Culture / Art Republik

14 Exciting Faces in Singapore Art

Here are the Art Republik approved Singapore-based photographers, painters, sculptors, and creators you should know in 2015 and beyond.

Nov 19, 2015 | By Staff Writer

Singaporean art is knocking at the door of our collective consciousness and it’s getting harder and harder to ignore. If you haven’t been paying attention now’s the time to catch-up. Luckily for you, we’ve done the massive task of gathering these big names under one roof — the movers and shakers, the history makers, our flag bearers — on the occasion of Singapore’s big 50th anniversary. Here are the Art Republik approved photographers, painters, sculptors, and creators you should know in 2015 and beyond.

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Ang Song Nian

Ang Song Nian works with found materials and traces of human behaviours made visible within landscapes through photographic documentations and installation.

  • Name: Ang Song Nian
  • Age: 31
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: None
  • Tool(s) of choice: Left & right hands + camera
  • Influences: Mike Nelson, Thomas Demand and Phyllida Barlow
  • Instagram/Twitter: @songnian/no Twitter
  • If not art: Karang guni or hoarder
  • Favorite city to see art: London
  • Words you live by: ?

What’s your relationship to found objects?

I started collecting objects that I found along the streets and around my neighbourhood since I was 10. It slowly grew, as I smuggled all these pre-loved random objects back home. Then it got to a stage where I realised I was beginning to run out of room, and I started taking photos of them, especially those that I had to start giving up and discarding. It was a painful process, but then I had to do it anyway. Taking photographs of these things that I picked up, and then had to dispose became a therapeutic process of sort.

What’s important for you when someone looks at your work?

Firstly, they shouldn’t be expecting an answer, or a direct explanation. Instead, they should be walking away with questions like: What can art communicate that other media can’t? A chain of ideas and many possibilities and ways of interpretation.

With your brother being another prominent artist (Ang Song Ming), do you come from a creative family growing up?

Both Song Ming and I do realise the creative side that our father possesses. We think we’ve tapped some good influences from him. We do have very loving and caring parents though.

Were there any formative moments growing up that changed and shaped you as an artist?

It wasn’t till when I was much older, several years into committing myself to an artistic practice that I started to see all the influences that helped shaped my practice and artistic directions. My childhood hobby of picking up and bringing home all sorts of random objects found on the streets. My father’s unique aesthetic sensibilities which were displayed in many spontaneous sculptural installations all around the house. A lecturer who once told me: “You are what you do. If your work is shit, you’re shit.” And good few years spent in London, while exposing myself to the bigger and better things available, especially in the art world.

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“27/04/2012,” 2012, Ang Song Nian

Is photography always something you’ve always wanted to do?

Interestingly not. I think it found me.

You studied in London for an extended period. How did your education help you formulate you as an artist?

The infrastructure of the London arts scene is thoroughly developed. From established to emerging, rich to struggling artists, there seems to be a piece for everyone. Well, at least, you can see everyone is hungry – hungry enough to want to make it. A dynamic scene with lots of shows happening at galleries, museums and institutions. Everyone was passionate and committed to making things happen. Being able to experience all this was priceless. It just boils down to how bad you want something. The education system in the UK gives a lot of freedom when it comes to assignments and projects. We had a lot of our time during school made available for us to do our own exploration, experimentation and research. That being said, this much freedom then demands a lot of discipline on our part.

What does beauty mean to you?

I think it’s fed by our personal taste and beliefs.

Do you think growing up in Singapore influenced the way you approached photography and art in general?

We do work a lot faster than our compatriots overseas. Not necessarily always for the better, but it comes in useful at times. We’re just manic when it comes to work. I think. A tad too productive and result oriented at times, but we all learn to slow down, to observe and to experience.

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“Detour No. 3,” 2011, Ang Song Nian

Notable accolades

Winner for Photography, Noise Singapore, 2012; International Graduate Scholarship (MA Photography, London College of Communication), University of the Arts London, 2011; 2nd Prize, Photography, ASEAN-Korea Multimedia Competition, 2010; eCrea 2010 Award, Emergent Lleida Visual Arts and Photography Festival, 2010; Winner, Land Transport Authority Circle Line Art Programme, Dakota Station, 2008.

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Ang Song Ming

Ang Song Ming makes art using music as a starting point, constructing self-imposed restrictions for processes and situations to unfold. His work spans various media and is made from the overlapping perspectives of an artist, fan and amateur.

  • Name: Ang Song Ming
  • Age: 34
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore/Berlin
  • Gallery(s) represented by: FOST Gallery (Singapore)
  • Tool(s) of choice: I think anything can be used as material,
  • if you are sensitive to its qualities
  • Influences: Justin Bieber, Johann Sebastian Bach, Belle & Sebastian
  • Instagram/Twitter: @circadiansongs/@circadiansongs
  • If not art: Maybe I’d be a chess player
  • Favorite city to see art: Latent Spaces (A non-profit art space located in Haw Par Villa, Singapore, and run by artists Chun Kai Feng and Chun Kai Qun; It’s quite new but the programming has been engaging, intelligent and meaningful)
  • Words you live by: “Why does a major chord sound happy, and why does a minor chord sound sad?”

Could you tell me more about your artistic process?

I look at music as a cultural phenomenon and use it as a starting point for making artworks. Basically what I’m interested in is how we relate to music as individuals and as a society. My work are usually process-oriented, and might be of any medium. A lot of what I’ve made recently focuses on learning. In my various projects, I’ve learnt how to salvage a piano, play a Bach piece backwards, and reproduce Justin Bieber’s autograph.

You’re currently based in Berlin. What is your studio space like and what does it mean to you?

I work from a home-studio in Berlin, where I do my craft-based work and administrative stuff. Working from home makes sense because I don’t enjoy commuting, and I can work anytime I want. But there are also productions that take place outside, like shooting videos on location, or collaborating with workshops.

