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8th emerging artists show 2006

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appetites for

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This catalogue is published in conjunction with the exhibition Appetites for Litter: The 8th Emerging Artists Show 2006 held during 9-25 Nov 2006 at Plastique Kinetic Worms 61 + 63 Kerbau Road Singapore 219185 First published in 2006 in an edition of 200 copies by Plastique Kinetic Worms Email: info@pkworms.org.sg Url: www.pkworms.org.sg Tel: (+65) 6292 7783 Fax: (+65) 6292 2936 Gallery Director Yvonne Lee Guest Curator Michael Lee Hong Hwee

Exhibition Assistant Arnewaty

Artists Alexis Hy Jane Porter Shubigi Rao Yeoh Wee Hwee

Editor Tania De Rozario

Publication Designer Brendan Goh Paper 250 gsm A4 Card (cover) 100 gsm Wood-free (text)

Printer Octopus

Supporters National Arts Council Mr Albert CY Teo

Beneficiary Patient Care Centre

Copyright Š 2006 Artists, Contributors + Publisher All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the publisher and the copyright owners. Notes on the catalogue Texts for this publication are provided by the artists and contributors as attributed. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the publisher. Essays have been edited for style, length and consistency. ISBN 981-05-6854-1


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Text Foreword

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Yvonne Lee

One Trash’s Man is Another Trash’s Monster: An Introduction to Appetites for Litter

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Michael Lee Hong Hwee

Art and Garbage: On the Museums That Collect Them

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Shubigi Rao

Artwork + Interviews Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard

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Jane Porter: The Private Lives of Clutter

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Shubigi Rao: “All Art is Garbage...”

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Yeoh Wee Hwee: Litter Cultivation

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Biographies

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Organisations

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Yvonne Lee With its continued belief in showcasing emerging, young talents, Plastique Kinetic Worms’ (PKW) is proud to feature this year’s select few, from a pool of many, some of whom have only recently graduated. Continuous support from the National Arts Council towards PKW’s Emerging Artists Show in the past eight years, has enabled the organisation to continue its efforts in striving towards nurturing these burgeoning talents. PKW has, in the past years, featured artists such as Francis Ng, Benjamin Puah and Ho Tzu Nyen, all of whom have made their mark in the international art arena. The success of any project is, logically, measured by the calibre of the curator and the quality of the artists featured. This year, we have had the honour of inviting the show’s 2003 alumnus, Michael Lee, who, with his enthusiasm, sense of wit and instinctive awareness of the contemporary scene, concocted an interesting concept; one that gave us the opportunity to embark on an amazing project with the four artists featured in this year’s Emerging Artists Show, Appetites for Litter. The artists featured in this year’s show are undoubtedly some of the most notable young talents whom many may have missed. On behalf of PKW, I would like to thank Michael Lee for very generously agreeing to curate the exhibition, the artists for being part of this very challenging project, and the entire editorial team, for the generosity in spirit with which they have contributed their experience and knowledge.

Foreword | 7


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An Introduction to Appetites for Litter

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Don’t dirt, trash, and filth, which are man’s companions during his whole lifetime, deserve to be dearer [sic] to him, and shouldn’t he pay them the compliment of making a monument to their beauty?

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— Jean Debuffet, 19461

Beyond being made, collected, kept, ignored, thrown, recycled, transformed or monumentalised by human beings, trash also teaches us a thing or two. An investigation into artists’ relationship with garbage, especially what we can learn with and from rubbish, reveals truths about contemporary society and, more importantly, human views of the past and future. 1  Jean Debuffet, “L’Auteur répond à quelques objections,” Prospectus et tous ecrits suivants, vol. 2, ed. Hubert Damisch (Paris: Gallimard, 1967/1946), pp. 61-62; cited from Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York: Zone Books, 1997), p. 173.

