Ply House. All images courtesy of UPSTAIRS_.
Today we have a conversation with Dennis, an architectural and interior designer from Singapore, on design, spaces and ideals.
Yanda: Congrats on your new website and it’s been a while since we last met and chat. Are you still at the same place?
Dennis Cheok: Thanks Yanda, I’m glad too. The old website was in a sad state of limbo for 2 years, and I was dying to give it an update. Nothing much happened until my dear friend Danis (of Sciencewerk) rang me up one day to design his new house in Surabaya, Indonesia on an empty plot of land. We’re really friends, and so pretty much couldn’t talk about fees. So the sneaky fella proposed that we barter instead. A house, designed from the ground up, in exchange for a website. I had a good laugh about it, but by the following day, thought: “What the heck, let’s go for it!”
Oh, and yes. The studio is still at Beach Road, but not for long. Let’s hold this thought for a bit first.
[I don’t mind trading a website for a interior]
What were your thoughts on the recent Singaplural or Singapore Design Week?
SingaPlural was a pleasant surprise this year, because we were roped in at the very last minute to design the exhibition space for Project X, the flagship event.
UPSTAIRS_ has been under the radar for a while, and it was mind-blowing to suddenly find ourselves collaborating with the likes of Studio Juju, Weekend Worker and of course Bacus Boo, SFIC and Plus Collaboratives. The time crunch was intense, and at some points we literally went directly from the drawing board to production within a matter of hours. But it’s moments like these, when you see fellow local creatives and manufacturers coming together and supporting each other to make things happen, that makes me feel really, for lack of a better word, hopeful.
Personally I think we should be fighting for creatives even more. We would always yearn for a space to make things happen but everywhere seems commercialised and exclusive. Our government agencies are spending a lot of money on Biennale and their own projects like Gillman Barrack and even SG50 but seems not much for local festivals of art, design or furniture in comparison. And it’s not entirely about the fundings but also about having a space to do something.
In a very huge way, it’s always about fundings. But you’re absolutely right in saying that local festivals seem to take a back seat in terms of direct, full-on government support. Specifically; space, and the lack of dedicated, well-catered and conducive venues for our own events. I’m not even talking about state-of-the-arts, high-tech spaces.
Take SingaPlural, for example. It’s the anchor event for Singapore Design Week, and this is the fifth year that it has been running. This year alone, over 100 creatives were involved in the event. There were loads of outstanding work produced, all of which had creative AND commercial potential. Designers and artists were exploring new ideas for material application, technologies were being reinvented, and ideas were being celebrated.
Now, let’s look at the venue, at 99 Beach Road. Don’t get me wrong – I love that space, there is so much charm about this site that was a former police station. But let’s get real here, the paint was decrepit, the floorboards were broken, ventilation was poor, the event venue barely has the basic infrastructure for human inhabitation. I mean, the entire seven-day event had to be sustained on portaloos and temporary power generators, which to my knowledge, broke down on the opening day itself. Perhaps I’m coming from the perspective of someone who cares a lot about space, but for an event which is meant to showcase and celebrate the creative output of a “Creative City,” a little more dignity would have been real nice.
N Tyler, Marina Bay Sands. All images courtesy of UPSTAIRS_.
Ah I get your point. It’s an interesting take coming from someone who has architectural or interior background. I think most of the time, we will just need an empty big space and leave it out to the organizers to sort it out perhaps? It’s funny but we want to be an arts hub but we aren’t never able to do a Venice Biennale here with that kind of mindset. Or a space to do Design Fiesta or even hold D&AD Award shows exhibition. And to go on more, the most successful show for everyone seems to be Singapore Design Festival 2009 where they got a lot of international creatives participating. And so is the very first year’s Singapore Biennale.
Not sure if I’m coming across as too cynical actually. My pain is this – the work/content is great, but the spaces where these are presented within just felt so temporary. It’s almost as if you’ve to squint and ignore the surrounding, and focus purely on the work to get something out of it. I just found it so distracting.
A shame, cause we’re all designers and these things should matter, and we could have made it better.
About the big empty space thing. My thought is this: if SingaPlural is going to be a recurring event, why didn’t anyone think of just making a real effort to fix it up once and for all? It’s actually more cost effective than to cover it up temporarily each year, and then dismantle it after each event. It just seems so wasteful.
Or perhaps someone already did try to do something about it and failed, I’m not sure.
Oh well. Okay say budget aside, if you could do something for Singapore or even the public spaces, what would you do?
Nice. I have an enduring soft spot for aged, disused and forgotten buildings, and would jump at any opportunity to convert any of these buildings, especially into places for public usage. It makes so much more economical and cultural sense than to build something entirely brand new.
In half-jest, 99 Beach Road is a fantastic, prime example. There’s also a little Art Deco-styled building off Serangoon Road which I’ve been eyeing for years, it reads “National Aerated Water Co. Ltd.” on the façade. In all ernestness, it’s really unlike any other building you’d find in Singapore, and something about it just captivates me.
“Everyone thinks that they have good taste. Also, more and more people think that they can be designers without any design training. We’re kind of screwed by this.”
Yes, I know about that building too. It’s just sad when most buildings in the future will get torn down—flats or shophouses and be replaced with condos or commercialized buildings that is often glass cladded which is cold and ugly.