What’s your relationship to found objects?

I look at musical paraphernalia and instruments as found objects, and think about where they come from, and how. Found objects and existing phenomena all have their own histories. This makes them interesting for me to work with.

What’s important for you when someone looks at your work? Do you think you’re trying to have a conversation with the viewer about your pieces?

Yes, I try to begin with the end in mind, and try to imagine how a viewer might read an artwork before I make it. But I think I have different artworks that do different things. Sometimes they are an invitation, sometimes a provocation.

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“Backwards Bach,” 2013, Ang Song Ming

Your brother Ang Song Nian, is a prominent artist as well as yourself. Do you come from a creative family growing up?

My father is very good with his hands, and enjoys repairing and salvaging things. My mother is a very thoughtful, sensitive person who is quite gifted in languages. I’m very grateful that they’ve allowed us to do what we want with our lives.

With regard to your upbringing, were there any formative moments growing up that affected you as an artist?

I sort of fell into art by chance. I was making experimental music when I was younger, but some of my works had taken on formats that crossed into contemporary art, like installations and listening parties. Heman Chong saw my work around 2007 and suggested I should consider moving into art, which I’m very thankful for.

Some of your work seems to have/hint at narratives. Does your background in English Literature lend to that? Are narratives and stories something you think about in your work?

Yes, some of my work contains some form of narrative, which might have seeped in from my background in English Literature. But I’m also very interested in rule-based works found in conceptual art and avant garde music, for example Sol LeWitt’s drawings and La Monte Young’s compositions. What I’m trying to do is to provide the structure for things to happen in their own way.

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“Parts and Labour,” 2012, Ang Song Ming

What artists have you looked up to?

I admire Matthew Ngui both as an artist and a person. His retrospective at the National Museum in 2007 showed how focused and consistent his art practice is. I think Matthew thinks hard about why a work has to be made before he makes it, which takes integrity and discipline. Matthew directed the 3rd Singapore Biennale in 2011 and showed my work there. He told me, “I see my role as someone to tighten all the loose ends,” which I remember very clearly because it showed how modest he is.

Do you find the creative process therapeutic?

Yes, it’s sometimes therapeutic, occasionally agonising, but always fulfilling. I get a lot of enjoyment from making art.

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“Parts and Labour,” 2012, Ang Song Ming

It’s said in one of the articles on yourself, that pop culture is one of the things you’re interested in. How do you stay in the present moment? What are some of your preoccupations right now?

I’m interested in pop culture because it is pervasive and has a fairly big impact on our lives, so for me it’s actually an area of research. At the moment my work happens to focus on notions of labour, craft, and dedication, which are all human aspects common to art and music.

Are memories, nostalgia important to you?

Yes, I think we can be better human beings if we are sensitive to the past.

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Above and below: “Parts and Labour,” 2012, Ang Song Ming

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Notable accolades

Art-in-Transit, Land Transport Authority Singapore, 2013; Young Artist Award, National Arts Council Singapore, 2011; The Art Incubator, Singapore, 2010; Sovereign Asian Art Prize, Singapore finalist, 2010; Overseas Scholarship, National Arts Council Singapore, 2008.

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Chen Sai Hua Kuan

Chen Sai Hua Kuan’s practice is uniquely open. Garbage, silverware, industrial materials, anything can inspire him and becomes his material. With no limitation and boundary, Kuan’s installation, video, performances, photographs, and objects combine visual simplicity and playfulness.

  • Name: Chen Sai Hua Kuan
  • Age: 39
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Yavuz Gallery, Osage Gallery, iPRECIATION
  • Tool(s) of choice: All
  • Influences: Space, noise, sound
  • Instagram/Twitter: None
  • If not art: Flying
  • Favorite city to see art: Towards the grey sky
  • Words you live by: “Why not.”

How important is illusion in your work?

Sometimes, maybe, not sure, somehow…

What’s important when someone looks at your work?

Depends on the viewer.

Growing up, were there any formative moments that affected you as an artist?

Must be a genius to remember.

What artists have you looked up to?

Robert Irwin and Einstein.

Are memories, the past, important to you?

Not sure, maybe, I think so…

Do you find the creative process therapeutic?

No, the making process is more therapeutic.

Do you think growing up in Singapore influenced the way you’ve approached your practice and perspective regarding art?

Yes and no…

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“Bottles and Fans” (detailed view), 2010, Chen Sai Hua Kuan

Do Not Stand Above this Step, You can Lose Your Balance

“Do Not Stand Above this Step, You can Lose Your Balance” (detailed view), 2010, Chen Sai Hua Kuan

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“No Turn” (detailed view), 2012, Chen Sai Hua Kuan

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“Something Nothing,” 2014, Chen Sai Hua Kuan

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“Sounds of the Earth,” 2013, Chen Sai Hua Kuan

 

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“Untitled CG,”, 2012, Chen Sai Hua Kuan

Notable accolades

“Countershadows (Tactics in Evasion)”, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Singapore, 2014; “Space Drawing”, OSAGE Gallery, Hong Kong, 2014; “Quo Vadis: The last drawing show”, The University of New South Wales, Galleries Sydney, 2014; “If the World Changed”, The Singapore Biennale 2013, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2013; “Winds of Artist in Residence 2013 –Part 1”, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan, 2013.

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Dawn Ng

With a background in studio art and journalism, Dawn Ng spent 10 years across Singapore, Paris and New York straddling art, design and advertising. To date, Dawn has worked across a breadth of media, motives and scale ranging from collage, photography, illustration, light and installation.

  • Name: Dawn Ng
  • Age: 32
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Chan Hampe Galleries
  • Tool(s) of choice: Anything + everything
  • Influences: None
  • Instagram/Twitter: @dawn___ng (that’s three underscores)/
  • no Twitter
  • If not art: Then nothing
  • Favorite city to see art: New York
  • Words you live by: “The truth is always interesting.”

