Search

Advertisement
How to be an artist in Singapore, according to President Young Talents' artists

How to be an artist in Singapore, according to President Young Talents' artists

Crafting careers

Editor: Aravin Sandran


Image: Singapore Art Museum

Debbie Ding (b. 1984, Singapore) is a visual artist and technologist who researches and explores technologies of perception through personal investigations and experimentation.

Do you remember the moment when you chose to pursue a career as an artist in Singapore?

When I was a teenager, I used to go to the old National Library building to read on weekends. I was attracted by the music I could hear coming from a building nearby. It turned out to be the music gigs in The Substation's former garden. It was such a huge mix of things there: anything from film screenings to performances to exhibitions. I went from listening and making music, to writing about art and helping them with graphic and web design, and eventually making art. They supported my first solo show through their visual arts open call.

If you went to art school, what were your takeaways from that experience? If you didn't, what helped you to augment your understanding of art?

I've never formally studied art. I did my undergraduate degree in English Literature. I did my Masters in Design Interactions at RCA (Royal College of Art, London) and I currently teach Interaction Design at NYP. I have been toying with the idea of doing something a lot more technical in the future. Perhaps because I first began as a writer, all my works begin as pieces of writing which I then translate into a visual form. A lot of what I do is interdisciplinary. I'm very interested in new technologies, coding, and electronics. I like getting quite geeky about it. I do use a design process but what I produce is art.

Debbie Ding, Soil Works, 2018, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, Collection of the Artist, Singapore Art Museum commission

How do you think we can move past the popular perception of the 'struggling artist' in Singapore?

You have to make your own professional and financial plan to work on what you're passionate about. We lose too many talented and ambitious creative people who end up only doing more lucrative commercial design work simply because that is the easier and less daunting route. I don't believe in doing things the easy way. If commercial interests were the only thing driving the production of a work, then it may change the kinds of crazy projects I can come up with. As an artist who works a lot with technology, the idea of technology comes with its own bundle of popular perceptions as well. Many people are scared of technology or they'll say they can't understand it even if I want to explain it to them. Technology is such a part of everyday life. It is definitely not something we should be alienated from. I couldn't take either the art or tech out of my self-description as an artist-technologist. Both are equally important to me and both define what I do.

What would you like to say to the next generation of aspiring young artists?

Read widely! Make interesting things! No one has any idea what they're doing anyway! Think of every day as a chance to build foundations for the future and not just act busy for today!

Hilmi Johandi (b. 1987, Singapore) primarily works with painting and explores interventions with different mediums that are associated within the domain of framing, fragmentation (deconstruction) and compression (reconstruction).

How did you become an artist?

It was the moment when I realised, as an artist, I am the producer of images, which primarily open a new world. Every attempt is to depict this world through an idiosyncratic view of what's around me. This act of being a producer resonated strongly as an artist. We become the mediator between the past, present and future of the world we live in.

Hilmi Johandi, An Exposition, 2018, Oil on canvas, three-channel video, digital print on vinyl sticker mounted on wood, synthetic polymer paint, plywood and mild steel, Installation: dimensions variable; video: 16:9, colour, silent, Collection of the Artist, Singapore Art Museum Commission

What is one unrealized project/goal you would like to achieve if there were no constraints?

I live by working within restrictions, taking into consideration the given circumstances. For instance, the PYT commission has allowed me the opportunity to realise an ambitious project I have embarked from my practice.

How do you think we can move past the popular perception of the'struggling artist' in Singapore?

This is the least of my concerns.

Which one of your artworks has resonated most profoundly with your local audience? And why?

Most of the time, I work with images that engage local history and collective memory. The work I made for the PYT exhibition, "An Exposition" engages with the context of defunct amusement parks in Singapore as a narrative. I had an encounter with one of the museum docents whose parents used to work in one of those parks. As she grew up in these spaces, the artwork resonates with her very emotionally as the forms were very familiar to her. It is interesting to hear a firsthand nostalgic interpretation of the subject matter that I have been working on with no emotional attachment.

What would you like to say to the next generation of aspiring young artists?

There is always room to find and develop untrodden paths to be discovered in an artistic practice. These childlike discoveries make one's journey exciting.

Weixin Quek Chong (b. 1988, Singapore) is a visual artist whose practice explores the materiality of human experience and existence, and the relationships between the digital, organic and aesthetic.

How did you become an artist?

I've always liked making things, though I never used to be very concerned about the exact classifications of various uses of creativity. In art school, the relative freedom and scope of the fine arts program attracted me to it, and I learnt to articulate myself through various mediums.

