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©MAP Office, 2007

When I met Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix, the co-founders of MAP Office an interdisciplinary design and research platform based in Hong Kong, I was amazed with the passion and focus they had on life in Hong Kong and China. Their prolific practice explores and collates a mix of hard data with ‘sensitive’ interpretation to form mappings of both critical stance and poetic visions of urban environments constantly in flux.

Hong Kong, now part of China again, retains a strong international identity. The city is an epitome of a complex weave of global and local influences in constant negotiation. As a location it therefore offers a rich territory for not only documenting, but for inventing new topographies. It was the starting place for multiple projects that MAP Office has created, resulting in books, exhibitions, images, videos etc. In their encounter with spaces that embody paradoxes between local identities and a global economy, they say:

“Our projects focus on territorial strategies of global spaces, involving a critical analysis of spatial and temporal anomalies and documentation of the ways in which human beings subvert and appropriate spaces for their own uses.”

In the past years they have been investigating parts of the Pearl River Delta from which they propose alternative visions of Contemporary China. In a recent project: Unreal Estates of China, a series of 32 stories and 56 tableaux where reality is intertwined with fiction, they translate some of their many observations and experiences in this area. They told me how some of what they saw at times was so absurd that a photo would not do the hyperrealism justice. However, their way of mapping through story telling, using both narratives and illustrations, give a condensed view on everyday life in this area that both natives and foreigners can savour, at different levels – from local intricacies to non-specific and witty interpretations of human life in urban spaces.

 In The practice of Everyday Life – Michel de Certeau says, Every story is a travel story – a spatial practice.” MAP Office’s work seems to capture fleeting spaces in a rapidly changing China and perhaps through their documentation help their readers transcend received ideas of places in China?

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©KUBE Design Communication 2008

As boundaries between contemporary practices in design, art and architecture alongside  disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, ecology etc. are blurring – new perceptions and alternative reconfigurations are emerging. ‘Mapping’ is a term that is increasingly being used as a way of collating different materials that represent a topic or a focus. These mappings obviously take all sorts of different formats depending on the context they are used and presented in. Either used as a means – or to an end, the results can be poignant, revealing and curious. As such my interest was tickled when I was so lucky to encounter some very interesting designers/artists in Hong Kong on my recent trip there in parallel to attending the Design & Emotion Conference.

Invited by Howard Chan and Siu King-chung two of the founding members of the Community Museum Project I went to see: You Are What You Freeze: Food Storage and our Everyday Life, a research project focusing on the contents of refrigerators across a selection of households in Hong Kong. This unusual study was presented in an exhibition where visual inventories of collected items in fridges were mapped and organised to help the viewer not only grasp an understanding of types of contents, patterns of usage, the way food or other things are stored in this familiar household appliance but perhaps also attempt to provide insights to the owners’ identities.

Initiated in collaboration with Oxfam, this project maps out some interesting cultural and social findings with regards to different families’ relationships to food; their access to food, thus revealing visible patterns of livelihoods. Fortunately this is not a conspicuous demographic study for marketing purposes but a piece of mapping, using attentive information design, to offer insights to how we relate to food and beyond. Some of the stories that surfaced reveal a level of poverty that would have been difficult to address otherwise. By consciously creating a platform for diverse communities of people to meet and talk, this exhibition may perhaps help foster more empathy between them. 

Recently, foreign investment was commissioned by Deptford X to present “The Deptford Gold Exchange” which was performed and displayed at the Deptford Arms Pub on Deptford High Street. Here, one hundred discarded objects salvaged by the artists from Deptford were turned to gold. This recycling of rubbish to gold was done by the team who with love and attention gilded them with gold leaf. Visitors and bystanders were also invited to assist them with the transformation process. Besides questioning modes of exchange, from the established to the ephemeral and unpretentious, the process of ‘valuing’ is at core of their operations and with it a “magical re-distribution of meaning” takes place.

foreign investment is an art collective based and founded in the UK 1996. More than an international group of artists with its fluctuating memberships, rare appearances and selected projects, it is a concept, a technique, and a practice. foreign investment challenges the established routes of commerce and transactions, by disrupting them with actions of hospitality and generosity. Their trademark is the table – bringing things to the table. And so they do in different places and contexts, like the previous gold exchanges in Brazil (2001) and in Turkey (1997). They hold a reputation for elaborate and uncompromising work, for other projects see: foreign investment

Tomorrow the hundred precious gold articles that have been on view in the pub for the duration of DeptfordX (25th September -19th October) will carefully be returned to the original location where each object was found – whether in the gutter, on the pavement, or on the road – thus spreading value to the most unlikely places.