Designing Connections

In addition to enhancing diplomatic ties, the outcome of the projects between Singapore and Japan showcased at SingaPlural 2017 is also a nod to the longevity of craftsmanship.


As part of the KYO Project, designers from Singapore visited the workshop of 4th-generation bronze makers Seiun Souemon Hara in Japan to learn about and share their different techniques and approaches.


n 2017, SingaPlural recognised 50 years of established diplomatic relations between Japan and Singapore. To celebrate the fact, this anchor event of the annual Singapore Design Week, which references the need to create a platform to connect designers with the industry, spotlighted collaborations between local and global designers, as well as with big-name Japanese brands like Uniqlo.

One of the key highlights of the event, which has been organised by the Singapore Furniture Industries Council since 2012, is the presentation of the KYO Project. In 2016, Singapore designers – including Ministry of Design’s Colin Seah and WOHA’s Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell – worked with craftsmen from the Kanto region of Japan to design and produce items, using traditional Japanese skills.

Seah worked with artisanal glassware brand Horiguchi Kiriko to design a whisky glass etched with a geometric design using the Japanese cut-glass tradition of Edo Kiriko, which dates back to the Edo period in the early 19th century.

“ [Japan and Singapore] have vastly contrasting environments and the resulting designs encompass the stories of both cities. ”

Jackson Tan, curator of SingaPlural

He says: “Japan is a nation steeped in tradition, and its craftsmen have developed specialised techniques and a particular way of thinking over hundreds of years. Working with foreign designers who are less attached to these traditions refreshes and challenges them to think differently, and to consider other ways of expressing their art form and craft. This allows traditional techniques to evolve and be part of an ongoing continuum, rather than a static moment in time.”

He enjoyed working with the Japanese artisans and appreciates the commitment they have to their craft.

“Conventionally, Japanese craftsmen place a higher value on tradition than they do on innovation,” he says. “In order to gain their confidence, I started with understanding their traditional approaches and techniques, and then respectfully presented any attempt to innovate as a laterally minded application of tradition, rather than an outright redefinition of it.”

Jackson Tan, curator of SingaPlural, says he decided to include the KYO Project in the programme line-up because it would make for an interesting dialogue between the two creative cities.

“They have vastly contrasting environments and the resulting designs encompass the stories of both cities,” he says. “The contrasting environments and cultures help to inform the designs. For example, we used traditional Japanese craft techniques of lacquering with 3-D printing to create boxes that can sit on the coffee table of a contemporary Singaporean home.”

Snapshots of the journey of the KYO Project, including handmade glassware (a collaboration between Ministry of Designʼs Colin Seah and Horiguchi Kiriko), and a childrenʼs playground made from Paulownia wood (a collaboration between Chris Lee of Singapore design firm Asylum and artisans from Ishimoku, Japan).

Hideya Mashimo, office chief of the Creative and Contents Industry Support, at Kanto Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry, agrees. He highlights the bringing together of the traditional and the modern, with two very different creative communities sharing their ideas and knowledge.

“The makers selected for the KYO Project work with a range of traditional crafts and mediums that have had a deep history and impact on Japanese culture. In contrast, Singapore is a young country that has just celebrated 50 years of independence in 2015,’’ he notes.

Mashimo also points out that the KYO Project, and the products co-created through it, aptly represent the strong Japan- Singapore relationship built in the last 50 years in the areas of economics, politics, culture, and people-to-people relations.

Another noteworthy collaboration that took place at SingaPlural is between Uniqlo and local design studios Machineast and Roots. Together, they created an interactive installation inspired by the technology behind the clothing brand’s hot weather-friendly AIRism range. Machineast’s part of the joint installation, named Project 10 Minutes in reference to the time it ostensibly takes for AIRism fabric to dry, deconstructs the fabric’s five main attributes and presents them in the form of a visually and aurally immersive item search puzzle.

“By participating in and supporting local events such as SingaPlural, we have the opportunity to collaborate with local talent from different fields and backgrounds to showcase our concept through their eyes and creativity,” says Sim Yunying, marketing manager of Uniqlo Singapore.

Tan adds that the Japanese brand’s support for local creatives has engaged Singaporeans in a conversation about Japanese technology from a local perspective. He says: “Both parties gained a better understanding of the creative processes and practices of each country.”

The Japanese tend to have a conservative preference for tradition and perfection, while Singaporean design is more rooted in function and is still evolving, with what Tan calls “a sense of openness towards foreign cultures”. He adds: “This fosters mutual respect, conversation, and curiosity between both cultures.”






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