Interview with Dawn Ng for Aloft at Hermès: "I believe there are worlds beyond worlds of colour"
Have you ever wondered what happened to Walter the Rabbit? If you can recall the tale of the large white rabbit, you'll remember that just a few years ago, the curious creature was spotted in different areas of Singapore's heartlands. Artist Dawn Ng's project to discover everyday surroundings as children again, Walter showed up in places such as a hawker centre, the top of a multi-storey HDB carpark, an old playground, a petrol station and beneath MRT tracks — places every Singaporean would recognise.
The 34-year-old continues this study of memory, identity and space in her latest work. This time, in her first project for a standalone fashion brand, Ng and Hermès discover how to disappear into a rainbow. As you walk through the entire fourth floor of the refurbished Hermès boutique, you'll find that it isn't very hard to do so — with help from the artist, of course. Utilising the 111m2 of the Aloft at Hermès art space — one of the Fondation d'entreprise Hermès' five art spaces around the world — she's installed blocks coloured by the most ethereal shades a rainbow could emit.
Curated by Emi Eu, director of Singapore Tyler Print Institute, she approached Ng who sought inspiration from the late French artist Yves Klein. Expanding on his belief that colours are portals to transport a viewer through different realms, Ng's ode to him is evident in her play of colour. Interspersed with mirrored panels that bear the reflections of the viewers and space around them, they invite visitors to meander through the work and lose themselves in the process — appearing and disappearing into the rainbow.
We sneaked in a chat with the artist before the official opening of the installation to find out more on her Klein adaptations, her childhood memories and whatever happened to Walter the Rabbit.
How were you approached to inaugurate the opening of Aloft at Hermès?
Emi was instrumental in setting the framework and building on the idea. She approached me in the latter half of last year with this opportunity to do an opening show for the new Hermès flagship. She talked about new horizons and perspectives. I liked where she was going with that theme.
You spent two years in Paris. What about the city inspired you and do you notice any nuances of the city's artistic heartbeat in your work now?
Being a creative, designer or artist there is a way of life. In Asia, it's often treated as job or a career path. What I took away from my time in Paris is the fluidity and commitment to simply be and produce work which I felt for most at any point.
Why was Yves Klein your main inspiration for 'How to Disappear into a Rainbow'? Was the fact that he "invented" a colour one of the push factors, seeing as some of your past works ('A thing of Beauty') are fueled by colour?
I've always been obsessed with colour. I believe that there are worlds beyond worlds of colour, which we only scratch the surface of. Do you know that human beings can see up to 2.8 million colours even if we don't have the vocabulary to describe each of them? I believe we possess the same magnitude of emotions in the human psyche. Each of us can feel every millionth shade of a rainbow even if we can't quite find the words to express it.
What are some of the most interesting things you've learned about Yves Klein in your research?
Yves Klein was up to all kinds of shenanigans. He was also a pretty amusing performance artist. I like his monochrome and aero works best. In 'How to Disappear into a Rainbow', I've expanded on his idea that colours possess a vertiginous power to suck one out from one reality to another, except in this work, you tend to slide from one state to the next.
What do you personally experience when you go through 'How to Disappear into a Rainbow', and does this change each time?
Yes, depending on my mood or state of mind. Moving through the work is a meditative process in which you discover different shades, angles and reflections of yourself each time. I think it's best experienced alone when no one else is there.
A lot of your work deals with issues such as memory, space, home and identity. What memories did you tap into for 'How to Disappear into a Rainbow'?
You know when you were little, that constant distortion of space and self since you are physically a lot smaller than your environment? That constant feeling of getting lost and being found again. That particular drifting, dream-like state between being sleep and awake. That pastel glow of morning light filtered through closed eyelids. It's the feeling of subtle discovery and wonderment found in all those little things.
What keeps you curious?
The same thing that keeps me breathing. The need to stay alive.
Whatever happened to Walter the Rabbit?
Last I heard, he's in Paris. The Singapore Art Museum acquired him into their permanent collection and I believe he is on loan to one of the museums there.
How to Disappear into a Rainbow is held from 20 May to 14 August at Aloft at Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers. For more information, click here.
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