The Future Is Fluid: Meet Chantel Foo, the Singaporean art student who starred in the Gucci and Chime for Change campaign about gender non-conformity
Dancing to my own beat
How did your appearance in the Gucci and Chime for Change "The Future Is Fluid" campaign come about?
I met director Jade Jackman while on set for a music video that she was directing last summer. We kept in touch and sometime in October, I saw that she was looking for young people who didn't necessarily believe in gender binaries and gender definitions, and were doing work to make such a future a reality. Being a cis-gender female, I'm aware that I'm in a very privileged place to speak on such a weighty topic. I spoke to her about my background in Chinese Dance, my ideas of womanhood, femininity and ideals of beauty that were strictly cultivated from the clear gendered boundaries (e.g. male vs female style). Having departed from the formal dance sphere, I've been exploring and challenging these notions of being (a "female" dancer), and no longer impose or subject myself or the people I work with to gender. I didn't know who the film was commissioned by when I first reached out! The scale of the campaign only hit me after it rolled out.
How would you describe your movement-based artistic practice?
I see it as unearthing my body's history — acknowledging how it's been shaped by tradition, how it is constantly changing (I don't train as intensively as I used to anymore), confronting what it fails and succeeds in doing. It's not only a physical process; it's a cerebral one as well, attempting to understand why I want to move, look or feel a certain way, and knowing that there is so much I need to unlearn to learn and challenge to pursue. I've been improvising a lot recently. I do that to go against my very inculcated perfectionism. It also helps me to understand and pick at my intuition. Ultimately, I'm still in the midst of stripping down the scaffolds I know so I can make more space in myself to explore new ways and approaches towards moving. I'm working towards a greater sense of freedom and self-acceptance towards an evolving self and body.
You're currently studying Fine Art and History of Art in London. What have been the key takeaways from living abroad thus far?
I suppose it's a sense of anonymity. London's a huge city compared to Singapore. The over-saturation of people makes you feel insignificant. It's odd but it's an empowering feeling. It's helped me to become braver in terms of going for what I want to experience and take part in. Just go for it — even failing feels like less big of a deal. Being in a foreign place has forced me to clarify how you wish to go about your life. Being comfortable at home makes you complacent. Singapore's creative scene is still so young, which is great if you wish to shape and cultivate it, but after a while, the things you do can get repetitive. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but for someone who wants to explore and be open to new experiences, London's been different in that sense. There are so many spheres and scenes all ready to be accessed. I'm able to be a lot more experimental here. I feel like I'm constantly recalibrating because I'm growing so much.
Who are the young Singaporean artists and performers you admire?
Photographer Nicole Ngai and I actually live together in London and are good friends. She takes the most evocative and sensitive photos. I really admire how committed she is to her craft. Art director Pixie Tan is also another favourite. I worked with her on the short film Dual, which she directed. New York-based artist Sher Chew's work confronts trauma and desire, and I'm particularly interested in her movement performances. I see many parallels in our work and how we view performance.
Do you have any dream collaborators?
One that really stands out in my mind at the moment is Madam Chen Lili. She's one of my Chinese Dance teachers, although she's more like a mother and mentor. She was most definitely the one who cultivated dance into a passion for me. It'll be so thrilling if I could work on something with her and challenge her as she challenges me. It'll be her getting to know me again. I'm very far from the student who she groomed years ago. She has a way of storytelling and conducting space between people that I don't think I will ever encounter with anyone else.
How do you see your artistic practice and career evolving in the future? What are your ambitions, dreams and unrealized projects?
I'm someone who does a lot, with many modes of making too. I hope I can keep at this, and not get too beaten by the need for productivity. It's frustrating feeling like I have to streamline my creative outputs because people can't really grasp at what I do. I'm enjoying this fluid shapeshifting place that I'm in right now. I suppose that's the luxury of being a student. Movement wise, I would love to work on a larger scale with more people and have more bodies interacting, making images and slacklining tensions. It's a little hard right now because you have to first convince people what you do is actually important and then you have to find rehearsal spaces (I use the park or my living room now), which is not easy when you don't have loads of money. I'm not in too huge a rush though; I'm still incubating. I definitely see myself bringing people together, producing shows like fashion designer Shawna Wu's at 21 Moonstone in Singapore, which I co-produced back in December. I enjoy refreshing and challenging the art-viewing experience.