How Phunk pioneered a riotous clash of art and design in Singapore

New book Control Chaos looks back on 25 years of Phunk – the Singapore design collective that mashed creative disciplines together with its eye-popping work

The monograph – named after a 2003 artwork – looks back on the early days of the studio, which was launched around the same time that the Apple Macintosh and software such as Adobe Illustrator were beginning to be widely used.

Phunk began life in 1994 as a streetwear label selling T-shirts covered with digitally illustrated imagery, but soon also made a name for themselves via their Guerrilla Fonts foundry. Later Phunk launched magazines and websites, landed work doing moving graphics for MTV, and other multimedia commissions for brands such as Levi’s and Casio – often mixing disparate styles and influences in joyous fashion.

Top image: Universe 10, 2007; above: Mickey vs Donald, 2009. All imagery © Phunk unless otherwise specified
Stealing From Thieves poster, Temasek Polytechnic, 2001
New Dreams of an Old World at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum for the 5th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, 2014, © Fukuoka Asian Art Museum

In the introduction to the book, authored by Justin Zhuang, Shirley Surya writes: “Phunk has sampled, or remixed, diverse stories, genres and techniques to propagate a graphic signature that seamlessly fuses an eclectic cocktail of cultural and aesthetic influences with a contemporary global appeal.”

As well as vivid double-page spreads of the collective’s work, the book includes an in-depth Q&A with three of Phunk’s founders – Alvin Tan, William Chan and Jackson Tan. In it, the trio recall a pivotal moment when many designers were transitioning into artists, reflect on their mix of East and West influences, the pop culture of Singapore that informed their work, and some of the turning points for Phunk and its work.

There’s also plenty of interesting commentary on the perceived divisions between street art, art and design, and the founders’ thoughts on how that influenced their own genre-crossing output.

Control Chaos concludes with a fitting look at Phunk’s own experience of the dotcom bust, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the global SARS epidemic – with obvious current-day parallels discussed as the collective enters its 25th year.

Control Chaos is published by Thames & Hudson; priced £35,