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Trash has always been a topic of competing interests among different stakeholders in society. In popular environmentalist discourse, the earth was free of rubbish before humans came along. At first, we threw away dirt, bones and tools. By the 18th century, and especially again since the 1960s, the industrialists were massproducing goods and contributing to huge amounts of rubbish, including non-biodegradable packaging. Therein lies a quadric, often overlapping and complex relationship amongst the roles of business enterprises (innovation and production), end-users (consumption, waste production and wastage), authorities (waste management) and environmentalists (conservation and sustainability). If trash is civilisation’s ironic by-product, or silenced story, it is especially so in Singapore: For all the successful initiatives at keeping its environment clean, orderly and beautiful, limited not only to the fines for littering, Corrective Work Orders and Tree Planting Days, Singapore is home to a lesser known “garbage city,” a landfill of rubbish, quietly growing beyond manageable proportions.2 Perhaps this is not so much an irony as it is a reflection of Singapore’s merely seeming, rather than substantive, engagement with global green movements thus far.3 2  Sarah Ng, “Warning: We are becoming a GARBAGE CITY,” The Sunday Times (Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 20 Aug 2006), p. 3. Other than coverage on public dumpsters, there has also been a recent spate of press reports on domestic ones in the form of “cluttered homes.” See, e.g., Yap Su-Yin, “A home to some, but a hazard to all,” The Straits Times (Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 14 Aug 2006), p. H4. 3  Singapore has various institutional bodies for waste management. The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) is a government body whose mission is to “deliver and sustain a clean and healthy environment and water resources for all in Singapore” (http://app.env.gov.sg/). The National Environmental Agency (NEA) focuses on the implementation of environmental policies (http://app.nea.gov.sg/). The Singapore Environmental Institute (SEI) is an environmental training division and a statutory board under MEWR (http:// www.nea.gov.sg/). Numerous policy papers have been published as guidelines for environmental management. Notable ones are two documents produced by MEWR: Key Environmental Statistics 2006 (http://www.mewr.gov.sg/soe/ kes2006.pdf) and Singapore Green Plan 2012: Report of the Action Programme Committee on Waste Management (http://www.mewr.gov.sg/sgp2012/index_ 2006.htm). There is at least one aspect of the policies whereby theory has not yet translated into practice. Item 2 on Waste Management in the Green Plan 2012 (2006 edition) goes, “Work with major retailers and supermarkets to


With this in mind, a question arises: Is the maintenance of cleanliness, order and beauty at the expense of environmental sustainability? Appetites for Litter examines the peculiar appeal of trash among four emerging artists in Singapore. These artists engage with litter variously to reflect as well as to reflect on issues of capitalism, media culture, environmentalism, natural history and psychology, highlighting the need to rethink conventional ideas about the relationships between humans, garbage and art. The word ‘litter’, when used as a noun, denotes at least four distinct but related meanings: the things we discard; the bedding for carrying an injured person or for absorbing pets’ wastes; the uppermost layer of organic matter on the forest floor; and the collective noun for the offspring of multiparous4 animals (e.g., “a litter of puppies”). What threads these different meanings of ‘litter’ is the phenomenon of accumulation or cluttering, especially of small objects into larger masses, and the corresponding suggestion that power can reside in and through numbers. Beyond this, ‘litter’ is also an extended, albeit largely ignored, prefix of the Latin word littera, meaning letter and referring to issues of scholarship, writing and literature. The paradoxical embodiment of both the processes of human unconscious (e.g., mess, waste, chaos) and that of human consciousness (scholarship, logic, order) in the single word ‘litter’ makes it an appropriate theme for a project that draws together the diverse practices of the participating artists, who engage variously with litter at the levels of material, subject, theme, concept, metaphor and reference. Artists have a longstanding relationship with garbage. For the romantics in 18th-century Europe, junk found at ancient ruins could trigger poetic contemplation of classical civilisations and unforeseen

reduce excessive usage of plastic bags in the retail sector.” This is not commonly practiced in Singapore yet, whereas it is a prevalent practice in certain European countries like Germany, primarily because green lobby groups have entered directly into politics. See Peter Beaumont and Chris Philo, “Environmentalism and Geography,” in eds., John A. Matthews and David T. Herbert, Unifying Geography: Common Heritage, Shared Future (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 97. 4  This is an adjective that denotes the characteristic of animals that reproduce more than one young at a time.

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futures. Beginning with the cubists at the turn of the 20th century, rubbish and other everyday objects attained status as ‘proper’ material for art, being variously used by the avant-gardes and neoavant-gardes in making collages and assemblages, culminating in 1960s’ Arte Povera (Italian for ‘poor art’) and environmental art movements. The recent ‘ethnographic turn’ in contemporary art practice also saw artists doubling as social scientists, such as archaeologists, validating human trash as a viable subject of creative as well as scholarly inquiry. In contemporary Singapore art, two established artists stand out for their particular transformation of trash. Cheo Chai-Hiang is renowned for incorporating found and thrown-away materials into the creation of thought-provoking works of art (fig. 1). His methodology primarily comprises philosophical inquiry and “making do,” with an expressed reverence for discarded objects.5 Chua Chye Teck’s photographic practice has been noted for highlighting the beauty of, if not actually intricately beautifying, urban trash (fig. 2).6 Among the many up-andcoming street artists is Zero, who expressly regards his mission as the transformation of junk into artworks (fig. 3).7 The four emerging artists of the present exhibition join what art critic Lucy R. Lippard calls “The Garbage Girls,” a formidable though disparate group of female artists 5  Jeannine Tang, “Cheo Chai-Hiang’s Making Do,” Erased, Mislaid, Rejected, Revisited: Cheo Chai-Hiang’s Works 1972-2005 (Singapore: Sculpture Square, 2005) pp. 8-13. Also Cf. Michael Lee, “Introduction,” Txtrapolis: Contemporary Text-Based Art from Singapore (Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 2005), pp. 4-11. 6 

