to be in touch with artworks. I have always wanted to promote the incorporation of art into our life. ”

Daisy said that her concept store distinguishes itself by selecting products based on her own preferences as the owner. A look at the selected items at the store suggests that she is probably full of ideas and humour. “The products I have picked not only take a rather artistic form, but they are also functional. I hope that people can be surrounded by things they like and also be placed in a situation allowing them to live together with art creations. For example, Lauren DiCioccio, an American artist of Soft Sculpture, designed a reusable bag named “Thank you” in response to the country’s ban on plastic bags. Resembling a regular plastic bag, it is big in size and durable. The use of elegant embroidery to create an object for the public results in an appearance both interesting and stylish. In addition, the store features many plastic toys, all designed by local designers. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, toy manufacturing was a flourishing industry in Hong Kong. Despite its gradual decline over the years, plenty of independent local artists, such as Leeeeee Toy, have not only continued to produce toys but also incorporated their own ideas into manufacturing brand-new plastic toys.” The store is intriguing in the sense that you can feel the owner’s passion towards the products that she has picked, as demonstrated by her incessant explanation whenever you pick up an item. Daisy said, “There is just a fine line between hard-sell and recommendation. I have used many of the products here myself. I realize that only when I have used a product before can I establish a mutual understanding with my customers. For example, Dutch designer Foekje Fleur makes use of disposed plastic to manufacture Bubble Buddy, a soap holder. Its multiple-hole design keeps the soap dry while the other side can be used to shred the soap. By combining water with shredded soap, one can prepare easy-to-carry soap water for cleaning purposes. Once, a customer came to buy it on the recommendation of a friend. Even though he had not used it before, he could also feel the advantages after trying it.”

Some products look ordinary but the owner’s explanation of the stories behind them evokes feelings towards them. “There are many stories behind each object, possibly unknown to an outsider. Take this stationery box from a stationery store in Chiba prefecture in Japan. Since the female owner wanted to make a box that could be passed on to the next generation, she commissioned a manufacturer of paper products in Osaka to use tree fibers to manufacture a box, finished with aluminum edges. Its exterior is very solid, and can be used for at least 50 years. Moreover, apart from being used as a container on the reading desk, it can be carried around after binding it with the attached rubber band. Seeing that her wife wanted to make a stationery box, the husband made a special effort to design a rubber band for it. This story has turned the box into something more interesting.” 

From the desire to build an art space at the beginning, to becoming one of the unique small-scale stores in Shum Shui Po at present, foreforehead has always been intertwined with this community. “For our first exhibition titled ‘a wall’, we invited four artists to work on their creations on the cement board we provided. It was an exhibition closely in line with fine art. But later on, we came to realize that regardless of what we did to build a serene atmosphere, we could never block out the noise and bustling scenes outside. Sounds originating from colorful cars, stores, hawkers, the repair of cars and audio equipment form the elements of the exhibition. During the Christmas period last year, we put together ‘The Everyday Signs of Sham Shui Po’, an exhibition showcasing the unique characteristics of the community. After spending a long time in this community, you will notice that street bills are a typical feature of Sham Shui Po. Like this morning, I saw a person displaying a bill for a lost parrot. From design, printing and to posting, the person did it all by himself. Probably since locals here do not often obtain information online, such a direct and low-cost way of disseminating information has become a daily form of communication. This exhibition has invited 11 local artists to design street bills for shops in this district. The decision to turn a back alley into an exhibition venue has made the exhibition form more down-to-earth and interesting. 

From organizing an art exhibition centering around Foreforehead, to one deeply connected to the community and full of characteristics of Sham Shui Po, Daisy noted that the change was unexpected, and that her love for this community has also grown over time. “On our first anniversary, we have released products designed by ourselves, and among them is a ball pen on which ‘Sham Shui Po is The New Brooklyn’ is printed. This corresponds to my imagination with regard to Sham Shui Po.” In recent years, Sham Shui Po has welcomed the arrival of many unique stores, including art spaces, cafes, record stores and concept stores, which has injected a new dose of vitality to this old community. “In the 1960s and 1970s, many new immigrants moved into the Brooklyn district, and thanks to people from varying backgrounds and cultures, different sub-cultures including Hip-Hop and tattoos began to flourish. Since the rent in this district was cheaper than that in Manhattan, people working in the field of art and culture began to set up their studios here. As a result, Brooklyn transformed into an emerging district boasting independent art spaces, record stores and tattoo parlors. The same thing is happening in Sham Shui Po right now. People who come to foreforehead to watch an exhibition will also eat hamburgers at Tim Fook Snacks, or shop around at the flea market at Apliu Street. The co-existence of the old and the new has made the district more interesting.” As often is the case, art and creativity  begin with a group of people full of imagination for the city whose silent devotion brings new changes to the community.