It is the simplest of features found on many food packaging. A tear, a jagged edge, or a perforated line—a godsend to anyone who has struggled to open a packet of chips. These designs conveniently replace the need for brute force, and are considerate gestures from food manufacturers that have thought carefully about how we eat.
Eating, or the journey that food takes to get into our mouths (and even within our bodies), is a logistical issue many of us take for granted. This global movement of crops and livestock, from a farm through a processing facility, to a market, into a kitchen, on a dining table, and finally, entering as food inside our stomachs, is one facilitated by design at every turn. We don’t have to travel far to see examples: start with the plate, spoon, and fork, on the dining table, the most ubiquitous tools the world eats with today. They stand in for our bare hands and function in ways we cannot. Plates divide food into portions, spoons let us sip hot soup, while forks help us pick out the tiniest of ingredients.
Commissioned for the inaugural FoodCine.ma 2016, this showcase presents 15 objects, speculative designs and installations that arise out of observations of how design facilitates the ways we eat together in Singapore. Whether it is consuming forever “fresh” food, having meals at our hawker centres, dining in both life and death, or eating with digital devices, we invite visitors to look at eating beyond a mere ingestion of food, but as a consumption of values and cultures.
When I first started working on INDEPENDENCE: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s some five years ago, it opened my eyes to the breadth of visual culture that we produce and consume in this city-state. As I wrote this book on Singapore’s graphic design history, I also started keeping a collection of graphic materials found in Singapore. I picked up flyers, bought books, and even started making colour photocopies at our library—paying a dollar a piece. It struck me that instead of just amassing cabinets of these materials, I should share them so as to raise awareness of Singapore’s visual culture. That led to the founding of the Singapore Visual Archive in 2011, a digital repository of things that can be seen here.
Five years on, I have relaunched the website as the Singapore Graphic Archives. The name change reflects the focus on graphic design and visual communication from Singapore, but the aim is still the same: to collect and document graphic design from the Southeast Asian city-state to encourage research on the industry, and to promote a critical appreciation of its visual culture. I’ve also had the privilege of working with local digital agencies Pettycache and Watchtower to come up with a cleaner and more functional (responsive!) website. In preparation for revamping the archive, I “studied’ many other design archives around the world through writing for AIGA’s Eye on Design blog. Two in particular inspired how I’ve gone about running this operation entirely on my own: Kind Company’s Display and the Seymour Chwast Archive.
Now that the archive is live, I can return to the laborious process of discovering, researching, scanning and uploading graphic materials on to the website. The dream is that I can get paid to do this, or at least find funding to enable the website with more features and create better archiving processes. But the pleasure for now—and hopefully always—is discovering designs from Singapore that widen my eyes and I go, “Wah lao! I need to share this!”