Are memories/nostalgia important to you?

Memories, yes. After all, aren’t we each just the sum of them? Nostalgia is a human condition.

Coming from an advertising background, there’s always the importance of storytelling. Do you frequently think about the viewer?

No. I am the only viewer when it comes to my work. Thinking about a whole bunch of people I don’t know seems superfluous. That’s actually something I didn’t care for in advertising.

What’s work mode for you like, does it vary depending on the medium?

I think it is dependent on the story I want to tell rather than the medium.

Do you think growing up in Singapore influenced the way you see art?

Growing up here has influenced my work but not necessarily the way I see art.

Why should people be going out to look at art?

I think people should be always actively looking. It doesn’t have to be at art. The unexamined life is truly not worth living.

How do you see yourself now, compared to when you first started out?

More pointed.

Does creating work help combat feelings of frustration?

It brings about its own frustrations.

Is it important to be optimistic?

I think optimistic or otherwise, it’s most important to be yourself.

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Feng He Re Li, Dawn Ng

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“Green” (detailed view), Dawn Ng

 

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“Once Upon a House,” Dawn Ng

Yellow

“Yellow” (detailed view), Dawn Ng

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“Flats” (detailed view), Dawn Ng

Notable accolades

(Solo Shows) WINDOWSHOP, Chan Hampe Galleries, Singapore, 2014; SIXTEEN, Art Basel Hong Kong, 2013. (Public/Museum Exhibitions) PERFECT DAY, Art in Motion, Commissioned Light Installation, Loof Bar, Singapore, 2014; THE SIGN, National Arts Council Commission, East Coast Parkway, Singapore, 2013. (Public/Corporate Collectors) WALTER, Float Sculpture, Permanent collection of the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2011.

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Sarah Choo Jing

Sarah Choo Jing is a multidisciplinary fine artist who is currently pursuing her MFA in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Art, University College London.

  • Name: Sarah Choo Jing
  • Age: 24
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore/London
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Galerie Sogan & Art
  • Tool(s) of choice: The most appropriate medium to
  • convey my intention
  • Influences: Personal experiences and the everyday
  • Instagram/Twitter: @sarahchoojing/no Twitter
  • If not art: If not art, I would teach
  • Favorite city to see art: I see all cities as art
  • pieces themselves
  • Words you live by: “Never settle for less. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

What’s important when someone looks at your work?

What is most important is for my viewer to feel an emotional connection to the piece and to reflect upon what they are looking at.

What artists have you looked up to?

I am often inspired by artists who work with different media – installation artists, film makers, painters, both fine art and fashion photographers. To name a few: Chuck Close, Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Walls, Bill Viola, Eugenio Recuenco – these are all individuals whom I admire for various reasons, both in terms of their skills and ability to overcome challenges.

What is beauty to you?

‘Beauty’ is intriguing. I find it both seductive and repelling. Beauty is, to me; likened to the source of light to a moth. It is illusive.

You feature people close to you, as well as yourself in your work. What does viscerally inserting yourself in your work do for you? Do you feel there is a therapeutic, a sort of cathartic aspect to it?

I see people around me as characters with different stories to tell. With my earlier works, I have staged and directed people who are close to me. My practise has since developed into looking at the everyday – people on the streets or at their jobs, strangers I encounter on dérives. I suppose it felt right to first look at the people around and are close to me, before looking outwards at individuals in contemporary society.

Art is indeed therapeutic. It encourages both the artist and the viewer to contemplate and to reflect. If I were to be represented as a book- my artworks would probably be the pages to my biography. Each page/work would be a record of every emotion, encounter and conversation I had with someone/something and no one/nothing, in a particular situation.

Many people, those who are not closely involved with the art world especially, might think it’s free from gender inequity. What are your thoughts?

Gender inequity is a prevalent issue in society. I don’t believe there is any industry that is completely free from such imparity. Having said that, I do believe that a good piece of work speaks for itself, regardless of the gender of an artist. With a positive attitude, one can go far – whether male or female.

Do you think growing up in Singapore influenced the way you see art?

As mentioned, I am very much influenced by my observations and experiences in life. Hence, growing up in Singapore has definitely left an indelible mark in the way I approach and look at Art. I am drawn towards a particular aesthetic characterized by highly controlled and manipulated compositions; and I do think that is reflective of the environment which influences me.

How did your education help you formulate you as an artist?

I am thankful and fortunate to have gone through education in Singapore. My tutors and fellow peers have contributed greatly to the development of my practise through imparting skills and participating in rigorous critique sessions. As much as education is important in honing one’s skills, I do believe that practical experience is vital at the same time.

Your work deals a lot with solitude and melancholy, what are your feelings towards optimism? Is being optimistic important?

Optimism for me, exists in terms of hope and belief. I often reflect upon issues of social alienation and isolation through my works. I hope to be able to create pieces which others can resonate with. Creating illusions through my composites is a form of optimism, as it allows for one to momentarily escape from the real world. I believe that having a positive outlook, facilitates resilience. Hence, when it comes to challenging situations on a day to day basis, it is always of priority to remain clear headed and optimistic.

Can happiness exist without pain?

I personally do not think that happiness and pain can exist independently. It is almost impossible to define one without the other and it is perhaps through experiencing one that we come to understand the other.

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“Puddles in the City” (detailed view), Paris, 2013, Sarah Choo

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“Waiting for the Elevator” (detailed view), Sarah Choo

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“Wonderland” (detailed view), 2014, Sarah Choo

Notable accolades

Finalist, The Sovereign Art Prize, The Sovereign Art Foundation, 2014; Finalist, Esposizione Triennale Di Arti Visive A Roma 2014, Italy, 2014; Gold Medal Award, Lee Kwan Yew Gold Medal Award, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2013; Photographer of the Year (Professional, Fine Art Category), 4th Pollux Awards, The Worldwide Photography Gala Awards in Europe, 2013; First Prize, ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu Photography Award, Singapore, 2013.

