Singgih Susilo Kartono's most recognisable work is his award winning Magno Wooden Radio. He is widely regarded as a credible creative proponent of eco and sustainable design. Singgih’s workshop is located in his home village of Kandangan in central Java, Indonesia, where he works with 30 other craftsmen all of whom are from his village. His designs focus on small, practical items and are made almost entirely from wood, which is grown locally. For every tree used in his designs, Singgih replants this within the local tree nursery from which his wood is derived.
Where does the name Magno come from?
'magno' comes from the word 'magnify', as in ‘magnifying glass’ – which is the first product I created. I also have my own interpretation of ‘magno’. Magnifying glasses enable you to see things closely and in great detail. Likewise, simple and beautiful forms in design executed with high quality craftsmanship draw people in – they pay more attention to the details of the product and appreciate the artisan work that has been invested in its creation. I choose g as logo because of its sculptural form, I want to create products which are as unique as the g.
Your designs are all made of wood - what is it that you like about working with the material?
Wood is one of my favorite materials. I was born and raised in a village as a young boy, and I loved seeing the works of local carpenters. Inspired by this, I used to make toys from wood or bamboo – which were the most obtainable materials around me. Perhaps my love of wood comes from these subconscious early memories. The more I work with wood, the more fascinating I find it as a material. Wood is not only a visually beautiful material, but I think it also harnesses and teaches us three important aspects in life - balance, limit and life itself.
How to you ensure that your materials are sustainable?
When I started using wood as a material, I knew that, at some point, I would have to deal with wood certification. Wood certification has a purpose to sustain the environment. I think that if I use fewer woods in my work, and then return more woods to the forest from which it came, it would answer the environmental sustainability issue. In just one year, my worker only needs two trees to fulfil his work, and we can plant more than 50 trees per year, per worker (craftsman). The complexities and costs of wood certification only suit big companies. For small design workshops such as Magno, saving the materials and directly replanting the trees are a better solution for the replenishment of these natural resources.
Your design studio is based in your home village of Kandangan, how does it benefit or impact on your local community?
On one hand, Magno has enabled me to create a living in my village. It’s also given 30 villagers jobs – from doing the replantation to carefully handcrafting each of the products we make. We have become internationally recognised because of their innate craftsmanship and talent.
But I’m so sad that the degradation of the village is occurring on a bigger and faster scale. The advancement of technology and the improvement of transport links has seen our local talent leave the village, with scholars fleeing to cities. With that, the village potency to be self-sufficient and sustainable is in danger. I’m heavily concerned about that condition and I’m always thinking of new ways to find a better solution and retain the talent or to at least attract new talent elsewhere.
Since 2013 we started a new programme called ‘Spedagi’ - a bamboo bike tour - dedicated to the cause of village revitalization. The mission is to attract external resources to come and stay with the villagers, and to help with village revitalization projects. The presence of these external resources, especially skilled human resources, is helping to fill the village with new thinkers which has been lost because of this brain-drain from village to the city.
What was the inspiration behind your iconic wooden radios?
When I was in college, I visited my friend’s house and accidentally saw a bamboo basket next to a speaker box. I envisioned that the bamboo basket was also part of speaker box (grill). From that small thing, I tried to do a little experiment for a radio product using many materials, including wood. I feel that the radio becomes the perfect product due to its imperfections and limitations (in that it is only able to produce sounds). I believe that we live in nature, and nature teaches us about limit and balance. Radio and wood brings this particular way of thinking to life.
What are you currently working on?
The last product I developed is SpiKO, a wooden Bluetooth Speaker. Now, I am concentrating on Spedagi, bamboo-bike for village revitalization project. I am also preparing a launch for Spedagi in Japan, 2015. Spedagi will become an international movement to promote the village as a sustainable community of the future, and the bamboo bike will become a symbol of this effort.
What does good design mean to you?
Good design improves nature.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
When I’m able to help others with my work, especially those less fortunate than me, that is what I find most rewarding.