Yann Follain: Singapore Designer and New SEGD Member

Read Time: 6 minutes

Although headquartered in the United States, SEGD is an international organization with over 1,500 members representing 35 different countries. To recognize and celebrate this diversity, SEGD is highlighting some of our new international members including Yann Follain of the design firm WY-TO. Originally from France, Yann currently makes his home in Singapore, where his clients include Singapore’s National Gallery. Read on to learn more about Yann and the Singapore design scene.

FMM
Hello Yann!

Yann
Hi Franck!

FMM
Tell me Yann, why did you join SEGD?

Yann
I joined SEGD to raise awareness in Southeast Asia about experiential design and experiential graphic design. These disciplines are not new in this part of the world, but little is done to strengthen their presence and put the right words on it. I believe SEGD can offer such a platform to demonstrate how relevant and essential are these specific fields.

FMM
So, what kind of benefits do you see in experiential design?

Yann
ED and EGD can contribute to the improvement of the lives of people and communities, especially in the built environment that are used every day. Beyond the spectacular and extraordinary, it is our duty as designers to address the needs of society in more simple and understated experiences. I believe SEGD is the right channel for this, and I'm proud of being the Co-Chair for the Singapore Chapter! A big challenge that I'm ready to handle!

FMM
Yann, you’re not originally from Singapore, right? Where were you born and educated?

Yann
I am French. I was born in the Paris suburbs, and I studied in Paris at the architecture school of Paris-Belleville where I also did my master’s.

But I did part of my studies outside of France. I also studied in Indonesia, which brought me to Southeast Asia, where I did one year in Jogjakarta (Yogyakarta) and one year in Bandung, doing my undergrad thesis on the metropolitization phenomenon of Southeast Asian cities.

FMM
And now you’ve returned to Southeast Asia! What’s the draw for you?

Yann
Yes, I wanted to go back to Southeast Asia because it’s a region that I fell in love with when I studied in Indonesia. I got a job opportunity in Singapore to work on the National Gallery of Singapore, which is a massive museum—it's like 60,000 square meters of museum—so it's quite big. It’s one of the biggest in Southeast Asia with the largest collection of Southeast Asian modern art.

FMM
So, when you say, “Southeast Asian modern art,” what does that mean?

Yann
So, local art as well as documentation from the colonies up to the ‘60s and ‘70s with a gallery dedicated to Singapore and then other galleries dedicated to other Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

I was working for a French architect at that time, and I was in charge of museum planning, architecture, and technical aspects, as well as exhibition design. I'm not an art historian, but for the galleries’ design and collections, I was working directly with art historians and curators to coordinate exhibition design. Then, little by little, once you move into exhibition design, you see the other side of making a museum, and then I started to specialize in the museum field. So that's how I started to work in the museum environment. It was a big eye opener for me—super interesting. 

FMM
And then you started your own firm, WY-TO. By the way, how do I properly pronounce “WY-TO”? (laughs)

Yann
In English people say “Y-2,” but in French we say “We-Toe.”

FMM
And how did you come up with the name for your firm?

Yann
So, basically it started with my business partner, Pauline Gaudry. She's based in Paris. And me, I’m based in Singapore. So, we were looking for a name, and we took part of our nicknames. So, “TO” is me, because when I was living in Indonesia “Yanto” was a nickname people gave me based on a Javanese name, and “WY” is Pauline.

FMM
And how long has WY-TO been doing exhibition design in Singapore?

Yann
We started the firm ten years ago in 2010. And I had been very lucky that due to the previous work that I did as a museum planner and exhibition designer in Singapore, I got an opportunity. My very first exhibition with my firm was the first Asia retrospective of Andy Warhol (Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal, hosted by Singapore’s ArtScience Museum). And that was like “wow!” It was amazing, like, you cannot dream for anything else than starting your career in exhibition design with Andy Warhol!  It was almost 300 masterpieces coming from the Warhol Museum in Pittsburg.

FMM
Wow! This must have led to other exhibition projects in Singapore.

Yann
Yes, then I came back to the National Gallery to work on the exhibition design of the permanent collections with my own firm and with Gallagher & Associates (based in Washington DC and Singapore). When I started my own firm in Singapore ten years ago, there were only two, maybe three, major ones. So, instead of competing against them, let's partner with one of them. And then I contacted Gallagher. That was really, really fun—you know, that you dare to contact them!

FMM
So, which permanent collections at the National Gallery did WY-TO and Gallagher work on together?

Yann
The Southeast Asia Gallery, Singapore Gallery and History Gallery

FMM
And how has WY-TO evolved since then?

Yann
It's interesting how we have evolved in the museum field. We started to do graphic design, so I have graphic designers in my office. We work with artists to really assist artists to do art installations. And we do interpretive planning and museum masterplans. It has broadened-up in ten years from traditional design to the array of what a museum environment can offer, up to experiential design and an expansion of graphic design.

FMM
Speaking of graphics, I understand there are four official languages in Singapore: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. Do the exhibition graphics display all four?

Yann
The default will be English because, otherwise, if you start to have the four languages, you can imagine the amount of text!

(both laugh)

FMM
So, in terms of the design community in Singapore, I know Singapore has a National Design Centre, as well as the Singapore Design Council, which both support and promote the design professions in Singapore. What is your relationship with the larger design community in Singapore?

Yann
So, the National Design Centre opened maybe seven years ago, and they wanted to have a permanent exhibition inside their headquarters, because the mandate, as you mentioned, is to promote good design and basically welcome small startups, young designers and larger groups—and to really advocate for good design in Singapore and the region. They have big facilities like an auditorium and an atrium where there are many rotating exhibitions, and they built a permanent collection that celebrates “Fifty Years of Singapore Design.”

I have been lucky, too, to be the curator of “Fifty Years of Singapore Design.” There were major celebrations for the 50-year anniversary of Singapore in 2015 to create, design and build the permanent collection that celebrates 50 years of Singapore design. Interestingly, WY-TO partnered with Gallagher as designers, but me as curator. I became the curator of the very first exhibition about the entire design history of Singapore, and that's fantastic doing research, meeting all the designers, and understanding how it was back in the early days of Singapore after independence.

FMM
And what future projects is WY-TO currently developing and designing?

Yann
Actually, I'm hesitating because there is one museum that we're working on at the moment which is massive—even bigger than the National Gallery—it is something for India, something that I've been working on for the past five years. The reason why I hesitate is because it's not fully opened yet, so mentioning it is a bit complicated. It's an archaeological museum, and it is basically a World Heritage site.

FMM
Sounds intriguing! Thank you, Yann.

SEGD readers: stayed tuned for the opening of WY-TO’s next big project in India!



LINKS:

“50 Years of Singapore Design”
http://www.wy-to.com/portfolio/fifty-yearsof-singapore-design/
http://www.wy-to.com/portfolio/fifty-curatorial-design/

Design Singapore Council
https://www.designsingapore.org/

National Design Centre Singapore
https://www.designsingapore.org/national-design-centre.html

National Gallery Singapore: Southeast Asian Art
https://www.nationalgallery.sg/

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