Post A: Art, Craft, Design

Through participating in Festival Mata Air 2016, undertaking different workshops and communicating with the local Indonesian design students from UKSW, I’ve come to understand that different cultures interpret design in different ways, and that in each local context design may play a different role. One of the main differences I’ve noticed is that in the context of Salatiga and Yogyakarta, design and art seem to overlap and are very fluid identities; this relationship has been debated for decades and still seems to be ongoing (Cortes 2007). When I explored the exhibited works of UKSW visual communication students, I thought to myself that this seemed more like a visual arts exhibition than a design exhibition. It was then I realised, as put by Cooper (1999), that design is influenced by the context and the culture that it exists in, and at the same time the design influences the culture.

As a visual communications student with not much exposure to other culture’s designs, I feel as if there is a very specific aesthetic or style to current trending Australian design, as seen from popular graphic design publications and the like. Therefore, all of the designed work at Festival Mata Air, from the bamboo-structured water floats to the hand-painted clay pots and social-political banners would be considered art from this point of view. But as stated by Leveque (2013), a designer seeks to convey a particular idea or message which is meant to be direct. In this sense, the idea of ‘design’ could be applied to the motive of spreading awareness on social and political issues in Indonesia, reinforcing this fluid identity of design.

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Posters carrying a political, social or environmental message. Photograph: Christine Ye

In another example, during our stay at the Kelingan eco-village, we were introduced to the idea of food as design. Singgih Kartono shared his perspective that food is a form of design that is essential to life; we shape ourselves through the food we consume, and that the act of putting together ingredients, even the recipe itself is a form of design. I explored this idea through further research, however received a different outlook on food as design. As of 2010, food design could lean towards the more traditionally-viewed ‘art’ side, or it could incorporate science of advanced manufacturing techniques, or even making furniture out of food in a form of modern industrial design (Fairs 2010).

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A traditional drink which is seen as design within its local context. Photograph: Christine Ye

At the end of the day, no matter how much we try to define the notion of design and its form or specific style, the meaning will be affected by its context. And more importantly, I’ve learnt during the two week experience in Central Java that design that is situated in a specific local contexts needs to be thoroughly researched and understood.

Reference List

Cooper, R. 1999, ‘Design Contexts’, The Design Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 1.

Cortes, Y. 2007, ‘Design and art’, Choice Reviews Online, vol. 45, no. 3, p. 456.

Fairs, F. 2010, ‘Food and Design: a report by Dezeen for Scholtès’, Dezeen, 22 November, viewed 4 April 2016, <http://www.dezeen.com/2010/11/22/food-and-design-report>.

Leveque, E. 2013, ‘ART VS. GRAPHIC DESIGN: THE DEBATE RAGES ON’, The Deep End, 3 July, viewed 4 April 2016, <http://thedeependdesign.com/art-vs-graphic-design-the-debate-rages-on>.

*All photos were taken by the author, unless stated otherwise.

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Post D: Kopi Luwak, Yes or No?

As a coffee drinker and a general foreign food and drink enthusiastic, I was unpleasantly surprised when I had a sip of the local Indonesian coffee. With the lack of milk, a pitch black coffee in front of me and coffee particles that were left to settle to the bottom of the cup, my first sip was somehow bland in comparison to the colour and my mouth was left full of grit. Despite the first experience, I was very keen to try the internationally famous Kopi Luwak or ‘civet cat poo coffee’ that I had learnt about the day before I arrived in Indonesia. White Koffie Kopi Luwak was the brand of instant coffee I tried; the taste was unique, milky, round, had a distinct aftertaste and I loved it. This ultimately made me curious about the production process and its value within the industry.

The first video I watched was a short documentary film for Gunung Malabar Kopi Luwak, a Kopi Luwak production company created by Supriatnadinuri and Slamet Prayoga which also doubles up as a civet cat breeding ground, and an available tourist attraction. The video shows the planning and care that they have put into raising and running the Kopi Luwak business, from their spacious and hygienic civet cat living cages, to their nutritionally balanced diet that reflects a wild civet’s diet. Most importantly, these civets live amongst the coffee cherry tree plantations so they’re able to choose the best berries to digest. With a limited number of around 100 civet cats, Gunung Malabar is able to produce a modest amount of 150kg of Kopi Luwak a month, ensuring that the coffee is high in quality (Kopi Luwak Gunung Malabar 2014).

