Luxury is inheritance
National University of Singapore
Luxury is inheritance
This piece receives a Notable mention for the most imaginative piece in the 2013 Writing & Commentary Student category. It is a half-essay half fiction piece on luxury.
Luxury is inheritance
The essay began by scoping the idea of inheritance, and started on the premise of modern day conventions of writing the last will and testament. This led to questions about the use of quantitative figures, and the absence of a personal touch when a benefactor hands down his/her inheritance. Different scenarios were explored to explain a qualitative phenomenon of inheritance, with continuous interlacing of "luxury" in the article, and examples ranging from literature to philosophy, architecture to products. Taking a step further, the conceptualization of a possible product platform was conceived as a response to the exposition.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The essay was part of a brief in a design workshop titled "L for Luxury". Conducted by Hans Tan from Division of Industrial Design, National University of Singapore, the studio aimed to question conventional notions of "extravagant living" and challenged its relevance of "great comfort" experienced in the modern day context. This delved into the essence of “luxury”, ranging from the prevalent economic climate to primordial tendencies. The essay was distributed among the design tutors at the final critique session, and relevant materials were later exhibited in Singapore's Design Festival, Singaplural, on 6th March 2012, drawing in a public crowd.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The written will is the last official documentation and is an entitlement to all. Yet it is an object that holds much technicality void of feelings. I find this appalling because meeting various people in my walk of life has led me to realize the value of personal relationships alongside personal assets. Therefore, emphasis ought to be given to a person's life story or final wishes. This convinced me to look at the situation in an academic sense, and to gather enough evidence to make a stand. Being able to come out with a design concept was a bonus.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Writing this essay was not an immediate stroke of inspiration, but more of a paradoxic journey. One of the initial struggles was the complexity of the brief. Different investigations were made, such as the socio-economic structure of Singaporeans living in the same space, the "luxury" objects that were appreciated by them and the perceived value of a person's life. Yet it took a while before a latent discovery could be crystallized. The catalyst was based on a question, "what were the things left behind by individuals?". It then became clear that there were tangible / intangible forms of legacies, and that the death will was identified that as the sole item people relate to. At that point, the essay was in the making, with inheritance and luxury being the over-arching themes. What came as a greater surprise was that the initial research fitted perfectly with the message. I had some experience writing academic papers while attending Humanities modules in my university. Most of this helped structure my thoughts. In a span of 6 months, I had collected sources from books, documentaries and the little nuances of daily life shared by friends and acquaintances. The outcomes were spinoffs of allegories (one of them was published by a local press), presentations and artifacts. In addition, a self-inking rubber stamp was created as a representation to the exposition. This contains the testator's personal message embedded in a QR code, which also acts as a seal to the letter of the death will.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Death and inheritance has always been a topic of interest in Singapore, and a common association of luxury. Whether it is a funeral procession involving the burning of paper money, or a jurisdiction over legal matters regarding property and assets, the intermingling of western legislative methods and eastern mystical beliefs have its presences in this country. Yet, out of many customs and practices, the matter of monetary value and personal claims over these possessions remain a core factor of a person's death. This project provided me with a concoction of past experiences and empirical findings, and how memories are important for a better understanding to the meaning of life. I wanted to give design a foothold in contentious discussions that has been so essential in our lives, just as how art has become widespread and widely accepted across many disciplines. Unlike science and philosophy, modern design could be considered as a relatively new train of thought, which could be the reason why such topics are left unsolicited, or not challenged with design. Nevertheless, as Piet Mondrain would have said, "We need courage and strength to weather this period of dissonance. It is because we are afraid of this dissonance and wanting to adapt to the past that we are not moving forward. The goal is not to adapt: it is to create." I hope that this topic sparks new conversations regarding design and may we create more for the better of our future.