Many people, including me, are fascinated by outer space. The movements of the NASA Curiosity Rover on Mars are carefully recorded and obsessively followed. The current hit Korean drama, My Love From The Star, is a rom-com involving a 400-year-old handsome alien and the female celebrity whose life he saves. Recently on Brain Pickings, Maria Popova wrote about Carl Sagan’s Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record. Sagan and his team compiled “the sounds of Earth,” dubbed it the Golden Record, and placed it on the Voyager to transmit a distilled idea of our planet to the galaxies with the possibility that other lifeforms out there might hear it.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s sculptures and carved figurines are a possible interpretation of what these outer space lifeforms might look like. The faces of Yamamoto’s pieces tend to feature small eyes barely open or shut, thin noses with high bridges, and knowing half-smiles. They are usually missing pupils, have large foreheads, and pale skin. I think Yamamoto has imagined a possible martian appearance without going in the direction of tentacles, excess body parts, and slime.
Emilie Sarnel illustrates pinup girls, anthropomorphic food items, wolves with attitude, and tropical countries using bold black lines and bright pops of colour. Her style is sharp and geometric while still retaining a nice handmade touch. She’s not afraid of using large swaths of starkly contrasting black and white, though there are some illustrations in full neon palettes. Her projects beyond illustration include food packaging, product design and city guides. All of Emilie’s work looks like there’s a personal story behind it.
Many budding designers cut their graphic design teeth redesigning a metropolitan subway map because of the challenge it presents. Usually the objective is to create a map that’s easy to use and conveys all the necessary information clearly in a small amount of space. Typically, a good subway map is equally well understood by locals and tourists, and isn’t frustrating to read when trying to get from point A to point B. Zero Per Zero, a graphic design studio based in Seoul, has an ongoing project redesigning city railway system maps according to a different objective than the usual.
City Railway System is a new approach to projecting the identity of a city onto its subway map. Whereas conventional subway maps aim at conveying information as clearly and concisely as possible, the City Railway System by ZERO PER ZERO distinctively incorporates symbolic elements of each city into its map while preserving clarity.
In their subway maps, Zero Per Zero preserves some of the sensation of living in a city.
It’s halfway through January and I already have a beautiful hanging calendar by Millimeter Milligram, a design studio in Seoul, but I’m strongly considering picking up this desktop calendar by RMM. RMM is a studio based in Hong Kong that publishes art journals, keeps a design blog and makes an annual animal themed calendar. The 2012 calendar was an elephant and 2013 was twelve owls—this year it’s an adventurous, world-traveling blue whale.
Cara To is a street art artist, painter and creative from Belgium currently living in Hong Kong. Her work is moody and delicate, filled with mysterious girls, detailed tattoos and geometric shapes. She uses monochromatic color schemes, pastel washes and recurring neon elements. Most of Cara’s recent pieces are paintings done on upcycled wood found in abandoned places. These pieces were shown in her solo exhibition at Above Second this past August called Drowning in Dreams.
Fonta is a website that encourages anyone to digitally write one of the 6941 characters on the site. On the landing page are numerous tiles with characters on them. Some tiles have faint grey outlines as guides for characters yet to be written, others have been written over by different users. Fonta’s driving vision is that a complete publicly generated font will eventually be created with the accumulated handwritten characters from different users. The font can be installed on your personal computer and used as a web font, but as of now there are only 1486 of the possible characters written. Also, as the site is in Japanese created by the design studio Kayac, the majority of the characters are of the Japanese alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana) and kanji, adopted Chinese characters. The English alphabet, numbers and some glyphs are also included.
Stephen Chan is an illustrator and graphic designer based in the UK. He’s currently a freelancer who does all kinds of design work for a number of big clients. This past May he organized and curated his first exhibition as part of the Hong Kong Art Fair. It was, by visual and structural standards, a stand out success for a first-timer pulling together a large group show.
Furze Chan, an online shop owner and artist from Hong Kong, has an ongoing project I really enjoy called Object Dialogue. She talks to people with what she considers interesting occupations about their work, the tools they use and the stories behind those objects. There are conversations with a freelance modeler, a translator and a veterinary surgeon, to give you an idea of the people Furze interviews. The interviews are long form, casual and try to show how these people think. The writing is a refreshing difference from sound-bite filled, highly polished Q&A’s. Some of the questions Furze asks remind me of The Great Discontent (an online journal of interviews exploring questions on creativity). For example, she asks her subjects if they think they have achieved their desire for living and why what they do is important to them.
