Treats galore for design fans

Historical works, quirky designs and those inspired by classics are must-sees for design fans

With the second Singapore Design Week in full swing, this weekend's calendar is overflowing with well-curated shows dedicated to all things design.

In particular, three exhibitions will excite design buffs.

Nostalgia abounds at the Fifty Years Of Singapore Design, a three-year exhibition unveiled on Thursday.

The 270 sq m show takes up the second floor of the National Design Centre in Middle Road and visitors will walk through a vault of good local design from the last 50 years.

The exhibition unearths forgotten golden nuggets, such as how pioneer couturier Roland Chow was dubbed "Mr Dior" for modernising the traditional cheongsam. He also became the go-to tailor for haute couture cocktail dresses.

In Tanglin Road, gallery MAD Museum of Art & Design brings out the crazy with its show DesignStage Singapore 2015. Themed Design Gone Mad, it features works with outrageous designs by about 20 international artists, including The Haas Brothers - American twins who make wacky pieces of furniture. Local designers such as Patrick Chia are also featured.

On a more intimate scale, Italian furniture giant Cappellini, in collaboration with local furniture store Dream, picked five local artists to create their own work, either as an artwork or a photograph. They drew inspiration from five famous pieces from the Cappellini catalogue such as the colourful Proust Geometrica Chair.

Life! delves into this trio of shows to suggest highlights you should not miss.

DesignStage Singapore

With the theme Design Gone Mad, things are expected to get a little crazy this weekend at the MAD Museum of Art & Design as international artists and designers show their most outrageous works.

The five-year-old gallery in Tanglin Road is putting on DesignStage Singapore 2015 for the first time. It is a curated show featuring more than 20 designers, whose works cross genres from furniture design to art.

Ms Jasmine Tay, founder of DesignStage and MAD Museum of Art & Design, says the show offers an alternative flavour to the line-up of events during Singapore Design Week.

Ms Tay, 47, who brought in controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's installation Through for ArtStage in 2011, says: "We want to bring our brand of quirky curation with a focus on works that represent the artists' individual styles and characters, which we feel are missing from the other offerings during Singapore Design Week."

So how crazy will the works be?

Controversial American artists The Haas Brothers - Simon and Nikolai Haas are Los Angeles-based fraternal twins who have collaborated with pop singer Lady Gaga and often make headlines for their animalistic and sexualised furniture pieces - will show Hairy J. Blige.

The title - a play on R&B singer Mary J. Blige's name - is a double-hump chair made of Icelandic sheep fur. It has carved ebony horns, four bronze cast lion feet and bronze cast breasts peeking out from under the long fur.

Also on the marquee are big names such as Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic for Bernardaud, who will show special-edition dining ware.

Meanwhile, Spanish artist Maximo Riera's Octopus Chair, which is part giant octopus and part chair, is a stunner for its dramatic and clever design. The $76,400 seat is part of the Animal Chair Collection, where physiques of different animals are crafted into bespoke chairs, which are all made to order.

He will also show Millennial Consoles, a series of furniture pieces created by pairing broken wood pieces from olive trees with metallic structures.

All the works at DesignStage Singapore are for sale.

Unafraid of standing out from the rest of the art and design world, Mr Riera says: "I think the word 'mad', as an adjective, is a positive one. Being mad or passionate about something is what makes us human.

"It is not the first time someone refers to my creations as mad. I am completely fine with that. It would be much worse to be considered as something common or irrelevant."

Works by local design stalwarts such as Patrick Chia, founding director of the Design Incubation Centre at the National University of Singapore, and Theseus Chan, founder and creative director of multi-disciplinary design agency Work, are also on show at the three-week exhibition.

Mr Chan is putting on an installation of special boxes with magazines pasted on them. His work celebrates the first issue of W_ _K W_ _K - pronounced as waku waku - an addendum publication to Werk, a globally acclaimed design and art magazine that he started.

W_ _K W_ _K showcases the works of Anrealage's fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga through the lens of photographers Yoshiyuki Okuyama and Seiji Ishigaki. Only 800 books were printed.

Mr Chan, who created the work especially for this exhibition, hopes his piece challenges the notion of art versus design. "I think the notion of design is art and art is design is an interesting platform to create work that question that hypothesis."

There is also a carnival of sorts outside the exhibition at the Pop-Up stall area. More than 10 stalls, including hipster barber shop Autocutt, clothes by local collective Mash-up and products by local lifestyle label Supermama, will be set up.

A series of talks by various artists has been lined up every Saturday until March 28.

Ms Tay already has high hopes for a second edition. "It's our debut year so, certainly, there is a high anticipation for DesignStage. The works being showcased are debuting in Singapore.

"We want to raise awareness for more interesting, unpredictable and cutting-edge works that were previously not showcased in Singapore - building on the idea of design that is beyond the typical and expected, breaking away from the practical and the norm."

Fifty Years Of Singapore Design

At first glance, the ubiquitous plastic stool, a familiar sight in coffee shops here, has nothing in common with the spinning globe logo of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But a new exhibition at the National Design Centre shines the spotlight on how both designs had their humble start in Singapore.

Together with 200 other designs, the chair and logo are part of Fifty Years Of Singapore Design, an exhibition showcasing works from four sectors: industrial design, fashion and accessories, environmental design and visual communications.