The good news is – the National Aerated Water Co. building has been awarded conservation status. And so is 99 Beach Road, by the way.
Difference is, the former belongs to a private corporation. So unless a major stakeholder in there is enlightened/foolish enough to say: “Hey, we have this building. And we’re not even using it. So instead of letting it sit there and rot away, let’s clean it up and let it serve a purpose for the common good.”
About the condos and all, it’s an economic reality that we cannot avoid. In fact, part of my trade depends on it, and a commission like this would be one of the better paying gigs. So it will be hypocritical for me to condemn it outright.
Perhaps a better approach would be to expand and redefine our criteria for buildings with conservation status. Sometimes it’s not only the built form itself, but also the social and cultural values, or meaning of places and spaces. Perhaps that’s a little too intangible to quantify, especially since public memories can shift, unless brick and mortar.
Crocodile Concept Store. All images courtesy of UPSTAIRS_.
Tell us something about yourself I won’t know?
My early childhood memories are mostly vague, but there’s one incident that I can still remember so clearly till this day. I was in kindergarten, so I must have been five or so. The class was given a colouring exercise, and it was a picture of an old peasant lady in a little straw hut, and there was grass or hay on the floor. I took a colour pencil, and for some reason, coloured the grass blue. BLUE. The teacher called my parents in for a talk, because she must have thought that I was really stupid, or something was seriously abnormal with me.
Thirty years later, I’ve yet to figure out how this incident has impacted me. Contempt for institutionalized learning, maybe?
How it is like juggling your new startup with a new-born?
Well you could say that I had not one, but two new-borns at the same time. A week after I moved into my Beach Road studio, my little girl, Trevi, was borned. I don’t think I fully grasped the weight and responsibility of what I was doing, until I was already in the thick of it.
A good friend of mine succinctly said that the foundation of parenthood is paved with guilt. Over the first year, I fluctuated between wanting to dedicate as much of my time to being a hands-on dad, and on the other extreme; fuelling myself to work non-stop both at the studio and at home, without getting any real sleep. The feeling of guilt plagued me massively no matter which way I chose, I constantly felt like I could have done more for one, and then the other. I’ve now learnt to channel that guilt into something more positive.
I unplug during down time with the family, it nourishes me to keep on going at work; and at work, I give my all because it feeds my family.
But the greatest sense of guilt I have is for my wife, Maggie. She is the one who has to hold the fort at home, and still be my rock for all that I go through on the work front. Thinking about it, there’s no major business decision that I make, without running my thoughts through with her first, even if I may disagree at times. A woman’s insight is a very powerful thing.
How old is your kid now?
Trevi is four, going on five this year. It’s a nice age when she already has her own mind about things, and she’s always curious about what I do. I make it a point to keep her as involved as possible with my work. In fact, she has first dibs to all of the projects that I work on, and she loves tagging along with me to the studio, project sites and design events.
People tell me that she’s a designer-in-training, but I wonder at times if she’ll grow to resent design from the overkill. But oh well, she’s entitled to her own life choices, right?
So, being a designer, how well do you trust our education system and its pragmatic mindset here? It’s sad that we are all about grades and paper and about surviving. Occupations like sportsman, musicians, hawkers, farmers have been discouraged by the general society. And it will be worse when all the traditional authentic trades be gone and replaced in decades to come. Soon, we won’t find any traditional non-airconditioned kopitiams or bread maker.
I like how you used the word “trust.”
Do I trust our education system to be competent? Indefinitely, yes. Do I trust that it cultivates the kind of values that I agreed with? I am not certain, but isn’t that the parents’ job to begin with?
I also trust that we are now recognizing that the current curriculum is showing signs of imbalance, and there already are measures being taken to pull back a little. I’ll give it a bit more time to mature.
At the same time, I know of many parents who have plans to relocate, due to our rising, and some might say insanely unrealistic, academic pressures. Most of these parents happen to be those the arts and design fields, for some reason. It actually takes a lot of guts and aspirations to make a decision like that. It’s sad that we’re driving creatively-inclined Singaporeans out of the country, due to reasons like this.
But on the other hand, being someone who has created a career out of doing something that I love, I don’t feel the need for Trevi to conform unconditionally to our education system. I believe that if she can find the one thing that she is passionate about, she will find a way to make it work. At this point in time, I’m more concerned that she develops the softer skills, and grows up into a well rounded person.
My wife might disagree with me on this, by the way. She still gets a little unnerved by her mom friends who send their 4 year olds to Chinese supplementary classes on the weekends.
About the issue of dying trades, it seems more like an repercussion of economic inflation than the education system per se. Well they do go hand in hand. Plus, that the young seem to lack the patience and tenacity in honing their craft.
It’s a lot of generalization here, and too many complex issues for us to really comprehend and do justice with in this conversation. So let’s move on.
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All images courtesy of Karyn Lim.
Today we have a conversation with Karyn, a recent graduate from National Universal of Singapore Division of Industrial Design.
Yanda: Tell us something about yourself.
Karyn Lim: Hello. My name is Karyn.
What got you into your course industrial design?
I had to attend university but didn’t want to study. Industrial design was one of the more hands-on courses.
Were you always into design or arts?
Was in art club in primary school. Does that count?