See the artist’s homepage at http://chyeteck.farm.sg.

7  June Cheong, “From Rubbish to Art,” The Straits Times (Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 30 Sep 2006), p. L9. Also see Lim Qinyi, “Beyond the Looking Glass Darkly,” Fiction@Love (Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, 2006), unpaginated. fig. 1 Ke Diao, Cheo Chai Hiang, 1999-2000, Neon lights on found wood. fig. 1 fig. 3 fig. 2

fig. 2 Sleeping Beauty, Chua Chye Teck, 2004, Digital print on paper. fig. 3 Hello, I am a Foreign Talent, Zero, 2005, Acrylic on found object.


from the West who have, since the early 1990s, been addressing the global problem of waste disposal through their art practice.8 Beyond directly using physical trash (Jane Porter) and making environmental and institutional critiques through garbage (Shubigi Rao), the current group of artists also refer to metaphorical trash found in the mass media (Alexis Hy) and clustered in the wild (Yeoh Wee Hwee). In Jane Porter’s installation, A Linty Find (2005), trash is strewn all over, mostly on the floor, with some peering through half-opened (half-closed?) drawers, to the extent that one thinks a petty burglar or stray animal looking for food has rummaged through the furniture and belongings. To reach the seat in the room of her video installation Anxious Shorts (2004-2005), one needs to negotiate gingerly through a disarray of objects to prevent knocking them over or tripping over them. Jane’s clutter installations re-present the processes of trash creation. A Linty Find traces the phenomenon of note-taking during travel: “Notes were made on scraps of paper, receipts, tickets; items that were conveniently at hand. Conveniently handy, handily forgotten.”9 When these notes are kept in pants pockets, which are in turn put into wash, they become lint. This work brings forth the psychology behind the human tendencies both to capture traces of thoughts, feelings and moments and to, too easily or inevitably, relegate them to the unconscious. Mark-making invariably marks its own erasure. Seated on an old sofa and surrounded by clutter, the viewer of Anxious Shorts witnesses video images flashing from and across different monitors. Within the animated footages are a series of incoherent, incomprehensible narratives: tissue paper climbing up from the ground and tugging itself back into a dripping pipe; trash paper arrested in its flight into the waste-paper basket; worms crawling in and out of water pipes; insects posing still mostly and sometimes moving slightly. In my view, it is a challenge to create a sense of the Bretonian surreality10 on the electronic platform, as 8  Lucy R. Lippard, “The Garbage Girls,” Z Magazine, New York, December 1991. 9  Artist’s interview, “Jane Porter: The Private Lives of Clutter,” this publication, p. 50. 10 

Andre Breton, “First Manifesto of Surrealism,” Manifestoes of Surrealism


opposed to on the plastic arts such as painting, but Jane manages to craft a psychological realm despite, perhaps due to, her particular juxtaposition and dispersal of simple, everyday objects in mundane settings. One is made captive in her immersive environment, anxious to find some recognisable meaning, message or story. Alternatively, one may simply enjoy the splattering of litter as if one were both the viewer and protagonist in an omni-theatrical re-enactment of cluttering. In Jane’s practice, litter plays the multiple roles of cast, prop and backdrop. Paying homage to what she calls her “garbage empire,” Jane is a mythic storyteller who narrates The Private Lives of Clutter, when we human beings are not looking, or not looking hard enough. Relative to Jane’s mundane (yet strange) environments, the junkyard of Alexis Hy, entitled ITADAKIMASU!! SPACE TOFU VROOM VROOM (2006), appears decidedly stylised and orderly. Alexis performs the role of the observer as critic: She aligns her mission as akin to the historical avant-gardes responding to the rise of media clutter at the turn of the 20th century. At the start of the new millennium now, Alexis continues to observe an avalanche of media content; an increased quantity and diversity of mass media messages that have not translated into higher tolerance of differences: Mainstream society continues to harbour distaste and fear of differences, evident in the prevalence of terms like ‘subculture’, ‘minorities’, ‘perversion’ and ‘deviances’. The artist’s work consists of critiquing and translating mass media content into what she refers to as her own “postmodern junk”: “The beauty of postmodern junk lies in its ability to illuminate our socially-educated sense of shame and help us re-access the validity of society’s taste against our own, thereby freeing us from the ignorance of society’s shackles.”11 Dividing the gallery into five related spaces, the artist aims to encourage the audience to dig into (‘Itadakimasu’ is Japanese for ‘dig in’) her narrative of postmodern media junk. The first space, TOFU GATEWAY, makes reference to the design of traditional Japanese (Michigan, 1969); republished in eds., Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999/1992), pp. 432-439. 11 

