DC: Dylan Chng, Year 2, Head Editor
DT: Dan Tran, Year 1, Designer
LMY: Lee Mun Yee, Year 4, Mentor and Former Head Editor
SF: Stacy Fernandes, Year 1, Editor
HL: Hanniel Lim, Year 2
HL: To begin, I would like to know what Curios is to you and what you wish others knew about it. For many of us in Tembusu, we probably only know of Curios as Tembusu’s annual literary magazine.
LMY: Curios is a thoughtfully, lovingly curated collection of Tembusu’s artistic collective. It’s a bottom-up movement: created by students, curated by students. Quoting from the founding team, Curios offers a “critical yet intimate examination of society, community and human experiences” [emphasis hers].
SF: I think it’s a collection of artistic expression that the Tembusu community is capable of. I wish people knew more about it. A lot of my friends know it as the thing that is sold once or twice a semester in the lobby. And I’m like “No, it’s a literary magazine. Go read it, it’s really nice!”
To be fair I didn’t really know a lot about it as well until I bought a couple of copies and read it; I just wish that people would be more open to this type of content.
DC: I guess to say what Curios means to us collectively: It is a way to showcase our residents’ talents in as many ways as possible—we’re trying to make it so. Someone even submitted song lyrics, which unfortunately will not be published because he withdrew it.
It was quite interesting. We were trying to explore ways to diversify how we present the works and what works we present. Design is the easiest way to do it, and we’ve been thinking about things like music. But it’s really about all our contributors’ talents.
HL: How and why did you all join Curios?
DT: I have always been interested in designing. I never had any experience in that—designs and prints in general. So I think Curios is a great avenue for me to start and learn it. I really want the place to push myself to produce visuals. I was in Architecture last semester, but being in Architecture doesn’t mean making the designs I like. So that is why I applied last semester.
SF: Before I considered applying for Tembusu, I did some research. And I realised that Curios is something I wanted to be a part of even before I was interviewed for Tembusu. During the interview, I told Mike Grainger that I wanted to be part of the Curios team. And he was like, “Well, that’s great. Welcome to Tembusu.”
After I was admitted to Tembusu, I was told there weren’t any positions open for Curios. Then they opened a couple and I was interviewed. I guess it went okay. It has been a really fruitful experience to see this issue of Curios, something I really wanted to do, come to fruition.
DC: My story is different since I joined last year before the semester started. I joined because I wrote a piece for Issue 5. I enjoyed the process. I enjoyed having an editor read my work, appreciate it, and improve it. I thought it would be nice to pass it on.
I joined also because of my interest in design and art, and I thought that Curios could bring my interests together nicely.
LMY: I came across Curios in Year 1 and thought it was a brilliant platform and space for art. I submitted a piece that year, and then thought that it’d be a fantastic opportunity to be around more art through the curation process—so I decided to join!
HL: What are common misconceptions of Curios you have come across?
DT: I think most people still don’t know what Curios is. That’s the sense I get when I ask my floormates to submit works.
DC: I think Curios has a niche audience even within Tembusu which is already very niche. It’s been hard to widen our reach. That is why we’re making it more visually appealing. Pictures make it easier to engage with the magazine.
Curios started to shift from being purely a literary magazine since Issue 5. The previous team did a really great job with the design. They featured more than just literary talents, so we are taking that further with this issue. This year, the design work is really intense because everything is integrated to show the designers’ skills as well.
One common misconception is that Curios is meant to be exclusive or highbrow—inaccessible.
LMY: Yes, a common misconception is that Curios is this high-brow, artistic magazine that’s inaccessible to people who don’t understand poetry or literature. In some ways, this is the impression that most people have of art and a problem that the art industry faces in general.
SF: I think this problem is indicative of the quality of submissions. Most of the submissions we received were so good. It is not a deliberate action on anyone’s part; it’s just what happens. It is unfortunate that people see it as a barrier to entry because there really isn’t. As editors we don’t dictate that your work should be of a certain standard. It’s your artistic expression. It’s what you’re able to give of yourself.
HL: What is the reason people should buy a copy of Curios?
