Chicko takes on Graffiti, Interior Design and The Saigon Projects

When we asked interior designer, graffiti artist, and photographer, Nguyen Tho (artist name, Chicko), to suggest a place to meet for an interview - he proposed The Factory. We sat outside the colorful containers of this beautiful Arts Centre, drank some coffee, and continued our conversation as we walked through the exhibit inside.  

The Factory was a perfect place to meet as it represents both innovative design, in architecture and interior, as well as contemporary arts. Chicko lives in these two worlds, specifically - interior design and art.

Chicko Nguyen Portrait
 
 “The Factory aims to be a dynamic destination for art, designing innovative programs illustrating the criticality of Vietnam today.”  www.factoryartscentre.com

“The Factory aims to be a dynamic destination for art, designing innovative programs illustrating the criticality of Vietnam today.” www.factoryartscentre.com

 The Factory, Ho Chi Minh City

The Factory, Ho Chi Minh City

 

Chicko is part of an emerging group of young people driving the art scene forward in Saigon. His foray into the arts began in 2010, when he and his friends created a group called The Saigon Projects.

The group travels across Vietnam, painting and exploring new areas of the countryside. One of the most inspiring things about the group is how they share graffiti with local communities. He describes this process saying, “When we go to a new town, we start by explaining with what graffiti is and bring spray cans along to show them how it works. We’ll demonstrate how to sketch, and they can even try it out themselves. People love it!”

 
 Photo taken by Chicko 

Photo taken by Chicko 

Despite travelling all over Vietnam to paint, Chicko tell us that he still finds most the most inspiration from his hometown of Saigon. This wasn’t always the case. He says, “When I was young, I didn’t really understand the culture of Saigon. But now, sometimes I wake up early, find a small local shop, and watch people as they go to work. I also love driving around at midnight, taking photos, and finding inspiration all around for my graffiti and interior design.”

This inspiration is evident in his work both with The Saigon Projects, and his daytime gig is as an interior designer. Chicko is passionate and skillful at crafting experiences for people who enter a space, whether it’s a coffee shop, restaurant, house or hotel.

Be sure to keep an eye on this emerging artist and designer, as he’s beginning to make waves the city.


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When Tape Becomes Art
 

We meet with Robert König, co-founder of TAPE OVER, at his Berlin-based studio and talked about the organization’s electro club origins, tape as an artistic medium, and the process of growing an international tape art crew.

 

The Origins

It’s not every day that you hear of an international business getting its start at electro-clubs. But in a city where the nightlife and creative pulse are intertwined, it isn’t crazy to think your next venture might be the result of a late-night conversation.

What started as  Lamia Michna’s idea for a class project quickly evolved into a new medium for artistic expression at clubs and festivals. In these early days at the clubs, co-founders Lamia and Rob were easy to spot in a crowd. Not only were they taping on the club walls, but also on people’s faces and bodies. Rob describes this use of tape as a type of makeup and says the duo always arrived...taped.

He paints a picture of the electro-clubs scene in Berlin, saying:

 Robert König, co-founder TAPE OVER Berlin

Robert König, co-founder TAPE OVER Berlin

Partying here [in Berlin] is a creative thing. It's not just about going [to a club] to have fun, but also about the people you meet. It's about the musicians, artists, and others who use the space to express themselves and do something creative. It’s a place where you have a lot of freedom.
For us it was normal, but I notice it’s not the same feeling, atmosphere, or group of people in other cities. For example, in New York, you go out to party and then you go home. In Berlin, the club opens on Friday and closes on Monday so people have time (and yes, they're probably also on drugs). They are more open to meeting new people. It's the mindset that connects the people and the possibility.

As they become more known, the business-side of the project grew and they decided to establish TAPE OVER Berlin officially in 2011. Soon after, brands began approaching them to work on commissioned projects. Today, they work with major brands and organizations across the world (including Adidas, NIKE, Converse, Vodafone, Telekom, Hermes Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche and Red Bull) taping objects, people, and spaces with their captivating geometric creations. Today, TAPE OVER consists of 10 tape artists, making them the biggest tape art crew worldwide.

Growing a business and a team

Rob attributes the growth of TAPE OVER to finding the right people to work with.

The first person to join the crew was a determined teenager, Enni, who called and asked if she could do an internship.  Rob says, “we laughed at the time because we were just some people doing art and of course we didn’t offer internships.” But when they met Enni a year later, “we thought, why not, she's half our age but let's give her a chance. We're so glad we did - she is really inspiring.”  Even though she's still the youngest in the crew, she is often the lead on projects. Rob says, “To see an 18 year old girl manage the group and do all the business communications is incredible.”

As for the others who have joined the crew, Rob explains, “it just happens on the way. It's why we like collaborating. You can see if the energy and the chemistry is right. If it is, we invite them to join. Collaborating with other people always makes work more interesting so we love to do it."  

It’s evident that Rob doesn’t take his job for granted. He says, “I love my job. On my ideal day, I would work on this. I hardly consider it work. Like everyone tells you, it’s about the team, about passion, and putting the time in. This has everything."

Tape Art: the medium & the process

The TAPE OVER Berlin team are pioneers in using tape for art, and they're constantly experimenting. Beyond taping walls and bodies, they are always looking for new ways to connect with other art forms. One of their favorites methods is what they call "Tape Mapping," where video mapping and tape art work together to create enchanting visuals.

 Title: champagne shower type // tape art installation size: 4x2m // material: duct tape & adhesive foil // artist: LaMia & ROB // place: épernay france (www.tapeover.berlin.com)

Title: champagne shower type // tape art installation size: 4x2m // material: duct tape & adhesive foil // artist: LaMia & ROB // place: épernay france (www.tapeover.berlin.com)

Tape has unique benefits. Rob explains, “if you don't like a line, you can just take it away and try again. It's not like other methods. If you have a pencil, you have to use the rubber. If you have spray paint, it's just there. Tape makes it really easy to experiment. But it can be hard to know when to stop. Sometimes you just have to say, it's done.”

Check out their work:

To work with Tape Over Berlin, reach out via their website. And keep your eyes peeled, their work is all over the world!


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Inside Kyoto's Mysterious Modern Culture

Most Kyoto guidebooks suggest visiting the city’s stunning shrines, ancient temples, and traditional teahouses, but the advice seems to stop there. As a visitor, it is tricky to tap into modern Kyoto—a place with a rich sense of tradition, a culture of patronage, and hidden pockets of arts and music.

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Enter Sara Aiko, founder of Curated Kyoto, a travel company dedicated to providing visitors with a deeply personal experience of the city.

 Sara Aiko, founder of Curated Kyoto

Sara Aiko, founder of Curated Kyoto

We chatted with Sara at Walden Woods Cafe, a coffee shop designed to emulate the feelings evoked from Thoreau's writing. Yes, it’s places like this - thoughtfully designed spaces and experiences - that make Kyoto, Kyoto. Sara explains, “I don’t like using the word unique to describe a city, because every city is unique. But it's the only word I can use. Kyoto is very unique, even in Japan.”

Throughout history, Kyoto has been the cultural hub (in addition to being the actual capital for over 1,000 years) of Japan. Walking through Gion, viewing manicured gardens, and visiting the beautiful shrines is truly awe inspiring. As Sara says, so much of “the charm of the city” lies in the commitment to preserve culture, heritage, and tradition.

However, it is the delicate combination of both past and present elements that Sara finds so inspiring about the city. She tells us, “Kyoto really knows how to mix modern elements and traditional elements together. That's why I love the city. They still have the old, but know how to make it relatable to people. That's really hard to do. It can easily become tacky, too modern, or too cool and lose that charm. But in Kyoto, they know how to do it in a subtle way.”

Subtle is a word often used to describe the city. Sara says, “Japanese culture is subtle, but Kyoto is particularly subtle. This includes communication here. We're not very loud. Even our design and creativity is subtle.” But she is quick to add, “but there's an edginess to Kyoto as well that's being created by the younger generation. It’s just starting to pop up.” Sara explains that due to a relatively low cost of living, “people feel like they can focus more on freedom of expression rather than what will sell commercially.”

 Gion, Kyoto

Gion, Kyoto

Sara describes these new modes of expression as, “Freedom. A way of expressing without conforming to the Kyoto way or Japanese culture. Japanese culture is very rule based. These artists have given themselves permission to be more themselves.” Y Gion is an example of a new space that aims to support this emerging scene. The multipurpose venue was started by Takuma Inoue to bring the creative community together. Despite the prominence of galleries and cafes, there previously weren’t places for artists to go and feel free. Thanks to people like Takuma, that’s starting to change.