Artist’s interview, “ Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard,” this publication, p.38.

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tea rooms which delineates a preluding garden space for guests to pass through before reaching a whole new realm of contemplation. TOFU FACTORY, the second space, “symbolises creative production and synthesis of absorbed media junk.”12 Space three is called TOFU JUNKYARD ORGANISM, a showcase of selected excerpts from renowned anime productions. From there, one proceeds to TOFU KITCHEN, the fourth space, where one produces and consumes more media junk through a mix of painting on canvas and on the wall. One finally reaches the fifth space, TOFU MINI, which contains a collection of mini food art pieces grossly under-priced at S$2 each, alongside a self-published book S+E Vol. 1. Peppered around her installation are Self-Referential Advertising posters, the artist’s reference to the junk mails and spams we often receive. By appropriating capitalist frameworks such as division of labour, media bombardment and advertising arms, with recognisable subcultural practices particularly Anime and Manga cultures, the Superflat movement, Pop Surrealism and Postmodern Art, Alexis highlights the importance of acknowledging and recognising the garbage that surrounds and sometimes delimits us, as well as developing our personal garbage aesthetics. In the field of archeology, garbage is a revered trace capable of suggesting a host of information about past civilisations. For instance, food, its packaging, tools used for its preparation and crockery used in its consumption, can tell us not just what was used for cooking, what was consumed and what was thrown away, but also what relational structures created frameworks within households and across societies.13 What, then, can contemporary trash say about human society present, past and future? What sense does it make to pick up rubbish from, rather than beneath, the earth’s surface? What does rubbish tell us about how human individuals and institutions function? Perhaps the most semiotically dense investigation of trash, among the participants, can be surmised in Shubigi Rao’s practice, which 12 

Artist’s proposal (2006).

13  Michael Emmison and Philip Smith, Researching the Visual: Images, Objects, Contexts and Interactions in Social and Cultural Inquiry (London: SAGE Publications, 2000), pp. 134-151.


includes playing the role of an archaeologist. To be sure, the artist has a flair of integrating various bodies of knowledge, such as art, language, archaeology, environmentalism, natural history and bibliophilia. Through her cross-disciplinary research, she observes the prevailing tendency of institutions to position themselves as custodians of knowledge, objectivity, truth, power and social importance. Museums, for instance, sustain their legitimacy by way of systemised collecting and collections. That which ends up in institutional collections therefore belies a whole lot of others which have been excluded, hence rendered insignificant, nonexistent. One of the artist’s quips reveals her take on art, garbage and institutions: “All art is garbage salvaged from the dustbins of history….”14 To prove her point, she has embarked on various archaeological projects in search of garbage. A trip to East Coast beach yielded a pseudoarchaeological study of trash in Study of Leftovers (2004), comprising a host of discarded items: food, toys, accessories, utensils, crockery, stationery, containers, packaging and a whole lot of rubber slippers. Untitled (2005) is an old suitcase that contains belongings, notes and collections of an imagined archaeologist. In Earth=Unearth II (2005), the artist extends the display of rubbish she has found by displaying it in a way similar to ‘curiosity cabinets’. Shubigi appropriates the scientific method of collecting, classification and display, not unlike American artist Mark Dion, who utilises the pseudo-archaeological approach towards his work. On a smaller physical scale but nonetheless conceptually rich and intimately personal, Shubigi’s current practice has been successful in discovering contemporary society’s fascination with archaeological artifacts as not so much an interest in the past, or how the past has conditioned the present, but in power embedded in visible signs of history. Objects labeled with carefully cutout shopping receipts and bank statements are imbued with a magical sense of historical significance, as much as sketches and notes made by the artist in hand-made ink pens, a la the Renaissance masters. In other pieces, aluminum foil is labeled “Primitive Tools”, while a balloon still partially inflated, “Air of the Ancients, Preserved in Perpetuity.” For the visitors patient and curious enough to examine these labels vis-à-vis their 14  Artist’s interview, “Shubigi Rao: ‘All Art is Garbage...’,” this publication, p.71.

