creative concepts: contemporising heritage

April, 2009
going places inflight magazine, by sreerema banoo

Listening to some of the co-founders and designers of Tridi Sdn Bhd speak of their passion for South East Asian heritage is refreshing; Here is a group of designers who could be looking to the West or post-modern schools of thought for inspiration but instead, have as their muse, some of the region's vanishing art forms. By applying these art forms - from the batik patterns of North Java to the intricate designs of Langkasuka woodcarving - in their creation of contemporary pieces of furniture and furnishings. Tridi has in effect given these nearly extinct crafts a new lease on life. And that is certainly caused for celebration.

The words of co-founder Joseph Foo sum up Tridi's design philosophy succinctly, “We want to do design that's good for us, good for others and good for nature.” The partnership - made up of Joseph's brand identity company, Trinity; Juteras, an architecture and interior design firm with projects such as the Four Seasons Resort in Langkawi Island under its belt; Living Space, a home accessories company based in Thailand; and Studio DL, an award-winning commercial photography studio - was set up in 2007 primarily to conduct product research and development dictated by the founder's vision of reviving

The team's maiden debut, called Cloud 9 and Spring, were unveiled last September after 16 months of testing and experimenting. The learning curve was particularly steep, Joseph admits. "None of us are furniture or product designers."

But you wouldn't know that judging by the visually-arresting pieces in these two collections. Developed by three designers - Chong Kek Heung, Caecar Chong and Tan Wei Ming - Cloud 9 and Spring were inspired by centuries-old Cirebon batik patterns of North Jave. Characterised by bold, symbolic patterns on white spaces, these patterns were initially developed by a mystic guild of artisans for Cirebon's royal palaces. Cloud 9's largely dark blue and off-white creations comprise chairs, stools, serving trays and square art boxes as well as 'bird cage' hanging lamps, carpets and mirrors. The Spring line, on the other hand, carries bright pink floral-motif tray tables, serving trays, table lamps and ice buckets.

Beyond the application of age-old batik traditions, the design team married two traditional techniques in the production of these items - silkscreen and lacquer. Joseph explains the marriage of these techniques: "It began when we visited Jennifer Dyson (of Living Space, one of Tridi's co-founders) in Chiang Mai and saw the many lacquer products there. This led to a discussion on how to put graphics on funiture... traditionally it meant that artisans had to draw onto the furniture." As with anything handmade, this would mean inconsistencies; following some experimentation, the team then decided on using silkscreen to transfer graphics onto the products.

On the heels of the positive reception for Cloud 9 and Spring, the team is now looking at the Malay arts of Langkasuka era. Co-founder David Lok (of Studio DL) believes that while this ancient art form has been around for centuries, its application for contemporary use has not been fully studied and this he feels is necessary to prevent its demise. "Unless we have a modern application, things will become irrelevant. While the langkasuka (art form) was respected and venerated in the past, we don't want to use it just for the sake of using it.. It has to be relevant, " he adds. Caecar agrees, adding that the contemporising of ancient crafts is a guiding principle of the team's design approach.

The team is excited about future design prospects and hope to expand their product range to larger furniture pieces and home furnishing items, and even fashion and jewelry pieces. Tridi also hopes to spur other designers to delve into South East Asia's rich cultural heritage through workshops with local craftsmen and artisans. By not abandoning the past but instead, embracing it, Tridi is playing its part in ensuring that the design scene in Malaysia, and effectively South East Asia, has a bright future.