There is so much to discover in Kyoto, but much of the scene remains under wraps. As an outsider, Kyoto remains mysterious, sublime, and fascinatingly unique. If you want a chance to peek into the creative side of Kyoto—a place that is growing a creative culture in a respectful, but modern way, we recommend reaching out to Sara and to book a personalized experience at Curated Kyoto. She gives a view into the side of Kyoto that just can’t be found in a guidebook.

 


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Will Phu Quoc become an Island for Art?
 Sunset at The River Mouth (Dormstay Riverside Hostel), Phu Quoc

Sunset at The River Mouth (Dormstay Riverside Hostel), Phu Quoc

Will Phu Quoc, Vietnam become an island dedicated to contemporary art? Peter, owner of The River Mouth and The Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art (GOCA) certainly hopes so. 

Lying on a hammock by the river, Peter tells us about his dream. He imagines that the hostel we’re sitting at will offer artist retreats and that his gallery and bar will promote both local and international talent. The ultimate vision is for others on the island to follow suit and start their own artistic spaces, making Phu Quoc a true art destination. 

 Community dinners hosted at The River Mouth, Phu Quoc

Community dinners hosted at The River Mouth, Phu Quoc

He’s not far from this vision of building a creative community.

Today, a visit to The River Mouth usually includes a community dinner below twinkle lights, prepared by an amazing chef and drinks expertly crafted by Hiep (who also helps with the gallery and bar). Both Peter and Hiep are passionate about what they hope to build. The Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art already attracts visitors from across the world. While we were in town, the gallery featured an impressive range of modern sculpture, mixed-media photography and paintings. Even the design of the space itself was a delight!

Unfortunately, there is an alternate path for the future of Phu Quoc. As tourism is picking up across the island, trash has become a serious issue. While some beaches are far enough off the beaten path to remain (relatively) clean, most are not so lucky. Massive resorts and hotels are lining the beachfront and dumping waste straight into the ocean. Tourism overall is on the rise, but return visits are low - something that would be necessary to compare with the likes of Naoshima Island in Japan.

We're not completely pessimistic though. After spending a few days with both Hiep and Peter, we felt inspired by their commitment to making Phu Quoc a destination for the arts. Only a quick 30 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc is well positioned to become an international cultural hub, artist haven, and art tourism destination. The question remains: can artists save a place from human filth? We sure hope so!

To stay at The River Mouth Phu Quoc (currently under renovation, but back soon)

To visit the Phu Quoc Gallery of Contemporary Art (don't miss out, have an expertly crafted cocktail while you're there)

 Starfish Beach, Phu Quoc

Starfish Beach, Phu Quoc


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From tagging in Paris to festivals in Saigon – the journey of Suby One.

A Different Kind of Art School

On a warm March morning in Saigon, we met with Trang Suby (artist name Suby One) over a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Even before the caffeine kicked in, Trang’s presence exuded an infectious energy. It was immediately clear how important building an art scene in Saigon is to him. Before we get into that, we first must go back to where it all started on the street of Paris.

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It’s hard to think of a cooler artistic education than tagging subways with a crew in the Paris underground. For Suby, the streets and trains of Paris were simply the most accessible places to learn, practice, and make new friends.

“I started tagging in 1991, because the older guys in my neighborhood were tagging. I also had a mentor who lived next door to me. He was three years older, which at the time was a big age difference. He seemed so cool, so I started painting with him. I then started a graffiti crew and every Wednesday at 2pm we’d go watch the older guys do big graffiti pieces and learn. I wanted to be part of something, and had no idea I’d still be doing it today. Some people give up, but I just kept at it. I liked the fact that we were leaving something behind, even if it was just a tag.”

We found out there are a few rules in the graffiti world that are part of the learning process. Suby explains, “There are rules. You learn tags first, then do some bubbles, and then you can do a piece. There’s an evolution to it.”

After learning from others for more than a year, Suby tagged his first subway in Paris. He explains, “I was the one young guy the older ones would bring in to tag the trains. I did this for about five years, but had to stop because I was tired of being chased by the authorities.”

From Graffiti to Galleries

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Suby continued to tag other parts of Paris, but as he got older Suby started thinking more about his legacy as an artist and building something more permanent.

“You can spend two or three hours going to tag a train and it sometimes only lasts ten minutes. Something you make one day can be gone the next. You get older and you think, maybe other mediums can last longer than graffiti. For me, it was a natural transition.”

While artistically it was a natural transition, mentally it was a big change to go from showcasing work on the streets to being presented in art galleries. It was an internal struggle. He says, “When you grow up and see fine art exhibitions you think, eh, that’s not for me. At the time I thought, if I ever get shown in a gallery, I’m going to do something really different and unique.”

He followed through with this promise. In 2010, Suby was invited to create a few pieces for an art exhibition in Paris to mark the anniversary of his graffiti crew. His work definitely stood out. “Everyone was doing graffiti for the exhibition, and I wanted to do something more abstract on canvas. People didn’t really like it and thought it was pretty weird.” Despite the feedback from his peers, the exhibition was very encouraging for Suby. “On the last day of the exhibition, the gallery curator called me over, and someone bought my painting. It was a great feeling.”

Building a Scene in Saigon

Suby has worked relentlessly to create unique, visual masterpieces on walls and canvases throughout the world. He’s also moved to Saigon. “It’s a call of the roots. My grandparents and parents were both born and raised in Vietnam. When I moved here, it helped me understand so much more about my family and about myself.” The lifestyle of Saigon also is much more suited to Suby.  “I like the way of life here. Europe was great but Ho Chi Minh City is more relaxed. You actually have time to see friends.”

The move hasn’t been without its challenges. “There aren’t many big murals here. It’s hard to get access to that kind of space and to get the proper scaffolding.

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The street art scene in Saigon is still in its infancy, but Suby is working hard to make it bigger and encourage the younger generation. “If one guy succeeds, others will follow. If there are no mentors or examples, nobody will pursue this as a career. It’s exciting to show kids that it’s possible to have a career as an artist.”

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He’s backed up these words with action. Suby organized a two-day festival with a few others at The Factory, an arts center in Saigon. The festival showcased over 25 artists, DJs, break-dancers, and rappers. With a determined look on his face, he says that “a group is starting to form” in Saigon, and we believe him.

Please check at Suby One’s work on Facebook and on Instagram


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Best Cozy Coffee Shops in Japan

Coffee across Japan is excellent. Many of the Third Wave coffee houses are tiny havens, where a masterful cup of coffee is hand poured with a ritual-like attention to detail. Coffee experiences across the country feel like art. 

What can be a bit harder to find is a cafe (that serves excellent coffee) and is big enough to read a book, chat with a friend, or scribble ideas in your notebook.


Osaka

Salon De Amanto (Nakazaki)

Hop up to Nakazaki and after meandering through shops and the beautiful narrow streets, don't miss this 120 year old house. What started as a cafe, is now a central fixture of arts and culture in Tokyo.  

 

Kyoto

Cafe Independants

This charming homey cafe embodies the Japanese "Wabi Sabi" in both decoration and ambiance. Set down a mosaic staircase, this arty environment is sure to inspire.

Walden Woods Cafe

In contrast to Cafe Independants, head South some contrast to dark, head to the crisp, clean space to enjoy a cappuccino on their minimalistic benches.   

 

Tokyo

Daikanyama T site (Daikanyama)

Disclaimer: you’ll be drinking Starbucks unless you head upstairs to the cafe but trust us, it’s worth it. Find your perfect nook among the three buildings and browse through a magazine or book. 

Hattifnatt (Koenji)

Sometimes you just want to feel like a kid and this spot delivers. In what feels like a colorfully illustrated treehouse, you can even climb a ladder and sit up in the loft as you enjoy your treats. 

Mois Cafe (Shimokitazawa)

You might think you're walking into a friends house at this converted old house as you walk up a wooden staircase and settle in. 

 

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Best (Hidden) Bars in Japan

Japan is full of secrets and hidden gems. No one wants to spill the beans on their favorite local bars and cafes, and for good reason! Often they only seat 3-7 people. There's charm in the fact that these bars are a bit private, subtle, and hard to find because when you find a spot you love you won't be disappointed. Hint: don't stick to the ground floor.

A few of the best:

Kyoto

  • A cocktail bar lit by only candlelight playing quiet house music. (We were sworn to secrecy!)
  • Yuki's will make sure your experience at The Bar Straight is both friendly and impeccable. Head up the elevator and down a hallway in Kyoto's Gion neighborhood.

