Wednesday. 5/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Empty city

Duddell’s was eerily quiet yesterday during the usually busy lunchtime service. The regular business crowd at this downtown dim sum restaurant is opting to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak, or avoiding Hong Kong altogether. A few hours earlier the government had reported the first local fatality. But, in all honesty, the streets, tables, shops and bars have been empty since Chinese New Year.

The lack of custom is having a devastating effect on the hospitality industry that was already on its knees after last year’s pro-democracy protests. “It’s not good,” said several, tight-lipped hotel executives to me yesterday. Hotel occupancy is likely to be in single figures as tourists cancel holidays and Hong Kongers shy away from promotional staycations. In a cruel twist, two of the 17 confirmed cases of the virus in the city (at the time of reporting) have been linked to two luxury hotels, the Four Seasons and the W. The government is going to announce its latest budget later this month but a bumper list of handouts, cuts and reliefs will come too late for many business owners and, certainly, for thousands of hospitality staff employed in what is one of Hong Kong’s pillar industries.

The hammer blow will be the cancellation of next month’s all important Art Basel, which is expected imminently. Already under question because of the protests, there now seems to be no way that Hong Kong’s flagship art fair can go ahead, despite strong support and the city’s miraculous good fortune in minimising the spread of the virus. While employers accept that no one will be flying into Hong Kong for a while, the talk around the few occupied lunch tables hinges on one question: are you going to fly out?

Energy / Canada

Sticky win

The highly contentious expansion of Canada’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which will triple the amount of oil flowing along its route from Alberta to British Columbia, has survived a court challenge to block it. The challenge was led by four British Columbia-based First Nations, who argued last month that the government failed to adequately consult First Nations on the project, while also failing to consider the prospect of an oil spill. The Federal Court of Appeal has disagreed: yesterday it ruled in favour of Trudeau’s government, which has long argued that the expansion project is key to the Canadian economy. While 55 per cent of Canadians remain in support of the project, a recent opinion poll shows that opposition to the pipeline has risen by 11 per cent since 2018. Although the prime minister is surely pleased with yesterday’s decision, the pipeline is likely to remain a political quagmire for his administration.



Media / Brazil

Globo vision

You might think that the streaming market is saturated but, in a sector dominated by western companies, there’s still room for a promising regional player. Brazil’s largest media organisation, Globo, has launched the streaming platform Globoplay and has already scored a big hit at home by securing more than 22 million users. It now hopes to repeat that success abroad: the service has been available in the US since January and Globo is holding a major event to mark the occasion today. Plans for a European launch are also in the works.

Brazilian TV is not new to international audiences and its Globo telenovelas have already been exported to more than 130 countries, while its US release will be helped by the fact that more than 1.4 million Brazilians live within its borders. With a president, Jair Bolsonaro, who’s often ridiculed on the international stage, a little Brazilian soft power from the world of culture will come in handy.

Design / Sweden

Greenhouse effect

Visitors to the Stockholm Furniture Fair, which kicked off yesterday, might have arrived to see the latest wares from established Scandinavian companies but left motivated to be more responsible thanks to the world’s next generation of design talent. For 2020, the fair’s organisers made the brave decision to place its Greenhouse component (a major showcase of work by students and emerging designers) in a prominent position within the busiest part of the fair. Here pieces from independent talent and design schools from Hungary to South Korea were largely focused on the same theme: improving our planet with more responsible design. Sweden’s Linnaeus University, for instance, had a stand emblazoned with a sign that read, “The world is burning and we are still making furniture.” “The fair is the place where business, industry and design come together – and these are the people we want to address,” says Linnaeus University’s George Bsirini. Credit to the organisers for hosting the debate – but even responsible designers will have to make and shift products if they are to survive.

Trade fair / Los Angeles

Show of strength

Today is the official start of the 2020 art season in Los Angeles as the LA Art Show opens its doors to visitors for the next five days. The fair is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a line-up that includes about 120 galleries from 18 countries, as well as panel discussions, film screenings and live performances. The LA Art Show is also hosting a European Pavilion for the first time, which focuses on contemporary galleries from Spain, Italy, the UK and a special exhibit on Catalan artists. The fair’s staying power and growth are a manifestation of just how much the LA art scene has developed in the past couple of decades, attracting galleries and artists from both sides of the Pacific (Asian artists featured this year include Japan’s Kazu Hiro and Chinese fashion designer Sue Wong). LA’s strategic position along the Pacific Rim, enabling it to tap into the Asian and Latin American art scenes, gives the city an edge over its East Coast competitors and has arguably turned it into the most important contemporary art show in the US today.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Drawing inspiration

We speak to Foster + Partners’ art director Narinder Sagoo about the process of sketching new buildings. Plus: we visit the Danish Architecture Centre, and meet two friends channelling nostalgia into the design of Brooklyn’s Turk’s Inn restaurant.

Monocle Films / Los Angeles

All around the table: big screen in Los Angeles

Under the starry sky in Hollywood, we meet Rooftop Cinema Club founder Gerry Cottle Jr to talk about the enduring appeal of simple get-togethers and how public spaces in busy cities can become our living rooms.

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