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Click here to watch: Kopi Luwak Gunung Malabar 2014

However, with its international fame and a cup selling for $30 to $100 in New York City, there are bound to be businesses that would rather please the industry than keep the civet cats happy (Kwok 2013). PETA’s short video documents the psychotic behaviour of civet cats that are confined in small cages and only fed a diet of coffee beans (Kopi Luwak: Cruelty in Every Cup 2013), which led to former coffee trader Tony Wild’s petition and campaign “Kopi Luwak: Cut the Crap” in 2013. Wild’s campaign urges people to stop drinking Kopi Luwak altogether in order to stop the business demand, which is quite an extreme perspective.

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Click here to watch: Kopi Luwak: Cruelty in Every Cup 2013

My personal opinion is that while it seems like this is the most logical and best thing to do, in any industry there will always be a few cases of exploit, and I don’t believe that Wild’s campaign had a large enough impact to hinder the amount of Kopi Luwak being traded internationally. However, as Wild puts it, the “horrific industry, pandering to the foibles of rich [has led] to the suffering and death of defenceless wild luwaks” (2013) and there need to be clearer windows into what is happening through each business.

Reference List

Kopi Luwak Gunung Malabar 2014, motion picture, Budi Kurniawan, Indonesia.

Kopi Luwak: Cruelty in Every Cup 2013, motion picture, PETA, Indonesia.

Kwok, Y. 2013, ‘The World’s Most Expensive Coffee Is a Cruel Cynical Scam’, Time, 2 October, viewed 8 April 2016, <http://world.time.com/2013/10/02/the-worlds-most-expensive-coffee-is-a-cruel-cynical-scam>.

Wild, T. 2013, Cut the Crap, Stop Stocking Kopi Luwak, Change.org, viewed 8 April 2016, <https://www.change.org/p/harrods-cut-the-crap-stop-stocking-kopi-luwak>.

Post B: Plastic Fantastic

During primary and high school education, HSIE and geography classes touched upon the topic of plastics, about how integrated they are in our society, how we recycle them, that they end up in landfills and the such. However, with the plentiful incorporation of rubbish bins in public places, the reality of our plastic waste situation has never hit me, and based on my general assumptions not many others understand the reality of it either.

According to statistics, Io (2016) states that in 2015 we produced almost 311 million tonnes of plastic but less than 10% was recycled. Difficulties in sorting out plastics for recycling, and the impure nature of recycled plastics having a damaging effect on machinery made factories reluctant to recycle, also since brand new plastic is much more reliable (Precious Plastic 2016). Because of this issue, Design Academy Einhoven graduate and 27 year old Dutch designer, Dave Hakkens, created the Precious Plastic project and has been working on it since 2013. The open-source code allows one to build your own DIY machines that are able to recycle plastics into usable objects, not to mention it is public and free for everyone. While the machines in the video certainly look impressive and made to a professional standard, Hakkens says that materials for making these machines are readily available for really low prices world-wide from junkyards and the such (Etherington 2013).

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Plastic chips in all its glory. Photograph: Precious Plastic by Dave Hakken 2013

So far, four different machines are available to be created; one for shredding plastic waste, an extrusion machine for creating plastic string, a moulding machine and an oven for larger and more solid objects. Each machine has different variables to suit whatever you’d like to create, and Hakkens believes the only limit is your creativity (Etherington 2013).

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An array of what can be made. Image: Precious Plastic 2016
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A flower pot with beautiful colours. Photograph: Precious Plastic Flower Pot 2016
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A visually striking set of plastic serving platters. Photograph: Precious Plastic Bowl Set 2016

The prototypes from the website range from household decor items such as vases and containers, to stationery such as clipboards, and recycled plastic rope ties. The website also contains comprehensive video tutorials on plastics in general, how to collect and sort them, how to build your machines and also how to create your items.

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Several video tutorials available on the website in case you’re lost. Image: Precious Plastic 2016

Precious Plastics is a non-profit project as Hakkens prefers that people source and create for themselves, but there is the option to donate towards the project. Sharing the awareness is encouraged, and there’s also a data visualisation of how many and where the page has been shared throughout the world. Interestingly enough, Sydney and Melbourne collectively stood out on the map, with the main contender being the area surrounding the Netherlands area. They also have a public forum where people are able to post questions and improvements on the project, making it a collaborative group effort.

While I was quite interested in the idea and thought that the products made were very fun and quirky, it personally didn’t motivate me enough to actually go and build one of their machines. As a graphic design student, being too hands on especially in terms of building large structures was never my forte. However if they were able to provide the machines and possibly even workshops and events at the landfill, I’d be more involved in collecting plastic waste or bringing in my own to create products.

