HKBU artists digitise memories of local old shops to encourage reflections on community conservation

Sunday, 17 September 2023


Artists from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) employ three-dimensional (3D) scanning technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to create virtual 3D “point cloud models” for numerous old shops in Hong Kong. These models intricately archived the outlooks and interior spaces of the shops, enabling the public to view them from different angles and facilitating them to explore community conservation issues. HKBU artists are showcasing related art installations, both virtual and physical, in a multimedia art exhibition from 9 to 19 September to arouse public awareness of the old shops in the city.

Creating 3D point cloud virtual models for old shops

As economic development continues to reshape the urban landscape, many small old shops cannot escape the fate of closure or relocation. Renowned illustrator Ms Pat Wong Wing-shan (aka Flying Pig), Assistant Professor of the Academy of Visual Arts at HKBU, together with Mr Kachi Chan, Research Assistant Professor of the Academy of Visual Arts at HKBU, visited ten old shops in Hong Kong with decades of histories such as Chu Wing Kee grocery store in Sheung Wan, Shing Hing Tai Rice Shop in Shek Kip Mei and Mido Cafe in Yau Ma Tei. They documented the spaces and stories of these shops using texts, illustrations and videos.

They also taught the shop owners to use 3D scanning devices to scan the shops meticulously from a first-person perspective with an aim to capture their daily routines. The team then utilised AI technology to reconstruct the scanned data accurately into virtual 3D point cloud models. An online data archive of the old shops was then created and made accessible to the general public.

Mr Kachi Chan, the project's technical director and a digital architectural artist, said: "Points are the fundamental building blocks of geometry, where points form lines, and lines form planes. By producing 3D scans of the shops, we 'quantify' memories and transform each shop into a virtual form consisting of two to four million points. This digitised format preserves spaces and memories, and revives the appearances of the old shops."

Branding the exhibition as a real estate project

The team deliberately branded the 3D point cloud models of the old shops as a virtual real estate development project with "Foreseen Property Agency", a “fake” land development company, as the contractor. The exhibition venue at the Fringe Club in Central was set up like a property sales office, and language commonly found in real estate advertisements was used to "promote" the old shops. Virtual images, 3D printed sculptures, wooden panel paintings and a variety of other art forms were used to recall visitors' memories of the city.

Another unique element of the exhibition is engaging participants in the property "pre-sale" activity. The team divides each old shop's 3D point cloud model into point data and "pre-sells" a section of the data to the participants. Buyers will receive a "provisional sales and purchase agreement", followed by a printed copy of the old shop’s point data. A portion of the "sales revenue" generated will be used to subsidise the relocation or closure of the old shops in the future.

Ms Pat Wong Wing-shan, curator of the whole project and the exhibition, began to explore local old shops in 2016 and captured their stories through sketching. She used to design sales brochures for various major property developers, which inspired her to reflect on the value and definition of collective memories. As a result, she deliberately included community art participation in this exhibition.

"Our goal is not to make transactions, but to stimulate participants' thinking on the relationship between consumers, economic development and urban conservation, and raise people’s awareness of the preservation of valuable heritage in the community through market mechanisms commonly used in an economic-centric city. We also invited several writers and documentary film directors to create articles and videos based on the content of our exhibition, so that more perspectives will be available to formulate diversified opinions and heuristic viewpoints."

The project is supported by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, and is a funded project of the Design Trust Seed Grant.

Exhibition Details

Date: 9-19 September (10am to 7pm)

Venue: Anita Chan Lai-ling Gallery, Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong

Programme: A series of free public activities including workshops, themed exhibition tours, improvisational performances and group guided tours will be held during the exhibition


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