ABOUT THE DESIGNER
The landing page for Hans Tan’s website gives a hint of the designer’s subversive wit. It’s almost too easy to skim over the three innocuous looking lines: “Designs… plural noun… a secretive plot or scheme, often with hostile or selfish intents: He had designs on the chair.”
This playful thrust is a thread in the designer’s work. Everyday objects – many rooted in Southeast Asian design – are reimagined with restless imagination and cheerful glee.
“My work is often occupied with the authenticity of the contemporary design artefact being a deliberate gesticulation of material culture,” says Hans, who is also an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s Division of Industrial Design.
And so, a tray is made of white nylon springs made from 3D imaging. The patterns on a traditional Peranakan teapot are perforated into individual dots that resemble a magnified Roy Lichtenstein print. A sequence of Singapore’s national lion symbol transforms an ordinary white plastic shopping bag into an eye-catching accessory. Each work provides a fresh perspective and brings a smile to one’s face.
This is not to imply that Hans’s work is without discipline. For all the apparent frivolity of the final product, he takes the task of design seriously, investing his work with impressive fundamentals. Every design is never produced for its own sake. Every finished product can actually be used. As Hans points out: “I see design as a medium, and I make use of its utility as a pretext to explore ideas.”
When asked what, or who, has influenced his design philosophy, his reply is as instructive for neophyte designers as it is remarkably nuanced: “The perceptiveness of Gaston Bachelard’s work on phenomenology; the lightness in Italo Calvino’s conceptual yet narrative approach to writing; and Georges Perec’s sheer wit in describing everyday life.”
In Han’s case, everyday life means the local Singaporean culture. “That’s always been a major influence on my work. I cannot imagine responding to the condition of being Singaporean without being in Singapore.”
This perspective has been hard-earned. His greatest mistakes have occurred when the value or potential of a design, or the complexity of the process is not recognised from the outset. This is a theme that runs through in his work and in his lectures. “The underlying principle of many of the pedagogical methods and strategies I develop are rooted in the idea that creating is ‘deforming the existing’, rather than ‘creating anew’.”
Given this sense of connection between time and place, it’s no surprise that Hans sets the value of the President’s Design Award so firmly within a local context. He is especially appreciative that “it has created a benchmark for design in Singapore, and places a seal of worth on design at a national level”.
Advice to Emerging Designers:
“Learn the rules, bend the rules, then break the rules. Above all, take risks, and learn from your mistakes.”