Tag: TwentyFifteen.SG

Architecture & Design Publishing from Singapore: Some Hard Truths

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?

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Picturing Home, Wherever We May Be

18 of the 20 TwentyFifteen covers. Designed by Jonathan Yuen of ROOTS.
18 of the 20 TwentyFifteen covers. Designed by Jonathan Yuen of ROOTS.

Wherever we go, we carry pictures of home.

Framed up, wedged in a wallet, on a phone, shared online, etched in our minds—we hang on to these references that remind us of where we’ve come from.

It’s been almost two years since I’ve last seen Singapore. Away from home, all I’ve had apart from my own pictures are those from the news and what friends and family share online—snapshots of how home has grown through the lenses of my fellow citizens.

Marina Bay with its iconic “integrated resort” has overshadowed the Singapore River’s line of shophouses and skyscrapers as the shorthand for the nation’s success. Our list of old places has matured beyond colonial relics to include modernist complexes and even the iconic dragon playground. The index for the city’s pace of development is no longer the skyline of towering cranes, but how crowded our trains and streets have become.

The frames Singaporeans use to look at their home are changing. It shows in the subjects we picture, but also in what photography means to us today. Is picturing a Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian still the quintessential portrait of Singapore society? When did photographing and shaming online become our way of handling outrageous acts we encounter in public? Should photos of our nation’s late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew be restricted from public use?

These questions capture some of the issues Singapore faces today. Pictures of home are not just illustrations but also reflections of who we are, projections of how we see the world, and symbols of our community. A photograph’s flat surface belies its third dimension: as a platform for discussions on the people, places and things that matter to each one of us.

This social element is what defines contemporary photography. Making a picture is not just framing a subject and pressing the camera shutter (or in today’s case, tapping a screen), but also sharing it with others—a process that envelopes pictures with meanings beyond just the photographer’s point of view.

This is how our pictures of home are made: through the conversations we share about what we see, what we remember seeing, and even what we hope to see. While the realities depicted in pictures will one day fade or even be challenged, the meanings they hold for each one of us is what helps us see home clearly, wherever we may be.

A essay written for the upcoming TwentyFifteen.SG The Exhibition at Esplanade.

Singapore Art Books

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…

A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World (2013)
BY: Institute of Critical Zoologists
NOTES: A photo book of artist Robert Zhao’s works.

Rubbish Famzine 02 (2014)
NOTES: A magazine by this family art collective made up of Claire, Renn, Aira and Pann.

Being Together (2013)
BY: John Clang
NOTES: A catalogue created for photographer John Clang’s exhibition of the same name in the National Museum of Singapore.

Light From Within (2012)
BY: Melisa Teo
DESIGN: Asylum
NOTES: A book of photographer Melisa Teo’s four-year journey through the spiritual worlds of Buddhism, Hinduism and Shamanism.

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)
BY: Sonicbrat
DESIGN: Kitchen.
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.

Kult Magazine: Read (2014) (Since 2009)
BY: Kult
NOTES: A quarterly showcasing illustrations and visuals from around the world that respond to each issue’s theme.

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.