DC: To read their friends’ works. I think that is a great way to know more about the people around you. How often do you get to read the works of people who don’t usually produce such works? Perhaps for Stacy and me it’s easy for us to share our work, but some people get really shy about it.
Something about putting it in a magazine—making it ‘official’—gives it a status that a lot of writers and aspiring writers would like to have—to at least be recognised, even if by their neighbours.
SF: I think people will be surprised at the quality of the magazine. Before I came to Tembusu, I didn’t think people slightly older than me would be capable of producing such gorgeous pieces.
DT: When I was at the past sales for Curios, I realised that they were selling the issues at such a low price—and I know that printing costs a lot. There are indie magazines sold at higher prices without even reaching the quality of Curios. So cost-wise, Curios is a very good deal.
And also to destress. The works are very well written and there is a diversity of themes. And the visuals—I hope they will look as fabulous as the submissions.
LMY: Yes, it’s heavily subsidised by the college! Selling at five dollars, it is a very good deal for the amount of effort that goes into the magazine—so much work—and the overall quality of it. Five dollars for critical pieces of writing, and beautiful and impeccable design, and works written by your friends! Also, if you’ve always wanted to #supportlocal and #supportindependent, there is really no better way.
HL: Given the quality of the magazine, does Curios recuperate its expenditure?
DY: Curios gets a set budget that is renewed every financial year. Whatever we have in our account, whether less or more than our original budget, does not carry over. We start with the same amount every year. In order to improve the quality of the magazine, we have to work for it. That’s why we conduct sales and fundraisers to add to our budget. The point is not to profit from the magazine—we are okay selling it at minimum price. The point of selling it at all or even earning any profit is to return what we used from the College.
HL: Many of us are curious about Curios: How did it get its name?
LMY: We actually don’t know! But I suppose the meaning of Curios itself is very reflective of what the magazine has always aspired to be: “An object of art, piece of bric-à-brac, etc., valued as a curiosity or rarity; a curiosity”, a publication that one takes curiosity in, that opens a possibility for learning.
DC: Yes, there is the idea of curiosity and of curio as an object that incites curiosity. It is what the publicity team tries to play on in their Instagram series. Which no one seems to get.
DC: It may have started out with a meaning completely different from what we have said, but for us here, the name is about the publication discovering how people approach the themes of the magazine.
HL: In Curios, we work in teams of three comprising an editor, a designer, and a contributor—and the teams are organised around each piece instead of each contributor. How has it been working in this unique arrangement?
SF: I enjoy it because as the editor you build a rapport with the designer and the content creator. At times you have to balance the both of them. It is very interesting to see how the various conceptions of the work by the editor, designer, and creator intersect, and to create from that intersection.
DT: For me it is an articulation of the structure of Curios because I feel that if we don’t have this trio structure, the editor has to function as the middleman anyway. It is more efficient to have the editor, creator, and designer work together.
LMY: My experience was with the old system where editors, designers, and contributors worked rather separately.
DC: Indeed. This is our first time trying this system. Previously, editors would work on the submissions for a few months before handing it to the designers. We received feedback from the previous team that it makes the process very rushed and that it was difficult for the designers to understand some of the works. Some of the pieces were rather abstract, dealing with very difficult content. A designer is not used to paying attention to literature as an editor. Similarly, an editor is not used to designing. They need to work together. We tended to get designers not understanding the pieces and editors not involved in the design process. Separating those processes made it difficult to create a cohesive system that ran through the entire process.
How did you [HL] feel about it?
HL: I think it’s working very well! I like how the process prioritises the pieces instead of just guaranteeing any product.
DC: When designers only receive secondary information from the editors, it doesn’t really help. They will only receive the editor’s interpretation. With the writer’s input, there is more integrity.
HL: Speaking of working in teams, how does recruitment for team Curios work?
DC: We do recruitment in two stages: Firstly, we build up the core team of heads and deputy heads who recruit their own team in the second stage. We don’t want to force incompatible team members upon them. It is better for the heads to choose their own team. For the heads and deputies, we open applications.
For this year, we only have three year ones which is very unnerving. We hope that they [Stacy and Dan] will stay on in any capacity.
DC: We try to get the existing team on board first—someone who at least knows the workings of Curios. This happens in semester two. Then in semester one of the following academic year we open it to everyone in the college. We try to get year ones but we tend to be unable to.