Reference List

Etherington, R. 2013, ‘Precious Plastic by Dave Hakkens’, Dezeen Magazine, 21 October, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://www.dezeen.com/2013/10/21/precious-plastic-open-source-local-recycling-workshop-dave-hakkens>.

Io, M. 2016 DIY recycling machines will let anyone turn plastic waste into functional objects, Inhabitat, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://inhabitat.com/new-diy-machines-will-let-anyone-turn-plastic-waste-into-functional-objects>.

Precious Plastic 2016, Precious Plastic, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://preciousplastic.com>.

Image Reference List

Precious Plastic, 2016, Precious Plastic, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://preciousplastic.com>.

Precious Plastic Bowl Set, 2016, Climate Change for Good, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://climatechangeforgood.com.au/2016/03/30/plastic-recycling>.

Precious Plastic by Dave Hakkens, 2013, Dezeen, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://www.dezeen.com/2013/10/21/precious-plastic-open-source-local-recycling-workshop-dave-hakkens>.

Precious Plastic Flower Pot, 2016, Climate Change for Good, viewed 10 April 2016, <http://climatechangeforgood.com.au/2016/03/30/plastic-recycling>.

Post C: Looking at Magno

From the perspective of one that was born and raised in the populated urban city of Sydney, the chance to stay in the small village of Kelingan and experience their simple lifestyle amongst the trees and coffee plantations was a blessing. However, as the saying goes, the grass is greener on the other side; villagers prefer to find work in the city and young Indonesian children are becoming more and more interested in outsider products. Industrial designer, Singgih Kartono, recognised that the villages were dying out due to external attraction along with a sense of shame attached to the rural lifestyle, and has since returned to his local village to work on his belief of “village revitalisation”. I had the opportunity to interview Kartono about Magno, his product line that includes the iconic, internationally-awarded IKoNO wooden radio, and his design philosophy.

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Cocoon sleeping pods in Kelingan village. Photograph: Christine Ye

Kartono’s return to the village of Kandangan was an impulsive one, with no proper structure or planning to his ideas of starting up a business (Magno n.d.) and at the same time, the concept for his wooden radio also wasn’t planned. The then-toy-designer was inspired by a radio sitting in his friend’s house which incorporated bamboo into the casing. After experimenting with different types of wood materials and around ten years of struggling to find provisions for electronic parts, the IKoNO radio was finally released and received attention worldwide. The design itself is minimal and sleek with two-toned wood pieces, its form and function cut down to the essentials, and was seen to successfully combine a traditional material such as wood with modern technology (Dunn 2014).

The brand name ‘Magno’ which comes from his first product, the magnifying glass, aims to express the quality craftsmanship that goes into his designs, and highlight the details of the product, with no two products the same. On a deeper level, Magno is able to provide initially unskilled villagers with the ability to be part of a modern manufacturing process where the focus is on maintaining standard procedures to guarantee a high quality traditional craft finish. This production also generates income that can boost the economy of the village (Magno n.d.). When I asked Kartono, ‘why wood?’ he gave me several reasons. With a strong belief that items have a soul, he too described wood as a material that captures life within its rings and unique markings. He has also made the material sustainable for his factory as the small products only use two trees per year, and at the same time Magno’s reforestation scheme ensures that more trees are grown in replacement.

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Precision in the manufacturing process. Photograph: Christine Ye
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Sanding to perfection. Photograph: Christine Ye

Today, the line includes a small variety of wooden goods, from radios and clocks to stationery. The brand has received various international awards such as the International Design Resource Awards from America and Good Design Award from Japan, and sales statistics have also shown a change in local mindset where Indonesians are appreciative of and more willing to spend on local quality crafts (Tjokro 2015). At the end of the interview, Kartono expresses that he is unsure what the future holds for Magno, but he believes it’s okay if a product is not long-lasting because the focus should be on sustainability and heading the future in the right direction.

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Form and function cut down to the essentials in a radio. Photograph: Christine Ye

Reference List

Dunn, L. 2014, ‘Wooden radios, bamboo bicycles and human cocoons’, Inside Indonesia, October–December, viewed 23 February 2016, <http://www.insideindonesia.org/wooden-radios-bamboo-bicycles-and-human-cocoons>.

Magno n.d., Magno, viewed 14 March 2016, <http://www.magno-design.com>.

Tjokro, S. 2015, ‘MAGNO TIMELESS BEAUTY’, NOW Jakarta, 9 August, viewed 14 March 2016, <http://nowjakarta.co.id/magno-timeless-beauty>.

Notes from Interview with Singgih Kartono, dated 21 February 2016.

*All photos were taken by the author, unless stated otherwise.