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Hans Tan: "Practice creativity by not being afraid to fail"


Hans Tan: "Practice creativity by not being afraid to fail"

In my opinion, no other young Singaporean designer has invented their signature style as memorably as Hans Tan has.

Not only has his Spotted Nyonya collection been awarded Design of the Year at the President's Design Award in 2012, its concept of reinterpreting traditional domestic wares into modern design has also continued to evolve and transform into different versions: Striped Ming (2013) exchanged polka dots with stripes, creating a labyrinth of geometric pattern; Outside in (2018) reworked out-dated porcelain vessel by added 3D patterns to provide a contrasting effect.

Although some might view Tan's porcelain design as one-noted, a moment of surprise did come up during an exhibition at Milan Salone in 2015 when he presented POUR. At first glance, one might think that this is a side table with a colourful, hand-painted surface. Rather, it is made by skillfully pouring different coloured epoxy resin, allowing each colour to harden without blending too much into the next. The result is a single seamless surface that looks like a vintage piece from the Flower-Power era of the 70's - this also won him another Design of the Year at the President's Design Award. Since then, he has also created non-porcelain designs such as No Such Luck (2017), an augmented fortune cat. 

While Tan did not manage to attend the awards ceremony, we were fortunate enough to catch up with him for a quick chat. He told us about his obsession with porcelain, his aspiration for the future and some of the listed collections at The Artling - which you can find here.

Spotted Nyonya Teapot (2012)

Making a Spotted Nyonya design includes three steps: Masking with dots, Sandblasting, and Removing the stickers. 

For people who are not yet familiar with you, what's the most important thing to know about you?

I'm a designer and an educator. I'm not Peranakan.

Have you always wanted to be a designer since you were a kid? What was the defining moment when you knew?

I was never good in the arts when I was a kid, and I still can’t draw well. Although I got into an industrial design course at the university without knowing much about design, I was able to do stuff with my hands which I enjoyed very much. In my third year as a design student, the notion of design in my mind started to come together like a puzzle solving itself.

How has Singapore's design heritage and its current innovations influenced you in your design approach?

Design is a relatively young domain in Singapore. This allows designers to practice freely and develop our language, perspective and approach over time.

Striped Ming Collection No.16, 17, 18, 19 (2017).

Where did this fascination towards porcelain come about? Is that your favourite material? Why?

Yes, I am interested in ceramic as a material, in particular, porcelain. Not so much about the material, but the traditions, utility, perceptions we have ascribed to porcelain. It is an age-old medium packed with history and preconceived meanings and is used widely as a material for products that we interact with daily. One may find a Qing Dynasty porcelain cup sold for millions, yet the very same material we sit on it daily to relieve ourselves of waste – the irony is quite fascinating.

POUR, a piece that won you the Design of the Year award, seems like a departure from your usual play on porcelain. How did this project come about? And would you say this is a step away from your comfort zone?

Developing unexpected ways to consider materials and fabrication processes has always been part of my practice. I work with a variety of materials, including technological ones like 3D printing. I guess the porcelain collection is more well known. In fact, not being trained as a potter I can neither throw a ceramic bowl on a wheel nor hand-build a cup. I use this weakness as an opportunity, where it led me to the development of the resist-blasting technique, where I worked on existing ceramic pieces “outside in”, rather than forming it from scratch.

Bundled Vase (Jumble) (2014)

Bundled Vase is also a piece that's not quite your most known style. How did this project come about and what was the most challenging part of creating it?

I happened to pass by an industrial area in Singapore where many specialised shops were selling flexible hoses and pipes. Although they looked really dirty and cheap, I thought a multitude of them coming together looked quite interesting, they looked like flowers themselves, with all the different colours, patterns, thickness and lengths. Since hoses are used to hold and transfer water, I thought it might make a good vase. So I went around, bought many different types of hoses, and brought them back to my studio. We started composing these hoses into vases like how one might do flower arrangements and found a method to hold the hoses permanently together using a stainless steel cable tie used in the marine industry.

Since then, your works have been growing steadily in the porcelain department. Have you ever looked to creating an industrial/ mass-produced product for a brand? Why (not)?

I develop techniques and processes that are used to fabricate and produce my works, and I believe in harnessing this quality as a distinguishing factor in my works. Designing a mass-produced item can still take a similar approach, I would start the design process by investigating ways to manipulate the manufacturing process.

Making a POUR table top with epoxy resin.

POUR table (2015) also includes a monochrome version.

You've studied in Eindhoven and now are based in Singapore. What made you want to be based here? What are the advantages?

The concepts of my works are largely based on the local narrative. I am inspired by being Singaporean, by everyday experiences, behaviours, and things about me. Therefore its clear that when I started my practice that I had to be based in a place where I could feed (on inspiration), and where the audience identifies with my works.

And what about being a designer in Singapore? What's the biggest challenge?

When I first started practising more than ten years ago, it was difficult to position my work. My works are self-initiated and focused on concepts; designers thought I was an artist. On the other hand, I employed utility as a medium. In other words, because the objects I designed had function, artists regarded my works as design. For me, I believe that the divide between design and art should not be a clear line, especially in the context of Singapore where design is considered as an economic driver, while art is a seen as a cultural catalyst. Design and Art are not mutually exclusive, in good design, there is good art, and in good art, there is good design. 

Mutant on Vase (2017) (L), Outside In No.3 (2018) (R).

What advice would you give to young and aspiring designers?

Creativity is an inherent human ability, everyone has it, and it can be trained. Practice creativity by not being afraid to fail. Learn to fail, and fail to learn.

Lastly, design is important, because...

It's part of everyday life; it's an important economic driver and a cultural catalyst.


For more information about Hans' design, click here.

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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