dtby_ are more than just a collective

Group of people

Hong Kong-based dtby_ is an international family of artistic storytellers, says founder Ron Wan

By Mark Hooper .  Saturday 1 February, 2020

‘dtby_ is a collective. But it’s also more than that. I moved to Hong Kong about eight years ago, having grown up in Toronto. My friend Mildred Cheng and I – we’re Hong Kong party friends, who became close through various events and raves, as well as both being graphic designers – decided one day that there were no events, parties or raves to go to anymore. Or, at least, there were no new ones where we hadn’t seen everyone before. We decided to do something about it. In a sense, dtby_ was a way for us to stop ourselves from complaining and prevent our creative friends from saying that there is nothing to do in Hong Kong. 

‘Our first venture was curating and designing an event called Be There – Design Festival (2019). It housed a combination of show spaces, galleries, video rooms and markets. We brought in our friends to collaborate, and create something together that was new, memorable, impactful and fun in the process. We were able to get a lot of work from all over the world; I think it surprised a lot of people. ‘If I were to describe it, I’d say dtby_ is almost like an extended family where everybody might have dinner together once in a while, but you’re not quite sure who all of them are. I suppose that’s exactly what a family is like. Some would describe it as a distant family, but it’s a functional one. Sometimes it will only be, say, five of us hanging around creating; sometimes it’s 15. And then other times it’s 50. Sometimes we know everyone involved by name; sometimes no one knows each other. I think the reason it works is because – whether you know each other or not – you support each other as part of the Hong Kong creative scene.
group of young men and women posed against a screen in studio
‘Our members range from graphic designers and artists to painters, photographers and videographers – but also friends, supporters and people who are interested in art and design without being ‘artists’. It was really important for me to include these supporters; those who always turn up to our events no matter what. dtby_ extends beyond those who create the work – it’s not about a squad or a gang. Even if you don’t relate to specific work sometimes, it’s about relating to people and learning why they do what they do.

‘The first festival we did had the theme of ‘Homeland’. Our second event, Be There 2 (2020) was ‘The Body’. We presented across three floors: design, photography and then design/ marketing, and that reflected what we wanted to do – design, produce and curate together. No matter what topic we chose, everyone had a very different interpretation of it. We’ve never had a visual aesthetic to dtby_, because we consciously wanted to be a hub for all ideas. We wanted to make sure we were inclusive of all stories, which is why we brought different people together for the project. We don’t want to shut people down or only have one voice.

‘Living in Hong Kong, a lot of people are very conservative, as is the art. Many of the international artists that we got involved were very risque and, actually, people liked it. Our collective was very happy that they were able to be in a roster that featured such a range of different art from different people. I think the thing that ties us all together is the fact that we are very open-minded and love sharing stories. Effective storytelling, at the end of the day, is about not just sticking to one kind that’s told in one way. What we want to do is let these stories all coexist in the same space.
‘We had a photographer at our first event, Oscar Rendón, who grew up in Monterrey, Mexico. He wanted to take photos of all the people who came in and out of the city via train, trying to escape to America. Obviously, this is something very deep and important. Alongside this, we featured a photographer from Amsterdam named Ferry van der Nat who shoots Tom Ford’s campaigns, and the two worked very well together. We don’t believe that they have to exist independently of each other. I suppose you could also say that dtby_ is a platform. In Hong Kong, people seem to run away from subjects that upset them, so we’re somewhere that talks about everything. I don’t want to only hang around with people I understand – that’s dangerous. I don’t want to say ‘‘no’’ to anyone. I want to hang out, work and create without prejudice. That’s what art is.’

Images by Jocelyn Tam