Reuse – Collage and Urban Fragments

再利用 – 拼貼藝術及城市碎片

Otto Chung 鍾浩然


This essay draws on the experience gained from ‘Ordinary and Extraordinary’ in the ‘Mind’s Eyes’ studio led by Professor David Dernie that explored the conservation of tong lau and its existing community in Tai Kok Tsui. The project consisted of two parts: first, about the micro-scale making of Installation in Shop 191, Tai Kok Tsui Road, and second about the macro-scale adaptive reuse of a residential block, turning it into a community kitchen. The project adapted the art of collage not only as a technique of representation but also a method to explore the metaphysical world of urban fragments that soon will disappear.

‘A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past.’ – Italo Calvino. ¹

In one of his novels, Italo Calvino portrays the growing issue of instrumentality in modernity through a description of Zaira from Marco Polo to Kahn. It explores the lack of understanding of symbolic meaning for matter, experience and situation in urban space.

This lost connection to the metaphysical quality of the latent world is also reflected In Dalibor Vesley’s book, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation, which claims that the relationship between human and urban settings has been progressively divided and disembodied, further contributing to the meaningless of life in the modern era. ²  To a certain degree, conservation or adaptive reuse projects are a process of rediscovering relationships between a historical place and a contemporary one. How much of the original building can be kept and what can we add? Such questions concern mainly the instrumentality and structure of a building. Underlying them is the question of how we can create an experience or situation that enables us to react to past memories.

Collage and fragmentation
The word collage was coined by the poet Guillaume Apollinarie from the French verb ‘coller’, meaning to glue or stick. ³  This form of art involves overlaying cutout fragments of paper and provides artists with a means to explore analogical relationships between fragments of reality. Contrary to our modern understanding of fragmentation as a negative phenomeon, the art of collage is a method to explore the metaphorical potential between matters and generate new meanings while also making reference to their sources.

In the context of Hong Kong, we can perceive the city as a collage of fragments. Through constant and rapid changes, new additions and the old create juxtapositions we often fail to notice. In an area such as Tai Kok Tsui, where much district-wide redevelopment has taken place, our group recorded and rediscovered the metaphysical quality of soon-to-disappear fragments using the art of collage. In these drawings, the team explored the relationships between the fragments in our canvas. These encounters between fragments, sometimes accidential, somtimes deliberate, can point towards dream-like analogies between materials and objects, suggesting situations that frame new and poetic realities.

Situation and ambigulity
One might ask how the perception of fragments leads to the understanding of situation – the latent quality of the material world connected to our unconscious. The answer is that it is the juxtaposition of elements that leads to a more structured exploration of situational relationships between fragments through the application of pictorial metaphors. The mind’s eye seeks to connect with the unconscious not through visual stimuli but also by restoring the symbolic meaning of the imaginary. In doing so, it connects the reader to the latent world through the projection of thoughts to new realities by metaphor. As a result, the situation remains and continues, becoming the most important element in the art of collage and reminding us of the possibility of the suggestive power of fragments. The consideration of situation is no longer restricted to the imaginative pictorial space of collage but also in reality through the venue that contains the work itself. The perceiver’s background, memory and experience will greatly affect the interpretation of the work. Within this framework of collage representation, the creator offers a balance between their authority in representation and the free space for others to interpret the work, generating a rewarding dialogue in pictorial communication. In truth and practice, architectural representation and spatial design are never about one’s definition but how people interpret and perceive and established space.

‘In its inherent permanence and penetrating preconceived order, the art form of architecture as frames and settings for human activities turns it into a varying and variously completed entirety, an ever-changing collage of activities, furnishings and objects’. – Juhani Pallasmaa.

The incompleteness and ambiguity in collage should be maintained in order to create ownerships for both the creator and the perceiver. Ambiguity in architectural representation is important in spatial creation. Working alongside collage, adaptive reuse might be less related to creating new space in the abstact and instead focus on observing and reacting to the richness of given fragments in order to form more compelling stories.

Otto Chung is a master graduate from CUHK.


¹  Italo Calvino and William Weaver, “Zaira,” in Invisible Cities. London: Vintage, 2002.

² Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The question of creativity in the shadow of production. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.

³ Rona Cran, Collage in Twentieth-Century Art, Literature and Culture. Joseph Cornell, William Burroughs, Frank O’Hara, and Bob Dylan, 2014.

⁴ Juhani Pallasmaa, “The World is a Collage” in Collage and Architecture. Ed, Seidls, Jennifer A.E. London: Taylor and Francis, 2014.

The Struggle between Old and New
(by Otto Chung, Julia Wong and Leslie Tsang, Lead by David Dernie)

The Struggle between Old and New
(by Otto Chung, Julia Wong and Leslie Tsang, Lead by David Dernie)