Tokyo

  • Bar Huddle, a friendly tiny bar in Setagaya.
  • Abe will make you feel at home in his Golden Gai 8 seater, Bar Asyl. He's written descriptions of each whiskey bottle and happy to explain his preferences.
  • Little Soul Cafe: A record-spinning Shimo-Kitazawa hangout.

Osaka

  • Bar Azzurri: a 4th floor cocktail lounge open 24 hours a day showing any soccer match you want to see.

  • Love Jazz and Vinyl? bird/56 should be your go to. 


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Best Dive Bars in Oakland, CA

Here at Place Makes, we enjoy a $7.50 Hazy IPA at Drake’s Dealership as much as the next person. But sometimes you just want to walk up to a bar, order a $3 beer (and depending on your mood, a whiskey to go with it), and listen to a bartender talk about what Oakland was like “back in the day.” Here are the best five spots for cheap beer, good stories, and a host of local characters. 

5 Best Oakland Dive Bars

1) The Kingfish

If I only had one watering hole in Oakland to recommend, it would be The Kingfish. It’s hard to beat the combination of cheap drinks ($5 for all draughts and most cocktails), free popcorn, shuffleboard, and plenty of outdoor tables to post up and watch the Warriors. Don’t forget to order a late night hotdog from Casper.

2) The Alley

Part karaoke bar, part dive, and part cocktail lounge, The Alley is an Oakland watering hole like none other. Writer Kimberly Chun described it as being designed by “a drunken Walt Disney”, and we can’t say we disagree. Order a martini (best deal in town), take a seat close to the piano, and prepare to be transported to the 1920s. Feel free to request a song, but you better not ask for the latest pop hit. You’ll want to sing a tune from the Great American Songbook, with something by the likes of Cole Porter or George Gershwin.

3) George Kaye’s

George Kaye's is a great spot to watch a ballgame in peace. I've never seen more than seven people in this bar, but there are always two or three folks eager to shoot the shit with. Craving a rant about how terrible the Oakland A's are, or how invincible Steph Curry is this year? This is your spot.

4) Heart & Dagger Saloon

Heart & Dagger always has good vibes. It even has a spacious outdoor seating area to sip on a reasonably priced, $4 Lagunitas brew. On a Friday or Saturday night it's always full, but there's never a wait to grab your next beer. After hanging outside, head indoors for a game of billiards and put a quarter in the jukebox to play your favorite tune. 

5) The Ruby Room

The Ruby Room is known for its late night dance parties, and I’ve certainly enjoyed a few. However, my preference is to grab a seat at the bar around 8pm, well before the place fills up. Bring a buddy, grab a $3 High Life draught, and bask in the Ruby Red glow (literally) of this funky hole-in-the wall. 

Honorable Mention: Telegraph Beer Garden, The Avenue, Merchant’s Saloon

The Visual Experiments of Dani Labrosse
Dani
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We met Dani on March 15th, a national holiday in Hungary. Because it was closed, we had to reschedule from his favorite cafe, Telep, to another spot open and protected from the rainy day. We talked about his work, his passion for film, and Budapest's fantastic cafes and cinemas.

Labrosse, born in 1997, began “obsessively trying to draw” and develop his personal style when his kindergarten teacher scolded him, telling him he didn’t know how to draw because he decided to put 10 fingers on each hand. Dani explained, “That had a big impact on me when I was that little. It really upset me.” But it certainly didn’t stop him. He was only 6 when he decided he could make a career of art. His step-dad gave him a Wallace and Gromit VHS that included an explanation of Nick Park’s process, and that was it. If Nick could do it, so could he.

At 18, Dani had his first solo exhibition as part of Budapest Design Week, and has already established himself as a fixture in the Budapest art world. His most recent group show was a Young Artists exhibition at Godot Pop-Up. “They had artists who were all only 16-21 years old. It was so eye opening to know that there is so much new brilliant art being created here. Even I wasn’t aware of it. It was really impressive. Obviously I don’t have money to buy art, but I was contemplating how I could call dibs on one of them because they were so impressive.”

Dani's pictures feel as though they are coming to life, and some actually do. His recent explorations with Augmented Reality combine illustration, animation, and his work in short film.

Dani's fear of producing less than his best keeps him experimenting with new methods, routines, and mediums while remaining true to his style and commentary on day-to-day life. His girlfriend is teaching him to paint, he has just completed an augmented reality mural for an ad agency, and he has spent the past two years working on a half live-action, half animated short film.

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To achieve the “scraggly sketchy style” he likes for the film, he is drawing over every frame. He admits that he “could finish the film quickly using After Effects or just overlaying myself” but instead, in this four minute film titled, Man Who Ate Himself, he is hand drawing the 24 frames per second (yes, nearly 6,000 frames).

He explains this tedious process, saying, “Being hunched over a computer and drawing frames by hand can get monotonous and mind numbing, so I have to focus on something else to avoid being bogged down. If I keep working on it for too long, it will end up not being as good because I will half-ass it or something. I like to do different things because it won't be as fun anymore which will make the end result not as good.” His days vary, with the exception of his dedication to morning coffee and doodling his first thoughts. Similarly, when he works on a new project he describes his process as “spontaneous,” starting with an idea “as a jumping board but then ending up in a different spot.”

When he’s not working, you’ll find Daniel either at the cinema or at his favorite cafes. “I love going to the movies. Just going into a theatre, sitting there and having the whole room go dark and focusing on the screen. It’s one of my favorite experiences in the city.” Lucky for Daniel, Budapest has amazing art-house independent theaters. Some palatial, some jazzy, some dilapidated-thrifty, these spaces are also worth visiting for their cafes and bars and lingering for a discussion on film. For Labrosse, Bem Cinema and Theater Toldi are the best in town, and are dreams places to have his short film screened when its finished.

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District 13, where he lives, is “a really inspiring neighborhood” known for a rich history of cafe culture “where people would meet up at cafes to talk about current political climate or philosophy and that kind of stuff.” Keep an eye out for a new series he’s starting soon in which he plans to “go to cafes or cake shops, interview the owners, and draw a portrait of them in their shop.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a peek at his website: www.labrossestuff.com and stay tuned for his short film, The Man Who Ate Himself.

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Kilomet109 seamlessly blends traditional techniques with contemporary fashion.

You likely own clothing that was made in Vietnam (brands like Target, H&M, Gap, and Zara all manufacture clothing here). But there’s more than fast fashion coming out of this country. Fashion label Kilomet109 is leading the charge with traditional artisan techniques adapted for contemporary design. Bigger than a trend, they are setting the stage for a new, sustainable fashion movement across Vietnam.


After winding through narrow streets in a quiet northern section of Hanoi, we knocked on an unmarked door and hoped for the best. Taking off our shoes as we entered, we were greeted by people sitting at sewing machines and arranging textiles. Relieved, we knew we were in the right place.

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We carried on upstairs to where designer, Vu Thao, and her family live. Sitting at the table with Thao and her husband, we drank a cup of tea, ate Mung Bean Cakes, and chatted for hours. Later on, we toured her museum-like racks of traditional clothing and her label, Kilomet109’s previous collections.

About six years ago, Thao decided to take the leap and started her own fashion label, Kilomet109. After two years of intense research Thao launched her first collection in 2012. Like every collection since, each piece preserved traditional artisan techniques while blending contemporary, functional, and attractive design. Her 2014 collection, SEEDS, marked her first hand woven “100% sustainable collection, [using] home grown fibers and natural dies. A – Z made by us from planning through the end.”

Early Days: There Was No Word For Design

“In Vietnam during the 80s and 90s we had few choices. We had to make our own clothes. Everybody developed self-made skills from parents and grandparents and others in the community. I grew up with that.” Despite “always having a really strong connection with textile,” the thought of becoming a designer never entered her mind. “Design wasn’t a viable career. You could make something, but you were a laborer or tailor. It was more about making, not about the idea generating of design. We actually didn’t have a word for that at all.”

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A major turning point for Thao came in 2000, who was working at a magazine at the time. When “open policies in Vietnam were passed, it changed the whole scope of how Vietnamese dressed. Society was changing a lot and people started to pay attention to appearance [as a way to] express yourself.”  It was then that she decided to return to school for fashion design. After graduating, she worked for other designers and also taught at a fashion school. Teaching her students about sustainable design inspired Thao to do it herself. “I knew Vietnam could be a leader of this movement [of sustainable design], and that I should be one of them.”