Anothermountainman (Stanley Wong) is a Hong Kong artist, photographer and designer. He is best known for his redwhiteblue series which are installations, 3D pieces, or posters made out of the common red, white and blue plastic bags people in Hong Kong typically use to hold cargo. Coming from a background in advertising and television, Wong has become known as a fine artist over the past ten years and is now recognized as one of Hong Kong’s best.
Wong has all the hallmarks of a successful artist—shows in international galleries, numerous awards and inclusion in museum collections—yet he describes what he does as primarily being about connecting with people. In an interview with Time Out HK he says, “I’m attempting to communicate with the public through the platform of art. I see myself as both a social worker and a missionary; I don’t see myself as an artist.” To further these goals, he is involved in design education, gives guest lectures, and, as a scholar of Buddhism, seeks to share his hope for world harmony. What I think is apparent in his work without any prior knowledge of his motivations is a desire to record compelling aspects of society and to comment on human nature.
One of his projects that strikes me as particularly powerful is Lanwei. The first character of “lanwei” means broken and the second means tail. Together they mean unfinished; something that has fallen short of completion; started and couldn’t be brought to an end. It is a personal photography series that documents abandoned residences, offices, theme parks and other half-built projects across Asia. The properties he chose to photograph were not just incomplete architectural structures but came with stories of sudden disruption. Most of the commercial buildings were begun in the 1980’s when Asia hit an economic boom before companies realized that there wasn’t enough money to finish what they’d started. The amusement park in Beijing that features in a large portion of the series was abandoned when the child who it was built for died.
Lanwei itself almost became a story of lanwei. Wong had the concept in his head for 5 years before starting it in 2006. He then worked on it infrequently for the next 6 years and completed it in 2012 with a show at Blindspot galleries. He has said that the realization of this project came about shortly before the Chinese government started removing unused property. The evidence of incompletion was about to disappear before he could document its presence.
Much of his past work is on his website and is well worth exploring and diving into. Most projects come with a short poetic description written by Wong (originally in Cantonese with English translation). Besides having frequent exhibitions, I like that he also makes time to pursue ideas that interest him outside of his regular work. Wong most recently had an installation called Show Flat 04 at the Singapore Biennale.
Lina Benjumea is a Columbian architect and artist currently living in Hong Kong after spending the past 12 years in New York. A woman of many skills, she used to work in fashion merchandising and brand consulting and has moved into product design and fine art. Lina, like more and more creative people now, isn’t easily defined by titles. She calls herself a world traveler and perhaps it is best to say that Lina is a creator inspired by the world she sees.
She carefully hand crafts every brightly colored, pattern covered, wooden product she sells. Her work ranges from furniture and household goods to skull figures and, my personal favorite, cyclopean matryoshka dolls named The EYE Family. Most of the things she creates are recognizable as plates, stools, necklaces or whatever object it may be. Her totem-like structures, however, are more sculpture than kitchen ware. They look as though they were assembled through a playful problem solving process in search of the perfect combination.
Fresh ideas come to Lina from her frequent travels around South America and South Asia combined with her experience in the big cities of New York and Hong Kong. It’s great to see artists reinterpret ancient cultures in updated designs. Her work would never be mistaken for tourist trap products of the sort you find in airport gift stores, but they do bring to mind foreign countries where the sun shines all year round.
She said about her art, “I do it because it really relaxes me and keeps me centered, it’s like therapy. I am a color freak, after running for years from my roots I’ve gotten back to them with my work, which has brought me inner peace, just like meditation.” I can see how working with wood and painting such detailed patterns are peaceful activities, especially for someone whose day job and hobbies must be taxing. As a viewer though, rather than feeling more calm, I’m excited by Lina’s art and imagine having a piece on my desk would add extra vibrance to my room.
I admire Lina’s distinctive eye-catching and modern style. Her work is attention grabbing without being overwhelming. Her work makes me want to be bolder in my color choices when designing and plan more trips to tropical places.
You can view more in her Etsy shop Nuki by Titiribi. (The name of her store pays homage to Columbia. Nuki is a city on the coast and Titiribi is a city in the Andes.) She also keeps a personal blog and Pinterest.