If you went to art school, what were your takeaways from that experience?

I did go to art school, first to LASALLE College of the Arts and later to the Royal College of Art in London for my postgraduate. The first gave me an experience of freedom and learning in a communal environment, and the second pushed me into a global context.Weixin Quek Chong, sft crsh ctrl, 2018, Silk twill, latex, wood, sillicone, vinyl, faux fur, paper, screens, aluminium and stainless steel, Dimensions variable, Collection of the Artist, Singapore Art Museum Commission

How do you think we can move past the popular perception of the'struggling artist' in Singapore?

Maybe if corporations institutions and individuals made it a practice to consider creative work something they should pay for just like any other labour. Too often creatives are expected to labour and conceptualise things for free, which pushes us to self-exploit, exploit other creatives, and eat into ourselves to survive. Artistic and creative labour needs to be respected and us doing it 'for passion' should not be an acceptable reason for not being paid or having production expenses supported.

What would you like to say to the next generation of aspiring young artists?

Know why you're making your art, what it's doing for yourself first, before worrying about how it caters to anyone or anything else, including whatever idea of success might happen to be in vogue at the moment.Yanyun Chen (b. 1986, Singapore) is a visual artist and lecturer at Yale-NUS College.

How did you become an artist?

I didn't become an artist. I have a challenging relationship with that term "artist" and I am still negotiating with it. What does it mean to"be an artist"? Is there criteria that one has to fulfil; or is it a term that anyone can claim; is it a spirit that one has to live up to; or a title that one is gifted with? I simply followed my nose when it came to interesting skills to learn, questions to think about, puzzles to solve, stories to tell, and crafts to hone and polish.

Do you remember the moment/experience when you chose to pursue a career as an artist in Singapore?

With not knowing what it means to "be an artist", it is impossible to consider the "artistic pursuit" as a career. I have yet to feel a definite moment that a decision was made. I am propelled by the idea that when all things fail when opportunities run out, my life is spent, then this adventure would be over. Meanwhile, the day-to-day struggle is a series of practical questions: how do I pay my rent, bills, buy materials, books, equipment, make images, enjoy life with family and friends, and live.

If you went to art school, what were your takeaways from that experience? If you didn't, who/what helped you in augmenting your understanding of art?

I was lucky to have met and spent time with many great teachers in Singapore such as Jeremy Fernando, Ng Joon Kiat, Martin Constable; and overseas, through schools like Animation Workshop, Puppets in Prague, and Florence Academy of Art. My freelance earnings also afforded post-graduate programmes at the European Graduate School where I was able to study under thinkers including Anne Dufourmantelle, Werner Hamacher, Judith Butler, Hubertus vonAmelunxen, and Jean-Luc Nancy. It is with these thinkers and creators that I learnt what is important when it came to crafting and asking questions, telling stories, and making images. It was through my friends, peers, and colleagues that gave me the context of my contemporary existence.

Yanyun Chen, The scars that write us, 2018, Charcoal, chalk, gold leaf, steel plates (set of 10) and steel sheets (set of 6), Steel plates 30 × 30 cm each; steel sheets 180 × 80 cm each, Collection of the Artist, Singapore Art Museum Commission

What is one unrealized project/goal you would like to achieve if there were no constraints?

To have the opportunity and luxury to continue making works without worrying about the practicalities of living or the limits of space.

How do you think we can move past the popular perception of the 'struggling artist' in Singapore?

Artist, or not: no person wants to be belittled, feel inadequate, have mental, emotional, intellectual, or physical disadvantages. No one wants to work for exposure, labour for free, be taken advantage of. No one wants to struggle. The notion of the "struggling artist" is a dominant one, but like all authoritative narratives, it can and will create systemic inequality, disenfranchise individuals, excluded differences, and resist improvements. We can start from here: the artist is human.

Which one of your artworks has resonated most profoundly with your local audience? And why?

What makes a collective "local audience", and how does one measure what is significant to an individual, versus catering to popular tastes? It is not my task to survey the opinions of those who have seen my work. What struck me profoundly was when a few family members saw "The scars that write us" and cried. That was the most precious gift my drawings have ever given me: my work reached out and embraced my family. This is more than I can ever ask for.

What would you like to say to the next generation of aspiring young artists?

Practice is a habit. It is having the patience and determination to stubbornly persist in one's craft every single day without motivation, hesitation, or rewards, alongside the flexibility to receive and adapt to the changing contexts of one's existence.

President’s Young Talents 2018 is on view from 4 October 2018 to 27 January 2019 at SAM at 8Q.

Leave a comment

More