8 November 2011
by Matt Wade
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur early on a Saturday morning. I'd heard the airport is set amongst the jungle and was looking forward to the spectacle, but the airport was covered in a thick fog and until I headed for the city the landscape remained a secret. Once I was on the road, the sides of the motorway came to life with amazing palm trees and Islamic iconography.
About 10K out from KL the taxi driver pointed out the Petronas Towers, which didn't seem that big until we were in the middle of the city and its enormousness struck.
My first meeting was with the lovely Grey from the British Council who set me up with everything I needed to know about my trip and most importantly about Kuala Lumpur Design Week – the British Council had invited me to give a talk at the event and I then spent the rest of the first day over at the conference centre hearing the first afternoon of speakers. It was well worth battling the jet lag to hear these first people speak. Two people stood out for me. Firstly, German Photographer, Fabian Sixtus Koerner, who's right in the middle of his inspiring and mammoth project, Stories of a Journeyman. The project sees him travelling the world, acting out an old German tradition of working for food and board. He showed his film from his time in India that featured him dancing in the middle of a small printing company in India, while they make Bollywood posters of Fabien acting as the star. It had a lovely sentiment and intimate style that must only come from living somewhere.
Then next thing I saw really touched me, it was Mohamed Fares's talk about how Egypt changed overnight in January this year and how it affected his practice. He went on to discuss whether Design could help build a positive future for Egypt. The talk had a really engaging pace and balanced a personal perspective with gross national change.
The next day I did my talk, called 'The Behaviour of Things'. I discussed how our aim as a studio is to understand the way the things we design behave, look and feel as objects so we can imbue the fabric of them with meaning and narrative. The highlight of the day was listening to Fons Scheidon who probably gave one of the most engaging talks I've ever been to. Anyone who ever gets the opportunity to hear him talk should definitely do so.
That evening I met up with the Light Surgeons, had some dinner and headed to the Black Box to hang out while they rehearsed for their performance, Super Everything. This meal was my 4th consecutive curry (including breakfasts). I was nice to see some friends from London and share something simple like some food in such an interesting place as KL.
The next day I gave a Pecha Kucha in the White Box, a gallery in KL, connected to the space the Light Surgeons were using. My talk was on Chindogu – the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday objects. I talked about how it's easy to laugh at these nonsense things, but they give us an interesting insight into the way people think, and perhaps more interesting for us to look at as designers that looking at other designers work.
The following morning I flew to Singapore and met with the Ministry of Design. They'd invited me to give a talk to a group of people from the local area. My talk concentrated on our approach as a design studio and talked about how we encouraged experimentation and failure in what we do. I was interested in counter balancing a tone of perfection in design that I'd picked up from people in SE Asia. I met some lovely people afterwards and Joy and Colin; the founders of The Ministry of Design took me for an amazing meal in a boutique hotel they designed – the highlight of which was the roof top pool with the glass portholes in the floor that punched into the ceiling of the restaurant. Sadly there were no swimmers. Beautiful people need only apply.
The next day I flew back to KL then back to the UK.
All in all it was a whistle stop but culturally and socially an amazing trip.