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Jason Wee

Jason Wee is an artist, curator, writer, and founder of Grey Projects, an artist-directed alternative art space in Singapore.

  • Name: Jason Wee
  • Age: 36
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore/New York
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Galerie Michael Janssen, Sundaram Tagore Gallery
  • Tool(s) of choice: A beer
  • Influences: All the people I’ve slept with
  • Instagram/Twitter: No Instagram/@jasonwee
  • If not art: Architecture
  • Favorite city to see art: Berlin
  • Words you live by: “As long as they are not my own.”

What’s work mode for you, and does it vary depending on the role you assume for a project?

If I am working, I am usually surrounded by books, graphic novels, and music is playing – Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Thom Yorke, Robyn, and these days Lewis, A-Mei and Stars are on the playlist as well. If I am writing, then the music is off, and I’d have with me particular kinds of books, more poetry, art magazines, and bits of architecture.

Do you think growing up in Singapore influenced the way you approached your practice and art in general?

Undoubtedly. But I am uninterested in finessing the specifics, because I think the influence is already heavy and over-determining for so many people.

How important is collaboration to you?

Collaboration is less like being colleagues than like a friendship, best unforced and left to its own rhythms, and when it’s good, it’s as good as love.

Grey Projects is known for its experimental curatorial approach, what are some of the prevailing/traditional ideas/perceptions regarding exhibitions are you interested in challenging?

That the emerging is always about the young or about the latest wave. That ‘Singapore art’ must have some sign or effect of Singapore front and center.

A lot of your work deals with narratives dealing with and revolving around the urban metropolis. Given that you’ve had residencies in most major cities around the world, what is city living to you? What are your preoccupations and what disturbs you about it?

I enjoy the cities I currently live in, New York and Singapore. One, I love because I have to, the other I love because I cannot bear not to. Berlin is carving out a special place, I am spending more time there this year. I am interested in paradox and parallax, in pluralities and assemblages, in erotics and porn, in clothing and nudity, I leave it to others to tell me if that’s disturbing or not.

Is it important to be optimistic?

It is. And it is just as important to be melancholic, and skeptical.

What’s coming up in 2015 for you?

I have an exhibition coming up with Michael Janssen Gallery Berlin, and also curating a show in ifa-Galerie Stuttgart and Berlin. I am creating new video work with the Singapore Fringe Festival from Jan till March 2015. I am also working on my next book.

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“Requiem (The Sea Can’t Reach You Now)” (installation view), 2014, Jason Wee

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“Self-Portrait (Number One)”, 2009-2014, Jason Wee

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“A Forever That Never Fades,” 2014, Jason Wee

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“Tombstone (Dates)”, 2014, Jason Wee

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“Tombstone (Accomplishments)” (detailed view), 2014, Jason Wee

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Above and below: “Lord Mountbatten Thinks of Pink” (detailed view), 2009-2010, Jason Wee

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Notable accolades

Prudential Singapore Eye Exhibition, ArtScience Museum, 2015; Requiem, The Sea Can’t Reach You Now, Michael Janssen Gallery, 2014; Artist-in-Residence, Gyeonggi Creation Center, Seoul, 2014; Dean’s Merit Scholar, Harvard University GSD, 2010-12; Paradise Is Elsewhere, ifa galerie Berlin and Stuttgart, 2009.

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Loo Zihan

Loo Zihan is a performance and moving-image artist and educator based in Singapore. He is interested in the effectual transference and transmutation of shame in his work.

  • Name: Loo Zihan
  • Age: 31
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: None
  • Tool(s) of choice: Body
  • Influences: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Instagram/Twitter: @loozihan
  • If not art: Then what?
  • Favorite city to see art: New York
  • Words you live by: “Veracity.”

Is performance art always something you’ve always wanted to do?

No. I wanted to be a graphic designer when I was younger. I knew I wanted to be in the creative industry. I would not consider myself as a performance artist, but an artist that works with the tension of the body and the devices that capture its image.

Is there a way you want a viewer to approach your work? Does that enter into your process?

Audience reception and response is part of the work. There is a certain complicity and immediacy between an artist and his audience in a ‘live’ performance which is quite magical.

How do you see your work? Do you feel it as having some sort of instrumentality?

Artists design their work to have an impact on society, so yes, there is hope that art, in general is necessary and instrumental for the expansion of one’s world view. Unfortunately, that perception is not often echoed by the public and it is our responsibility to raise awareness of the power and latent potential of art.

With regard to your upbringing, were there any formative moments growing up that affected you as an artist?

The desire to take risks, pushing oneself beyond one’s comfort zone. Military conscription was quite informative – it raised my tolerance level, and gave me a gauge of the limits of my physical and mental strength. I would not say it was a pleasant experience, but it had an impact on my growth as a person.

What artists have you looked up to?

Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

A lot of your work deals with very serious and dire issues, usually under the spectre of totalitarianism. Is optimism important to you?

I am not a very humorous person, and I guess that is the lack that I recognize. I wish I could be less intense and more flippant about my work, but the unfortunate thing is I take things too seriously.

What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty matters, it needs to exist in art if only to reflect the abject. It is my hope that the public can look beyond beauty, or invest in things that are not inherently beautiful. That tension and struggle to look at things that do not bring pleasure upon the onlooker is necessary to challenge conventions.

Why should people care about art?

Because art is illogical, it defies logic – there is no reason for it to exist, and in this illogic lies the power of art. If everything in the world is organised into the rationale and the pragmatic, it would be a very dull world we live in.

How would you compare yourself now to when you first started out?

Less naive, but unfortunately also less foolhardy and stubborn.

What’s the end goal?

