Theseus Chan: the name may not inspire awe in the States, but in Singapore he’s known to many as the godfather of graphic design, a reputation he’s earned with a body of work that continues to challenge his peers and excite a younger generation. None of his projects shows this better than WERK, a self-published magazine Chan started in 2000 to experiment with design production. The covers are torn and spray painted, or patched together from the detritus of the production process itself. Pages are made out of cloth, laboriously die-cut, or stained with printer’s inks and oils to evoke the scent of printing. The result is more than a magazine; each issue is an object that echoes the postmodern, “New Wave” tradition, an expressive and anarchic response to Swiss modernism.
Some 22 issues in, WERK has helped Chan’s own agency WORK win over renowned fashion clients and collaborators, ranging from boutiques like Hong Kong’s On Pedder and Singapore’s Club21, to avant-garde designers Comme des Garçons and Wunderkind.
With his newest client, Parco Publishing, Chan is working with the editorial arm of the Japanese retail giant to produce W_ _K W_ _K (read as “waku waku”), a new magazine that’s an exciting graphic adventure, as its Japanese-sounding title suggests. Playing on the confusion people have with his magazine, WERK, and his practice, WORK, (both of which share a single website), Chan simply combined them to come up with the unusual title for W_ _K W_ _K. It aptly reflects how this “addendum publication” to WERK is funded by a client from his commercial practice that gives Chan free rein to pursue his experimental ethos. As Chan confirms, “They weren’t expecting something usual.”
This inaugural issue of W_ _K W_ _K showcases the works of fashion designer ANREALAGE as photographed by Yoshiyuki Okuyama and Seiji Ishigaki. The Japanese trio became the subject of the first issue after Chan was impressed by an exhibition of their work in PARCO’s Shibuya store. Inspired by the meticulous construction and obsession with detail in the ANREALAGE collections, Chan responded by creating a magazine that challenges conventional linear reading. To the surprise of his collaborators, he designed seven different booklets that are bound together in random sequences to tell the same story in a variety of ways.
“I felt that everyone should have their own experience and thereby their own unique conclusion when engaging with this piece of work,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It wasn’t something [my clients] expected, but that’s precisely our job.”
In a nod to ANREALAGE’s technology-inspired clothing (founder Kunihiko Morinaga once created a line of clothing that shields the wearer from incoming cellphone signals), Chan had electronic components inserted into the spine of this magazine. The seven booklets are painstakingly hand-bound in what looks like a melted coat of black epoxy resin, a process that takes up to 20 minutes per book to assemble.
If you want to get your hands on a copy, however, you’ll have to fly to Tokyo. The scant 800 copies are only for sale in PARCO and the city’s famous bookstore, T-Site Daikanyama.