By trade, industrial designers are trained to use design to address needs and gaps in various domestic, commercial and industrial situations.
The much-decorated industrial designer Nathan Yong lives with that mantra of designing with purpose; after all, the 49-year-old veteran runs the acclaimed furniture retailer Grafunkt and his own eponymous industrial design consultancy which counts the likes of Ligne Rosset and Design Within Reach among its clientele.
Industrial designer and artist Nathan Yong a.k.a KSY.
But what happens when one desires to design beyond the constraints of logic and function? Cue KSY, his artist alter-ego. Short for Kok Seng Yong (his Chinese name), it represents a means for Yong to start designing anew – for himself.
“KSY has always been there… There are works that I’ve done as Nathan Yong Design that are less commercially driven but they are usually overlooked. I guessed I wasn’t ready at that time to be involved with my artistic pursuits, but I find that in recent years, I am drawn into using my knowledge of making things to express my thoughts and feelings,” explains Yong.
“Objects have a way of speaking to us – if they are being respected as an entity, if they are of good values and (design) integrity – like how we treasure an old porcelain plate or a trusted wooden spatula and in return, we can learn from them.”
Artist KSY’s debut collection includes a stunning shelf carved out of “bent” onyx.
To that end, Yong’s first collection of works under the KSY identity says it all in the name: Farewell to Reason. The collection was originally designed for Singapore-based furniture design and manufacturing company Industry+’s Eclecticism show: a showcase to capture contemporary inflections of Singapore’s diversity. The show was meant to be staged at Milan Design Week 2020. Delayed due to the pandemic, Industry+ aims to bring Eclecticism to Milan Design Week in 2022.
Instead, Farewell to Reason made its debut last month at Industry+‘s new showroom on Henderson Road. The outing packs a punch within its compact offering of seven designs that are based on the “typology of everyday furniture” – a barstool, bench, chair, table, shelf, low stool and table object.
Replete with graceful curves and a beguiling pastel colour palette, they make for a lovely sight to witness in person – closer to objet d’arts than furniture, one assumes they’re fashioned out of marble upon first impressions. But then, how are the curves on say, the stand-out baby pink chair or the jade-green shelf achieved?
The elegant curves of KSY’s pieces are achieved through an innovative technique created by the Indonesian stone specialist MM Galleri.
It turns out that Yong has collaborated with MM Galleri, an Indonesian stone specialist firm, to birth the uniquely organic shapes of the collection, through a patented technique where the material (in this case, onyx) is sliced into thin slabs, before using compression to bend them into molds.
“Most people’s perception of stones are (that they are) dull, cold and hard and they used it as a reason to not engage with the material,” says Yong. “But nature and what draws us into it is beyond reason.”
As you would imagine, with pricey onyx as the primary material and a laborious production process, the collection is limited to as little as three pieces for certain designs. No two are alike, and each piece will be signed and numbered. Onyx is also a material that’s known to be difficult to maintain, given its inherent vulnerabilities to acids and general wear and tear.
Question him about the furniture’s usability and commercial viability (prices start from $4,500) and it doesn’t seem to bother Yong too much; in fact, he seems to relish the collection’s preciousness.
To industrial designer and artist Nathan Yong/KSY, these designs are not really meant to be used; consider it a fertile exercise in beauty.
“Furniture plays a big part in our life – from the moment you wake up at home, travel in public to the office and dine at a restaurant, we are surrounded by furniture but yet sometimes we don’t see them because we take these things for granted,” says Yong.
“You can call it a useless piece of furniture because they don’t function to your expectation, but hopefully you will still be drawn to it, by the beauty of it, the natural material, the form, the way art is able to encapsulate what has been lost… In design, we make decisions based on reasoning with ourselves through understanding different stakeholders’ concerns, limitations or needs. This body of work is a departure from all that; all that seemed to “make sense” are now being re-evaluated.”
Farewell to reason, indeed.
Farewell to Reason is currently showcased at Industry+’s showroom at 213 Henderson Road till November 21, presented in conjunction with Archifest. Interested parties can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.