Over the last decade, some 20 titles have sprung up from Singapore, riding the wave of its cultural renaissance and defying the fact the city-state was once known for its tight media censorship (Singapore still ranks 154 out of 180 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index). Over the decade or so though, the Singaporean government has pumped in millions of bucks to grow its creative sector and nurture creativity among its citizens—and an independent magazine scene has flourished from this intersection.
I was invited to speak on the topic of local publishing at Allscript x Comman Man Coffee Roaster’s “50 Titles” event last weekend. Yanda of Do Not Design selected for this event 50 examples of contemporary local books and magazines. Below is my response, a presentation on some of the titles and what we can learn about designers expanding their role in Singapore’s publishing scene.
I recently moved back to Singapore from New York. One of the things my girlfriend noticed was how difficult it was to pack my collection of architecture and design books into shipping boxes. Anyone who buys them knows how this genre of books come in all shapes and sizes, and seldom fit neatly into a box. In a sense, design books tend to emphasise a quality of difference, and I hope to explore this element in my presentation on contemporary architecture and design publishing from Singapore.
A few years ago, I fully immersed into the subject of Singapore design when I was commissioned to retrace the history of graphic design in this country. This resulted in my book, Independence: The history of graphic design in Singapore since the 1960s, which chronicles the evolution of the profession over the last five decades.
As a journalism graduate, one thread that attracted me while researching for this book was the rise of independent publishing in Singapore. From the mid to late 2000s, designers were putting out a trickle of local books and magazines, including Underscore, Brckt, The Design Society Journal, and kult. The periodical Singapore Architect had also just undergone a revamp under Kelley Cheng of The Press Room. Incidentally, this issue (#287) is her last as there is a new team coming on.
Designers who traditionally came at the end to give form to a publication are now creating the content, either by themselves or commissioning writers. It isn’t entire new nor unique to Singapore, but there is certainly a new generation of local designers who are putting together niche books and magazines all by themselves instead of trying to convince big name publishers to do them. With designers expanding their roles, what differences have they brought to publishing in Singapore?
Self-publishing seems to be on the rise in Singapore of late. The secondSingapore Art Book Fair will be held this November, there are now two local Risograph presses — Push—Press and Knuckles & Notch — offering economical means of producing zines and publications, and more artists putting out books as works via events (Print Lab and The Yum and Dangerous) and through organizations like La Libreria. I’m curious as to what’s driving this trend of “art books”, which encompasses publications from artist books to catalogues and zines. For a start, here’s a list of some recent works, and who’s behind them…
Rubbish Famzine 02 (2014)
NOTES: A magazine by this family art collective made up of Claire, Renn, Aira and Pann.
Science of the Secondary (2013)
NOTES: In this on-going series by design duo HOKO, each booklet dives deep into one object to look at how humans interact with it so as to uncover the science behind its “design”.
ARTiculate (2013) (Part of the TwentyFifteen.SG; Since 2013)
BY: Tan Ngiap Heng
NOTES: TwentyFifteen.SG is an initiative by photography group PLATFORM to publish 20 photo folios by Singapore photographers to commemorate Singapore’s 50th anniversary in 2015. They will all be designed by Roots.
WERK No. 22: Dover Street Market Beautiful Chaos (2014) (Since 2000)
NOTES: WERK magazine has attained a cult following for how it takes fashion into the plane of art through the print and production experiments of founder Theseus Chan. The magazine regularly works with fashion brands such as COMME des GARÇONS and artists like Joe Magee and John Clang.
Stranger to my room (2013)
NOTES: A music CD and art book package published by Kitchen Label. Founders April Lee and Ricks Ang have built a music label well-known for its “quiet music” and well-designed packaging. Each of the labels’ albums come with a photo art book that complements the listening experience.
Books of Haresh Sharma’s plays (2011-2012)
BY: The Necessary Stage
DESIGN: The Bureau
NOTES: Playwright Haresh Sharma’s plays for theatre group The Necessary Stage have been compiled into various publications all designed by The Bureau.