I’ve always had an attraction to tasteful things. The real interest in design only developed after 6 months on exchange at L’ENSCI in Paris. It was a small school where students had to compete against each other to get in and really only a handful of all applicants are admitted. We can imagine how passionate and talented they are. Passion and talent aside, what really struck me was the pride that they had of their work. It wasn’t boastful, more of self-satisfaction and some intention to impress.
Another great influence in my development as a designer was having Patrick Chia a mentor. It was he who got me interested in design literature. He used to lend me books after books and I’d spend hours flipping through them and wondering his intention for lending me the particular book. Once, he lent me a book on Thomas Heatherwick. & he asked, you know this guy right? Sheepishly, I shook my head no. It was a good read.
Transformation Bags II
So are you reading more now? The best talks I have ever attended was by Thomas Heatherwick and Toyo Ito. But I never really like keynote presentation or TED talks. Would actually prefer chats over coffee or studio visits.
Owning more books but reading less. I’ve always enjoyed reading. More fiction than non-fiction. & I used to complete many books while commuting daily. But it’s really bad for the eyes so I stopped. Coffee chats and studio visits are definitely more intimate than talks and presentations.
Which batch were you from for NUS DID? And coming from a school that has produced so many President’s Design Award recipent like Hans Tan, Studio Juju, Hunn Wai, Patrick Chia, Nathan Yong, are there any pressure among yourself or your peers?
I graduated from NUS DID in 2015, same batch as Litile Collective (Lim Zhi Ying and Tay Tze Yu), one batch after Afzal Imram (Proper People) . These are friends who were brave enough to start independent studios after graduation and whom I hope will join the ranks of “names we throw out when talking about Singaporean designers”. Pressure, maybe not so much. Everyone is trying to give their best.
If you could own a project of anyone, what would it be and why?
It would be interesting to co-own/co-work on a project with someone of a different field of study/expertise. Collaborations are interesting to me as it offers a peek into another person’s concerns, considerations, and ways of working.
I was actually asking what is your favourite project of others that you would wish you designed.
I know! Wouldn’t steal anyone’s project! I never really wish to have done something that someone else has done. More like, can I achieve an equivalent calibre or do better.
Masses or the niche?
But niche doesn’t get you very rich.
Riche Niche. The niche has potential to produce a rich outcome. Rich not in monetary value but in concept and execution. Niche is an indulgence that does not compromise. Niche has its own mind. For that, niche over masses.
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All images courtesy of Yew Chong.
Today we have a conversations with Yew Chong, an accountant by day and a mural artist on weekends.
Yanda: Hello Yew Chong. Tell us something about yourself and how old are you? Is being an accountant your day job?
Yew Chong: I am a true blue Singaporean who grew up in old Chinatown in the 70s with fond memories (born 1969). I studied accountancy and has worked in finance and accounting for over 20 years (still in finance today!) I’m happily married with two children.
Tell us through your day-to-day work life?
I manage a department in a multi-national company providing finance and administration services to internal customers. My day-to-day job involves more of managing my team members and internal customers, more than crunching numbers, contrary to what many people think accountants only do.
Is it tough juggling your mind over the freedom in art with the numbers and accounting?
Actually it is not tough to juggle. When I am at the office, my mind is fully focused on work issues. I like it that my employer has so far empowered me with the freedom to manage. When I am drawing or painting, my mind is also very free and fully focused on creating that piece of art or craft, sometimes even forgetting to rest! When my mind is free from work and art, it wanders, reflects its present surrounding and dreams far, eg. next project, next travel destination. To be able to do all these freely, I must say how thankful I am to my whole family, especially my wife who has empowered me with this freedom!
Provision Shop. Everton Road, Singapore
The money must be good it seems?
The money from finance work is ok lah, mainly due to my accumulated 20 years of experience and seniority. It surely beats the money from art and craft for now as I only started painting for commissions since November 2015.
How did the mural art thing started? Was it a SG50 thing?
My works are totally unrelated to SG50. In fact, I missed the boat as I painted my very first mural only in late August 2015 when the hype was over. I managed to paint murals only after I quit my finance job in June 2015 to take a break and do something different for a while. The idea of mural painting however started way back in 2014 when I bumped onto Ernest Zacharevic’s works in Victoria Street. See my facebook post in 2014: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152117815223610&set=a.10150917894768610.435348.591753609&type=3&theater
How long do you take to finish a mural? Was it a one man thing?
The time needed to complete a mural depends on its size, design complexity, logistics complexity and the weather. The 7 murals I have painted so far ranged from 2 days to 2 weeks of work. My latest two murals in Tiong Bahru were painted in two days each. I think I learnt the tricks, hence getting more efficient. The “Provision Shop” in Spottiswoode Park Road took 2 weeks mainly because it rained everyday in the afternoons, so maybe it was just about 1 week of work. So far, I painted all the murals single handedly, but with lots of moral and logistics support from family, owners, neighbours, friends and even passers-by. In my next few projects, there will be some collaboration with friends.
Are these commissions? Invited by some government agencies?
For the first two murals at Everton Road, I approached the house owner to allow me to paint on his property walls, thus they are not commissioned. They are like my advertisements and I’m glad the house owner didn’t charge me for the space. All subsequent murals were commissioned.
It’s funny, but maybe illustrative street art means legal.