HL: How much time do you all invest on Curios? It seems like tough work.
SF: For me, a lot of time is spent reading the pieces and speaking to the writers. I don’t have a figure, but I wouldn’t say it is a process I found dreary or stretched out or tiring because I really enjoyed it. So it didn’t seem like much of a time commitment to me.
DT: I have never conceived the process in terms of time, but in stages. My process is usually to conceptualize the layout, illustrate, then share it with the editor and writer for review. Then I proceed to work on what I hope is the final design. If I’m dissatisfied with it, I will redo it, so it’s an iterative process. Once I arrive at the final product, I share it with the editor and writer for review. But there is also an internal review with the other designers that helps make all the designs cohesive and improve my own designs. So those are six stages. So long as I finish each of the stages on time, I will finish my designs on time.
DC: Unfortunately, I have to see this project as a series of deadlines; not the most fun. I tend not to be able to sit down and think about a piece for an hour, then give the writer comments. It just doesn’t work that way for me.
I don’t conceive the amount of time we put into Curios as time spent. If I’m stuck while doing work, I’ll look at a submission or chase my team for deadlines.
DT: It’s like a part-time job.
DC: It is a part-time job!
DC: It’s alright, it’s fulfilling. It’s just ‘cause in my position I have to work with Dr. Kerr and the College, manage the editors, and stuff.
LMY: From my perspective, it really is tough work. As Editor-in-Chief I did a bit of everything and saw how much work and effort goes into each little aspect of Curios. I don’t know if people realise how much time is spent curating, revising, writing, designing, and revising. Not to mention what goes on behind the artistic process: publicity, fund-raising, budgeting, the printing process, etc. I felt really inspired by everyone in the team.
HL: Speaking of all these teamwork and organisation, how do you all make each issue coherent? From the previous issue and the themes for each issue, it seems that you all aim to make it coherent, but is it even intentional?
DC: On the editorial side, we organise the submissions into a series of themes. We aim to build an emotional graph: it goes up, it goes down. So that’s how we try to build a coherence.
In terms of letting the pieces speak for themselves, I think they are all very different. The only similarities you get are between writers who submitted multiple pieces or tangentially dealt with the same specific points in the submissions theme.
DT: Regarding design, even though the designers aim for cohesion, each designer is independent and individual enough for each design to be identified with its designer. So we avoid clustering certain works that may differentiate itself from the rest. We mix the visual styles throughout the whole magazine, whether in terms of form such as collages or illustrations, or the colour palette.
DC: The visual submissions we get, like photography or art works, really help to unify the theme. The photographs are shot with the theme in mind. For example, for this year’s theme of taste, we received photos of relationships between people over food. As they have a very specific purpose, they draw the link between the design and the text. Do you [Stacy] remember how difficult it was to create a coherence when we were selecting the pieces?
SF: It took a long while to get it ordered in our minds before translating it to a physical issue for readers to have it ordered in their minds as well. I feel that it could have been much harder; it wasn’t incredibly difficult. I think it speaks volumes about the quality of submissions. People already had it in mind before submission that their works had to convey a certain idea or bring a specific perspective to the theme. So our job was made easier in that sense. But it was still a process.
LMY: If I were to break it down into a couple of organisational formats that guides the process: First, we decide on the overarching theme (Taste, for this year) that organises the entire magazine. For some years there’s been a very clear relationship between each piece of writing that is received. For instance, Issue 4 is divided into 4 chapters because there appeared to be a distinct ‘mood’ for each piece that could be grouped together. Then there’s the relationship between the design and the writing that the designers have to negotiate with the writers themselves. And there’s usually an overall design theme to keep the magazine visually coherent.
HL: What is the process behind each year’s theme?
DC: For this year’s theme, we wanted a theme that is accessible and easy to understand. As we are trying to take Curios into a relationship with the College that is less aloof, we want to produce something easier to deal with. Earlier issues dealt with themes like identity and reality which is difficult to think about as a student living their life. Issue 3 was successful because it dealt with taboos, and everyone in the College can connect with it on some level. For example, you do something your parents forbid and you wonder why it is that way. Issue 5: The Colour Of was successful as well. A simple universal theme which can be applied in a billion beautiful ways—which is what we hope we achieved with this year’s issue: something simple like taste, a sensation, universal to every human being.