Named in homage to Thao’s hometown, situated 109 kilometers from Hanoi, Kilotmet109’s designs appear to be effortless, simple, and high quality. To be clear, simple does not imply boring or thoughtless—quite the contrary. Each button, color, and thread is a thoughtful decision; every decision is a negotiation between design, functionality, and traditional craft.

The art of Thao’s work is in naturally “weaving together the message of protecting local [craft] in a contemporary form.” She hopes her work will help Vietnamese people realize “we can use what we’ve got and transform it in a modern version. It’s not the fashion from the past, it’s the now fashion. It’s the future.”

Blending contemporary design with traditional artistry comes with its fair set of challenges. But, by forging strong relationships with the artisans themselves and working through issues of communication and process, Kilomet109 has not only gained global recognition, but has set the standard for integrity, quality, and collaboration between old and new.

The Design Process: Experiments, Shifting Mindsets, and Play

Thao is the sole designer at Kilomet109, but she works closely with artisans in nearby villages who have passed down their craft for generations. Collaboration, particularly with a language barrier (each of the villages near Hanoi has a different language), is a delicate art. “In the beginning [when I suggested new designs] they were quick to say no, it won’t work. They would do it, but without believing in it.”


   The process of adapting the Batik technique to new designs     “Batik is a technique that I applied in our latest collection. I spent two weeks with the group of Blue Hmong observing six women sit around like we are, in the kitchen. They make designs of flowers and animals by looking at each other and doing the same thing. It takes so long to make one piece and they use five to ten tools for each one.     [At the end of our time there] I asked them to use only one tool, whichever one they liked. I gave them a simple sketch of geometry, lines and dots, and told them to play around with it. The young girls were okay trying that, and the older ladies just laughed. All of them thought this [exercise] was only for the moment, not to make to a design.     Later when I came back with the design for the collection, they couldn’t believe I used this work. They were shocked and thought ‘is this design from that day?’   

The process of adapting the Batik technique to new designs

“Batik is a technique that I applied in our latest collection. I spent two weeks with the group of Blue Hmong observing six women sit around like we are, in the kitchen. They make designs of flowers and animals by looking at each other and doing the same thing. It takes so long to make one piece and they use five to ten tools for each one.
[At the end of our time there] I asked them to use only one tool, whichever one they liked. I gave them a simple sketch of geometry, lines and dots, and told them to play around with it. The young girls were okay trying that, and the older ladies just laughed. All of them thought this [exercise] was only for the moment, not to make to a design.
Later when I came back with the design for the collection, they couldn’t believe I used this work. They were shocked and thought ‘is this design from that day?’ 

To try and overcome this challenge, Thao spent more time in the village in order to better understand the subtleties of process and tradition. Quickly, collaboration improved. “When you are willing to spend time with people, the relationships are so much easier on both sides…they know I make an effort to work with their tradition…now, we really inspire each other. Sometimes I have ideas that are too ‘out there’. I can make experiments in the studio, but when it comes to cost and production, their input is really valuable.”

The biggest shift Thao observes is that “[the local artisans] are not saying no when I have designs. They ask for it! ‘What do you have next, what’s the next?’ Before it was [resistance] but now they talk about next idea, next collection, next project. It’s really nice to see.

Hanoi: A Village within a City


When a young woman noticed a glass button on Thao’s dress, she invited Thao back to her house in search of buttons handmade by her late father years ago. After hours of searching in a dark room, they found and admired the stunning collection. At the young woman’s request, Thao took home the buttons. “She said her father wanted the buttons to go to someone who loves them. Hanoi has these kind of surprises. Even for someone like me who’s lived here so long, you always find something that wows you.”

“There are so many hidden places where people are making things. It’s very helpful for my design. Whether it’s simple silk thread or hand make glass buttons, we can make them ourselves here. It’s a really wonderful thing that we still have here. It is like a village that exists within a city.

 I’m so fortunate to live here and work in the countryside. Hanoi provides a great balance for my personal life and design. I love the speed of Hanoi and how it’s always moving.

When you live in the city you have to consider so many things – traffic, air, movement. So my design considers that. When I make a jacket, I have to think about how to get on a motorbike without the material bunching up. The city is so many things at once. Even the colors of Hanoi are really inspiring. It’s endless visually.”

We’re excited to watch as Kilomet109 continues to pave the way for fashion design in Vietnam. Shop their past collections here: http://kilomet109.com/shop/


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The band that has captured Wellington's funky, beautiful soul: Orchestra of Spheres

One of the attributes of the Wellington music scene I find so refreshing is the emphasis on experimentation and improvisation. There isn’t a long-held, traditional “Wellington Sound”, or particular genre that artists need to confirm to in order to be popular.

If there is any tradition, it is that of creative people in Wellington getting together to collaborate and encourage each other to try something out of the ordinary. Perhaps it’s being set away from major commercial music hubs, combined with a laid-back, inclusive culture that gives artists a blank canvas to make strange, funky, unique, and danceable tunes.

One band came up in almost every conversation we had with Wellington music lovers. This band embodies the relentless work ethic and experimental spirit we found characteristic of music artists in the city. That band is Orchestra of Spheres. In a town where people often come and go, Orchestra of Spheres have remained a staple of the DIY music scene in Wellington over the past decade. With a new album coming out in the next year, they have no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

We sat down with three of the band members (Dan, Nell, Erika) at the Pyramid Club, an artist-run space where they practice, to ask questions about the band’s origins, the DIY scene in the city, and what makes Wellington such a unique culture.

How did Orchestra of Spheres begin?

Dan: We’ve had a great creative music community here in Wellington for a long time. Musicians have had studio space in Wellington since the late 70s.

For us it started a long time before this particular band came together. We were all involved in different projects together over the years, and Orchestra of Spheres came out of the people we were playing with. Originally, it was a drummer, Isaac, bass player Jeremy, me, and Nell, who happened to be around at the time.

We had a different space called Fred’s. It’s an old church about 500 meters down the road. It was a little venue for practice and recording. Heaps of musicians were always down there playing. It’s where we started playing, and it just happened to be the place where the music developed.

Today, Wellington is a city where lots people come to study music. It’s a good place to find a community of generative musicians, but people also leave. Isaac and Jeremy left quite a long time ago. Erika took over Isaac’s bass part 7 years ago and various drummers have played with us.

When you all first started playing together, was there something specific you wanted to get across in your music? Or a particular sound you wanted to bring to the forefront?

Dan: I come from an improvised music and experimental background. Wellington is such a small music scene—it’s not like London or New York where you can specialize in a particular type of music. Here you tend to find the musicians that do lots of different things and play in lots of bands and styles rather than focusing on one thing.

When we started I was thinking about doing something psychedelic and sonic, but also based around grooves and rhythms. And that’s essentially what it still is…a core drum and bass part that’s the rhythmic engine.

We’re blessed by having had extraordinarily awesome drummers in very different ways. Jeremy had never played drums before and used to play with his arms held out like this (gesturing); his drum concept was a very physically demanding style and he didn’t alter it that much, especially at the beginning.

NellHe got really amazing though. When we’d tour around, people would be captivated watching him thinking, “is he going to pull this off with that technique”?

Dan: He’d also do things like have a banana in his mouth for the whole gig, or plastic flowers.

Nell: Things to make it even more difficult for himself. Actually, our drummer now does that too—like wearing things that make it impossible for him to see.

Erika: Quite often that’s what people would say after a show. He kept that banana in his mouth the whole time!

Why do you guys think Wellington’s creative scene has been strong since the 1970s? What’s drawn people here?  

Nell: I think it waxes and wanes. It’s not like there was a less interesting community of music 5 years ago versus 15 years ago. I think people are always falling in and out of the place. Part of the benefit of living here is that it’s really tiny. It’s easy to get together with people to rehearse and jam. In the past there have been some really good music venues in Wellington, but right now it’s pretty slim on the venues.

Erika: I guess it’s also the most liberal city in New Zealand. It’s the political center and has good universities so I there’s a lot of open mindedness. There are always a lot of young, creative, hungry, awesome people wanting to do stuff. 

The album, Brothers and Sisters of the Black Lagoon, came out in 2016. Tell us a little bit about the making of that album and how it came together.  

Erika: We recorded it here [at the Pyramid Club].

Nell: Often times it’s Dan who writes the material we get started with. He’ll often get started with a drumbeat and a base line and we’ll jam off that. Other times we’ll just jam and see what comes out of it. We might record part of the jam and develop that into something.