To live a life worth living, to make work that matters and will stand the test of time.

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“Cane,” 2012, Loo Zihan

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“Artists’ General Assembly – The Langenbach Archive” (detailed view), 2013, Loo Zihan

Notable accolades

Solo exhibition ‘Archiving Cane’ at the Substation, 2012; Awarded the James Nelson Raymond Graduate Fellowship, 2011; Awarded ‘Best Script’ for Threshold (Film), 1st Singapore Short Film Awards, The Substation, Singapore, 2010; Valedictorian for the School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2009; Awarded the ‘Nuovo Sguardi’ award at the 23rd Turin GLBT Film Festival (Italy), 2008.

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Nguan

With a degree in Film and Video Production from Northwestern University, Illinois, Nguan is a Singaporean photographer whose work is about big city yearning, ordinary fantasies and emotional globalization.

  • Name: Nguan
  • Age: 41
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: None
  • Tool(s) of choice: Camera
  • Influences: Raoul Coutard
  • Instagram/Twitter: @_nguan_/@nguan
  • If not art: Footballer
  • Favorite city to see art: New York
  • Words you live by: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

What does beauty mean to you?

Everything.

What’s important when someone looks at your work?

I would hope for him or her to be affected by it.

Did you come from a creative family growing up?

We were moderately creative. My father was an architect. My brother and I made comic books to entertain each other.

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“Untitled,” 2013, Nguan

When you were young, were there any formative moments growing up that affected you as an artist?

I can’t talk about this.

What makes a photograph good?

Eloquence. An image should be fully articulate without relying on potential crutches such as text captions or sound.

Do you think you’re trying to have a conversation with the viewer with your pieces?

Yes, absolutely. Let’s speak only with pictures and fumble towards empathy.

Is photography something you’ve always wanted to do?

No, I wasn’t remotely interested in photography until my late twenties. I thought I was going to be an illustrator, a writer or a filmmaker. It was only at some point when I recognized the potential of photography. It provides a semblance to the real world that cannot be matched in any other craft. Of course, this semblance can be amplified, abused or embellished – therein lies the art.

You’re known for working strictly with analogue processes and gear. Is there something about their limitations, the ethereal qualities of finding the perfect shot, the fact that light has to react to chemicals physically on the film in your camera… Is there a poetic reason to your analogue approach?

My reasons are unabashedly fetishistic. When you photograph on film, you are capturing heat in the form of light. A negative that is exposed in someone’s presence has to be transformed by his or her warmth before an image can be formed. That piece of film therefore contains physical evidence of a life.

What’s the end goal?

There is none. The work is its own reward.

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“Untitled,” from the series Singapore, 2011

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“Untitled,” from the series Singapore, 2011

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“Untitled,” from the series Shibuya, 2011

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“Untitled,” 2008

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“Untitled,” from the series Singapore, 2012

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“Untitled,” from the series Singapore, 2013

Notable accolades

(Solo exhibitions) ‘How Loneliness Goes’, M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, ION Art, Singapore, 2015; ‘24/7 featuring Nguan’, Sculpture Square, Singapore, 2013. (Group Exhibitions) ‘Once Upon This Island’, Singapore Art Museum, 2015; ‘Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong’ Para/Site, Hong Kong, 2014. (Permanent Collections) Singapore Art Museum.

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Ming Wong

Ming Wong is a multi-talented, internationally acclaimed Singaporean artist who likes to explore the shifting nature of identity across cultures through the veneers of language and play.

  • Name: Ming Wong
  • Age: 43
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore/Berlin
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Vitamin Creative Space (Guangzhou), carlier | gebauer (Berlin)
  • Tool(s) of choice: Lipstick
  • Influences: Pasolini
  • Instagram/Twitter: None
  • If not art: Hat-making
  • Favorite city to see art: Berlin
  • Words you live by: “It’s only art.”

Could you tell me more about your process?

It involves research into cinema history, the stories behind the making of certain films, the personal stories of the directors, actors, cast and crew before and after the film, background (of the time and place where and when the film was made, etc.), and how the film/s still have resonance or impact in the present.

What is it about listening to other people speak, listening to their experiences, or their points of view that helps you in your work?

I like to listen to people talk about their favourite films.

When did you first head to Berlin? What was that transition like, and what was the community like then?

I moved to Berlin in 2007, there was lots of space, mental and physical, to think and work. Rent was really cheap then. It’s slowly gentrifying.

How did growing up in Singapore influence the way you approached cinema and art in general?

In Singapore you can watch cinema from various countries. The multi-cultural aspect in popular culture is something unique and not to be taken for granted.

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“Windows On The World (Part Two: Shanghai)” (detailed view), 2014, Ming Wong

Cinema is viewed as the ‘language of reality’ by pioneering Italian auteurs like Fellini and Pasolini. You have described some of your work as ‘impostoring’. What is realism to you? Do you feel that aspects of illusion can bring forth truth, in clearer, more visceral ways?

Artifice is the key to truth.

In your work, there is a duality of ‘funny’ and ‘unsettling-ness’. Is humour important? Is that something that you think about?

Humor is an important weapon, against thought-control.

Cinema revolves around the art of narratives and story-telling. Do you frequently think about the viewer?

My background was in theater, so one acknowledges the audience, and how they could think or feel. One needs a certain amount of ’empathy’ in order to do this effectively.

With regards to your upbringing, were there any formative moments growing up that affected you as an artist?

My father encouraged me to read; he would take me to MPH bookstore every weekend – a valuable gift.

What are thoughts on the connection between art and cinema?

I take the definition of cinema as evolving: cinema, moving image, video: combines several disciplines: literature, theater/performance/painting (image in a frame), music, etc. It’s a powerful medium that moves your heart and mind.

What’s coming up in 2015 for you?

