Finding her Muse

Karin Aue was inspired to design tote bags featuring images of takeaway coffee in plastic bags after observing Singaporeans drinking them.

Austrian designer Karin Aue sees the uncommon in everyday experiences, translating these observations into quirky and thoughtful works imbued with Singaporean influences.

BY KAREN TEE
PHOTOS KARIN AUE
 

S

ingapore may be hot and humid, but that has not stopped Austrian designer Karin Aue from indulging in her favourite daily activity – walking. Instead of commuting by bus or train, Aue, who is the design director for design consultancy firm Chemistry, walks daily to and from work. The 30-minute route between her home in Little India and office in Kampong Glam is often the highlight of her day.

“What I really enjoy are the small everyday encounters. Along my route, there is a guy I buy my fruits from and another guy who often sits outside whom I say ‘hi’ to daily. As I pass by the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market, there is a group of uncles who always give me a piece of candy,” she says. “The community is very friendly, and these are the little interactions that I treasure.” Thieves’ Market is Singapore’s largest and oldest flea market.

Aue, 34, who holds a Master of Arts in Narrative Environments from Central Saint Martins in London, moved to Singapore in 2011 when her then-boyfriend – now husband – came here to work on his PhD. Since then, she has been inspired by these daily observations to create quirky yet thoughtful products for everyday life. More than just looking nice, these designs reveal a little more about the Singaporean culture that most people barely notice.
 

“Singapore gets more interesting the more you spend time here. There are so many layers of stories with different influences from the past and present, and that makes the country special. With this melting pot and constantly evolving culture, I feel comfortable and welcomed here, and that makes me consider Singapore home.”


Designer Karin Aue

“One of my earliest observations about Singapore was that of local coffee served to-go in a plastic bag. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen,” she recalls. This inspired her in 2014 to create the Kopi Bag Collection, which features images of local drinks – such as kopi-o (black coffee) and bandung (a rose syrup and milk beverage) – in plastic bags. The collection was part of a food culture exhibition organised by Chemistry.

Similarly, her idea for the Tingkats Revisited stickers came about while she was pondering ways to reduce food wastage. Pasted on tingkats, or tiffin carriers, for decorative effect, the stickers are inspired by iconic Singaporean items, such as Peranakan tiles and colourful Rochor Centre, which,is made up of four blocks of public housing, shops and offices. “Peranakan” means “local born” in Malay and Indonesian; in Singapore, the term refers to people with Chinese and Malay heritage.

Aue says: “I wanted to bring the traditional tingkats back and make them interesting for modern consumers by allowing them to customise their own.”


BEYOND THE SURFACE

Aue’s work with Chemistry has deepened her understanding of Singapore’s history and culture. Her team recently completed the redesign of the Chinatown Heritage Centre on Pagoda Street, depicting the lives of early Chinese immigrants in Singapore.

She says: “It was very interesting for me to realise this history has been repeated around the world. You see the same pattern today with workers from India and Bangladesh, and even with workers in Europe. You realise that the basic human struggles and core issues faced remain the same.”

Aue, who has worked as a creative director for a think-tank in Zurich and as an associate lecturer at the Tama Art University in Tokyo, says her interest in design goes beyond the visual. “Design is an empty shell by itself; it is the content that makes it interesting,” she says. “I find it rewarding to do work that is more than something pretty to look at.”

As a designer, she has an interest in creating impactful experiences that have the power to foster positive and sustainable change. She focuses on designs with a social component and is involved in organisations such as BirdWatching, an international design platform that connects, promotes and supports female graphic designers. She also designs graphics and communications material for non-profit organisation Aiducation International, which provides scholarships to needy students in Kenya and the Philippines.

Always on the lookout for new inspiration, Aue says she detects a growing interest in Singapore’s poetry and spoken-word scene, which may well lead to a new project. She says: “Singapore gets more interesting the more you spend time here. There are so many layers of stories with different influences from the past and present, and that makes the country special. With this melting pot and constantly evolving culture, I feel comfortable and welcomed here, and that makes me consider Singapore home.”

The Kopi Bag Collection features images of quintessential Singaporean drinks served in plastic bags.

Tiffin carriers decorated with Tingkats Revisited stickers.

 


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