Dan: The best stuff is when we just play and listen back to hear what parts are cool. The best stuff usually comes the first time you try it and don’t overthink it. The trick is to keep it fresh and spontaneous.

In my own writing process, the instrument I write off is the drum. So I just sit at the kit and think up lines, melodies, and riffs and record it on my phone.

I love that you create some of your own instruments. Can you tell us about that process?

Dan: Yea, I guess it’s something I’ve been interested in for ages. I just make shit from bits and pieces. They’re not particularly well crafted. I’ve made one proper acoustic guitar, which takes ages of work. Usually the process is just “what is this and what does it sound like?”

Do you have a favorite homemade instrument?

Dan: Not really. I’m not super patient with making things perfect. We’ve been playing an instrument I made called the Ektar. It’s made from the slat of a futon bed with a string on it. With Orchestra of Spheres, the homemade instruments come and go. There is one main homemade instrument I play: the biscuit tin guitar. It’s literally just made from a futon bed, a biscuit tin and drum sticks whittled down. It’s cheap and cheerful.

The sound of the band essentially came from the limitations of these homemade instruments and the tuning at the time. We have this sort of “Orchestra of Spheres” tuning.

We don’t really measure the tuning. Some bands or composers who do microtonal stuff are systematic, but ours is more random out-of-tune-ness. It’s part of the charm. Although sometimes you listen to the recording and it’s less charming…when you listen back to a melody you’re looking forward to hearing and then think, “oh god.”

Nell: Sometimes, when you sing with homemade instruments it can be tricky. It’s hard to find the pitch between the different tunings, but it’s nice having a bit of chaos in there.

Dan: In fact, having constraints helps with making creative choices. I love working with tape machines because you’ve got four buttons: ‘on’ ‘off’ ‘fast’ ‘slow.’ There are only a few choices, versus a digital equivalent. When you narrow it down to work within confines, it actually frees you up.

What are some of your favorite moments as part of the band?

Dan: There was a nice point on our first trip overseas, in 2011, when we played a gig at a festival called, All Tomorrow’s Parties. We were playing between Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra Arkestra. To me that was a super awesome gig because I’ve been listening to those artists for so long. To be sandwiched between those two was a pretty nice moment.

Erika: On our second tour we were playing off an island near Marseille. It was in the ruins of this old quarantine hospital and we were playing just as the sun was setting. We played a really great show and got called back for three encores or something … everything about that evening was kind of magical. It felt really special.

Nell: I always remember the last gig we played on our first big tour. The first tour was quite a full one. We just weren’t used to it. It was intense and exhausting and by the time we got to the last gig, we were all exhausted. But we played this amazing gig and it was the first time I felt like we were anticipating what each other was doing and working like one weird, morphing creature. It felt really amazing musically.

We were so tired. But it was like your critical mind goes to sleep and you access different parts of your creativity. It was cool because musically we just got better and better. It was a special family moment.

What’s next for Orchestra of Spheres?

Erika: We’re about to do a new album, in 2-3 weeks time.

Dan: We’re recording with an old friend who has a studio in Newtown. It’s an awesome place.

Erika: It’s another one of those amazing places that are hard to find, but when you find them it’s amazing. It’s a big old shed. He lives in it and he collects junk that he turns into instruments. He’s incredible. He’s made a little studio there with a vocal booth.

Dan: Earlier this year we did a gig with a whole bunch of musicians, 12 people maybe. The idea for this album is to get a few of those people in for different tunes and broaden the sound palate from what we’ve done in the past. Nell has been playing the harp lately, and maybe we’ll get in a few other instruments as well.

If eccentric costumes, infectious rhythms, and homemade instruments peak your interest, definitely check out Orchestra of Spheres. Their music is available here on Spotify, and be sure to take a look at some of their amazing music videos!

 

 

 

Gap Filler: Placemaking, Design, and Rebuilding in Christchurch

I have to admit, as a designer passionate about the role of design in place making, I was excited to visit Christchurch and see how the city has redefined itself in the past 7 years following the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. As a visitor, I felt inspired walking around, witnessing the creation of public parks, active street art festivals, and delightful moments of design that encourage tourists and locals to explore in new ways.

 Gap Filler's The Pallet Pavilion, 2012-2014 (credit: Maja Moritz 2012)

Gap Filler's The Pallet Pavilion, 2012-2014 (credit: Maja Moritz 2012)

We quickly discovered an amazing organization, Gap Filler, behind so many of these installations and creative events in the city. Gap Filler describes their organization as “a creative urban regeneration initiative that facilitates a wide range of temporary projects, events, installations and amenities in the city [Christchurch].”

Co-founder Coralie Winn, and two others “began the initiative in response to the very first quake we experienced way back in September 2010. We did a one-off (or so we thought) project that involved turning a vacant lot into a colorful, quirky garden with borrowed plants, furniture and more. We hosted live music, outdoor cinema, poetry and more over two weeks. The response was pretty amazing, so we then did a second, very different project (which actually disappointed some who wanted more of the first project) before the February 2011 quake wreaked havoc on the city, taking 185 lives and changing things forever.”

 Rebuilding the ChristChurch Cathedral started this year and is expected to take 10 years.

Rebuilding the ChristChurch Cathedral started this year and is expected to take 10 years.

 The Cardboard Cathedral (a church literally made of cardboard) opened in 2013 designed by architect, Shigeru Ban.

The Cardboard Cathedral (a church literally made of cardboard) opened in 2013 designed by architect, Shigeru Ban.

Throughout our time chatting with friendly Kiwis at the many fabulous cafes throughout the city, we heard so much appreciation for the creative and empathetic approach Gap Filler has taken in bringing joy to the city. But, unsurprisingly, we also learned that rebuilding a city is complicated, emotional, and downright difficult.

Frustrations with Rebuilding

Many creative projects that felt “good” at first seem to have lost their charm among locals. The container mall, the weaving in and out of orange cones, and the innovative Gap Filler projects, now often feel like a sad reminder of what 7 years later, is still not in great shape. A barista at a café summed up a mindset we heard over and over. “People like to call [Christchurch] creative, but I just want it to be the way it used to be. I’m just really ready to get back to normal.”

 Gap Filler's giant spray paint cans in Christchurch's East Frame.

Gap Filler's giant spray paint cans in Christchurch's East Frame.

Gap Filler’s Coralie Winn understands this mentality. “We tend to be the target of negativity from a small section of the community here, who see our work as a waste of time, messy, 'gypsy'-like and having run its course. To say it another, and possibly overly-simplistic way, temporary stuff has served its purpose and it's time for a proper city now. I think this sort of attitude wouldn't be the case if more of Christchurch was rebuilt by now and the rebuild wasn't taking so very long. People vent their frustration our way, as they are annoyed about the state of things.”

Gap Filler isn’t just about post-quake revitalization. It’s about responding to the needs of Christchurch. Coralie explains Gap Filler’s approach:

“Placemaking, DIY urbanism, whatever you wish to call it is known throughout much of the world. But in Christchurch, temporary urban activations or interventions tend to be understood as a post-quake thing and struggle to shirk that connection. We've done projects that respond to what have identified as needs or lacks in the city. I guess we are hoping that in time, tactical urbanism or placemaking, will be better understood as a useful, purposeful practice.

 Greening the Rubble car park installation in Gap Filler's community car park, Good Spot.

Greening the Rubble car park installation in Gap Filler's community car park, Good Spot.

"Gap Filler brings creativity, provocation and participatory projects to the city in the context of a rebuild that has not been especially consultative and very top-down and heavy handed. The projects we undertake have certainly changed as the city has evolved. To that end, now that we are nearly seven years from the disaster you will find our projects these days have a much higher design aesthetic than many earlier ones. This evolution was based on public feedback. Our projects in the last two years have often used the public realm (i.e. Council owned land like footpaths) or walls of buildings rather than ex-demolition sites as they did a few years ago. Such sites were usually privately owned, which made the whole process faster. Working with local or central government to access public land is much slower. Examples of such recent projects are Super Street Arcade, Open City, DiversCity (comprising Ping Pong and AyoAyo - a mancala).”

What’s next for Gap Filler? 

We can’t wait to return to Christchurch and see the latest Gap Filler projects. Coralie provided an exciting vision for the future and their switch towards a social enterprise model:

“We've not readily identified as a social enterprise thus far and that's for a number of reasons but now, we do. We are increasingly needing to undertake paid work to ensure we can continue as funding for our work has changed as time passes.