My first institutional solo exhibition in China, at UCCA in Beijing opens in June. I’m shooting new material for it in Shanghai. This will be the first time I make brand new work in mainland China. I’m also working on a commission for the Asia Pacific Triennial 2015.

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“After Chinatown” (detailed view, above and below), 2012, Ming Wong

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Video stills from “Me in Me” (detailed view, above, below and bottom), 2013, Ming Wong

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Notable accolades

‘Islands Off the Shores of Asia’, Para Site/Spring Workshop, Hong Kong, 2014; Unlimited, Art Basel, Switzerland, 2014; ‘Me in Me’, Shiseido Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, 2013; ‘Ming Wong: Making Chinatown’, REDCAT, Los Angeles, USA, 2012; ‘Life of Imitation’, Singapore Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale, Italy, 2009.

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Zulkifle Mahmod

Zulkifle Mahmod is at the forefront of a generation of sound-media artists in Singapore’s contemporary art development, adopting a multi-disciplinary/multi-genre approach that also includes drawings, prints, sculptures and ready-mades.

  • Name: Zulkifle Mahmod
  • Age: 39
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Yeo Workshop
  • Tool(s) of choice: Sound
  • Influences: Joseph Beuys, Jeff Koons, Merzbow
  • Instagram/Twitter: @zulmahmod/@zulmahmodartist
  • If not art: No idea
  • Favorite city to see art: Berlin
  • Words you live by: “Believe in yourself.”

Could you tell me more about your process?

I like to walk a lot and just observe people and my surroundings. After which I put down all my thoughts and ideas onto my sketch book before I start on the actual artwork where I experiment with technology.

Where do you draw the line between the technological and the artistic?

When technology becomes the main component. I’m always putting the artistic first then the technology. Technology is just a medium like painting, sculpture and ceramics.

What artists do you look up to?

I’m always influenced by Joseph Beuys and Jeff Koons. Surprisingly, I’m not so much influenced by sound artists. Well, I do read about John Cage and his work, and it is interesting but somehow, it does not influence my work.

Is sound art something you’ve always wanted to do?

I was trained as a sculptor. I was introduced to sound work when I was doing my residency in Ona, Norway in 2001 by a Dutch artist. Back then it was more like computer music. So when I came back to Singapore, I explored further into sound.

Working away from a visual aspect most of the time, what does beauty mean to you?

The ability to transform noise into something pleasurable and it be part of you.

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“No Substance” (detailed view), 2014;  Zulkifle Mahmod

What can art communicate that other media can’t?

The soul and honesty.

Do you think growing up in Singapore impacted or influenced the way you approached your practice and art in general?

Of course. I can’t deny it. It’s the most important part of me and my work.

Is there a way you want a viewer to approach your work? Does that enter into your process?

No. Just approach it how they want to. It’s better to approach it with an open mind like any other art forms.

Do you think the art and technological worlds are moving closer together, or should move closer together?

I think they should move closer together. It will expand the vocabulary of the work further. Having said that, we should not ignore the soul of the work.

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“No Substance” (detailed view), 2014;  Zulkifle Mahmod

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“ARENA V2” (detailed view, above and below), 2014;  Zulkifle Mahmod

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“Sonic Encounter” (detailed view, Singapore), 2014, Zulkifle Mahmod

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“Sonically Exposed” (detailed view), 2014, Zulkifle Mahmod

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“Dancing with Frequencies” (detailed view), 2009, Zulkifle Mahmod

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“Sonic Dome. An Empire of Thoughts” (detailed view), 2007, Zulkifle Mahmod

Notable accolades

ZUL: SONICALLY EXPOSED, The Private Museum Gallery, Singapore, 2014; MEDIUM AT LARGE: Shapeshifting Material & Methods in Contemporary Art, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2014; The Realm in the Mirror, the Vision out of Image, Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum, China, 2013; ART STAYS 9. FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART, Ptuj, Slovenia Bastija, 2011; 52nd Venice Biennale, Singapore Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2007.

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Jahan Loh

Jahan Loh is a visual artist whose roots are firmly entrenched in the polemics of both classical and street art. Jahan Loh merges traditional media with guerrilla aesthetics to forge an inimitable style.

  • Name: Jahan Loh
  • Age: 38
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Chan Hampe Galleries (Singapore),
  • Ode To Art (Singapore), Mingart (Taipei)
  • Tool(s) of choice: Aerosol paint, acrylic, markers
  • Influences: PHASE02, CRASHONE, Basquiat, Jeff Koons, COCO144
  • Instagram/Twitter: @jahan_/no Twitter
  • If not art: Then what?
  • Favorite city to see art: New York
  • Words you live by: “See the world from another dimension.”

How do you conceptualize a piece?

It starts with the conceptualization of ideas and narrowing them down, I am quite a compulsive sketcher and I pen my thoughts down in a sketchbook and develop these initial ideas into concepts and try to paint or sculpt these pieces after to form a series of work.

When do you know you’re finished with a piece?

I guess you know it when you know it, it’s hard to say. Some paintings take a short time and others take up to a year to be completed.

How do you see your work?

Still a huge work in progress. There’s still so much I want to create but I am limited by having only one pair of hands.

Do you feel collaboration is important?

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“Full Metal Twenty Three,” 2014, Jahan Loh

Collaborations are always interesting, but they have to make sense. The synergies involved by different parties to create something can be difficult but fun.

When did you first move to Taiwan? And what was that transition like?

Maybe I was younger and was fortunate to be surrounded in a new environment with the company of friends, so it didn’t feel like that much of a transition when compared to my move back to Singapore three years ago.

How do you feel about the state of street art now, as it gets more widely accepted and altogether misunderstood as a ‘play on form’? Do you think it can exist without its true raison d’être, which has always been based on non-conformity, diversity and rebellion?

