In the last 3 years, we worked with over 8 rural artisan communities in India with over 16 designer collaborations so far. Collaboration is the heart of what we do; every collaboration has been rooted in an appreciation for the value of craft and artisanship, connecting artisans with designers, bridging traditional craft with modern designs – and this unity is a value we have always stood behind.
This year, we were commissioned by Insert Coin to design 10 artwork panels for the prestigious Singapore Tourism Board Temasek Suite to celebrate the 10th year of the iconic F1 Singapore. We thought long and hard about this collaboration, what it would mean to juxtapose slow craft against the fastest car race in the world and we decided this was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the craft we love and create conversations around the art that it is and the artisans behind it.
VEXILLOLOGY – A PRINT SERIES
With a cultural reference to the design movements from 1920s Europe, the place and time that saw the birth of Formula 1, this print series is an exploration of the iconography of road language and the universal symbols on the flags of the world’s motorways. Each motif is a bold portrayal of a movement, sound and colour found in a F1 race; intentionally designed and curated to encourage guests to view the race through a multi-sensory lens.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
It took one week for the designs to be finished from the first sketch to its final. We started with the track lines, inspired by the silhouette of the Marina Bay Street Circuit from Singapore Flyer to Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore – we took to the essentials of the layout and separated them onto 6 art panels. Conceptualizing it was the fastest part of this process because we knew the panels had to parallel the F1 language: flags and tracks. The difficulty was in figuring out how to connect it all. How do we create 10 art panels that each told a separate element of the F1 race, but remained cohesive as one? The first draft alone took two days. We played around with the prints, some were too clustered, some were too abstract, and some we loved at first but when we put them in the context of colours they didn’t stand out. Through trial and error, through repeats of drafts and colour tests, we were able to refine the language and lay out the race in 10 art panels. From there, everything came together.
The process to move from a digital design to a print carved onto a block held a lot more complexity than our past productions. To translate a motif from digital to craft is to understand that industrial perfection does not exist in craft – and more importantly, it should not. In the inconsistency of each piece created or appreciated, we’ve embraced the philosophy of wabi sabi and the reality of transience and imperfection.
Our initial panel design was larger than our blockprinting artisans anticipated, so much so that we had to scale down the number of blocks used. The biggest block was 20 by 20 cm and we would have needed 32 blocks – each carved with a distinct detail from a part of the motif. In working with our artisan partners, we considered an alternative: to play with negative space by blocking out certain sections before printing. After 3 days of block design, of experimenting on our own with small scale linocut designs, we were able to shift them and limit it to 9 blocks. Sheryl, the design intern at MATTER who saw this collaboration through conceptualization to ideation shared about her learning process:
“As a designer, I learned that you should always have the consideration of production in mind. In this instance especially, I saw this come to fruition. Instead of just expecting the design to come out immediately, a notion so commonly associated with a heavy reliance on technology, I understood that craft, and working with artisans, is a lot more human and I should design with that in mind.”
BLOCK PRINTING: FROM MOTIF TO ART
For three hours, Khushiram, a fifth generation block printer, and the master block printer stood side by side trying to figure out how to print the motif. Experimenting with different arrangements, sorting out which blocks go where, and how the negative space should come into play – that was a separate kind of complexity. But once the first block made its mark in ink, everything came together. When the panels were finished and laid out to dry, the master block printer told us that the motif arrangement of these panels were some of the most complicated prints he’d seen. It was nothing like the classic block printing motifs he was used to in the tradition of the craft, and yet, he knew that it was truly a piece of art. And to know that these panels were going to be showcased on an international platform like F1 made him proud to have had his hands been a part of the process.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CRAFT
We went into this collaboration uncertain of how we could juxtapose slow craft with the fastest car race in the world, but we were heartened to see it all come together and know that there were conversations created around the art and the artisans behind it. Leeming, the Chief Project Strategist of Insert Coin shared with us her thoughts on this process:
“It was a shot in the dark commissioning this collab with MATTER – what relationship is there between fast cars and slow craft? But that was precisely what Insert Coin was championing in the design and fit-out of this space. To leverage on the beauty of analogue technology, to aid in our narration of this amazing story of how Singapore has become home to the world’s only night street race. Something told us to follow our gut and have MATTER onboard, and we couldn’t be happier with how the collab turned out. The process was like a conversation between two groups of craftsmen – MATTER pushing through with the production of the murals in India, and Insert Coin pushing through with the production of the mechanical installations in Singapore. While our mediums of expression were completely different, our brand ethos connected. Beyond complementing the story we wanted to tell in the space, the depth of thought that MATTER put into the conceptualization and production of the pieces communicated to everyone, the role that slow craft has in reminding us of what truly matters in the fast world we live in today.“
Three years in, we are still convinced that the world needs craft. Each collaboration shared, with another brand or designer, is rooted in that belief. Craft is so much more than handmade; it is the beauty in its making, an emphasis on a production that connects the maker with the customer, the direct involvement of handmade techniques and the importance of context and traditional tools – it is the human elements that make it meaningful. This collaboration with F1 was a reminder of that connection, between the beauty of craft and the conversation we want to create – that where and why something is made, and by whom, matters.