Singapore was unkindly known as a cultural dessert in the early 1980s. It was during this period 25 years ago that PHUNK was birthed to fulfill the creative passions of four disparate souls, Alvin, Melvin, Jackson and William, who gravitated towards each other via a shared education in the arts at LaSalle.
It was also a time when long hair was deemed as illegal and Kitaro was denied entry to perform in Singapore because of this restrictive law. Having lived under such a strict regime, PHUNK pushed the collective consciousness by going against the grain culminating in their signature Guerilla Fonts, murals in the “legalised” grafitti areas and had their works spotlighted by international brands such as MTV, Nike and Levis.
After spending inordinate amounts of time trash-talking and working together, their thoughts started intertwining and they decided it was necessary to mandate time apart. Melvin fondly recalls that in the early 2000s after a show, the four boys went shopping the streets of NYC but to the amusement of each other, came back with the same black A.P.C shirt.
This unspoken trust meshed with a collective mindset to push culture forward has led PHUNK to seal bigger projects with corporations and the government. “Dreams In the Social Cosmic Odyssey”, is in short-form D.I.S.C.O, and is cheekily titled as such, because the initial concept of having a more “party-like” concept in the MRT was rejected. Their other tongue-in-cheek works include the “Love Bomb” that is housed within UBS. We find out more about what has inspired their journey so far and what the next decade means to the collective.
Popspoken: What was the feeling like when PHUNK’s first work was shown at a prominent museum. Describe the process in getting the work there, the work and when it was shown.
Alvin: Our first work in a museum was a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei in 2007.
It was titled “Universality” and we re-created the museum space to resemble a shrine. For that show we created silkscreen works and presented videos with the love bomb sculpture at the centre of it. The entire show was done in black and white, referencing yin/yang symbolism, mythological and earthly creatures.
Popspoken: Which is your go-to museum in the world to get inspired?
Alvin: That would be the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania. They have an eccentric permanent collection that includes a epilepsy inducing stop-animated strobe sculpture by Gregory Barsamian and a 77 life-size porcelain vagina wall titled “Cunts and other Conversations” by Greg Taylor. The museum also have luxurious hotel rooms if you want to sleep over and their very own vineyard.
Popspoken: PHUNK was inspired by the “future of funk” 25 years ago and still has a tinge of rebellion in its work. The last 10 years were more inward looking, how do you see the works evolving in the future?
Jackson: The first decade of PHUNK was the formative years, we were essentially “visual junkies”, grabbing cultural inspirations and visual stimulations from all over the outside world. As the collective evolved in the last 10 years, we started to look inwards to draw from within and build our own universe and the stories of its worlds. The next stage is to create artworks to share and inspire others with the stories of the worlds. We hope to spread and sow seeds of PHUNK’s spirit and universe to the new generation of creative rebels.
Popspoken: Name some international artistic groups that you respect.
William: Fluxus, Archigram, The Rolling Stones, U2, Beastie Boys, Daft Punk and Kraftwerk.
Popspoken: You enjoy skateboarding, which is an individualistic sport. Is it difficult to let go your sense of indiviuality to collaborate with the other 3 of the boys?
William: When we started PHUNK, we were in our late teens. All of us are quite individualistic, It took us several years of continuously working together to build trust and respect for each other.
Popspoken: If you could choose one book and one song to describe the last 25 years of PHUNK, what would it be and why.
Jackson: “Around the World” by Daft Punk and “Across the Universe” by the Beatles, the songs captures the spirit of the collective, of how we work between chaos and control, quirky and philosophy, fun and business, friendship and partnership, light and darkness, love and destruction.
William: Suede’s “New Generation”, the song was released around same time we started PHUNK. I think it captured a certain excitement and mood we were in at that point of our lives. For book, probably Jin Yong’s “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” because we often describe ourselves as the 4 powerful pugilistic masters in the story.
Alvin: I would choose a magazine instead and that’ll be Raygun because it was a music mag which inspired us to create and break the rules of design. The song would be “True Faith” by New Order as it’s timeless, comes with heavily art referenced music video and a song four of us can sing lyric for lyric collectively.
“Control Chaos: 25 Years of PHUNK” will run from February 14 to March 20 at the National Design Centre. For more information on the collective’s artworks, collaborations and exhibitions, check out PHUNK’s website.