Let four young artists and designers loose on an installation, and it will be anyone's guess as to the results. Lisa Keophila, Jon Margono, Fiona Lim Tug and Kristen Lim Tung mixed their art and design practices to create a site-specific installation in Room 211 of Toronto's Gladstone Hotel for this year's edition of Come Up To My Room. The four produced a cosy ambience that was akin to walking into the dream produced by a nap on a sunny mid-afternoon. A dreamscape of paper flowers hung above a simple, soft bed inviting the viewer to close the door and escape from reality for a little while. We asked Fiona Lim Tung to tell us more about Room 211.
Together with three other arts & design professionals, you were involved in creating an installation for Room 211 of the Gladstone Hotel during Come Up To My Room which consisted of a soft bed directly beneath a canopy of handmade flowers. What was the significance of this installation?
We were given the opportunity to design an installation at the Gladstone Hotel and began to consider the typical strategies involved in the design of a hotel room. This brought about a rethinking of conventional design and decor strategies. Considering that the typical person staying in a hotel spends a large part of their stay in bed, it became interesting for us to subvert the objects traditionally used to decorate a room. Wallpaper, normally hung on walls, changed planes and was instead hung from the ceiling and viewed from the bed. Light was also used as a material. The installation expands the field of what currently qualifies as light fixture. During waking hours, shadows decorate the wall surfaces, creating a new, ephemeral type of wallpaper.
In terms of technique, we were interested in how to make ordinary materials beautiful. We wanted the installation to be conceptually rigorous, yet accessible at the same time. We also toyed with the idea of beauty and, although highly subjective, the role it plays in contemporary society.
A spider web was strung across the window; on and below the sill were glass jars. What was in the jars? What was the web all about?
The thematic of our room dealt with the natural world, particularly ideas of control, manipulation, and reproduction, contrasted with those of birth, growth, and emergence. We considered ideas of dwelling and of intimacy and placed hand-coiled cocoons and ruffled fabric in the jars. The spider web that was strung across the window was crocheted and beaded to glow in the sunlight like dew drops. The contrast between hard and soft textures and the representation of natural systems through those means was an interesting and productive way of approaching the work.
Given your different areas of specialization (architecture, graphic design, ceramics and textiles), how did the project come together? What were the different roles?
The four of us came together through a mutual admiration of each other's work. The collaboration was really driven by a desire to explore the possibilities that existed in working across disciplines. We each worked with what we knew best: the creation of spatial experiences, the graphic quality of the installation, and the design and craft of both ceramic and textile pieces. We had the benefit of having skills in both three-dimensional and two-dimensional design, and in the craft of both hard and soft objects. We worked on the flowers as a group, approaching their design and execution in an iterative manner, starting with one basic pattern that quickly evolved, so that no two flowers are alike.
The room was truly a collaborative effort and all aspects were designed holistically, taking into consideration the effect of each piece on the spatial quality of the room as a whole. In bringing our own skills to the table, we were able to inform one another's work and changed the way we approach our own existing areas of specialisation.
How did visitors react to the room? How did you react to the visitors?
We encouraged visitors to fully engage with the room, to lie down and to experience the installation as we had primarily intended - from the bed. We took advantage of the unconventional room shape to create an intimate nook for which we designed a series of large pillows. The intimacy and comfort of this space allowed people to relax and gaze up at a dream-like cascade of flowers. Many people rested on the bed for extended periods of time, some dove into intimate conversations, some remained completely silent. A couple of people fell asleep due to the room's soothing, dream-like quality. When people decided to lie down on the bed, we made sure to quietly move away so they got the sense of being enveloped in an intimate space. Younger children had fun jumping on the bed and diving into the pillows.
We used the white colour palette to magnify the quality of light in the room to create instant visual impact. We also took great care to finely detail and craft a wide variety of objects to both hang from the ceiling and be displayed in the window. This allowed the slow discovery of new objects and spatial moments that were not visible upon first glance.
We had great response from visitors and were happy to discuss our ideas and techniques. It became very rewarding for us to have people experience the room, gaze up at the ceiling and, upon seeing many of the commonplace material used, tell us they were inspired to try and make their own installations at home.
If the four of you have a chance to work together on a site-specific installation again, what would you do, given this experience?
We really enjoyed the experience of working together on the installation for Come Up To My Room. The collaboration has been extremely fruitful both in terms of how it has informed and influenced our individual practices, but also in terms of the opportunities that have arisen since the show. We have been approached to do a variety of projects and the styles and techniques used in our work vary based on site-specific conditions. Our output is also dependent on the program; pieces created for a residential install would be quite different than that for a fashion shoot.
Common themes that reappear in our work include looking for opportunity in perceived constraints, and an enhancement of spatial experience through subtle subversion of traditional types and techniques. We look to each installation as an opportunity for material exploration and as a chance to test new ideas. Material and fabrication techniques become very important moving forward. Although we share a common goal of creating beautiful work, it is important that any project be conceptually sound and meticulously crafted. Come Up To My Room was a great testing ground for experimentation and we look forward to seeing where this collaboration takes us moving forward.