In Singapore, in theory, all kinds of street arts require some form of approvals, regardless of the style. For private properties, which are not gazetted with any conservation or other status, it may simply require the house owner’s approval. For gazetted private properties, HDB or other public buildings, multiple approvals may be required from the owners, URA, HDB, BCA, LTA, Town Councils and Resident Committees. Seeking approvals can be a very time-consuming and cumbersome process, but that ensures I don’t land up in the courts or even jail! I understand the need for the authorities to control street art, however I hope these numerous authorities can come together to make the process more seamless and less bureaucratic in order not to stifle ground-up initiatives.
How would you feel to see them being destroyed by bird shit, stains and whats not one day?
Murals are never meant to be permanent. I always warn all the house owners that the murals will be destroyed by the natural elements over time, no matter how high-tech the paints are against the elements. Those walls that are subject to direct sunlight (intense ultra-violet) and moisture will have the shortest lifespan, say about 3 years. I think some signs of aging, like colour fading, cracking wall and bird shits make the mural look mature and nostalgic. Some owners are also concerned about vandalism, but I think in Singapore, the risk is low. Nevertheless, whatever happens and when the time comes, I leave it to the owners to decide whether to whitewash the wall or restore the mural. If they decide to restore it, we also need to assess if it is even feasible and worth it.
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All images courtesy of Supermama.
We spoke with Edwin Low of Supermama who I think is more than a product designer, educator and an entrepreneur. To me, he’s an activist who champions ‘Don’t complain, just do it.’ where the things he is doing is more than just a design or a shop—reviving the landscape here in Singapore that I have decided to rename his shop to my own liking, SuperingaporeMama.
Yanda: Supermama was started because of your wife and family? What has changed and how different is it now from the beginning?
Edwin Low: Yes. Nothing has changed. The day any one of my kids tell me “Papa you are not spending enough time with me” will be the day I shut Supermama – no hesitation.
I didn’t expect Supermama to survive more than a year because I totally disregard the business aspects of things. To me, good design matters and I want it to come first. Now that I managed to survived and be celebrating our 5th birthday in March, I felt a lot more responsibility to “represent” the design community and represent the Singapore identity well (and accurately) to the world outside.
I have also grown deeper in my relationship with the Singapore designers and Japanese craftsmen I work with and it is something I never take for granted. At the end of the day, if we were can add value to the lives of others, why not just do it?
What makes you want to start your souvenir project?
I wanted to do this long time ago. I think it is the dream of every industrial or product designer to want to do something for their own city. This is especially so in Singapore – we are known for shopping, food, etc but ask someone to name an “iconic” object or product that represents the Singapore identity, he/she will probably give you a blank stare. I am always jealous that Japanese can have their bento boxes, Koreans metal chopsticks… what about Singapore? That’s how I started the Singapore Icons project few years back.
What do you think of the Merlion chocolate packaging or the I LOVE SG t-shirts?
I think they are effective designs that served their purpose in their time. Am I proud of them? No.
Do I think they can be improved? Yes. Then what am I doing about it? Complain? No. Just take in your own hands. If I don’t change it, who will? In fact one of my future plans is to set up a Merlion shop – well design and well thought through kind.
Say how much percentage is of the souvenirs as compared to the other products (like furniture or usable items) in the products you produce now?
Everything in Supermama are souvenirs. There are good home ware shops around (like Muji), good furniture shops around (like Grafunkt), but souvenir shop? Not really. So I hope to be one. I’m also very inspired by the Japanese way of giving gifts, it is a way of life. Giving is a thoughtful and considerable act that makes people happy – both the giver and receiver – I wanted to encourage people to give.
What do you wish to champion and advocate in this?
I think if designers don’t bring design to the public, then non-designers will bring design to the public. So if we think the design standards in Singapore is screwed up, we as designers only have ourselves to blame. My wish is for designers to take up more initiative and do what we believe in – too many are complaining about everything other than themselves. Will I still do supermama without support/grant? Yes. Really? I sold my home to do so.
Though seems to be collection’s edition, the souvenirs are not highly priced. Why and how did you manage that?
Traditional gift shop focuses a lot on packaging or to create a nice interior space (often designed for impulse buying) and it seemed like the actual gift itself is a second rated by product. I wanted to be a gift shop that sells great gifts. That’s why in Supermama we demand excellence in our product quality – not so much on packaging or the shop experience actually. We merely spend money on what we think matters and save on those that don’t.
When you chase after packaging and trends you end up spending money refreshing every season but if you invest on the product itself, you don’t need anything else actually.
At the end of day it is also about selecting the price model. We can choose high pricing low sales volume or low pricing high sales volume. And because I am a designer, I want as many people to have access to my designs as possible. So how did I manage to do that? Earn less profit per unit.
You shared before how you work out a deal with your contractor or was it collaborator over giving them a share on each item that is being manufactured to maintain the quality and reduce wastage and rejects. Is this sharable to the public? And do you do that to all the products?
Yes can share with the public but a clearer picture is this – I got the designers and makers on board as partners. I.e. for this project I got Stuck as the design partner and Meykrs as the production partner. I came out with the project and business direction. We split the profit equally. And because everybody owns the project, everyone takes ownership. Die die have to do good works. In fact the project is so successful that we spin a new company off just to manage this project. The company is called “Souvenirs from Singapore”.
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All images courtesy of H55.
