Hubert Burda Media

10 Creative Minds

We pick the top ten who are re-designing and re-defining our visual and cultural landscape.

10 Creative Minds

FURNITURE
Outofstock
So named because they met in Stockholm, Outofstock is a cross-continental design quartet which owes much of its creative energy to its members' cultural differences. Wendy Chua, pictured left, and Gabriel Tan hail from Singapore, while Gustavo Maggio, pictured right, is from Argentina, and Sebastián Alberdi from Spain. Together they work across furniture, product and interior design for clients such as Environment, Bolia and Foundry, taking home a President's Design Award in 2010 for their Black Forest table, produced by Ligne Roset. With Maggio now newly settled in Singapore - Alberdi is still based in Barcelona - the young studio is focused on the upcoming launch of The Workshop Gallery, a space along Telok Ayer Street that will exhibit and retail numbered editions of Outofstocks' craft collections. The objective, they explain, is to revive the traditional skills of local and international craftsmen and to show, too, that small batch production has a place in our fast-paced lives. As for advice to anyone else with an idea or dream, they have this to say: "The world is your oyster. Go out there and make it happen."
 
THEATRE
Samantha Scott-Blackhall
Samantha Scott-Blackhall has directed more than 40 professional theatre productions, cast her net with short films and is a drama educator. "She's a mighty mouse. Tiny but mighty!" declares Claude Girardi, the thespian with whom she co-founded Blank Space Theatre in 2007. The company staged the worldwide theatrical premiere of Das Experiment: Black Box in 2008 and recently dramatised their original production Twice Removed. "I was one of those kids who had to study very hard to pass. But when I discovered my empathy with the study of theatre, and a passion for directing, my world changed," Scott-Blackhall confides. Attracted to projects that are emotionally and intellectually engaging, the multiple Life! Theatre Awards winner - for The Physicists and Quills - had a full year in 2011 collaborating with illusionists Lawrence and Priscilla Khong on the magic theatrical extravaganzaVision and working alongside fellow directors Peter Sau, Oliver Chong and Mohd Fared Jainal on Made in Singapore. Blood Not Included which premiered in December 2011.
 
ILLUSTRATION
Lee Wai Leng
It may have been 12 years ago, but leaving a cushy advertising job to "nose-dive into illustration" is the one breakthrough Lee Wai Leng, aka Fleecircus, is still proudest of. It's not hard to see why. Since striking out on her own, her client roster has become a roll call of names such as Anna Sui, Chanel, Maybelline and Gryphon Tea. "I started drawing as soon as I could lift a pencil, and I've drawn non-stop," says Lee, who with a few like-minded peers also proceeded to set up the Organisation of Illustrators Council (OI C) in 2006. With the OIC now transformed from a straightforward creative index into one that unearths talents and creates commercial opportunities, Lee has begun branching into additional avenues of creation. An avid photographer who "paints with light" - "It's another aspect of illustration, I suppose," she says - she was recently a subject of Asia Exposed, a Channel News Asia documentary which challenges photographers to take on social issues with their cameras. Lee's mission - to head into the Sumatran jungle, and with only a camera as a tool, call attention to and document the plight of the critically-endangered Sumatran orang-utan.
 
DESIGN
Chris Lee
With commissions from New York to Stockholm, Abu Dhabi to Beijing, Chris Lee, is Singapore's unofficial ambassador of design. He's worked with Comme des Garçons, built award-wining Johnny Walker Houses in China, designed packaging for Johnson & Johnson and conceptualised 100 chocolate bars for the Chocolate Research Facility. His creative studio Asylum has even received more than 100 international awards for its cross-disciplinary work in branding, identity and interiors. It also operates the Asylum Shop, a curated fashion concept store. "When we started our retail shop in 2005, it gave us a public voice and connected us to the creative community. When we progressed into designing spaces and interiors, it made us a truly multi-disciplinary," he says of the turning points in Asylum's 12-year history. A two-time recipient of the President's Design Award, Lee is also a founding member of The Design Society, a non-profit dedicated to raising the standards of design and adding to Singapore's visual culture. "It's important for us to shine as a group so we can shine brighter," he says.
 
ART & DESIGN
Phunk Studio
Alvin Tan, William Chan, Jackson Tan, and Melvin Chee, pictured from left to right, of the award-winning design collective :Phunk Studio, are "the new hybrid creatives" who straddle creativity and commerce, art and design. Jackson and Melvin met as primary one students decades ago, but all four attended LasalleCollege of the Arts, where as teenagers under the influence of rock and roll, they formed :Phunk in 1994. The first Asians to make it to the cover of the authoritative Creative Review - what they still view as their proudest achievement - :Phunk has collaborated with the likes of Herman Miller, Nike, Daimler Chrysler and Comme des Garçons and designed everything from T-shirts and underwear for The Rolling Stones to Control Chaos an epic three-storey-tall painting. Now in their 30s, family men and recipients of the President's Design Award, they have entered a new stage in their careers with giving back to the industry gaining importance. As such, they run Transmission: LAB, a mentorship programme that takes on 15 apprentices from various disciplines each year. "We see it as a sharing of what we've learnt, and we want to help them connect with their passions," says Alvin. "Also when there's a bigger group of people who appreciate the work, it becomes more fun. If it were just the four us, it wouldn't be a party, so we have to get more people!" adds Jackson.
 