We have recently begun work in the East Frame, five blocks of prime central-city land to be developed as part of the government's master plan for the rebuilt city. This land will have town houses and apartments for 2000 people built on it over the next 8 years. We're leading a temporary space activation program on this land, enabling all sorts of groups and people to do projects here, as well as delivering some of our own. This work is paid and it's also part of a permanent development being led by the country's largest building company, Fletcher Building and this case, their Fletcher Living division. Fletcher Living has been required by the national government to enable temporary, community uses of the land so that’s where we come in..

We hope that our work on this land, although temporary, will have a permanent impact. So we will be doing fewer projects per year and more collaborative, paid projects such as one we have coming up out at the airport to make their public realm space work better for its users and for the airport, too. We really hope to infuse the values behind what we do into more and more projects.

To summarize I want to use a word you won't know. Kaitiaki tanga. It's te reo Māori for custodianship or care-taking. Māori, like many indigenous (and I might just say, more enlightened peoples!) don't see themselves as owners of any land but rather custodians. We see ourselves as a kind of creative custodian of the land or spaces we use, taking on the risks but making empty land contribute positively to the city and allowing its citizens a chance to participate by making something on that land and ultimately making the city a place that they want to be.”

We’re inspired by Coralie’s participatory approach. If you are too, please check out their website and consider donating at http://gapfiller.org.nz/

 Gap Filler, Super Street Arcade (credit: Erica Austin 2015)

Gap Filler, Super Street Arcade (credit: Erica Austin 2015)

Street Art + Synergy: a conversation with Sage from Dragon School

Plan some extra time in Oakland’s Chinatown because walking through Downtown Oakland’s streets inevitably means stopping to look at exquisite street art. If you look closely, you’ll notice most of the murals in this areas are signed, “Dragon School 99.”

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We were curious what this meant, so reached out to their executive director, Sage. We were lucky enough meet with him during a Sunday afternoon session of Dragon School.

Dragon School is a nonprofit that, in their words, “provides youth and artists a unique place to experiment with street-art and show civic pride. Dragon School's method re-imagines the neighborhood as a shared culture of art, where unity is strengthened by diversity. We are a multi-cultural, independently operated non-profit. Dragon School is community engagement on the purest level.”

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Sage says that Dragon School celebrates “Oakland’s rebellious spirit” while at the same time “creates a sense of joy when people walk by and see whimsical art on their buildings.”

Creating sense of place: at its heart, Dragon School is a beautiful, synergistic collaboration between businesses, youth, artists, and community. Sage told us that this culture of synergy is Dragon Schools’s secret sauce—truly celebrating and uplifting an authentic spirit of Oakland’s Downtown/Chinatown community. They’ve recently expanded beyond Chinatown to West Oakland and East Oakland.

In creating these murals in collaboration with the community, they’re also drawing more people to areas of Oakland they might not otherwise explore. Sharing art in this way creates new opportunities to create opportunities to inspire resident and visitors of the area alike.

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A look inside Ho Chi Minh City's emerging creative scene

Linh Nguyen’s influence on the creative community in Ho Chi Minh City is palpable. The first venture he opened, Saigon Outcast, filled a gap the city didn’t know it had: a space for people to congregate, to create, to feel inspired, and to feel at home. He has since opened two additional unique venues in restored, creative spaces: Rogue Saigon, and SOMA Art Café.

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A few days after we first met and interviewed Linh, we spent an evening at Saigon Outcast. Kids scrambled up the climbing wall, a group of artists focused intently on their live model session, a graffiti artist painted the entrance wall, and friends sipped on beers at picnic tables…this was all happening at the same time. Everyone relaxed, treating the space as his or her own. A fellow patron explained, “Linh’s places are such amazing hubs. I felt like even though I didn’t know anyone, I could go there and something would happen or a nice conversation would spark.”

Finding space to share art, music, and creative thought can be hard to come by in a city infamous for having exhibits, shows, and entire venues shut down by the government. Opening places like this is financially risky, pouring effort into hosting a concert that might be shut down at the last minute is not for everyone. But Linh’s passion for creating platforms where people don’t have to feel intimidated to share their work and opportunities for expression inspires him to continue to pursue these venues. The young creative community is "really hungry and restless but shy. They seem like they've been suppressed and they have so much to prove and achieve and get their name out there. They have so much energy. Really, they are very passionate. But they need encouragement and places to work.”


Saigon outcast

Beer garden meets alternative events space, graffiti, climbing wall, craft beer, live music, flea markets... 

Opening Saigon Outcast with a small budget in 2012, Linh and his friend Ha, found an inexpensive piece of land and pulled together containers and an old VW camper van in an artful way. “When I opened Saigon Outcast, it was for myself really. I didn’t know there was a demand for this type of space…but clearly there was." Immediately, the space filled with artists, skaters, and friends. Saigon Outcast became known as a destination for graffiti art, music, and collaboration: “The first couple years we had so many graffiti artists on the walls so that when it peels, you can see the layers of all the previous art works.” Today, Saigon Outcast hosts events most nights of the week, from drawing classes, movie screenings, farmers markets but many also stop by for a beer with friends.

Rogue Saigon

Rooftop specialty beer and music venue. 

Looking for a new place to host concerts (after receiving noise complaints from Saigon Outcast) Linh opened second venture. “The craft beer scene boomed a few years ago, but there weren’t any craft beer spots. At the same time, we didn’t know how long we would have Outcast because of noise complaints with our music. I needed to move the bands somewhere else, so I opened up a place that could have music and great beer!" Located on the top three floors of an old building, Rogue Saigon is a perfect spot to sip on one of the local craft beers on tap and overlook the city below.

Soma Art Cafe

Organic (and local) coffee and art gallery featuring up and coming artists.

“Saigon is really small. We know each other. There are only five galleries in Ho Chi Minh right now and they are all booked out with really famous artists selling their work at high prices. Soma is different, we feature up and coming artists who might not otherwise have a place the show their work." Situated in a beautiful building in District 2, Soma is a fantastic place during the day to have a delicious cup of brewed coffee with a friend. Stop by at night for art openings and a cocktail!

 

What’s Next for linh?

Linh hopes that he inspires other "business to do the same and to open spaces here for sharing creativity." Promoting music and arts in Ho Chi Minh drives Linh to keep working. He has observed that young artists lack confidence, and hops to set up more opportunities for mentorship with foreign artists. In the music scene, he wishes there were venues that could host international musicians. There used to be two: Cargo and Outcast, but with Cargo closing and Outcast's neighborhood growing, they've recently they have had to turn away amazing acts (such as Damien Rice!). "Right now we’re depleted of our capital since we work alone. But until I get it out of my system, that’s what I want to focus on."

Stop by one of Linh's three hangouts and stay tuned, we're certain Linh will have more up his sleeve! 


 

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"All Bodies Welcome"

An introduction to Malia Johnson, of Movement of the Human, the choreographer defining the dance and choreography landscape across New Zealand. 

  Malia Johnson

Malia Johnson

Despite clouds threatening rain, we sat outside at the waterfront cafe, Seashore Cabaret in Lower Hutt, a suburb 20-minutes outside of Wellington. We were here to meet Malia Johnson, a New Zealand native with an impressive repertoire over the past 20 years. She’s danced, choreographed, directed, and collaborated across sectors and disciplines in New Zealand and across the globe. (Seriously, read her bio).

Some people seek creative community, others create one. Malia is one of those who creates. When she first finished her training, there wasn't work—so she made opportunities for herself. In the past two decades the dance scene has grown significantly in New Zealand. Even so, when young dancers come to Malia for advice she tells them, “there isn’t a blueprint," encouraging them to push boundaries and find their own way.

After just a few minutes of conversation, it became apparent why Malia is so talented at bringing people of diverse creative backgrounds together. She possesses a strong vision with an open-minded spirit that looks for new, and even unusual creative combinations.

Challenging the stereotyped image of dancers in a theatre counting 1-2-3-4 and moving their bodies with ease, her pieces are rooted in deep and personal collaboration. Imagine unique bodies, cathartic storytelling, fashion, and the interplay of space, lighting, music, and bodies. Orchestrating these elements is at the crux of her work.

Malia finds she is most attracted to projects that are "more than just dance pieces, but a way to collaborate with multiple practices." While collaboration is a theme of her work, “it's tricky to collaborate well, but it creates the best outcome...when you have a trusting collaborative environment people are free to do their best work." To achieve this, "it's about understanding individually, how people function, and moving and shaping the work in response to their personal skills.”

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Her years working with the World of Wearable Art (WOW) represent some of the most successful collaboration she has experienced. “WOW was an example of 200 people collaborating together really well, focusing on their individual crafts and really serving the overall experience."