You probably don’t see any slowing down as Hanson Ho, the recipient of President’s Design Award ‘Designer of the Year’, grows with age. Representing Singapore as the design jury for the up coming British D&AD Awards, the founder and creative director of Singapore-based design studio H55 which he founded in 1999 has been part of everything—from visual identities in the Civil District of Singapore, to publications including artist Darren Soh’s ‘In the Still of the Night (While You Were Sleeping)’ and Robert Zhao Renhui’s ‘A Guide To The Flora And Fauna Of The World’. We speak to him to find out about his recent exhibition at DECK, Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us how did this get started?
Hanson Ho: I wanted a show which accompanied the launch H55’s monograph ‘H55 1999–2015’, but at the same time did not want to do a mere show-and-tell. The exhibition needed to allow me and the audience to gain a new perspective of my design practice.
How long ago did you start and how much time did it take to get it completed?
The idea was conceived about more than one year ago, but the execution and exploration began about 3 months before the exhibition.
At your age, people are starting to slow down to take it easier but it doesn’t seems like it for you.
I think I can achieve better and more significant work, so it is not time to slow down yet.
You have worked with so many artists, has anything transcend into your first art show.
No, not really. A lot of it is based on my interest in observing art and spaces.
Making art often seems like we shouldn’t be sticking or even having a brief to adhere to, unlike design, but keeping the message and vision clear still. So with that, did you set a brief for yourself then?
Yes, there is definitely a brief. Besides helping me to gain a new perspective of my work, the exhibition making process had to be an educational and branding exercise for me.
Isn’t it fascinating that you are designing the branding and collaterals for your art show altogether?
No, not at all. It is the ideal situation!
Do you see this as an extension of H55 or a birth of Hanson Ho as a designer artist.
Not so much ‘designer artist’ but just an extension of my work.
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All photography by Yanda.
It’s been ten years since the blog started and also ten years since I last stepped into Hong Kong. Things have changed since. Rental are getting unaffordable. People are probably not as happy. But what I can see in ‘Syut’ is not being pretentious but passion, hope and the desire to make things right.
Yanda: Tell us how did ‘談風：vs：再說 SYUT’ came about?
Thomas Lam: Due to rising rent in HK (it’s been always a problem here), we are forced out of our previous band practice room, which is in fact an instrument shop ‘Battle Stage’ owned by our drummers. Then we found the current factory building with a stunning street view. But it’s too large for a shop and also a practice room. And our chef, Sean, has been working in renowned restaurants in HK for years and he always hoped to open his own restaurant. Then we came up with this idea of half restaurant half instrument shop/band room.
What about the name?
The Chinese name 談風：vs：再說 is derived from our band name tfvsjs. We picked the initial consonants from each letters. SYUT is the Cantonese pronunciation of the word 說.
What are all your backgrounds of the founders?
Besides our chef who is always been a chef, we also have designer, filmmaker and sound recordist.
How do you all juggle or split the roles then?
Depends on what we are good at, or interested in. We don’t have the corresponding background of running a restaurant. Our designer, Adonian, does the design of all our menu and marketing materials. I like coffee and therefore at the beginning I learned to make coffee for the restaurant.
Do you all considered yourself businessmen?
No. Being a businessman is profit-oriented and I don’t think we run our restaurant this way. But of course to make this business sustainable is also important.
Michellin star or good reviews more important?
Both are recognition, and both are important. Michelin star brings fame and business. Good reviews brings us the most direct satisfaction.
Do you think food bloggers are influential?
No disrespect to this profession, I think there are plenty out there who works very hard and write very good and inspiring food reviews. But there was one who didn’t even know what al dente means and complained about her pasta undercooked.
How is it like starting up?
Extremely tiring. We were on a tight budget and we were understaffed. We hardly sleep for the first 6 months.
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Today we speak to
Stefanie Djie, a New York based photographer from Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us what do you do?
Stefanie Djie: I am part of a photography team (Stoltze and Stefanie); edit a 400-pages glossy biannual, S Magazine as well as the content for its S online channels; and run our 2500 sq feet. photography studio on Bowery in New York City.
I am always interested to find out what does a duo really means. Profit splitting or there are actually more good to it?
The way I see it, it’s not just about the profits. Being a team means that we get to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses.
While we work together on refining concepts and ideas, Jens (Stoltze) and I focus on different areas for all our productions; I tend to the pre-production elements – deciding on the creative team, mood-board references, initial ideas, producing the shoot while he focuses on technicalities, lighting decisions and eventually, the post-processing.
On working with clients, we play up our appeal to the different genders. Jens gets away being sauve dealing with women, and in those scenarios, I take the back seat. I like to think that we’re just being smart about it (as sexist as it sounds).
What was your background and how did you ended up as a photographer?
I have a family who, despite having no understanding of the Arts, are supportive of my decisions (As a child, you have no choice over your experiences).
I was always interested in studying pose, body-language, semiotics and group dynamics. I am a very visual person; I love to observe trends (photography movements, seasonal runway trends etc.) and subtle motivations communicated through ideas and human behavior.
Knowing that I don’t possess the patience of a painter, nor the linguistic abilities of a sociologist and coupled with the bookish nerd in me (love speed-reading manuals), I felt like I’ve always had the temperament and stamina of a photographer. Which to me means, to be constantly on the move, to enjoy a speedy progression of your work and having the natural attraction to aesthetics.
There’s a saying that a good photographer needs to be a wanderer. What are your thoughts on this?
