Exploring light, sound and colour with Singapore artist Jeremy Sharma
Artist Jeremy Sharma's first solo exhibition at Aussie gallery Sullivan + Strumpf isn't very clear cut — but slow things down and you'll realise why it's actually a commentary on consumer culture
The last time Jeremy Sharma's lightboxes took centre stage, they were nestled in Labrador Park. Among the lush greens of the natural elements, the multidisciplinary artist collaborated with choreographer Nina Djekić to interpret Singapore's forgotten gangster and martial arts film Ring of Fury. Sharma translated the film scenes, picking out a particular shade of colour in a flickering tribute to Singapore cinema.
This time, Sharma's boxes return to form a four-part makeup of his first solo exhibition at Sullivan + Strumpf. 12 boxes make up a structure with data and power supplied, projecting an actual translation of a video he made while on a fishing trip in Malaysia. In search of a fish that changes colour upon its death (something he read from Yann Martel's Life of Pi), Sharma gathered 200 hours of footage into an atmospheric, abstract experience from glimpses of colours and shapes.
As these images are projected, sound recordings of excerpts from famed books escape via a speaker. Almost playing out like a conversation, you'll be forgiven into thinking that you've eavesdropped on an intimate exchange. As you walk further into the gallery, a curtain of lights fall into a space where humidity's been amped up — by a humidifier, of course — to recall a shower scene in a reflection of Sharma's domestic life.
How do these components come together, and how do they reflect Sharma's perspective of society and the world? We check in with the artist.
What sparked off Spectrum Version 2.2? Initially the concept of the work started with paintings. At some point it wasn't turning out the way that I wanted, so over the years I was interested in technology and interfaces, and reflecting that as a kind of world that we live in now — a world of applications, interfaces, computers and automation. So this work is really about that. It's about perception. There's the seeing part which is you observing what's changing around you in light and space, and there's also the non-seeing ways of perception which is language, listening, and things which are more atmospheric — how sound or light travels in space.
How does the space within Sullivan + Strumpf inform your work? I wanted to keep the work sparse and minimal to engage with the architecture of the space. So we took off all the lamps so the work illuminates itself. I wanted to keep this space more environmental and more natural in a sense.
I have to say, I feel very alone walking through this space. It needs time, it needs space for you to think on your own, to appreciate what's going on around you and I think often, especially in a society like ours, you don't stop. You just look at what's going on here. Virginal Woolf's To The Lighthouse is really a book about that — perception and human relationships, and how observations translated so beautifully into language, in prose.
The books you selected in the sound recording include Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse and Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea. Where these books selected with a theme in mind? Yes. But I took the time to read them, break them down and mix them. It almost seems like a conversation, but they're all excerpts from different books. It's a non-seeing form of perception, where the images are in your head and you want to bounce off what's happening with this.
Your friends are the ones reciting the excerpts. Why did you choose them, and did you consider reciting the words yourself? I like the timbre of their voices. In a lot of my works the artist is actually removed, but I'm actually behind the camera. It also provides some distance as well. Distance is quite important. How do you decide which materials to use each time? You've also worked with foam before. I'm very much conceptually driven. So the material does not actually come first but it's kind of triggered by a thought, a wild 'what if' and then it triggers something. So it can be a scientific inquiry, it can be something that I read.
Your works have been pretty experimental and I read in an interview that you do art because you wanted to question the limits of what contemporary art to. Do you still feel the same? I'm not so concerned over whether it's a painting or not, I'm just making art. I want to make art for our time; the kind of time that we live in which is kind of fragmented. We're surrounded by electronics and technology. But I also pay attention to the making of the system so I'm also doing this and building a structure, and I pay very much attention to the material that's used.
A lot of your art is based on data collection, and I know you were a science student before enrolling in LASALLE. Do you think your science background has something to do with the work you're producing now? I didn't plan to become this. So maybe that [science] part is creeping back in. But I like music as well, I like sound... and before when I was a painter, I thought painting is painting, and music is music. Now it's like coming back full circle. It's very full, it's very holistic and it's a lot closer to my life.
Lastly, are you happy with it? I think I'm happy for what it is, but I think it's the start of something. I've been practicing for more than 10 years but I think I've come into something, which feels like something I can do for quite awhile. But it's a little bit more complex. It's quite research-driven so it takes a few years to actually realise something.
Spectrum Version 2.2 runs till 20 August at Sullivan+Strumpf, Gillman Barracks.