Design Focus: Alchemists, Singapore Art Museum


Armed with nothing more than a conviction to turn dreams into reality—from turning base metals into gold to concocting immortality elixirs and panacea for everything that ails man—alchemists worked long and hard in laboratories only to emerge often as targets of derision.

But their true legacy is in clearing the path for thinking beyond the norm, a calling that inspired a group of disillusioned designers who sought freedom from earlier design canons in late 1960s Europe. 

In 1976, the Italian architect Alessandro Guerreiro, along with Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass, led a group of designers to form Studio Alchimia. The group was described as “seeking to take the process of creation outside the Modernist design principles”, and to produce “experimental objects as exhibition pieces rather than products for the masses”.

An update on the traditional Peranakan porcelain wares of Southeast Asia, the surface of this vase was masked before being sandblasted. Print was obliterated on the exposed areas, leaving behind rows of dots on which fragments of the original pattern can be discerned.

The members of the group focused on making products that bore the significance of one-offs and prototypes, their output marked with sensual appearances that disguised the commonplace materials with which they were made, thus shifting the attention to the making as well as to the elements of style.

The Alchemists, a recent exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum, showcased works by 15 Singapore-based designers who created objects from disparate materials and methods, including nylon laser sintering, resin pouring, liquid colouring of ceramics, and acrylic textiles moulding. First presented at the Triennale di Milano in April 2015, as part of the Milan Design Week, the exhibition returned to Singapore to open Singapore Art Week 2016. “The intent of the show is not to simply exhibit new production technologies, but to develop along with them, a more contemporary attitude for designing in the global context,” says show curator Stefano Casciani.

“This project hopes to serve both as a converging and a departure point for more dialogue and collaboration among this group of designers, as well as future generations of designers to come,” adds co-curator Patrick Chia. The Alchemists exhibition at SAM was organised by Industry+ and supported by the Design Singapore Council, and the Singapore Art Museum.

Story Credits

Images by Industry+

This story first appeared in FORM Magazine

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