"Monsieur Robo", 2008
Our artist of the week: PHUNK
The question of what PHUNK actually is - never mind what it is merely 'about' - is a deeper one than you might initially suspect. Based in Singapore, PHUNK - sometimes referred to as Phunk Studio - is an art and design collective consisting of four Singaporean practitioners: Alvin Tan, Melvin Chee, Jackson Tan and William Chan.
All former design students at LASALLE College of the Arts, the quartet formed PHUNK in 1994 and are able to cite a wide range of influences, encompassing everything from traditional Chinese mythology and Hong Kong wuxia ('martial hero') to Japanese manga and otaku subculture.
This is one collective that is seriously multicultural in its background, environment and identity, but more than that, it has always sought to challenge established notions of what a commercial design studio or group of artists should be, through a vast range of projects spanning such fields as art, design, music, fashion, publishing, film and interactive media.
As co-founder Jackson Tan has previously observed, "The official definition of PHUNK is an art and design collective. But this definition is constantly changing, because we reinvent ourselves along the way." When the students initially met, they didn't have the loftiest of ambitions - Tan laughing that "most of the time, we didn't go to school" - but shared passions for music and comic books helped to forge the chemistry that was to prove crucial to PHUNK's later success.
In the meantime, the early project that was to become PHUNK continued to evolve haphazardly. The quartet initially hoped to form a band, but in the words of Tan, "we realised that our music sucked. We designed better covers for our albums than the music. So what we did was take that rock and roll ethos and DIY spirit, and transfer it to PHUNK."
To say that the switch in emphasis proved an effective one would be something of an understatement. The studio has gone on to work with such major global brands as Nike, MTV, Nokia, Levi's, Tiger Beer, Comme des Garcons and Daimler Chrysler, "with" being very much the keyword, rather than "for", according to Tan, who has said: "Most of our clients understand our style and the way we work, and we mostly function like collaborators."
With a back-catalogue of successes also including the award of 'Designer of the Year' at the 2007 Singapore President's Design Awards and representing Singapore at both the Gwangju Biennale 2005 and the London Design Festival 2006, not to mention a 10-year retrospective exhibition at the Singapore History Museum in 2005, PHUNK has been a change-making force in contemporary Singaporean culture.
What's more, the four practitioners have achieved it without losing any of their sense of fun. We simply can't wait to see what they come up with next.