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Tan Wei Xiang combats isolation with his creation for Discovered

Designer Tan Wei Xiang shares his creative journey in conceptualising his piece for Discovered, a platform created by Wallpaper* and American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to support design’s next generation.

  • Tan Wei Xiang combats isolation with his creation for Discovered

    Tan Wei Xiang. Photo courtesy of AHEC

Aesthetic almost always catches a person’s eye first when it comes to everyday objects. Now more so than ever as we live in an increasingly virtual world. So how can we foster a sense of touch and emotional connection with our everyday objects? 

Twenty designers from 16 countries across the world have been invited to address this matter with their creations through Discovered. It is a platform created by Wallpaper* and American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to promote and support design’s next generation, in partnership with the Design Museum, London.

Recollect by Tan Wei Xiang | Photography by Tim Robinson

Mentored by design entrepreneurs such as Tomoko Azumi, Nathan Yong, Maria Jeglinska and Adam Markowitz, the designers had to consider the materials’ tactility as a key component of the creative and production processes. Of the four sustainable U.S. hardwoods choice given were red oak, cherry, hard and soft maple.

Guided by the themes of touch, reflection and strength, Tan Wei Xiang who is amongst the 20 designers hails from Singapore. The Lasalle College graduate who worked as a carpenter prior to becoming a Technical Executive at Temasek Polytechnic, School of Design shares his experience in Discovered and his creative process in designing his piece, Recollect Cabinet, which will be made by AHEC’s global manufacturing partners, and unveiled at the Design Museum, London from the 13 September to 10 October 2021.

Tan Wei Xiang | Photography by Tim Robinson

How do you feel to be one of only 20 designers globally selected to participate in this project?

I am honoured to be part of this project called Discovered. Upon receiving the invitation, there was an overwhelming sense of excitement and nervousness. I was ecstatic knowing that I had been given the opportunity to work with Wallpaper* and American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC). The idea of being able to gain exposure to showcase my work on an international platform and to have my piece showcased in the Design Museum London was so surreal. 

Your design is inspired by Singapore’s construction sites and the ridged zinc sheets. Tell us more about that.

The brief given was Touch, reflection and strength. How do our objects help combat isolation in a pandemic world? This pandemic has taught us that technology has a big part to play in keeping us connected with our loved ones and daily lives. However, as with any prolonged time and distance apart, no amount of technology can replace one’s physical presence and since we are unable to have that, the next best replacement would be to reminisce our keepsakes when nostalgia hits. 

Tan Wei Xiang Recollect Sketches 3 Discovered AHEC

An early sketch of Tan Wei Xiang’s design

I personally spent my Circuit Breaker (Singapore’s 2-month lockdown in mid-2020) taking frequent walks and took stock of the sheer amount of construction sites, which is a constant sight in Singapore’s ever-changing landscape. Typically, the perimeter of construction sites has a hoarding created by ridged zinc sheets. It is a very crude yet effective way to use them. I thought about how relatable and meaningful its purpose was – covering what is precious and important inside and protecting those outside. It is similar to what I was hoping to design; something that could keep one’s important keepsakes safe and protected inside. The ridged texture is also something that is uniquely familiar.

Tan Wei Xiang Recollect Sketches 1 Discovered AHEC

Recollect Cabinet inspired by ridged zinc sheets

What have you learnt from the project’s mentor Nathan Yong?

From conceptualisation to production, Yong has encouraged and challenged every idea I had throughout this project, which allowed me to push the boundaries of my design. He is extremely meticulous about every detail and function, and his questions provided me with different perspectives on how to view the piece I was ultimately designing. It is also what pushed me to the next level for my design process. It truly was a pleasure and a great experience being mentored by Yong.

Recollect by Tan Wei Xiang | Photography by Tim Robinson

What have you learnt about the material (American hardwood) that was at the centre of this project?

For my cabinet, I opted to use American hard maple for the exterior to bring out the fine details of the ridges. For the shelves, I went with American red oak due to its density lending it to resist scratching. As a designer, it’s great knowing that my designs can be realised from a material that is functional, aesthetic and yet also environmentally sustainable.

The making of Recollect

What are the challenges you faced in participating in this project?

Being forced to communicate virtually via videoconferencing was challenging. But it also meant that I got the opportunity to hear from the other 19 designers from all over the world. Getting an insight into their design processes was definitely an eye-opening experience for me.

I also had to film my creative process. I’ve always found myself behind the camera taking pictures of my completed work. So keeping a video diary of my creative journey was definitely something foreign to me. It definitely was an insightful experience learning how to take good framing and I was able to look back at the footage and take stock of where I was at each stage of my process. 

Recollect by Tan Wei Xiang | Photography by Tim Robinson

What are your next moves after Discovered?

Discovered has shown me the possibilities in the freedom of conceptualisation. It has allowed me to focus on the process rather than fixating on the result. Moving forward, I will bring my learnt experiences to my other self-initiated projects where I will be exploring and experimenting with a variety of materials. The aim would be to keep the momentum, churn out more designs and build on my portfolio.

Meet the other designers and their projects on the discovered.global site.

Interview by AHEC
Illustrations by Tan Wei Xiang

Related: Roger&Sons revitalises the art of woodworking in Singapore


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