Street art is sanctioned art done in an urban style, and it is very different from graffiti. I would say that graffiti is like a wild tiger in the jungle and street art is like a tiger in a zoo. Both entities have the same DNA but they have a different spirit and message in all of them. One is a spirit of rebellion and another a showcase of control. I don’t think there is anything wrong with both of these forms of expression, it is just a reflection of changing times.

Do you feel your participation in the fashion world is connected with your art practice?

I do not segregate projects into art, fashion or design. I think everything stems from art, and things that spin off it are just different media and permutations of that initial concept which was expressed as an artwork. Traditional art institutions in Singapore like the Museums are romantic puritans living in a bygone era, they segregate design in the design world, art in the art world and fashion in the fashion world. They fail to see that everything is connected in the real world. Today, people in general have a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between these entities. People in fashion understand what is considered street art, people in the art world have an understanding of sneakers and street wear. Today, all these aesthetic worlds have merged into one huge cultural playground with multiple platforms for contemporary artists.

Why should people care about art?

Everything is interlinked, art imitates life, so maybe one should take a look at life from a different perspective.

Many of the artists we’ve spoken to utilize Instagram not only as a communicative tool, but as a source of inspiration. How do you use Instagram?

I use it for fun, and to look at interesting photos.

What’s coming up?

I am preparing a new body of work for my art residency at MANA contemporary and shows in NYC and Taipei.

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“The Ratrace,” 2011, Jahan Loh

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“Mars” 2011, Jahan Loh

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“Beijing 01,” 2011, Jahan Loh

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“The Risen,” 2011, Jahan Loh

Notable accolades

Gentlemen’s league (Joint show with John “CRASH” Matos), Miami Basel/USA, 2014; THREE (Solo art show, sponsored by Casio G-Shock), Wangfujing/Beijing, 2014; Ghost: The Body at the turn of the Century, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore Biennale 2013, Sculpture Square, Singapore, 2013; Double Dragon (Joint show with Steve Caballero), UNITY Gallery/Hong Kong, 2013; Working Class Hero, Chan Hampe Galleries, Singapore, 2013.

Facing page: Full Metal Twenty Three, 2014, Jahan Loh.

This page, clockwise from top left: Beijing 01, 2014; Mars, 2009; The Ratrace, 2011; The Risen 02, 2013, Jahan Loh.

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Jason Lim

Jason Lim is a Singaporean artist whose repertoire of works encompasses ceramics, photography, video art, installation art and performance art. He has organized and created various platforms for alternative art practitioners to meet and collaborate, and currently teaches at School Of The Arts, Singapore.

  • Name: Jason Lim
  • Age: 48
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Gajah Gallery
  • Tool(s) of choice: Heart
  • Influences: Boris Nieslony, Norbert Klassen
  • Instagram/Twitter: @lin_rong_hua/no Twitter
  • If not art: Teach
  • Favorite city to see art: Venice
  • Words you live by: “Chance, choice, change.”

You work in a number of media. How did you start out? And what’s your connection to ceramics?

Different ideas need different media for expression and execution. It is also healthy that an artist is willing to take the risk to explore various media and get out of his comfort zone. I had my training in ceramics but started off my art practice making installation art then performance art.

I hear you’ve taken up meditation. Is that to temper the chaos in your life, or to complement an existing interest in patience and stoicism?

With meditation I hope to become a better human being.

Were you spiritual growing up?

I was brought up in a family where my father was a Taoist and my mother practiced Japanese Buddhism. I studied in a Catholic school going to mass every Friday and my ex-wife is a Muslim. Now I am living by the teachings of Buddha. So, go figure.

Is there a way you want a viewer to approach your work? Does that enter into your process?

I am interested in creating images and encourage viewer to interpret my work according to their own life experience. In doing so, layers of meanings created by viewers enriches the works.

What does viscerally inserting yourself in your performances do for you personally? Do you feel it is therapeutic, a sort of catharsis?

It is important to have my own presence in my work. The presence of the artist’s body is one of four important essences of performance art. The other three essences being time, space and audience. I am no longer Jason Lim during a performance, I am a body in real time and space actualizing an idea, witnessed by a group of people.

Does creating work help you combat frustration?

Sometimes it is the process of the works that are frustrating. I see these works as a challenge for character building. I prefer to take the challenges positively as a learning journey which is what life is all about – we learn something every day until the day we stop living.

How did growing up in Singapore influence you?

The ‘restrictions’ in Singapore create boundaries for me to push in my art practice. I find this challenging and it influence me in the way I think, make and present things. The second thing about Singapore that influences me is the constant development. This constant changes, tearing down and rebuilding makes it clear for me the concept of nothing is permanent. This understanding influences the way I use the materials in both my ceramics and performance art practices.

How would you compare yourself now to when you’ve first started out?

I have grown older and have a wider perspective of things. With experiences and maturity, the same issues can be dealt with differently.

What’s work mode for you, and does it vary depending on the medium you’re working in?

New experiences, new places, new cultures, interesting human behaviors and rituals, history, nature, and conversations – all these can spark off new ways of working for me.

Why should people care about art at all?

Because art is about life.

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“Head Stones, Patagonia, Chile,” 2014, Jason Lim

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“Landscape Studies” series (detailed view, above and below), 2013, Jason Lim

H6 Kiln Bricks and Metal 22x18x20cm 2013

Notable accolades

Co-Artistic Director and Artistic Director of Future of Imagination (an international performance art event held in Singapore) 2 (2004) & 5 (2008) and 7 (2011), 8 (2012) & 9 (2014) respectively; Guest artist to join performance art collective Black Market International in their 25th anniversary celebration tour of Poland, Germany and Switzerland, 2010; Juror’s Prize, 4th World Ceramics Biennale, Korea, 2007.

Photo by Amos Wong b&w edit

Ho Tzu Nyen

Ho Tzu Nyen is a Singaporean visual artist who works primarily in film, video, and performance, and has recently developed environmental multimedia installations. He has also written extensively on art.

