Month: March 2017

Zine: Research on wabi sabi

“Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, Eastern beauty is desolateness. Humility. Hidden beauty.” So says kendo sensei Shozo Kato in a video by The Avant/Garde Diaries. “Desolateness” is used in the subtitles when the Japanese Kato actually uses is wabi-sabi  び.

In his book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Leonard Koren describes it as occupying “roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic [that is, the philosophy of beauty] values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West.”

Originally, wabi’s main feeling was of loneliness. The Japanese have a knack for thinking up words that describe specific feelings, and this is one of them.

Sabi , on the other hand, is a bit simpler, It has been described as “chill,” “lean,” or “withered.”

“An active aesthetical appreciation of poverty … To be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau, and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall.”

D. T. Suzuki

More than anything he stresses this philosophy is a deliberate choice. The samurai and wealthy merchants had the option to drape gold over everything (sometimes literally). But they chose to use simple tools and architecture instead.

R E S T R A I N T .

We can link it to the “Three Marks of Existence,” or sanbōin 三法印さんぼういん that are described in Buddhist teaching.

Roughly, they describe how all things have impermanence (mujō 無常むじょう), suffering (ku ), and emptiness, or absence of self ( くう). Buddhism tells us wisdom comes from making peace with these marks, as they are intrinsic to our natures, and wabi-sabi can be seen as a way of practicing this peace and acceptance.

  • Impermanence has probably the clearest link: one embraces the wear, tear, and sometimes damage that comes with age. One accepts an object will change as they use it.
  • Suffering too can be linked to damage, again in the acceptance that wear and damage is possible and likely as part of normal life.
  • Absence of self is the hardest, but I would argue we can find this in the appreciation of objects as a process or state, moving either from or towards nothingness.


Zine: Ideas and inspirations

For our zine project, I took inspiration from zines in terms of both layout and style. Here are some of the resource material that might come in useful later in the project.

Love the grunge texture and punk look of this zine — almost reminiscent of a woodblock print.

Simple and clean illustration for the cover page of a zine, with a contrasting and engaging color combination (red and black). Typography and art complement each other, forming a dynamic whole.

Greyscale cartoon illustration, with black outlines and simplistic forms, create a fun and edgy look.

I particularly like the diagonals used in this Japanese zine, i.e. the title banner, sub-heading and posture of the robot. The black, orange and yellow palette also add interest.

A zine that is parodying the concept of “models” in a superficial world. Simple azure blue background and the black and white halftone image feels like a Warhol silkscreen print; a Pop-art feel aimed at social commentary.

Symmetry across a centrefold is a fun way to portray the art concept. The color scheme also harken back to the early age of television — telecolor.

Celebrating Process: illustration as a practice that resonates with zine making

  • explore mixed media?

Simple Japanese styled illustrations can perhaps convey the idea of wabi sabo better?

Editorial illustrations focus on complementing the article with the appropriate artwork.

Zine: Bukit Merah exploration (I)

The term Bukit Merah is literally translated to mean ‘red hill’ in Malay. The name originated from the hilly Malay kampung (village) made of red soil. The red-orange tinge is actually due to the presence of lateritic soils in the area, which when exposed without vegetation, makes a striking impression of a ‘blood soaked’ landscape.

There are a number of historic sites in this zone. Keppel Harbour dates back to the 14th century when it was known as Lung-Ya-Men, or Dragon Teeth Gate. Mount Faber was once known as Telok Blangah Hill. Its name was changed to Mount Faber after Captain Edward Faber cut the road up to the top in 1845 to set up a signal station. The Singapore General Hospital site dates back to 1882. Labrador Nature Park was used as a defence outpost in the 19th century until World War II.

There are nine sub-zones in Bukit Merah; Maritime Square, Bukit Merah, Redhill, Singapore General Hospital, Alexandra Hill, Henderson Hill, Bukit Ho Swee, Kampong Tiong Bahru, Depot Road, Telok Blangah Drive, Telok Blangah Way, Telok Blangah Rise, Everton Park and Tanjong Pagar.

I started off my journey into Bukit Timah with Redhill.

This is the corridor leading into a row of shops in an HDB estate minutes away from the MRT station.

This is Delta Sports Complex, best known to me for its hockey pitch. I spent a good two years here, up until the A Division Hockey Finals where VJC managed to clinch our championship. Good times.

I remember standing in the dugout before every match, anticipation mixed with adrenaline.

Next on the journey was Tanjong Pagar railway station.

I managed to get beautiful shots there as it was golden hour, and a wild streak of light struck the abandoned railway station, so there I stood, at crossroads, wondering where the winds would take me next…

I also took a shot of my girlfriend from one of the tollbooths that were left derelict. It has a rustic yet aesthetic feel,  recalling memories from years long forgotten.

After that, it was Keppel bay / Keppel harbour.

I rented a small boat for us to make our way around, looking for specific shots that could be interesting.

Unfortunately, once we were past the harbour, there was not much to see of Bukit Merah except for the huge cranes needed for loading / unloading maritime cargo. The vast sea and the smell of salt in your lungs were exceptional. 10/10 would get a yacht license in future.

Loved the night shots at Keppel harbour. Splendid lights, coupled with a clear night sky, gave me some of the best night shots I’ve done thus far. Was thinking of doing a long exposure light streak under the bridge but there was a security camera. Shag.

This is the night view. Impressionist Sundown? I think Monet would approve.

One of the last stops of the journey — Depot Road and its famous water tank and Colbar Cafe.

The water tank is HUGE. Its vastness dwarves the space and houses dotted around it.

Appearing out of the foliage, it stands out as a relic of how water used to be collected in Singapore.

There we have it — Colbar Cafe. An old school cafe with an old school vibe. The interior of the cafe remained unchanged over decades, with a cement floor, wooden walls and simple tables and chairs, they harken back to a time long forgotten.

And the last stop for the journey — Vivocity and the boardwalk.

Attempting a street photography style, I wanted to depict the contrast between isolation and company, with a nice background at the back.

A cinematic shot of the railway leading towards Sentosa.

Depicting the everyday people who walk across to and from Sentosa.

Boardwalk aesthetics.

Mood: Reflective.

I need to select a genre to work with and cleave the rest aside. No room for sentimentality here. Its just making the right decision to fit the zine. At the moment, I’m still looking for an edginess to my theme, perhaps a slant in a particular way, but as of now, Wabi Sabi is what I have chosen; I’ll have to simplify photos even further, and find a way to incorporate illustration into editorials.

Theme of zine: Wabi Sabi, finding the aesthetics in the ordinary.