I think being a wanderer expands minds- any artist can benefit from archiving experiences, referencing cultures, seeing different lights.
By wandering, you are able to build context to your work. And I think that’s very important in our contemporary culture.
What about your editor role at S Magazine? How did it all get started?
S Magazine was established in 2004 in Copenhagen, Denmark. We like to think that we give freedom back to the art and fashion photographers; it was started for artists to create without boundaries and seasonal trends, be published and have an international dialogue.
I slipped into the role of an editor when Jens asked for my help with curating the online content after our beloved long-time online Manager Emilia, stepped down. It then evolved to more responsibilities when I proved too efficient (…for my own good, Hello Product of Singapore!) and now work with a small team (There’s just five of us) on all creative-decisions.
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The Little Drom Store @ SOTA. 2014.
Today we speak to Stanley and Antoinette, founders of The Little Drom Store from Singapore.
Yanda: Please tell us what do you do?
Stanley and Antoinette: We run an art & design driven retail store, called “the little dröm store”.
We aspire to bring people from all creative walks of life, to promote and share their work with the rest of the world.
How did it all started?
As graphic designers, we would always bookmark websites and dog-ear magazines of things we like and found inspiring.
So we wanted a place where we could retail such products, and we had this little desire in wanting to shake things up a little in our creative landscape. And in our own little efforts, we wanted to provide a shopping option for alternative products in Singapore.
Has it been fulfilling so far?
What were the challenges starting out?
The main challenge definitely had to be finances, we almost emptied our savings from working full time when we started out.
It was extremely challenging, especially mentally and morally when we had literally zero sales on some days, and rental in Singapore as we know ain’t cheap at all.
Who do you think your target audience are?
They are people who appreciates tasteful and well designed products.
So it is more for the niche and not the mass market?
(this is a long reply, but its one of our best eureka moments)
We must admit that we were quite self indulgent & naive when we first started out, only wanting to sell things that were designed by obscure and independent designers or artists from overseas, and even produced in limited edition! Which brought us to realise (as hard truth), that in reality not many people cared much about such details. If a product doesn’t relate to them, they’ll simply walk away from it.
But what opened up our perspective was when we were invited to showcase our series of Mosaic Playground photos for the M1 Fringe Festival in 2011 – in conjunction with that showcase, we designed and produced a series of mosaic playground brooches, as our own efforts of keeping these playgrounds close to our hearts while the actual ones were slowly being demolished. This was our first series of self designed and produced products.
And after launching them at our shop, the reactions that came from our customers were priceless! Because of these brooches, many of them started sharing their own personal memories with us, and us with them, and word got around and more people came to buy them. These exchanges were so precious because for the first time, we felt such great satisfaction and appreciation from our customers. Our customers were really generous with their words of encouragement. This had really opened up our perspective because we realized and understood the importance of authenticity and relatability in a product.
Back then, customers would comment that our store was quirky & interesting but not many made actual purchases. And this series of playground brooches kinda turned things around.
We had learnt that for the little dröm store, is to innovate and not imitate.
To innovate by bringing out the best from what we have in Sinagpore, as Singaporeans, and not strive to want to be like shops that we admire from overseas.
So in a nutshell, we had learn that we just want to design products that are honest, tasteful and hopefully bring about some smiles. So in that sense, we believe everyone deserves products that are tasteful & well designed, and we cater to anyone who appreciates them.
What was totally unexpected?
People from overseas having heard about our store and writing in to say how they had loved what we do and to encourage us! Sometimes even mailing gifts from overseas, that was very sweet. What was even more unexpected was when some of them eventually visit Singapore and our store!
Was there actually a business plan from the start?
To be totally honest – No, we didn’t when we started out. It was out of pure and childlike faith in wanting to change Singapore’s creative landscape and make it more exciting, to create a platform for creative exchanges.
Our plan was more of an idealistic one, without much practical business wisdom, but we had learnt a great deal over the years, especially from failures and discouragements.
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Tiramisu – In Between The Folds. 2013.
Today we speak to Little Ong, co-founder and creative director of fFurious from Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
Little: My name is Little Ong, and I’m a founder and creative director of fFurious, a multidisciplinary creative agency in Singapore. Little is my birth name, which my grandpa gave to me. He told me that since I was his first grandchild, he wanted me to grow up being modest. It was hell going through primary school with that name, so I’m glad I found my way into the creative industry where this unusual name actually works to my benefit.
How would you describe your work in one sentence?
To better lives through design.
How did it get started?
It was 1999 when 3 good friends, Melvyn Lim, Joanne Tay and myself, got together and decided to see where creativity with no boundaries would take us.
Do you treat it as a job?
With all the responsibility that comes with it.
Are you having fun at it right now?
I can’t imagine there’s another job for me that allows me to do so many of the things I like while I get paid for doing them. The fun comes when I get to learn new things all the time, about the process of creativity, people and their work, new ways of seeing and doing things, technology and picking up new skills. All these keep me infinitely occupied and interested.
What do you actually enjoy doing?
Too many things actually, so this job suits me rather well since I’m able to explore different facets of creativity. For non-work fun, I enjoy photography through my trusty iPhone. I post my photos on Instagram, you can follow me @littleong. And I enjoy cooking quite a bit.
How often you spend time doing them then?
The great thing about mobile photography is that it happens anytime. I could be taking a walk, cycling, going to a gig, having a meal or away on a holiday, and there’s always something that I would find interesting to capture. I cook at night and in the weekends when I have time.