FASHION
Jo Soh
She may have sewn haute couture garments for Tristan Webber but Central Saint Martins-trained Jo Soh admittedly knew barely a thing about business when she launched Hansel - a label she named after her Jack Russell terrier - at the Mercedes Australian Fashion Week in 2003. Today, the quirky, retro-inspired brand known for Soh's hand-drawn prints is stocked internationally, has garnered a slew of famous fans including Katy Perry and Chiaki Kuriyama and spawned casualwear diffusion line Hello Hansel. Launched in 2011, the weekend wear range is a riotous alternative to the dressier Hansel, and is the platform with which Soh can be as loud, graphic and colourful as she fancies. "It makes me happy that my work can touch people's lives when they wear clothes that I have designed," says the famously bespectacled designer who is fascinated most by the psychology and sociology of fashion. "I am also proud that I have shaped and carved out my own life in the pursuit of my dreams."
 
COMICS
Sonny Liew
In an American and Japanese-dominated comic scene, Sonny Liew is our very own South-east Asian comic book hero. He launched himself into public consciousness with Frankie and Poo, a daily strip for The New Paper in 1995 while still a philosophy major at CambridgeUniversity. (Yes, he went on to graduate with honours.) "Working on that strip, thinking up ideas and putting them down on paper felt right and totally engaging in a way unlike anything I'd done before. It made it clear to me that I ought to make a serious go at being a comic creator, however things may turn out in the end," he says. He has since not only been published by DC Vertigo, Marvel and Image Comics, he's also been nominated for several Eisner Awards - the Oscars of the comic industry - including one for spearheading Liquid City, an Asian comics anthology. Also an accomplished painter, he rounded up 2011 with an auction of his painting Sailor's Moon at Sotheby's New York (organised by Departures Asia Now), an exhibition at Mulan Gallery, an elephant for the Elephant Parade and the release of his latest comic book, Malinky Robot: Collected Stories & Other Bits.
 
DANCE & LITERATURE
Tammy L Wong
Tammy L Wong may be an award-winning dance artist whose works have been presented at festivals from Australia to the US, but when her 40th birthday rolled around last year, she kicked off her dancing shoes and turned to writing instead. Her first book 'A' is for Achar, 'L' is for Love is inspired by the life of her maternal grandmother and explores loss and longing, themes that also permeate many of her dance pieces. It was launched in September together with a presentation of Love Story, a dramatisation of the book with prose, music and dance. "There is absolutely no separation between dance, writing and daily life. Everything spills over. The need to create is innate. In dance-making, I think of myself as structuring space and writing the dance. In my writing, I think of words choreographed with rhythm," says Wong, whose passions also extend to horse-riding, yoga and cooking. "I love what art embodies - it is simply a celebration and reflection of life and of living." Love Story is being redeveloped for a second staging in 2012, while a book chronicling the life of war hero Elizabeth Choy is also due for release.
 
FASHION
Chia Wei Choong
When you have it, you have it. Chia Wei Choong dropped out of fashion school not once, but thrice, yet scored dual wins at the Singapore Fashion Designers and the Asian Young Fashion Designers Contests in 2007. Post-contest internships at Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Tam later, he launched Antebellum, a line of rigidly tailored menswear that often makes cerebral references of yore (and sometimes war, as the label's name implies). "I'm a rather nostalgic person in that I tend to romanticise the past. But then again, thinking about the future makes me hopeful and keeps me on my toes. I guess it's this tension that is prominent and defining in my work," he says of the Antebellum range. Four years on, Chia reveals he is "re-branding" - but not to worry, he's simply adding a new womenswear line. "To be able to create makes me happy. Of course, there is hard work and sacrifices too, but I can't complain. Seeing the final work and the way people respond to them is enough to mitigate all that."
 
VISUAL ARTS
Emmeline Yong
Emmeline Yong discovered her visual voice when she took photography classes as an undergraduate at The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. But being "a good Asian kid", as she says, she set aside her camera, headed to New York and took a job in investment banking. It was only after she returned home in 2002 that she and college mate Dawn Teo, acted on their passion and founded Objectifs, a centre for photography and filmmaking instruction. The centre organises the successful Affordable Photo Fair and the Singapore Short Film Awards. In 2006, it also launched Objectifs Films, the only international short film distributor in South-east Asia. Through its endeavours, Singapore and South-east Asian films such as Royston Tan's15 have been screened as far away as in Russia, Sweden and France. "As important as it is to have people creating [in the arts], you also need people to provide a supportive environment, to teach new audiences and to create markets," shares Yong. "Our strength at the end of the day also lies in the business skills we've acquired from banking."