LMY: What Dylan said: Balance between accessibility but also poignancy is something we’re always trying to strike. But if you’re asking about how we come up with the theme itself, for our year we sat down for two hours and brainstormed a bunch of—often nonsensical—ideas before we found the one we all liked very much. Before The Colour Of we were considering ideas like Door or Food, and even settled on Shoe for a while. I liked Door enough but I’m glad we didn’t go with Shoe.
LMY: We also wanted to move away from the “darker” theme that was Issue 3’s Taboo, so we went with something a little bit less heavy—for lack of a better word—like The Colour Of.
DC: [To HL] In fact, having worked with Curios, how do you think Curios can interest more writers and artists?
HL: We’re facing the same problem in Treehouse.
SF: This is group therapy.
HL: I think people are finding writing very out-of-touch today. I don’t know whether this is related, but I see increasing distrust of the mainstream media and people being sceptical of public words. The challenge is engaging people and convincing them that we want their voices heard.
DC: I agree. I think a lot of it also has to do with how you are represented when your opinions are public. It’s so different from when you upload a picture on social media or if you just talk about your day. When you write something that is expansive and long, it becomes a glimpse of who you are, and a lot of us are concerned with privacy.
Also, the amount of time and energy it takes to commit to writing a piece. I can’t imagine how long you spent writing your piece: coming up with the ideas, deciding when it’s ‘finished’—and I don’t think any writing is ever finished.
HL: Do you notice any trends in the submissions?
SF: Some of them dealt with the theme directly while others dealt with it in ways I would not have expected. It was a good mosaic.
DC: I think what was interesting about the poems that dealt directly with food is that food was consistently used as a metaphor, whether for ideas like relationship, loss, or boredom. They engaged with something simple and mundane as food in so many ways. This is what we had in mind when we designated the theme.
As for similarities across issues, we have received many submissions about love, which is expected. But we also receive many about sex, their bodies, and their desires. (I had to discuss this with Dr. Kerr recently.) We anticipated this when we allocated taste as a theme.
LMY: Across the years, I would say Curios often attracts very intimate, heartfelt pieces. I’m happy that there is a place and space in Tembusu for more private narratives like those you see in Curios.
HL: Dan, since you’re a designer, do you have fears of your designs misinterpreting the submissions?
DT: Yeah, I’m scared of Dylan cause his standards are so high.
DC: Excuse me.
DT: So far, the writers assigned to me are open to what I choose to depict. But for me I feel that the illustrations are not meant to serve as a 1:1 correspondence to the meaning of the works; they can complement or contradict. They’re more of a visual stimulus for people to appreciate the work. So I don’t perceive it as a translation of the work into visuals.
HL: Given all the effort, what are you all most proud of for this issue?
LMY: I think I’m just really proud that this team has grown and improved so much from the previous issue. I also think it was Dylan’s leadership that really helped to guide and shape the team so well; he readily took all the feedback from the previous issue and worked on them. Issue 6 looks stunning, the team worked really hard on it, and I can’t wait to read it properly!
SF: I’m really proud of the journey of the pieces, from when I first read them—like one in the morning—to where they are now. It hasn’t been the easiest of processes to work on some of the pieces, but I’m really proud of how they developed. They fit the theme in ways I did not consider when I first read them. They’re all beautiful in their own regard. I’m really excited to see them in print.
DC: I think how well everything just seems to come together, like what Stacy said.
SF: It’s your baby.
DC: She’s right. The first time we looked at all the pieces all together, you wouldn’t have any clue how they would become a cohesive body of work—but somehow it does, over time. My team has helped a lot. When it’s finally published, everything is visualised, and it’s going to be great.
I could probably say this for the whole team: We are proud of the effort and care we invested. Just to see the pieces grow from a .docx file to something with its own life, meaning, and design is a great feeling.
Header and feature image by Bank Phrom on Unsplash. Feature image edited by Hanniel Lim.
About the Interviewer
Hanniel Lim has issues.