Have any daily routines you cannot do without?
Coffee makes my day complete.
When is your favourite day of the week and why?
Sunday because I get to sleep till noon undisturbed.
Are you seeking a work life balance?
Constantly, but it’s tough. I think it’s a major dilemma for most creative people that they seem to be working at any time of the day as we seek inspiration in so many things that we do. And being a business owner, that makes it even tougher. But I do try to keep my weekends free of work to catch up on personal things.
How important do you think it is?
I think it’s absolutely healthy to lead a balanced life. At times, you have to step away from the work to be able to come back to it with a better perspective.
What about seeking happiness?
All the time. One of my favourite quotes is by Walt Disney whose mission statement for the Disney company was “To Make People Happy”.
What is your definition of happiness?
Hot crispy prata with fish curry.
What are the things that keep you sane?
Blue sky, calm sea and an empty beach.
What do you do when you get time off?
I go to music gigs, dig for records, cook a meal, watch a movie, catch up on a TV series, or I try to get in some exercise which usually involves either cycling or skateboarding.
Singapore Biennale 2013.
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A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World. 2013
Today we speak to Robert Zhao Renhui of Institute of Critical Zoologists from Singapore about this new work, A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World.
Tell us what have you been busy with?
I’v just finished compiling an encyclopaedia titled, A guide to the flora and fauna of the world, for the Singapore Biennale. I’v also just finished installing my work at 2902 Gallery for my upcoming show, The Last Thing You See. It talks about how difficult it is to be a bee.
What drives you in creating this?
In this case, I wanted to know why the goldfish is never included in any natural history encyclopaedia. The goldfish does not have a scientific name as it is a man-made creature. It’s a fish that has been artificially bred for thousand of years. How the goldfish is created remains a mystery. I created the encyclopaedia as a system to talk about our ideas of what is natural and what is man-made. Towards the end of the book you realise there’s really not much of a difference. Everything artificial will start to look natural once we get used to it.
How do you keep on educating yourself?
I’m basically interested in animals as a subject matter. I go to the Singapore Zoo once a year and more if I need to. I honestly think we have an amazing collection of animals in captivity here in Singapore. In the zoo, I encounter a lot of nature photographers with huge lens and fancy equipment and some of them in jungle camouflage as well. Watching them observe animals teaches me a lot about why humans watch animals.
Where do you draw your influences from?
Mainly from my friend, Yong Ding Li. He is a conservation biologist. Most of my work and ideas are based around my conversations with him. Of course as an artist I process the facts he gives me differently from how he would approach the facts. Sometimes I get nice ideas from google.
When was the last time you felt challenged?
I was struggling to decide if I want to use my flash at the bird park at some owls.
What was the breakthrough project for you, personally?
I tied a lot of pinhole cameras to birds to create images in A heartwarming feeling. The images the birds created were really beautiful but it wasn’t beautiful enough for me. I edited the colours a little and then they were better. Then I redid the whole image again on the computer and then it became perfect.
Who/what has had the biggest inspiration?
Looking at animals.
The Blind, 2007
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Today we speak to James Teo, founder and creative director of Ampulets from Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
James: I am a graphic designer with a soft spot for simple, beautiful things.
What do you do first when you get up in the morning?
Cook oatmeal. A good breakfast is a good start to a day. Men can’t think well on an empty stomach.
What daily routines you cannot do without?
Read a little, check facebook and instagram to keep in touch with friends and what’s happening around. Maybe not daily, but a few days in a week, I run. Running is the best time to crack design briefs!
How would you describe your work in three words?
Considered, inviting, functional.
When did you first get involved in the design?
As a kid, I used help out in a music cassette stall near my parent’s place, and I always marveled at the design of the tape covers. I would stack my own collection up nicely in a six-million-dollar-man plastic “briefcase” and haul it to and fro the shop. Occasionally, I would take them out to admire the album cover design, listen to the music and try to recreate the design or sketch portraits of the singers in my notebook. It’s a habit. These days, I still go to record/CD shops (the very few that are left) and book stores to look at the covers.
When I started working, my jobs were in marketing and marketing communications. So I was constantly working as a client with design studios and advertising agencies. And after some 8 years, I figured what I really wanted was to be on the other side of the table and re-live my childhood fantasy of making artwork for the album/ book covers!
Do you think personal work and collaboration is important?
Personal work are like personal challenges. It challenges you to dare to materialise something you have in your mind, to test how far your ideas can take you, and your ability to complete it without clients and deadlines breathing down your neck. I think it teaches you to trust your own instinct and judgement.
I love collaborations, especially with the right person or group. Wonderful things can be done when like-minded folks get together . By likeminded I don’t mean thay we all think the same, but more like having the same values and attitude – so that we ultimately know we are going for the same destination even if our methods are different.
If you have a chance to own someone’s work and wish it was yours, what would it be and why?
The entire set of original posters created by Michael Bierut for Yale University since 1998. I have always been a believer of how design should evolve between one designer and one client for a long period of time. Almost like a marriage.
Who do you dream to design for?
My dream project is to design all the signboards in the Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Market. Ha.
What’s your definition of happiness?
Balance. I think it is important for one to have balance in his/ her life – a balance of family, work and leisure. I think happiness is also not about extreme highs and lows, but achieving a certain constant in life. Just like running. For me, a good run is about keeping a steady pace throughout the run.
