First, tell me a bit more about yourself! What first interested you in making art?
I grew up in Singapore in the late 1990s and early 2000s during the Pokemon and Digimon craze and the cartoons played on TV on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But my mom would send me for extra math and science classes on weekend mornings, which meant that I couldn’t watch the cartoons. In order not to be left out among my friends, I started drawing my own Pokemon and Digimon comics when I was 8 and things snowballed from there. Honestly, that’s how I got into art.
You work in a variety of media; do you consider yourself a sculptor, or do you prefer to experiment with various materials?
I wouldn’t readily identify as a sculptor. I actually went to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore wanting to become a painter’s painter. But while in school, I discovered that my sensibilities were more material-centered than paint-specific and that I was both interested in images and objects. The painting department faculty gave me guidance and the freedom to pursue my interests and the work began to meander away from painting into what it is today. Although my current work is mostly sculptural and probably synergetic with its history, I definitely feel more connected to the history and practice of painting than that of sculpture, which I confess I don’t know enough about.
Can you tell me a bit more about your practice? Where do you derive your imagery from?
My practice is at the confluence of place, memory, image and autobiography.
I grew up in Singapore and I never left the country for the first 21 years of my life. Singapore is an island city-state and the whole country is a mere 45-minute drive from coast to coast, approximately the half the size of New York City. Until past my 21st birthday, I’ve never seen mountains, the open land, the ocean or the horizon. Being raised in this completely urban environment, any exposure I had to the natural landscape was through picture books, TV and later the internet. I admit I grew up quite deprived. But I believe this gave me a heightened sensitivity to the natural landscape. I see them as rich, precious and full of stories and histories, which I document, capture and pick up. Coming the US to study and subsequent traveling experiences as an adult pollinated my practice and refined the way I thought about and saw places.
The imagery in my work emerge primarily from two things- interesting things that I see in places that I try to replicate in my studio that eventually becomes something else and the nature of the materials that I use.
What is the significance of the titles to your works?
I title my pieces after part of something someone said, part of something I read, a description of an abstract feeling, direct translations from another language and misremembered song lyrics. These words when paired with an art piece, generates a new depth of meaning for both object and text, that did not exist prior to the pairing.
What is your studio or workspace like?
My studio is usually not the most pleasant place to be in. Usually very cluttered (yikes)!
Can you describe your process? Where do you find your materials? Do you have a favorite medium?
I find my materials from all over the place. To make forms I use a range of things- stainless steel, foam, plastics, piping, cane, wood, clay, paper, fabric, stone etc. Stone, wood and clay intrigue me in particular because they are drawn directly from earth. I collect plant samples, rocks and soil from places. I also collect sunlight at places using photochemical processes and drench paper in rainwater. After returning to my studio, I embed these materials into my pieces. I am interested in the stories that these materials which are specific to places tell about the places they come from.
What do you consider the most challenging aspect of pursuing art seriously, especially as a recent graduate?
I think like many artists who are just starting out, the most challenging aspect of pursuing art seriously is finding balance. In a few months, I will be balancing a teaching job in a high school, my marriage and my art practice, among other commitments. I’m still figuring out the boundaries that I need to put in place so that my art practice does not get eclipsed by everything else.
Is there a good piece of advice you’ve received, which you find yourself recalling often? Have you ever received any advice that you’ve been grateful, in the long run, that you decided not to take?
I was at an artist talk by photographer and environment activist Chris Jordan, he said that “We cannot make anything that is spiritually and emotionally deeper than we are. We need to spend time investigating those things in us.” This resonated with me. I tend to make from a personal, emotional, autobiographical place and I enjoy the authenticity of that. Often, I find work that is made primarily for conversation with contemporary art (although complex and thoughtful) lacking spirit. One of my photo professors in undergrad, Nate Larson, once said “Just make the work you want to make, and then see what theories it may invoke.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of doing your work? What compels you?
I was raised an atheist and converted to Christianity when I was 17 while I was still in Singapore. My faith has informed a lot of how I see the landscape and its offerings. I see the beautiful materials that I chance upon in the natural world as my God inviting me into discovery and wonder. The land and its vastness humbles me. Beholding it makes me wonder about humanity, mortality, glory, goodness, pain and longing. I guess my art comes as the fruit of these wonderings. I hope I continue to behold and to wonder.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions? Current projects?
Yes, I’ve returned to Singapore and I am based there now. I was just in a group show featuring emerging young Singaporean artists called Untapped: Discovery, organized by the Visual Art Development Association. It was an amazing opportunity to network with my contemporaries and to be put in touch with patrons. I have also been commissioned for a site-specific ceramic and stone installation in a Hakka-Chinese cemetery as part of the OH! Open House Artwalk in March 2017.
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