Suzy Annetta on Design in Asia Pacific
Get to know the Melbourne-born Hong Kong-based Editor-in Chief of Design Anthology, before she takes the mic as a guest moderator for DENFAIR’s Speaker Series in June.
Suzy, this year is your second time being involved in the DENFAIR Speaker Series, what is it about the forum that appeals to you?
I think that, having lived away from Australia for so long, I had assumed that there was more public discourse on design happening than perhaps there was. So the Speaker Series is an important platform for those topical conversations to happen. And I enjoy coming across different points of view, learning from others on the panel, discovering their stories – it can be a really enlightening experience. It’s also a great opportunity to get amongst the design community in Melbourne, and see what’s current.
This time, you’ll be moderating a talk on the state of design in Asia Pacific – how have you seen the design industry evolve in your time being based in the region?
Well, I’ve spent three years in Tokyo and 14 in Hong Kong, where I live now, so I can probably speak more specifically to those design cultures.
In a country like Japan, there’s a really strong sense of what the design and cultural aesthetic is. They have such a rich, long history. Whereas to me, it seems Hong Kong is really exploring the way forward for design and culture in a Post-colonial context. People are beginning to identify elements of design which resonate with the immediate surroundings, rather than looking to Europe or elsewhere for inspiration.
Heritage is such a complex issue in a country that has a history of being colonised. It’s a question of what you retain – of course those times of conflict are difficult to remember, and maybe those more Western looking buildings don’t strictly belong there – but they’re still part of the cultural story. It’s a shame in a way, because so many old buildings have been destroyed, and a lot of the beautiful regional Chinese architecture goes with it, so it’s a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Are designers in the region (furniture, interiors, architects) becoming more intentional about referencing their own cultural design cues?
Yes, though I would say that this is something that applies across the globe – as we become a more international community online, it’s natural for people to turn to the things that make us uniquely us.
Indonesia, for example, was historically more of a supplier of rattan, whereas now it’s fantastic to see that younger designers there are deliberately incorporating that native material into their work, bringing it to a contemporary audience. And of course, those handicrafts that previous generations might have dismissed as being unsophisticated, are all done with such amazing skill. It seems there’s a feeling of rediscovery and pride in the work.
As an Aussie expat living abroad, do you have greater insight into how our local design is perceived by an international audience? Are we renowned for a particular style/ approach?
I think that’s a great question, and one I posed to Tom Fereday when we caught up recently in Milan. He didn’t think so. In my opinion, there’s not one style, or look – if there’s a common denominator, it’s more about us being a resourceful people. And also as a young country with a growing design culture, I suppose Aussies are kind of unburdened by tradition. As compared with, say, the Danish, who have a very distinctive design heritage, Australians are free to design on their own terms and explore new ways of creating.
What is on your Melbourne must-do list, design-related and otherwise?
The NGV is always fantastic, and particularly with its current programs, it’s going from strength to strength. I love visiting – even just the building itself is so beautiful and holds a lot of memories for me. What else? Walking the streets of Melbourne – it really is such a beautiful city – and going for a stroll down the Yarra River. Oh, and I love to catch the football when I can!