  • Name: Ho Tzu Nyen
  • Age: 38
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: None
  • Tool(s) of choice: The nervous system
  • Influences: Andrei Tarkovsky, Gilles Deleuze
  • Instagram/Twitter: None
  • If not art: Then I’ll just read…
  • Favorite city to see art: None
  • Words you live by: “Stay alive.”

Is filmmaking always something you’ve always wanted to do?

Not at all. Actually, for the longest time, I did not desire to do anything at all, but simply to be left to my own devices, so that I can pursue and investigate my various curiosities.

It is said, in descriptions of you, philosophical texts are one of your preoccupations. What philosophers/writers/theorists have you looked up to? Is there a particular arc of philosophy that you’re interested in?

There are many writers and thinkers who have been important for me. If I just have to name one, it would be Friedrich Nietzsche. I don’t think there is a particular arc of philosophy that I’m drawn to, but the books which move me the most, are those in which my experience of reading was intensely physical.

Do you think growing up in Singapore influenced the way you approached your films and art in general?

Inevitably yes.

What’s work mode like for you, and does it vary depending on the medium you’re working in?

Work mode is all-consuming, regardless of medium.

It seems like you put a tremendous amount of research into everything. Do you frequently think about the viewer?

Yes. The work only lives in the space between the art object and the audience.

Do you see instrumentality in your work?

Not to me. I think it is important that art functions as force fields against instrumentality.

What does beauty mean to you?

A perfectly clear paradox.

Your films usually deal with paradoxes and uncertainty. Is dualism something that interests you?

What interests me is the co-existence of singularity and multiplicity.

What’s coming up in 2015?

I have two upcoming projects in Berlin in February. The first is called ‘The Nameless’, a film about the person known as Lai Teck, who was the Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party from 1939 to 1947, and a triple agent. The second is called ‘The Name’, a film about a non-existent author known as Gene Z. Hanrahan, who wrote one of the earliest, and most referenced historical account about Malayan Communism.

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“EARTH” (detailed view), 2009-2012, Ho Tzu Nyen

The Bohemian Rhapsody Project, DV , 6 min 52 sec, 2006

“The Bohemian Rhapsody Project,” 2006, Ho Tzu Nyen

The Cloud of Unknowing, HD projection, 13 channel sound, smoke machines, floodlights, show control system system_2011

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (detailed view), 2011, Ho Tzu Nyen

Notable accolades

“I’m just happy I was able to produce new works,” says Tzu Nyen, with ‘Ten Thousand Tigers’ being his latest work – a theatrical performance presented at the Esplanade Theatre Studio and the Vienna Festival last year, and which will be traveling to Sydney and Gwangju this 2015.

 

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Heman Chong

Heman Chong is a globally acclaimed Singaporean conceptual artist better known for his installation works, but is equally at ease with brushes, paints and canvases.

  • Name: Heman Chong
  • Age: 37
  • Hometown/Based-in: Singapore
  • Gallery(s) represented by: Rossi & Rossi, Wilkinson Gallery, Vitamin Creative Space
  • Tool(s) of choice: Nonsense
  • Influences: On Kawara
  • Instagram/Twitter: No Instagram/@hemanchong
  • If not art: Escort
  • Favorite city to see art: London
  • Words you live by: “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.” – Groucho Marx

Why should people care about art?

The last thing I wish to do is to tell anyone what they should or should not be doing. It’s also the reason why I can’t have kids.

Do you see instrumentality in your work?

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody. Thank you for using me, even though I didn’t want to be used by anybody.” — Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

What’s most rewarding for you?

Great sex.

How would you compare yourself now to when you’ve first started out?

I guess I’m less serious about myself these days. Life’s easier when you can laugh about things.

A lot of your work is stripped down, reduced to nearly pure information and downplaying the art object. Do you feel by removing obvious triggers and the ornamental, it allows people to ‘see’ more and engage more personally?

I’m interested in making things that is only one step removed from their original intent. A bookshop that sells only science fiction books, paintings that function as book covers, a million business cards blacked out and laid bare on the floor – these things allow one to step into a situation where they would understand that reality is made up of so many different sets of realities based on what people say things should or should not do at certain points in time. I have a big problem with authority.

What are your thoughts on beauty?

I enjoy making beautiful things.

Your social media presence is incredibly playful and diverse. Is that a resource for your art?

It’s not a resource. It’s an addiction.

You have an interest in futurism, do you think the art and technological worlds are moving closer together, or should move closer together?

I’m an artist, not the oracle. I can’t predict the future.

What’s the end goal?

I don’t know. If you find out, drop me an email, please.

Heman CHONG, Jailbird  Kurt Vonnegut, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 46 x 3.5 cm

Jailbird / Kurt Vonnegut, 2014, Heman Chong

Heman CHONG, The Mosquito Coast  Paul Theroux, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 46 x 3.5 cm

“The Mosquito Coast / Paul Theroux,” 2013, Heman Chong

Heman CHONG, Rogue Male  Geoffrey Household, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 46 x 3.5 cm

“Rogue Male / Geoffrey Household,” 2014, Heman Chong

Heman CHONG, The Elementary Particles  Michel Houellebecq, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 46 x 3.5 cm

“The Elementary Particles / Michel Houellebecq,” 2013, Heman Chong

Notable accolades

‘Never, A Dull Moment’, Art Sonje, Seoul, South Korea, 2015; ‘Extinction Marathon’, Serpentine Galleries, London, UK, 2014; ‘10th Gwangju Biennale’, Gwangju, South Korea, 2014; ‘Asia Pacific Triennale 7’, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia, 2012; ‘Calendars (2020-2096)’, NUS Museum, Singapore, 2011.

 

Story Credits

Text by Tan Boon Hau

Photography by long fei – t2 pictures


 
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