“I consider the objects I collect to be relics. They aren’t exact representations of a place, but they are fragments. Including these objects in an artwork adds yet another layer of significance to it.”
Interview by: Issey Scott
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?
I am an artist born and raised in Singapore. In 2013, I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from LASALLE College of the Arts, currently also where I am working at as a part-time lecturer. Though formally trained in the field of painting, I also dabble with assemblage, photography and sculptural installation. In my practice, I am interested in exploring stories and objects that are concerned with experiences of oppression and prejudice against communities whose identities may not fit. In response, survival strategies essential for thriving have emerged as recurring points of discussion throughout my works.
In the past, I have shown in exhibitions such as Object of Desire (Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York, 2019), The Incredible Frolic (Yavuz Gallery, 2018), If you think I winked, I did. (FOST Gallery, 2015), CRUISE (SHOPHOUSE5, Chan Hampe Galleries, 2015), No Approval (Grey Projects, 2013), and PROJECT 6581 (JCC, Embassy of Japan, 2013) to name a few. Aside from this, I have also been participating in artist residency programs, namely Youkobo Artist Residency (Tokyo, Japan), Taipei Artist Village (Taipei, Taiwan), Hubei Institute of Fine Arts (China), Facebook (Singapore) and Salzburger Kunstverein (Salzburg, Austria).
Aside from your own personal experiences, which other sources do you look at in shaping your artistic responses to systemic oppression?
Personal lived experiences play an integral part in informing the works I make. In many cases, the initial starting point of an idea for me has continuously been derived from observations of everyday occurrences and analytical dialogues of incidents. Being a dusky Malay gay person in the country where I live in, instances of being subjected to discrimination is nothing new. Casual racism and homophobia have been repeatedly ignored, normalised, and dismissed. Having said that, I have also become aware of the limitations in adopting a strictly insular approach towards my art-making process. In this sense, I feel that ignoring other individual, social and cultural contexts can be problematic as it limits the multiple readings and potential of the work. In my last solo exhibition where I showcased works developed from the residency programme with Taipei Artist Village in 2017, I relied quite heavily on referencing fiction novel Crystal Boys (1983).
During the period of my two- month residency, I took cue from the gay-themed novel written by author Pai Hsien- Yung as I navigated around popular cruising sites around Taipei, namely 228 Peace Memorial Park. Upon my return to Singapore, I then developed a body of works responding to several local sites, including heavy vehicle carparks, heartland swimming pools and public parks. I was also reading up extensively on the discussion threads pertaining cruising culture from a local gay forum page. The exhibition titled The Incredible Frolic eventually brought together both these body of works and it was quite apparent to me while working on them that I realised despite of the geographical differences, the parallels between them were plenty. Over the years, reading has gradually become somewhat of a coping mechanism for me as well. The fact that I could draw so many comparisons and resemblances between these narratives and my own experiences was truly enriching.
Animals have constantly been depicted in your works, could you elaborate about the relationship you share with animals?
My relationship with nature has always been quite elusive and instinctive to me. It was nurtured probably since my early childhood days when I was trying to figure out ways to connect with my late father. While my elder brother excelled in sports, I clearly did not. All I knew then was that I had to find some sort of hobby or interest that would be deemed as ‘less feminine’. My father passed on when I was 16, and by then, the interest with animals, particularly avians, was already so deep-rooted within me. In the past, I have had kept numerous birds as pets, namely the English Budgerigar, Norwich Canary, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Zebra Finch, Pin-tailed Whydah and Paradise Whydah, to mention a few. Until today, I find avians to be really smart creatures and not to mention, absolutely beautiful. So beautiful that I actually sent many of them to bird pageants. When I first enrolled into the Diploma programme in college, I was painting a lot of rhinoceroses. I then began to question why I was drawn to painting them and soon realised that it may have stemmed from me feeling that I was always behind someone else. I felt that there was something about this animal that connoted the idea of the second fiddle or of being the sidekick. In some ways, what I was exploring then is not very different from what I am exploring now.
Do you feel that working with different media (ie, between painting and sculpture) engages with different audiences, or garners different responses?
Most definitely! Today, we are constantly seeing creatives challenging presentation formats of exhibitions. It is no longer about just hanging works up in a space or simply filling up the walls. Likewise, such shifts can also be witnessed in how we comprehend categories of mediums and crafts as well. I feel like people have accepted meanings and definitions of something, and that those ideas have been made concrete. So there is an immovable understanding of, for example, what is painting, or, when does a painting becomes sculptural or even a sculpture itself. Of course such demarcations are important, but we should not treat them as unchangeable or untouchable. Getting back to the question, I feel that general audiences tend to rely very much on exhibition texts to tell them what they’re seeing and how they should be feeling instead of spending time thinking about the multiple readings of these mediums and materialities. Collecting found objects and sourcing out readymades can be seen as a recurring approach I employing in gathering objects as materials.
I consider the objects I collect to be relics. They aren’t exact representations of a place, but they are fragments. Including these objects in an artwork adds yet another layer of significance to it. As much as I can, I’d like to have the original object included. Other times, I do purchase objects. In those instances, I see those objects as replicas. There are already these layers of confusion, and on top of that, my work discusses some aspects of local gay culture. Not everyone (in Singapore) knows what cruising even is! When I make my works, I’ve always established a pretty clear sense of my objectives and contextual perspective. The message from the artist has to come first in my opinion. Though the consideration of the viewer’s perception is truly not any less important, but they will usually come into the picture later on while in the midst of making the work. This confusion triggered by the act of working with different mediums and unconventional approaches could perhaps also hint at how I employ certain strategies to mask some of the motivations behind the work.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
Last December, I made a one-week trip to Vienna to celebrate my birthday while I was doing the artist residency programme over at Salzburger Kunstverein in Salzburg. Needless to say, I made several visits to the galleries and museums. An artwork or rather an exhibition that stood out to me was by Cäcilia Brown at Gabriele Senn Galerie. I was especially intrigued by how clever and delicately she handled archival objects and materials, in this case, pairing debris from the demolished buildings with concrete and wax.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?
On regular days, I spent about 5 hours a week in my studio as I partly do my work from home as well. When timeline is tight, you can expect to see me sweating, in tears and laughing in my studio every day till pretty late. My studio is in a mess right now haha! In Singapore, where space is limited, renting a studio space or any space for that matter, is not cheap. I am so fortunate that I have a very understanding (and talented) studiomate who tolerates my bad housekeeping habits. Having good relationship dynamics with your studiomate is also a huge perk in my opinion as it creates a safe and conducive space to not only do work but also in providing an outlet to bounce off ideas and having conversations, hence engaging with the works even more critically.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I am currently busy in studio preparing for several shows taking place later in the second half of this year, of which will also include my second solo presentation with Yavuz Gallery.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish date: 02/04/2019