It was her position at WOW that brought her back to New Zealand after a brief period abroad in Australia. The work was really inspiring and from the start, WOW was a “choreographic environment that didn't know it was. It was always about movement. It's the body and art colliding. The designers make garments for the body to move around as pieces of art. It's about movement architecture and I just loved that."

Today, she lives just outside the city center in Lower Hutt, a place she never thought she’d live. "There’s something good for creativity about living in unexpected places.” Wellington is such a small city, you can hardly walk down the street without stopping to say hi to four or five people, so she cherishes the chance to go for a quiet walk with her dog - often where she finds her inspiration. 

As with many creatives in this country, she’s lived in multiple places across New Zealand. As policy, prices and opportunities in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch have shifted, the arts has moved as well. “Artists move quickly” and follow opportunity. “They go where they can be free.”

But Wellington is “really special. Business, arts, and the government are so close together. It's a unique city” because these sectors bump into each other creating different opportunities. “Wellington was the place where the arts were in New Zealand, until the last 10 years. New health and safety regulations came down hard on a lot of artistic, urban spaces, but there is also new city funding to help.”

If you’re lucky enough to be close by, make it a point to see her work. Malia's studio, Movement of the Human (MOTH), has a number of things in the works right now. A few upcoming opportunities to experience her magic:

 *All photos courtesy of Malia Johnson

*All photos courtesy of Malia Johnson

Mahuki: where entrepreneurial spirit and culture collide.

Sulu Fiti, Outreach Manager for Mahuki, chats with us about creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) sector.

On a sunny morning in January, we had the opportunity to chat with Sulu in Muhuki’s beautiful office space, located within New Zealand’s national Te Papa Museum. The first of its kind, Mahuki is Te Papa’s innovation accelerator focusing on entrepreneurship in the global cultural and heritage sector. 

Sulu could not have been more welcoming. We chatted about Mahuki, growing up in Wellington, and his ideal day in the city.

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Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a born and bred Wellingtonian, and I’ve lived here for most of my life. I’ve also lived overseas during various semi-professional rugby playing stints - three seasons in Wales, two in Ireland, and one each in Ireland, and Australia. I’ve also lived in Samoa a couple of times. My parents are Samoan immigrants who came here in the 1960s. They met each other in New Zealand, and raised our family here in Wellington. They came from nothing, and were poor even by Samoan standards at the time. So my siblings and I are very fortunate that we were brought up wanting for nothing, in an incredibly supportive, and loving family. We had a fantastic upbringing in Wellington.  

After spending time abroad, what has brought you back to Wellington?

It’s home. My family and friends are here. And because of Wellington’s relatively small size, there's a real sense of community here. I love that. It's amazing how many people you become connected with in this city. In particular, within the start-up community everyone seems to know one another. There is a great creative vibe in the city, and you can really see that in the vibrant startup scene.

Also, being the seat of government, there are a lot of government agencies, and while in the past that has given Wellington a rather staid image. It’s certainly not how you would describe Wellington now. At Mahuki we work with a lot of government agencies and educational institutions, and they are starting to embrace a lot of startup methodologies in the way that they operate. Government can be a big clunky machine, but they are really trying to implement some of the startup philosophies such as iterating quickly, and running design sprints. It's really refreshing to see that kind of thinking in that sort of environment.

What brought you to Mahuki?

I came through a business accelerator in 2017 - the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator - where I fast failed my company which was looking to make it easier and cheaper to send money to the Pacific Islands using the blockchain. After some market validation in Samoa I decided that it wasn’t worth pursuing the business further. We didn’t have a big enough point of difference in the market to make the type of penetration that would have made us stand out from others in the space. I've worked in many different jobs - but most recently in startups.

I work as the Outreach Manager at Mahuki, and my remit is to find exceptional talent for the full Mahuki programme. I also work closely with educational institutions, government agencies, and other interested parties. I’m also heavily involved in the local startup scene. We run a pre-accelerator programme which involves delivering workshops around the country to those interested in the sector, with a particular focus on Maori and Pasifika.  

That’s amazing! What makes Mahuki such a unique place?

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It is a space where entrepreneurialism and culture collide to create innovative solutions that enrich galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). It's the world’s first accelerator in this sector, and that speaks volumes about Te Papa's constant effort to be ahead of the curve.

We produce a four month bespoke innovation / entrepreneurial programme designed to help teams of between 2 to 6 members develop their idea and business to produce a commercially viable solution.

How did the program originally get started?

A few years ago Te Papa examined ways in which it could adapt and innovate in an increasingly digital world. They looked at a few different models, and the accelerator model is what they decided to go with. From day one Te Papa has always stood out from the crowd. It has a pioneering vision within its DNA, and that ‘out of the box’ thinking courses through Mahuki.

What are some examples of teams that have gone through the program?

We’ve had a really broad range of teams come through Mahuki. Just a snapshot of some of the teams include Curio, which is an online publishing platform that lets museums, galleries and libraries make their own digital interactions. We’ve had a social enterprise team who created an app for matching volunteers with organizations; another team, Excio, has created an app for enjoying  works of art / photography on your mobile device. Breadcrumb deliver location-aware indoor positioning solutions, Vaka Interactiv, are a Pasifika team working on a portrait interactive - think Harry Potter - by using ethno-cultural empathy via two way communication. We’ve also had a team in the burgeoning V.R. space, a data analytics team, a bunch of gaming developers, and a team who are looking at using technology to learn, and preserve the languages of Oceania. I’m really looking forward to seeing who comes through the Mahuki programme this year. Bring it on!

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What have been some of the biggest challenges for the program?

The biggest difficulty is not only finding talent who want to explore opportunities in this sector, but also in communicating just the broad scope of opportunities that are available for people. Typically when you think of museums, your first thought is front of house exhibitions - but there are opportunities for enterprise in areas such as ticketing, catering, and retail, just to name a few. We are being proactive in building and growing our own pipeline by extending our reach into the Maori and Pasifika communities, who aren’t greatly represented in the sector. We know that there is a rich vein of talent out there, and we aim to plant the seeds for that next wave of talent with some of our targeted workshops. A lot of the challenge is in communicating the challenges that face the sector, and whether people can come in and have a business or initiative that solves those challenges. We have a set of twelve challenges that guide what Te Papa and the industry are looking at, and we are currently in the process of revisiting these.

What make most you most excited to come to work each day at Mahuki? 

What I'm big on - and this speaks to my cultural background - is promoting diversity. Last year we had three Pasifika teams come through the Mahuki programme, and also an all-female team of three young entrepreneurs. It’s a great start, but we need to be doing a lot more to tap into those communities. We’ve got a unique opportunity at Mahuki to take a lead, and make a significant difference in this area. Also, innovation is innovation - and being involved with startups in whatever industry, whether it be fintech, agritech, VR, or whatever - is just damned exciting.

Through Mahuki, we are pioneering and championing the concept of ‘culture tech’ – a fusion of emerging technology with a New Zealand worldview that embraces the deep storytelling, content and traditions of Maori and Pasifika culture in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museum (GLAM) sector. Telling deep and genuine stories resonates with these cultures and we are heralding a new frontier where those gifts for storytelling can be fully realized.

One last question for our readers exploring the city. What’s your ideal day here in Wellington?

That’s easy! I'm a beach person, so I love going to the beach and being in the water. My favorite beach is Princess Bay. It's my fave because it's not as busy as the others in the city, but also because it gets the last drop of summer sun. So you get some amazing, dramatic sunsets there. It's beautiful just to sit there at 9pm in the evening and watch the sun go down. But shhhh. Keep it on the d-low, us locals like to keep Princess Bay a secret.

Another good / bad thing about Wellington - depending on your point of view - is our weather. Our winters can be pretty horrific. We have a really bad wind...apparently. I just call it a breeze. It puts a lot of people off, but I think it just invigorates us locals to be creative.

 

Best Local Shops in Oakland, CA

Oakland has some of the highest rates of retail leakage—i.e. people who live in Oakland and spend their dollars outside of the town. It's unfortunate because there are so many great places to shop (in addition to the many amazing restaurants, cafes, and bars). So get your wallet ready! You'll notice that many of these shops also act as venues, art galleries and community gathering spots. Just some of why we fell in love with this East Bay city.

Some of our favorite spots to shop:

1.     Viscera

Come here for American-made clothing and accessories with a story. Ari is amazing - pop in to see (read: buy) her products, and stay to chat. She knows all about Oakland's small-business world, even going as far to organize get-togethers with other shop owners, community happy hours, and more. Read our interview with Ari here.

