To say that Nicola Anthony is obsessed with numbers is an understatement.
Earlier this year, the 31-year-old artist made multiple purchases of ping-pong balls from Dabao, the Chinese online shopping site. All 10,000 balls arrived at her home, a studio she shares with the occasional foster cat. The balls soon made their way to form 'Ouroboros', a light installation at this year's SEA Games in May. Each of the 10,000 balls were written with aspirations of strangers, including that of Singapore's national table tennis team.
It's a work that doesn't stretch very far from her previous projects. Earlier, the Yayoi Kusama fan had collected and numbered 8,000 saga seeds, as well as words — also from strangers — for an ongoing project that involves a contribution of words from a sentence starting with "I...", much like a status update. Even Facebook hadn't treaded on that territory when she first started the word collection project a decade ago.
It's this obsession with numbers, counting and dots (she reveals that she tried not to wear too many dot-patterned clothes for our meeting) that Anthony thinks makes her weird — and perfectly normal. "Everyone thinks that they've one weird thing – I have many — and if we realise that about ourselves, we're not actually weird. We all have a similarity within ourselves," she says.
It's been the biggest realisation for the artist since she started on 'Secret Ingredient'. An artwork in progress, Anthony has been collecting secrets since 1 September via an online submission and a box placed in SPRMRKT café. Depending on how many secrets she eventually gathers, the artist will be writing them on the glass façade of the café.
"I've had some silly ones, like the drawing of a penis," she laughs, "and I had a couple which I think were feedback for the café. But online, where it's more anonymous, it's gone deeper."
The artist had to stop in her tracks when she received a sad one about suicide the other week. Others have been controversial, with some touching on the recent general elections and the government. While the thought of sharing a secret has ignited a deep, dark flame in others, other contributions include revelations beginning with "In my life, I have learned this..."
What started out as a fun project working with text has evolved to an interpersonal and intrapersonal journey for the artist. "I like creating situations where people are forced to behave differently and come out from the day-to-day mask that they wear," she gushes. "Day-to-day we put on this façade, so you don't get much opportunity to be yourself or say something you won't normally say out loud, even to yourself."
The installation doesn't just challenge the contributor. Anthony too feels the pressure and vulnerability of being part of the performance art. Not only will she be writing straight into the glass in a high pedestrian area, she'll be doing it from the outside, so she has to write the secrets backwards.
"You just have to write very slowly and be very mindful of the letters," she replies when I ask her how that's possible. She's already found the special pigment markers to use with just the right thickness and colour and an easily removable formula — so that she doesn't end up defacing SPRMRKT's glass walls.
While today marks the last day to submit your secret anonymously, Anthony's giving another chance for those who want to 'fess up — but this time, in person. To maintain a non-judgmental stance, the artist will either be blindfolded or facing the opposite side when you recite your secret. If you've been itching to release those skeletons out of your closet, the time is now.