What makes you guilty?
Spending too much money on books, music, clothes – all the vain things in life.
How do you set your benchmarks?
My wife has always been my sounding board. Being a one-man design studio, her views and feedback on my work is very valuable. And for all work, I must be able to say to myself and clients that I have done my very best to produce quality work. So i don’t really have an external benchmark per se.
How do you keep educating yourself?
Reading books and magazines. Listening to other people. Attending talks. Looking at art exhibitions. Observing nature, things and people around me.
What place in the world most inspires you and why?
Tokyo and Taipei/Taiwan. Both are cities, but there’s a good balance of old and new. The new makes you curious, but the old gives you comfort. And there’s a balance between the urban and nature – nature is always just a short train ride away. Balance is important.
What are the three things you are obsessed with at the moment?
Old Vinyls. How clothes are cut. Interesting looking plants. All somewhat vain things!
Democratic Society Identity. 2012.
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Today we speak to Holycrap, an art collective by Claire, Renn, Aira and Pann from Singapore.
Yanda: Tell us about yourself and what you all do.
Claire: I was a designer before I became a full time homemaker after Renn was born.
Renn: I am going to be 10 at the end of this year and I am studying in Primary 4. I hope to be an archaeologist in the future.
Aira: I love going to school and I am in Primary 1 this year. I love playing hide and seek with my friends and I dream of being a vet in the future.
Pann: I am a visual, audio and ideas junkie. I love what I do as a Creative Director at Kinetic Singapore. I love taking pictures from time to time, you can see them at pannlim.com
How did it get started?
Pann: I have been active giving talks and lectures in school and I meet young designers and art directors who will show me their work and I always take a lot of heart to share with them my thoughts and insights. Same for the team I have at Kinetic, I will try my best to impart my ‘tricks’ of the trade to them. One night, it suddenly dawn upon me that I have been imparting my knowledge to designers and students that I have only met once but I have not officially shared these things with my kids. So together with Claire, we came up with the idea of starting Holycrap (CRAP stands for our names, C for Claire, R for Renn, A for Aira and P for Pann) as an art collective and this name also suggests that our work will make people exclaim ‘HOLYCRAP!’, when they see it. Hopefully in the positive way.
Which work (so far) has been your favourite?
Claire: It is truly rather hard for me to pick a favorite from the kids work because I’ve been seeing them draw and doodle from the very beginning and most of the drawings tell a story or hold much meaning to us. I’ve seen their progress from casual sketches to them working on canvas with acrylic and ink. If I really had to pick, I’ll choose their sketch books from their early years, Renn’s painting ‘Stealing Mom’s Coke 2011’ and Aira’s ‘Vincent 2012’
Renn: I love all my old sketches exhibited during my solo exhibition in 2011 and my Amorphis skull painting. For Aira’s, my favorite would be ‘Vincent’
Aira: My April Calendar Girl is one of my favorite and I love my brother’s ‘Mama I don’t wanna be a soldier. I don’t wanna die’ by John Lennon because it is nice and cool.
Pann: For Renn’s work will be the Three Walking Guitars in 2011. I saw it happen in front of my eyes. Renn completed it in 15mins. He was giggling to himself when he drew it, that sense of fun and mischief made my heart melt. As for Aira, my personal favourite will be the Yellow Submarine Series. Somehow the illustrations spoke to me in a profound way. And the patience and effort for a 6 year old girl to go through the hair line by line was something commendable.
How does everyone juggle between their day job/school and play and leisure?
Claire: Yes, we all can be pretty busy trying to get everything in order all the time or trying to get things done. For me its mainly with some home affairs and settling the kids in with their homework and studies. But getting play, relaxation and art into the mix is pretty much part of all that we do too because we view these areas with as much importance as anything else.
Pann: It is indeed a juggle at times because I can be very busy with work at Kinetic and we can only focus on this at night and over the weekend. But we love this family bonding and time spent together. It is like no other project that I have done to date, to see the kids have a sense of discipline and duty to finish what they have started and having fun while doing it is just great!
How do you set the benchmark?
Claire: The good thing is that Pann and I have very similar taste in terms of design aesthetics and appreciation. And we admire and look up to most of the same design heroes so when we share and educate Renn and Aira in this aspect there is little or no conflict. However on top of just learning about all these, I do set very high benchmarks in terms of attitude and discipline and in their approach to their work.
Pann: My benchmark is simple. The idea/art must be interesting, beautiful and heartfelt. And out of X amount of work done, maybe less than half are good enough for exhibition.
What is the best advice ever received?
Renn: Stand up for your work.
Aira: Stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid of rude girls.
What do you think about the education here in Singapore as compared to the best?
Claire: I am not so sure who is or what is considered the best but I do know that the education system here in Singapore is in dire straits. Simply because so much emphasis is put on academic excellence and chasing those perfect scores that everything else is thrown down the gutters. I do want my kids to study and do well in school and be proud of their studies, but I also want them to be happy and excel in what they love. But here in Singapore, the system and many parents are creating this vicious cycle of only wanting the best results, turning tuition centers into money making machines not intent of helping the weaker students do better but to make the already bright students even smarter because they can afford it.
The Dangerous Book for Boys. Holycrap for Browswing Copy. 2013
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