Tan (dressed in a Fendi cardigan and shirt, and her own jeans and accessories) is the consummate multi-hyphenate creative – except that she prefers to stay behind the camera. Her repertoire includes art direction, photography, set design, business management (she co-founded the dive bar/working space 21 Moonstone) as well as her own multi-disciplinary art practice with history and current affairs her greatest sources of inspiration.

What she does

Where to begin with this convivial, multi-dimensional 26-year-old? Chances are you’ve probably already come across her work in one form or another, but here, let’s focus on her commercial endeavours. There’s her stint as production designer for the television remake of the absurdist Michael Chiang play Mixed Signals, which premiered last October and marked the first time her work was showcased on telly. She’s also the prodigious linchpin behind some of local popdom’s most high-profile projects, what with her being BFFs and a frequent collaborator with songstress Narelle Kheng – she was behind the surrealist artwork for the latter’s 2019 single Outta My Head, for example.

A render of the set for the 2019 TV production Mixed Signals, for which Tan played production designer.

In 2017, she was crowned Best Visual & Art Director Of The Year at the Mnet Asian Music Awards for the video for Keep Me Jealous, a hit by Kheng’s now-on-hiatus band The Sam Willows. She followed that up a year later with the hyper-stylish MV for electronic phenom Jasmine Sokko’s Hurt (in which a sultry Kheng made a cameo). Oh, and she’s a multi-disciplinary artist, makes her own props and basically has a finger in nearly every aspect of the visual storytelling process behind the camera.

Scenes from the hyper-stylish music video for Jasmine Sokko’s Hurt, art directed by Tan.

So just how does she do it all? Tan admits that’s it a “trial by fire” process that calls for her to constantly be on her toes and “planning for worst-case scenarios”. It’s a thrill however that she’s been addicted to since her second year as a communications studies undergraduate at the Nanyang Technological University, when she was tasked to transform the campus grounds into a horror-themed circus on a shoestring budget for a freshman camp video. “Spatial transformation” – both physical and visual – is how she describes what she does.

And let’s not forget that when everything’s over, she’s also often the one responsible for cleaning everything up. “The tearing down of sets and returning of props are very painful processes,” she says. “It’s very telling of character when someone carries them out well – a life of craft is so much more than making something look good.”

Her advice for those looking to break into the industry

“Have something worthwhile to say. It will come through in your designs. The resulting work will then be meaningful instead of purely decorative.” And no, you don’t have to be trained in set design or anything along those lines. Speaking from her own experience, she says: “Transferable skills are valued as long as you know how to apply them intelligently.”

Photography Vee Chin Art Direction & Styling Adeline Eng Hair Miho Kim/1tto+lim Makeup Beno Lim, using Pixi Beauty

This article first appeared in the May 2020 BTS Edition of FEMALE.