The Tottie Object

kinetic mobile artist
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I WAS BROWSING online when I first set my eyes on these delicate yet simple contemporary mobiles. And I very quickly found myself trying to find a way to meet the person behind its creation. A flurry of exchanged messages later, I’m glad I got the chance to meet the tottie object in her home studio in Kuala Lumpur.
Hailing from the indie music scene, tottie found herself listless when the COVID-19 pandemic came and all her projects dried up. After watching a documentary about mobiles in the 1920s, she decided to try her hand at making one with the sole intention of decorating her home. As her mobiles started receiving more attention on social media, she decided to start experimenting with different materials and the tottie object was born.

How did you get into making mobiles?

My first inspiration was Alexander Calder. After watching a documentary, I studied his art style and fell in love with the mid-century modern aesthetics and the shapes of that era. I also experimented with space-related themes, smooth curvy shapes, like molecules and atoms. I'd say the space molecule mobile is one that I'm most known for. It's a playful vortex of molecules spinning round.

How would you describe your art process?

To be honest, it took quite a lot of trial and error to get each design down. For instance, the mushroom pieces require some physics, whereas the other hanging mobiles are a question of balance and gravity and optical illusions.

On the whole, I will duplicate the hanging mobiles for consignment, but the ones that sit on the desk are hard to duplicate. Those are one of a kind.

How long does it take to make each piece?

It takes time, almost three days to make one of my more common mobiles. It can be done in a day, but I tend to prefer to take my time, wait for the resin to completely dry and to observe how the final piece moves. These are parts of the process that can't be rushed.

For the newer designs, like the mushrooms on driftwood, it took me a few months to forage and collect driftwood from the forest. The mushroom caps are made carefully with thin slices of wood. After installation, I also need to wait and see how they move in the wind.

How does your past experience as a musician impact your work now?

In some sense, I can see how my music making informs my work. For example, composition is not just about putting everything that is nice together. A song is also made up of pauses, which delivers impact to make a phrase or lyric beautiful. It is the distance between notes and peaks in a song that create harmony. It's the same with my art practice now. 

“The essence of mobiles is the concept of space. Without it, without harmony and balance, it is just a few unremarkable balls and
wires on string.”

How has the tottie object grown since its inception?

It's been 2 years since I started the tottie object, and it has been quite a journey. My first major project was a commission for Royal Selangor two years ago. I had just started and honestly, I did not fully know what I was doing – I had to learn on the job. Those pieces wre displayed in their stores in Singapore and Hong Kong. Since then I've also had works in exhibitions at Tiffin at the Yard, and Small Shifting Space. I've experimented with so many materials, like wood, air-dry clay, polymer clay and even tried 3D printing some components.
The work of making mobiles is more technical than you’d expect. There are specific knots to use, and different thickness of strings to consider. It’s all a matter of balance, which makes it delicate and somewhat fragile.

What are your future plans for the tottie object?

I would love to explore how I can incorporate music with my mobiles in a multi-sensory exhibition or performance. It'll be my two favourite things coming together. I still write music and perform small gigs, so we'll see.

My time spent watching tottie work while speaking to her about her art practice felt almost therapeutic. Like her floating mobiles, I felt like I was suspended in time, worlds away from the city and its busyness. I love how each of her art pieces is a reminder of harmony and balance, movement and space. It feels like a quiet nudge to stop and slow down. 

The Tottie Object

Visited May 2023, published September 2023.