Exploring All Things Kitsch through SEARCH Vol. 2 by LIE Studio

On March 9, SEARCH magazine made its long awaited return with SEARCH Vol.2 — Kitsch. Initiated by graphic design studio and Kuala Lumpur Art Book Fair (KLABF) organizers LIE Studio, the magazine delves into the ups and downs of the kitsch aesthetic and how different creative practitioners interacted with the visual style. SEARCH Magazine’s comeback was welcomed by enthusiasts at their launch party held at the Eslite Malaysia bookstore.

SEARCH originally began as a book. Founder and Art Director of LIE Studio, Driv Loo initiated the project with the intention of documenting and showcasing design practitioners in Southeast Asia. “It was my personal passion. When I was studying, we had all these reference design books. We looked at a lot of designs from the West and the East but we didn’t really have much documentation of design in Southeast Asia,” Driv explained. Published in 2019, the book featured a total of 40 different graphic design studios from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. “[The book] was mainly a portfolio showcase so it was quite straightforward. So, why not make it into a magazine format so it can have more in-depth interviews and artworks to talk about the design culture in Southeast Asia,” Driv explained the shift to turn SEARCH into a magazine.

The first volume of SEARCH Magazine was later published in 2021 titled SEARCH Vol.1—Independence. “We planned the first [volume] around the time of MCO (Movement Control Order or lockdown). Throughout my career I’ve also been influenced a lot by ‘indie’ music, movies. Also as a designer I thought ‘we should have our independent thinking about art, about the world. So, that’s why the first one is [on] independence.”

SEARCH Vol. 2’s focus on all things kitsch was actually in part prompted by Driv’s wife’s intrigue in the eclectic visual style. It was also partly inspired by the growing popularity of thrift stores and trendy cafes at Taman Paramount. Driv elaborated, “So, I see a lot of young people [there] and they’re very open to this kind of Y2K fashion. I also have friends in the fashion industry so they actually engage a lot with this kind of Kitschy aesthetic. To me, [considering] my age right, when I look at this kind of aesthetic, back to the year 2000, it was kind of like our trend right at the time. So, I find it quite interesting that this thing that to me is old school is new to [them].”


In terms of curation, Driv recalled that the process was quite similar to the first volume with one notable difference. Volume one had a palpable focus on the graphic design sphere. As such, Driv was already familiar with those he wanted to feature in the magazine. Volume two, on the other hand, broadened itself beyond just graphic design, recognizing that kitsch, as a visual style, also touches upon other creative endeavors like fashion. He noted, “Design is just part of it. We needed to open up to more aspects like lifestyles and culture because kitsch influences a lot of things like what people wear.” This meant that Driv had to conduct a lot more initial research before planning out the second volume as well as pulling in help from an additional editor, Julia Merican. “We wanted to cover all kinds of genres like the fashion industry, the design industry, and different kinds of cultures. Because of my design background, I wanted to see what this kind of kitschiness looks like when applied to design. So, what will that design look like? That’s why when I look at Ardhira Putra, he refers to a lot of 80s citypop, which I think has some sort of kitsch in it. So all the designers and artists that we featured, they have some essence [of kitsch],” Driv elaborated. 

SEARCH Vol.2—Kitsch also celebrated its launch hand in hand with the bookstore Eslite. LIE Studio had been interested in working with the Taiwanese bookstore for some time. “Last year, we were already asking them whether or not they were interested in doing something with KLABF. But, for one reason or another it didn’t work out. So, we thought, ‘Maybe it’s easier for us to bring the event into the bookstore.’ They were very welcoming and open to our ideas. So, when we asked them if it would be okay to have the book launch at their store, they agreed straightaway,” Driv recalled.

Volume two highlights a variety of creatives that grapple with kitschiness. A particular highlight for Driv is the cover story on Motoguo, a Malaysian fashion label that specializes in the kitsch style. This second volume also delves into the notion of “it’s so bad it’s good” as part of the kitsch aesthetic. The magazine does not shy away from deliberating both the good and the bad of the visual style. There is a balance between the editor’s note that considers the “lowbrow” origins of kitsch and how that translates in the context of Southeast Asia with the concerns regarding the consequences of the kitsch style and cringe culture denoted in the essay “Powers of Cringe” by Valerie You. “Basically, the magazine is kind of like an open platform. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s like a discussion,” Driv remarked. Grab your copy of SEARCH Vol.2—Kitsch from the official LIE Studio online store.

About the Author

Kireina Masri

Kireina Masri has had her nose stuck in a book since she could remember. Majoring in Illustration, she now writes, in both English and Indonesian, of all things visual—pouring her love of the arts into the written word. She aspires to be her neighborhood's quirky cat lady in her later years.