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Young M’sian artist deconstructs nostalgic tech & turns it into framed art for a living

Writing for Vulcan Post often means that we’ll be reviewing some of the newest tech in the market, from foldable smartphones and laptop-like tablets to tiny earbuds and huge smart TVs. 

But taking a different route to explore gadgets is The.Exploded 2.0. The Instagram account commemorates old devices, deconstructed inside frames to be displayed as artworks, instead of dumping them in an abandoned tech drawer, or in landfills. 

Each post also comes with a short history lesson about the device. So when our team was scrolling through the page, we were hit by a wave of nostalgia finding teardowns of an iPod touch, Tamagotchi, cassettes, and Sony Ericsson phones. 

This was a phone I always wanted as a kid, but never had / Image Credit: The.Exploded 2.0

So, who is this mystery artist behind the account?

Deconstructing the artist’s intentions

“My name is Liu Jeng Foong, most people call me Liu [like number 6 (六) in Chinese]. I am 25 years old and the founder of The.Exploded 2.0,” he told Vulcan Post in an interview.

His journey began during his 2nd year of an architecture degree. It was where he learnt about exploded-view diagrams which are schematic or technical drawings of an object that show the relationship or order of assembly of various parts.

Liu simplified, “It kinda looks like an IKEA or LEGO instruction menu. And I love this kind of drawing technique.”

While bored during his semester break and simultaneously stuck at home during MCO 1.0, Liu started his digital art account, TheExploded, to share exploded views of various objects such as food, electronics, and cartoon characters. 

Liu first started with 2D art / Image Credit: TheExploded

Later on, Liu stumbled upon some “deconstructed phone art” that used broken and faulty phones to create the kinds of pieces he also makes today. 

“I fell in love with it and thought it would be a good way to bring my exploded artwork from 2D to 3D. So I quickly came out with my own version of deconstructed artwork and shared it with my friends and family,” he recalled, adding that they were impressed.

In July 2021, Liu finished his studies but didn’t want to rush into a job because of the worsening pandemic. But he still had bills to pay, so he decided to launch The.Exploded 2.0 to sell the deconstructed old electronics that have been put in a new light from their disassembly and design.

Now, old phones, Walkmans, and game consoles that are full of memories and have been put aside for a long time are given a new facade as a unique work of art. 

It also functions as a small solution to the e-waste problem in reducing electronics from going to landfills and polluting the environment from the harmful and explosive batteries in them.

A device as old as he was

Liu shared that the most interesting device he’s deconstructed was also the first piece he’d worked on: a Yellow Tamagotchi.

I think most 90s’ kids owned at least one Tamagotchi before. At first, I didn’t know about the history of Tamagotchi, but after I disassembled it, I found out that there was a label behind it showing it was made in 1996 (the same age as me). After researching online, I found out it is the very first product launched by Tamagotchi!

Liu Jeng Foong, founder of The.Exploded 2.0
You get a brief history lesson too / Image Credit: The.Exploded 2.0

Intending to only sell whatever old electronics he found at secondhand markets, Liu soon began receiving requests from people who wanted to frame their own devices, which was how his framing services began.

He disclosed that there was no exact price for the framing service, as it’s dependent on the frame size chosen, printing costs, the design itself, and the complexity of the device. Meanwhile, his labour costs may be 40%-50% of the total cost, or sometimes lower. 

To give you an idea of the base cost for his work, a custom piece can range from RM180-RM230, according to its Shopee listing.

A finished piece like his Mickey Mouse watch and game console could go up to RM349, and Liu explained that the price is based on the rarity of the gadget itself, along with the size of its frame. 

You could purchase his ready-made works on Shopee

“The rarer the item, the higher the price, because there is no fixed price for the gadget,” stated Liu. “For example, you can get a Nokia 3310 for RM50 today, but that does not mean you can find another one with the same price tomorrow.”

Then again, art is a commodity that’s difficult to price, and whether it’s worth it or not depends on each customer. Since launching 4 months ago, Liu has already sold 45 pieces of his deconstructed framed art, and he’s hoping to sell 100 of them by the end of 2021.

Looking at his portfolio on The.Exploded 2.0 thus far, it’s no surprise that most of his customers comprise millennials between the ages of 20-39.

Expanding the service further

When asked about the future of The.Exploded 2.0, Liu shared that the service is something he hopes to continue for the long term. 

Within the next 2 years, he’s hoping to expand the team by hiring more hands on deck, as each piece generally takes him 3-4 days to complete. Devices with many small components such as cameras and watches could take even longer.

Notice the work that goes into each piece / Image Credit: The.Exploded 2.0

Now working on his business from home still, Liu also hopes to move into his own studio and ship his products worldwide eventually.

As Liu is already retailing his works on Shopee, Lazada, and Etsy, accessing global markets wouldn’t be too difficult through these platforms. 

The challenge he’s in for would be based more heavily around marketing and exposure, which he could do by engaging social media influencers or investing some capital into social media ads. 

  • You can learn more about The.Exploded 2.0 here.
  • You can read about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Liu Jeng Foong, founder of The.Exploded 2.0

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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