It is a display of nostalgia as half a century of artefacts, visuals and stories have been unearthed to highlight Singapore design, from its early days to the present. The designs range widely from architecture to magazines and advertising campaigns.

The exhibition will run till the end of 2017. DesignSingapore Council commissioned multi- disciplinary firm WY-TO to curate the content.

Ms Yeo Piah Choo, director for industry development at DesignSingapore Council, says the exhibition is a "tribute to Singapore's 50th birthday celebration and chronicles the works of early pioneers and emerging designers".

Inside the gallery, pictures, accompanied by short write-ups, are mounted on cubes that measure 50cm by 50cm - another reference to Singapore's birthday. Visitors can explore the exhibits either chronologically or look out for colour-coded tags to identify different design fields.

Memorable works include the recent Ikea Bookbook advertisement - under the visual communication field - where the Singapore branch of creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty created a much-lauded spoof of tech giant Apple's MacBook computer for the 2015 catalogue launch. The advertisement garnered about 16 million views on Ikea Singapore's YouTube channel.

There are also the Singapore Airlines sarong kebaya, which took French couturier Pierre Balmain over a year to design and debuted in 1968, displayed on a mannequin and the Le Cube Portable Radio Cassette Recorder, which was the rage in the 1980s. It will bring back memories of the antiquated tape which has been phased out.

The search for these items and images, which took about six months, led researchers to the unlikeliest places. They trawled through news archives and conducted numerous interviews to create write-ups for all the items on show.

While interviewing the grandson of the founder of Koda Woodcraft, the team realised that speaker boxes designed by the company's co-founder Koh Teng Kwee in the 1960s were still in his grandfather's office.

Jewellery designer Marilyn Tan, who has been designing for more than 20 years and who is featured in the show for her work, was also an accidental contributor. Curators discovered that her parents were still holding on to a Setron radio from the 1960s.

WY-TO's curator and researcher Jiayu Tjong, 30, says: "Some of the designers were not nostalgic about their products and didn't keep them, while others lost them in warehouse fires or when they were moving. So to have an object from those early years is just great. It's so hard to find them now."

Singaporeans will be proud to see how home-grown designers, such as the firm behind the WTO logo, have made their mark beyond Singapore.

On home ground, Mr Chew Moh-Jin, 57, designer for the plastic stool, says he is flattered that the curators included his stool, which was designed in the 1990s. The stackable stool, which comes in colours such as red and white, eventually outlasted the poorly constructed, old kopitiam stools.

"Back when we first made it, our stool was a little bit more expensive than the others, but it was structurally sound and simply made. It's just a stool, but it has stood the test of time."

Dream X Cappellini Capsule Project

Italian furniture giant Cappellini, which has launched the careers of many young designers around the world, has turned its attention to five Singaporean designers and artists.

Partnering home-grown furniture store Dream, Cappellini has created a capsule collection with these local designers, who each picked a different iconic furniture item from Cappellini's archives of previous works. These then became the genesis for their own art piece or product such as a sketch or a photograph.

This is the first time Cappellini, which has propelled designers such as Dutch designer Marcel Wanders and British designer Jasper Morrison to the forefront, has worked with designers in this way, says Mr Patrizio Mattioli, Far East Market director at Poltrona Frau Group, the umbrella group for Cappellini furniture.

"We hand-picked these designers based on their expertise and craft to reinterpret a piece of Cappellini furniture. Dream is always looking to work with the movers and shakers of design and we feel these five local artists fit the bill."

And the designers brought their own style and flair to their work.

Phunk, a contemporary art and design collective, picked the bold and bright Proust Geometrica Chair originally designed by Alessandro Mendini.

Abstract painter Ian Woo looked to the Sekitei Chair by Japanese studio nendo to create drawings with diluted acrylic colours, while contemporary imagist and mixed-media specialist Vincent Leow made a copy of India-born industrial designer Satyendra Pakhale's Fish Chair to get visitors to think about the seat in a different way.

Architecture and landscape photographer Darren Soh put a local spin on Shiro Kuramata's Revolving Cabinet by weaving pictures of HDB blocks together.

The photographic print, titled Building Blocks | Red 2015, uses horizontal images of red-brick HDB blocks he shot at Toh Yi Drive and arranges them in the shape of the Revolving Cabinet, which can be twirled around its centre. The print is about 1.85m by 1.25m.

The 39-year-old photographer, who is known for shooting local architecture and, in particular, HDB flats, says he was drawn to the movable shelf, which can be shaped in any direction. "The shelf is much like an HDB block - it can be configured in different ways, depending on how owners decorate their common corridors or homes. It's open to interpretation, even if it's built to look the same."

Mr Melvin Ong, 30, of design studio Desinere, was inspired by nendo's 2007 Ribbon stool, which was influenced by the laces of a ballet shoe. He created Liberte, a 35cm-tall sculpture made of wire and a copper pipe base filled with cement. With nendo's Ribbon stool paying homage to ballet, Mr Ong was influenced by the graceful movement of the dance medium.

Mr Ong, who studied furniture design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, says working on the project could open the possibility of creating products for the Italian brand, which he learnt about in school. "I would never have dreamt that I would be part of something like this. Now, it makes it a bit easier to work with Cappellini in the future, as it shows it is open to working with Singaporean designers."

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