I came, I saw, and I left broke. This is a familiar experience for lovers of art book fairs the world over. It was certainly what happened to me at the recent Singapore Art Book Fair 2016, an annual showcase of arts publishing from the Southeast Asian city-state and its surrounding region. Inspired by similar fairs in Tokyo and New York City, independent bookstore BooksActually founded its own version of this fair with creative consultancy Hjgher three years ago. After sitting out last year, the fair returned last weekend, turning the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands into a “Cabinet of Curiosities.”
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.
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 Architecthad 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?
Many of us experience the world primarily through our eyes. We are quick to make judgements based on how things look, while considering how they work is of secondary importance. It’s as if we can only see when we actually have four other senses: smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
“Science of the Secondary” is an on-going series of bi-annual booklets by design studio Atelier HOKO. The series aims to expand our narrow view of the world through a close examination of the everyday things that surround us. As if by teaching us how to read a new language, the first issue begins with the apple, taking the reader step-by-step through the seemingly mundane experience of eating this fruit. The Singapore-based studio (led by Alvin Ho and Clara Koh) draws out a series of unexpected insights that makes you chomp through the 44-page booklet in one sitting.
What is the role of each finger when holding an apple? Does the sound of crunching into an apple affect its taste? Why do we unconsciously bite into an apple in sequence? HOKO considers these questions and gives its answers by way of beautiful photography, illustrations, and short captions bound together in a handy comics-sized publication.
In May of this year, the duo released the second issue that looked at the cup and questioned the act of drinking. Alvin sums it up nicely in the introductory page:
“…but what does it mean to drink? Do we drink with our skin when the hands are hugging the cup? Are we drinking with our body posture while sipping earl grey in a team room? Are the ears drinking as we take each sip of the coffee? Can we consider the act of licking one’s lips drinking? Does the nose know that it is drinking as it hovers above the caramelised milk froth sitting atop a very large cup of coffee…?”
Although it may sound esoteric, Science of the Secondary’s content is meant to keep the general reader intrigued with plain, short captions, and by borrowing the visual language of science publications. Informative diagrams and photographic sequences give the duo’s observations and thoughts the weight of scientific objectivity.
More than just lessons about objects, one comes out of reading this series with a more mindful view of the world. Try closing your eyes for a moment to “see” — that’s how much more there is to the world than what lies in front of our eyes.
———– Written for Elizabeth Spiers and Chappell Elison’s Online Publishing class at D-Crit.