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[SCMP Archive] Are you sitting comfortable?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 10:30am

[First published on Oct 30, 1993] The assignment sounded easy: “design a chair for a special person.” But it wasn’t. The 20 students in Karen Fish’s design class at the Hong Kong International School at Tai Tam grumbled. At first.

Not enough time. Too difficult. Not specific enough. Such complaints are not unusual to experienced teachers.

“Once they got started, they really got into it,” beamed Ms Fish, the Australian-born art teacher who wouldn’t take any excuses. “They got turned on. Some students even came to school on Saturday to work on their chair.”

The 20 chairs produced made the month deadline. The famous people awarded their own seat, included Picasso, Dr Seuss, Steven Spielberg and David “Twin Peaks” Lynch.

The chair for Venus, the Goddess of Love, was adorned with a pink seat and pearls with cupids on each end. Picasso’s was made with spare parts from an old school desk.

The students judged one idea for Michael Jackson (a figure cupping a fold in his trousers) not quite proper for Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s foyer, the venue where the designs were displayed for the recently held HK Youth arts Festival.

The design brief stated that the materials could be recycled from home or school and the chair must be comfortable.

When Ms Fish and the students recovered from the shock of finding the school’s storeroom, once filled with broken chairs, empty, thanks to the maintenance department two days before, the project got under way.

Jackie To, 17. Michael Jordan, basketball. “I couldn’t think of anything. I was going to do Mr Klammer, my sclence teacher. Something crazy like him with lots of test tubes and physics formulas.

Then I saw a basketball in the school storeroom. That was it. Michael Jordan. This was before he announced his retirement. I don’t like the bulls. But I like Jordan. Everyone does. He’s a superstar.

“I was going to add a glass back-board. But when you put it on a stool, it looked like a coffee-table. Maybe I will give it to him as a retirement present.”

Janet Wong, 18. Mao Zedong: “Mao is important in my life. Up until I was 10, we lived in Shanghai, I was born there. All the terrible things that happened during the Cultural Revolution happened to my family. The house arrest and guards coming in and taking away their valuables. Mao was a good leader, I think. He wanted change and he had great hope. That’s why I show him raising his hand. But it didn’t work out. Lots of blood was shed and people were sacrificed. The Chinese characters (on the stool’s legs) are his quotes about service, learning and helping people.”

Amber Ferrell, 16, Dracula. “I was thinking about Dracula. He is scary. There’s always lots of blood with him. When I did it there was no connection to Hallowe’en. I even forgot about Hallowe’en. I just like to build thinks. The chair was old and ugly. It had a skirt and flowers printed on the seat. My dad is worried. This chair is so big. Where are we going to put it?”

Jill Lewis, 16, Jackson Pollock, artist. “Last year, the art students did a project. They made wire men. I really liked the figures. When I found one lying around, I decided to use him. I didn’t even think about a chair. I like the way Jackson Pollock paints. He’s important to modern art. But his way of painting is pretty messy. I used sticks and brushes and got paint all over. My clothes, my jeans, my hair, my friends. You should have seen the floor.

“I was going to attach a palate to the hand. But I found a paint can instead and used it. Someone who saw the chair at the Cultural Cetre put some money in it. I made 80 cents.”