“I have always wanted to link my undying interest in the landscape, but explore the expanded notion through objects.”
Interview by: Stephen Feather
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I am predominantly based in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia though currently I’m doing a residency in London with ACME Studios and supported by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Malaysian under their visual arts fellowship program until December 2018. I do travel often though, mostly for exhibitions and have been in and out of London almost every year in the last 4 years.
I initially studied fine art at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence for a year, but then took some time off to gain experience through working and traveling before completing my undergrad, concentrating in 3-D art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Alongside formal art education, I have worked in galleries in London and Kuala Lumpur, assisted artists in studios in London and studied Mandarin briefly in China.
You’ve said; ‘The expanded notion of the landscape in the 21st century informs your practice, and you are interested in linking this to the tradition and history of sculpture‘ How do you hope these influences will come together in your work?
As a child, I had always enjoyed painting landscapes, jungle scenes and mountainscapes. I think the first serious artwork I remember completing was a landscape painting in washy watercolour of a landscape of a lake with two skinny swans. I studied sculpture at art schools and the thinking process behind my work has always been around the object. Sculpture has always have a strong relationship to the landscape, with public sculptures responding to the context of the area or the landscape as well as land art in the 1960s and 70s. Thus I have always wanted to link my undying interest in the landscape, but explore the expanded notion through objects. This idea of the landscape that I am interested in is not always something physical, it could be a “dimension” informed by design, object, politics and the Internet.
Moreover, moving back to Kuala Lumpur about 5 years ago, I wanted to anchor my practice to where I am based and was drawn to the cityscape and the architecture that populate the Kuala Lumpur skyline as well as vernacular architecture of the local neighbourhoods.
It is a real mixture of designs, like a post-modern mish-mash of style and forms. In the skyscrapers, I was interested in how these building, shiny and sculptural looking, become symbols of power or modernization that contrast with the dilapidated low-cot buildings in the neighbourhoods. In my recent work titled ‘Midday Stanza’ (2018) is a response to Malaysia experiencing evident political changes. I wanted to convey this sense of fluctuation and change with manipulated everyday objects such as broken-up and reassembled terracotta pots and display them in a horizontal format on the gallery floor, in a way an attempt to go against this sense of verticality of the modern buildings in Kuala Lumpur as well as giving a sense of a “broken” landscape. This struggle against verticality is linked a resistance to the display of power through monuments. Furthermore, I am also interested in the idea of how a cluster of objects, like in an ethnographic museum, gives a sense of a time or a sense of life that is no longer there. A sense of a condense space and time.
What are the challenges of working with found objects and materials?
I think when working with found objects and materials, one is required to have an open mind. The challenge is that found objects each have their own “history” and the context and reason they were originally made. One needs to be conscious of this “origin” and building on that history through manipulation. Also using found objects would immediately contextualize the work to a specific environment and time and having a strong link to the everyday.
One of the challenges of working with found objects is that I tend to use objects that resonate with me, either their forms which I find interesting or how and why they are produced. I also find the first encounter with the materials as important and thus I do this exercise of walking in many discount store sand local shops in Kuala Lumpur, looking at rows of mass-produced consumer objects, waiting to be inspired. This walks or a form of window-shopping is an important element in my practice and a good way to think outside of the studio. Another challenge is in terms of practicality, in which the “stability” of the materials, as found objects has a different shelf life than traditional art materials. Finally, on the plus side, sometimes its really hard for me to start making a work, or to sculpt a form for example, and using a readily produced form helps with starting a new work.
How does working in and outside the gallery inform your practise?
During my university days, I interned at a contemporary art gallery in London for about 2-4 days a week and that gave a good introduction to artists working in London and abroad as well as being able to be close to and handle artworks. I was also already interested in the artists represented and that was the main reason why I had applied. It was good to see the inner workings of a gallery and it dispelled the myths that one believed as an art student.
After art school and returning back to Kuala Lumpur, it was more out of necessity when I was working in an art gallery then. I needed a somewhat stable income to support my practice early on and it was again also a good way to engage with the regional art scene in Southeast Asia. Working in and outside the gallery have always made me aware of how artworks move through different environments, and that changes the way we perceive them, from the studio, to the exhibition space and back again to the studio. Through these different environmental contexts, they are transformed in so many ways.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
Well currently as I am in London and working at Warton House (Acme studio). I would usually wake up at about 7 – 8 am everyday. I leave for the studio at about 9:30 am and then work till about 11 pm. In between, I would leave the studio to get materials, go to the nearby gym or just walking around the area for a quick breather. I’ve only started working at the studio in London for a little more than 2 week, thus still in the process of settling down. Moreover, two days a week, I am fortunate enough to have access to Troy Town Pottery run by Aaron Angell in which I am dabbling with clay and ceramics. I am fairly new at it and learning through the process of making and experimenting. Back home in Kuala Lumpur, I work around the same hours as here, but I am surrounded with all my tools and materials as well as studio help.
Can you tell us about your approach to a new project? Does your initial starting point come from undertaking research or something existing in a new site?
It depends; sometimes I would start a work through the experimentation of materials, while other times it would start as a curious inquiry into a subject. An investigation into a topic takes a gestation period of a year or so and I like to take my time and approach the subject through gradual research and making, navigating through ideas that would steer the formal decisions of the body of work.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
When I was in London last year, I managed to catch the solo exhibition by Emma Hart titled ‘Mamma Mia!’ (2017) at the Whitechapel Gallery which culminated from her winning the Max Mara Art Prize for Women that year. I really enjoyed the installation, the theatricality of it and the sense of dread the shadows convey.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
Well, as mentioned, I will be in London until mid December for the residency at ACME. While in London, I am working on a body of work to be exhibited in Singapore with Richard Koh Fine Art in January 2019. The show will draw inspiration from a selection of objects from the British Museum, found texts from newspaper obtained from the tube and plastic containers and objects and will be framed within the context of me working in London.
Moreover, I am also working on a collaborative publication with Shanghai-based artist Tant Zhong, in which we would exchange images via email every few days as a form of communication and snoop into each other’s practices. I met Tant when I was in Shanghai for Condo and was drawn to her amazing work, thus thinking of a way to keep in touch, we concluded on a game of exchanges. The images, which are usually from our personal collection, will be compiled later into either a printed or digital publication and published mid next year.
Publish date: 02/10/2018
All Images are courtesy of the artist