The Vertical City, Renderings of Hong Kong’s Iconic Facades by Architect, Daphne Mandel
Architect, turned artist, Daphne Mandel, moved to Hong Kong six years ago in 2008. Having worked in landscape and architecture in Paris, and even co-founding a studio, Daphne’s life has led her to this side of the globe where she began to pursue a new path in Art. The tight and compact scale of Hong Kong in relation to a more open and spread out Paris made it a bit difficult for her to easily transition to her work in landscape and urban planning to fit within this seemingly chaotic and piecemeal planning scale of the Asian City. However, it’s exactly in the compact vertical nature of the city, and the unique texture of Hong Kong’s concrete jungle, that Mandel has extracted a new inspiration. Her work, a series of renderings of the city’s facades, is a way for her to process the new find, and re-compose this information into a strikingly visual composition. The exhibition, which launched last week at the new Man Mo Café located within Hong Kong’s tight antique alleyways, is a perfect fit to present a series of works, inserting back within the context, paintings which are in direct reference of it.
We speak briefly with Daphne in relation to exciting her “Hong Kong Facades” series.
theW+: Tell me about your latest works exhibiting at Man Mo Cafe?
Daphne Mandel: The ‘Hong Kong Facades’ series is inspired by the city’s wild and restless urbanisation. Hong Kong’s brutal urbanscape is for me a constant source of inspiration. The density, the giant facades and the accumulation of elements on different scales, levels and layers create a fascinating visual and graphic scene. I like to explore the rough beauty of these urban contrasts while introducing a good dose of poetry, absurdity, and humour. The use of different media permits me to transpose a sense of realism and combine it with unexpected or surreal elements. While the result is never meant to be serious or controversial, it is about revisiting these compact and opaque urbanscapes by telling new stories. It’s the fruit of pure imagination.
Man Mo Café is symbolically and largely by coincidence the perfect location for this show. It is anchored in the middle of Cat Street Antique market (Upper Lascar Row), in the heart of Sheung Wan. A congregation of antique dealers, oversize ceramics shop, curio merchants and metal workers coexist with the nearby upscale art galleries of Hollywood Road. These juxtapositions and contrasts are among the essences of my inspiration.
theW+: When did you start rendering Hong Kong’s facades and why is rendering these facades important to you?
DM: As an architect, the phase I am always more excited about in the whole project proposal process is the rendering. Once one has resolved all the constraints regarding the program, the function, the technical and financial, there comes the challenge of how to express the product for the sell, and how to tell a story about ambiance, space, material, textures through the power of images.
My ‘Hong Kong Façades’ series is free of any project reality and constraints. It is only the expression of a fantasy world illustrated inside or outside the city facades. You will rarely find representation of human beings in my art works. It’s a way to disconnect my works from any sense of reality.
theW+: Tell us about your background, where you are from, and why you live in Hong Kong.
DM: I was born in Lausanne, Switzerland to a French father and a Dutch mother and grew up in Paris. I studied architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning in Versailles and graduated in 2000. I co-founded the Paris based landscape architecture and urban planning firm, Gilot&Mandel Paysage. We were named the “Best Young Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture Professionals” in France (2006) for our work. Our firm designed landscape urban projects of various scales, including public parks, city centres, cultural sites, and sports venues in France and abroad.
The reason of my move to Hong Kong (2008) is unrelated to my career but turned out to be an incredible source of inspiration to explore other means of creative and artistic expression.
theW+: Besides Hong Kong’s facades, what other things do you like to paint?
DM: So far, Hong Kong has been my main subject and I feel that I could continue to explore it for much longer under many angles. All of my art works are conceived in the same way I render images for an architectural or urban planning project… using mixed media such as painting, collage and digital printing.
My first work experience in an architectural studio was at Edouard François Studio (Paris). There, I was taught to try to maintain the conceptual dimension of the project all the way through its final representation as opposed to try to reach ultra realism. That way, the poetry and the magic of the concept was more likely to survive through the realization of the project.
theW+: Have you completely given up your previous career as a designer? If so where will go from here (career wise)? If not how do you think each of your work lives will help each other out inspirationally?
DM: I remain active as an architect and I have recently been involved in a large landscape design project in Korea for the training center of an insurance company. There are potentially more design projects for me in the near future in Seoul. Being an artist is a fairly new experience. I was so pleased to encounter a very positive and enthusiastic response, which encouraged me to pursue that route.
These two routes are totally interconnected and I could have never produced these artworks without having worked as an architect before. These two activities are definitely feeding the other, in terms of representational technique and inspirational themes.
VISIT Hong Kong Facades by Daphne Mandel . Exhibit Ends 2014 MAY 20 . Man Mo Café, 40 Upper Lascar Row (Cat Street/Off Hollywood road), Sheung Wan, Hong Kong . T:+852 2644 5644 . Tue to Sun, 12 - 3pm and 6pm - midnight