Rattan is a vine-like climbing palm native to South and Southeast Asian tropical rainforests. Furniture fashioned from the material were common in households here; they were known to be durable, lightweight and affordable. (Though commonly confused with wicker, the latter refers to the weaving technique, rather than the actual material itself.)
As a trade, rattan has largely faded from its heyday here in the ’60s and ’70s. “Nostalgia is bounded to rattan furniture and (the latter) seems to be used often only as an accent piece in a modern home (these days),” posits graphic designer Ng Si Ying. Though rattan as a utilitarian material has been well explored (according to Roots.sg, it’s a practice with well, roots, going back to the 19th century in Singapore), its possibilities as an artistic medium is much less so.
Ng is a devotee to her practice. She took a full year off to properly learn the craft from rattan specialist and furniture retailer Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture, as she says most research materials available on rattan tend to focus more on the documentation of the aboriginal people’s relationship to rattan. As such, rattan would “stagnate” at its most traditional applications.
This prompted Ng to begin her ongoing research project – 100 Rattan As Wrap – to “exhaust rattan”. The results have seen her tease the material into brooches, wrappings for AirPod holders and even an elegant lamp shade. Decorative objects are not her main goals, however. For example, Ng even custom makes specialised ceramic pieces herself to fully flesh out her ideas for rattan to be used as say, handles or a locking mechanism for a teapot. (Prices range from $70 to $130; DM her on Instagram at @atinymaker as most items are made-to-order.)
“There is so much we can do with rattan – it can be used as a locking mechanism, as a fastener, a heat insulator, as a hook for hanging and more. I don’t think I can run away from making things that are solely decorative so there are the brooches that allows me to try out different designs that may not work in relation to other objects.”
Above, Ng takes us through her creative process.
Photos Courtesy of Ng Si Ying
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