2.     Laurel Bookstore

Across the way, Laurel Bookstore is one of those places you really want to stick around — so, give your Amazon Prime a break, and go buy a book.

3.     Show & Tell Concept Store

This store feels like a community space (it is), hosts events, and sells goods that are social responsible. Theyve recently moved locations, so be sure to double-check your map first!

4.     SoleSpace

As they say, this “shoe store and ArtsLab,” sells shoes and clothing during the day, and is an art gallery and performance space.

5.     FLAX Art & Design

Supplying bay area’s artists with materials for over 80 years, FLAX is a family-owned community staple. FLAX moved its flagship to downtown Oakland in 2016! 

Also amazing: Oaktown Spice Shop, Oaklandish, Esqueleto, Umami Mart, Two Jacks Denim, Crown Nine

Best Creative Cafes in Vietnam

Cafes are central of Vietnam's creative scene. They are a place to work, a place to collaborate and are places where poetry readings, open mic nights, art galleries, and musicians come together.   

Tang Tret Cosmos Cafe, Hanoi

Hop up to the second floor to find a cozy nook to make your own.

SOMA Art Cafe, Ho Chi Minh City

In District 2, this graffiti art clad venue not only makes a mean coffee, but also features up and coming local artists. 

Manzi Art Gallery, Hanoi

This art gallery and cafe in Hanoi in an old French Villa where you can enjoy your drink while seeing art from leading Vietnamese contemporary artists.

Mockingbird Cafe, Ho Chi Minh City  

In what may look like a rundown apartment building from the outside, leads up 4 flights of stairs to this wonderful little cafe.

Tranquil Books & Coffee, Hanoi

Leave you shoes downstairs and sneak on up to the second floor to find a silent retreat. Swing by in the evening for their open mic, piano night, or movie screenings! 

 

More Biased Bests

Old Halls and New Sounds

Wellington, New Zealand

During our conversations in Wellington, we've quickly learned how supportive and collaborative the creative community is in this windy city. We’ve consistently heard of people bringing different mediums of art and expression together in unique spaces. A rotating event series that features local music, visual art, dance, and readings, Old Hall Gigs is a prime example of Wellington’s creative spirit.

 Sarah Smythe, co-founder and producer of Old Hall Gigs

Sarah Smythe, co-founder and producer of Old Hall Gigs

We’ve all been there. You’re excited to go to a gig at your local music venue to hear, well, music. Instead you wind up being annoyed at the three way too drunk people that keep bumping into you and shouting over the performance you came and paid money to see.

Wellington local Sarah Smythe shares this common frustration, saying, “I love going to gigs, but often no one is listening and it’s less about the actual music.” Rather than just complain like most people, she did something about it and co-founded the DIY event series Old Hall Gigs.

It all started when Sarah and her all-girl, eight-piece band, St Rupertsburg, decided to put on their own show—in a community hall space.  “We served everyone dinner and sat them at a long table. It was heaps of fun, a really special community, and a nice place to have a gig. At the time I didn't think anything of it. But then later, I thought, maybe I want to make more stuff like that happen. That was the seed of Old Hall Gigs.”

Officially founded in 2013 by Sarah and her friend, Thomasin Sleigh, these underutilized old hall spaces (think Irish Cultural Center, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club type places) throughout Wellington were the perfect venues to provide artistic experiences for friends and fans. These halls are more than simply affordable and available. The spaces act as a the inspiration for each new gig. As Sarah describes, “we book the hall, and then we book the things to fill out the night based on the character of the space.”

A typical Old Hall Gig provides an intimate "community feel" with audience members ranging from young children to their grandparents (the mayor even attended the 16th Gig!). The events offer a “tasting” of different creative performances for the audience in bite sized portions. “Say you've never experienced a poetry reading before and it's not something you'd typically choose to go to. The performances at Old Hall Gigs are  short enough to try out.” Sarah is passionate about getting people “into new things” outside of their routine, and to challenge their preconceived notions of what type of art they like.

The changing venues speak to that mission as well. “There’s something quite awesome as an audience member of going to new places you haven't been before. Maybe it’s a place you've noticed driving around, but it's a chance to go inside and have an experience in there.”

Don’t miss out on the next Old Hall Gig! (email sign up here). You'll be sure to fall in love with the work of a new local band, artist, or writer you haven’t heard of before. As Sarah says, “It’s easy fall into a little bubble of people you surround yourself with…Old Hall Gigs provides a nice, new cross-section of the Wellington community.”

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“There’s something quite awesome as an audience member of going to new places you haven't been before. Maybe it’s a place you've noticed driving around, but it's a chance to go inside and have an experience in there.”

Meet Gussie of Mermaidens, the band taking Wellington by storm.

Wellington, New Zeland

The alt-rocker discusses the band’s upcoming album, the Wellington music scene, and why you should never tell a band to smile on-stage.

It was easy to spot Gussie as she hopped off her bicycle in a brightly striped shirt, blonde pigtails, and a big smile. Straight off a rejuvenating holiday in the far north, this Wellington native welcomed us to her windy city over a flat white in a local café.

 Gussie: Mermaidens Guitar/Vocals 

Gussie: Mermaidens Guitar/Vocals 

Mermaidens includes Gussie (Guitar/Vocals), Lily (Bass/Vocals) and Abe (Drums). They’ve been hard at work since their days jamming as high school friends. They released their sophomore full-length album, Perfect Body, in 2017 and are already in the process of recording their third full-length effort.

Their intricate tunes weave complex swirling guitar soundscapes, pulsing bass lines, and haunting vocals reminiscent of their art rock heroes, Warpaint. Gussie has a warm and welcoming presence, but behind the chipper exterior is a relentless drive and work ethic to make her mark both on the Wellington and global music scene. With sold out shows in her hometown, a unique sound, and dedicated fan-base, we’d say Mermaidens are well on their way. 

Be on the look out for their third full-length album coming out later this year!


The sound of Wellington

 [Wellington] is so small we don’t have the room to follow bands or trends. The result is all these really unique bands like The All Seeing Hand and Orchestra of Spheres.

The music scene in Wellington

Everyone is really friendly, and really supportive! People in Wellington, at least in my little bubble, want to support their local bands and buy their merch and go to their gigs. It would be good if even more people did that and understood that if you go to a gig, and pay $10 - $20 that it’s going to the band. I overheard these girls in the bathroom at a gig once who were bragging about sneaking in, and I couldn’t help but tell them off. They just clearly didn’t get that.

The origin story

We’re all friends from high school. Lily and I went to an all girls school together and became friends when we were 16 and I’ve been friends with Abe probably since I was 14. In high school Lily and I started nervously showing each other our songs and lyrics and just kind of growing up together.

A (really) special moment

Camp a Low Hum used to be this really legendary DIY music festival ... we were there one year and were really inspired by the bands. That year we decided that our goal was to play here the following year. And we did! We thought we’d made it—we played at this awesome festival.

The live performance

It’s definitely energetic. I probably turn up the distortion a bit more. There's just a little less care than recording. Not in a bad way, just freedom. But I also find playing live intensely stressful (laughing) because all my guitar parts are very complicated and we play lots of unusual time signatures. 

Once or twice I’ve overheard that we should smile more on stage. I’m like, “what do you mean, I’m fucking concentrating!” It’s a rock band. You don’t have to smile.

Song writing process

In terms of constructing songs, either Lily or myself will have maybe half a song. We might have vocals, might not. We bring that to the space and it pretty much comes out of the jam. Lately we’ve also been jamming and recording it so that later we can listen back and decide what we're going to play.

Favorite venue to play

San Fran. The sound is really awesome and Ziggy, the guy who owns it is just the best person. Bernie, the house sound engineer is great too.

Musical influences

Warpaint, St Vincent, Wand, Fuzz, Ty Segall

Other influences

Nature. Living in such a beautiful place has a big influence on my creative process.

What’s next for Mermaidens?

We’re working on our next album right now, so it’s writing time. We have studio time booked in February and April and it’s nice to have it all mapped out. During Easter break, we’re recording with James Goldsmith, who we recorded with for the other albums. We really want to go to Europe—we're thinking European Summer 2019!

A perfect day in Wellington

It starts with a big breakfast and coffee at home on my deck, looking out at Berhampore. Then maybe we ride our bikes to Princess Bay for a picnic, beers, and swimming with friends. Later on, we'd head back Newtown for a jam session in our space just five minutes from home, have dinner and finish up the day watching a gig at The San Fran.