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corresponding artifacts carefully, they may experience immense anger with the apparent inaccuracy or absurdity of information, or be flattered for understanding, that is, being included in, the in-jokes. One of the artist’s most amazing anecdotes goes: A fellow artist had reached out his hand to pick up one of her artifacts, whilst completing his exclamation: “This coral is so beautif…..!”, only to be disgusted upon realising that it was actualyy just a light Styrofoam crumb. This incident is ironical testimony that, amongst many, the justification of truth lies not necessarily in rigorous investigation and logical argumentation, but in convenient visual signs of scientific inquiry and traces of age. By using irony to address irony, Shubigi discovers not just what contemporary society considers useful and useless today, and not just the poignant fact that it comprises many people who are indiscriminate litterers, but also how it harnesses perceived signifiers of the past to make sense of the present. In Powers of Horror (1982), cultural critic Julia Kristeva examined the phenomenon of abjection, the state of being ‘cast out’, as simultaneously what has been consciously removed for its perceived horrifying or uncertain nature and yet continues to exist in the remover.15 Yeoh Wee Hwee cultivates her abject forms by pressing, rolling and kneading simple, everyday materials into objects, sculptures and installations that reflect strong craftsmanship increasingly rare amongst local conceptualist practices. For her installation, Beetle in a Box (2006), she aims to express her somewhat Nietsczhean view that emotions have to be discarded in order for life to go on. What becomes evident is that the thrown-away can continue to leave traces or return in some form, perhaps condensed or disguised, as Freud might have had it. The clearing and cleansing of one space could already be at the expense of another. Wee Hwee’s cultivation grows by the day, hence connecting with Jane’s installation in their shared reference to the phenomenon of objects begetting objects, and also more precisely, the suggestion that non-living things, including rubbish, have the uncanny capacity to move and grow. Wee Hwee’s cellulose tape installation, but also its incessant growth, equally mimics allergic rashes, decay processes and fungus culture that should have been either left in the wild, gotten rid of or contained 15  Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York, Columbia University Press, 1982).


in laboratory settings for scientific study. Organic beads and tendrils cluster into what look like necklaces and chandeliers as much as they appear as fungal or coral cultivations that can cause goose bumps or allergy rashes to the audience. What modernity consciously eradicates, harnesses or controls – its abject other – can take over in unexpected ways, as evident in the host of natural and man-made disasters, increasing environmental problems, as well as new and old viruses that scientists have yet to find a cure. While it serves as a discursive reference to the processes of all trash creation, Wee Hwee’s horrifying yet beautiful organic forms growing and overflowing out of the storeroom into the pristine gallery space, also allude to the growing ‘Garbage City’ in Singapore, whilst sardonically swiping at its self-profession as ‘Garden City’. Perhaps despite its attempts to control litter, human civilisation has created many stories of litter that continuously escape its control.16

16  Cf. Dominique Laporte, History of Shit, trans. Nadia Benabid and Rodolphe el-Khoury (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993/1978).

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On the Museums that Collect Them

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Through all the discussions that eddy and swirl around the history of art and its records and documentation, one refrain might seem to emerge. For art to be historically valid and worthy of academic scrutiny, to be included in the Pantheon of greats, it needs to be negotiated within the framework of a collection or collector - frequently the museum. If Duchamp’s Urinal existed today, one can imagine the bidding war between institutions to add it to their collection! Art that denies or escapes the gallery or museum setting in its time is 1  All photos: Shubigi Rao. I collected litter from this location at East Coast, Singapore, 2005, cleaned and classified each piece according to taxonomy of my own making. 2  Some examples of such classified litter, under the categories ‘Primitive Tools, Mandibles and Segments’. 3  Shards of plastic waste, clumps of discarded aluminium foil, Styrofoam bits, all lumped under ‘Primitive Tools’. 4  A balloon still partially inflated gets its own unique label ‘Air of the Ancients, Preserved in Perpetuity’.

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eventually tamed and brought back under its purview, often just through the sheer force of academic discourse that arises from it. The natural corollary to this is to question the notion of art. From the point of view of this essay, art is all that escapes the dustbins of history - a sweeping statement, but one that is valid if examined from the notion of lack. Archaeology scores a point here - everything is worthy of careful sifting and collection; the history of art, however, is a chain of work that has been academically vetted, and refuses to acknowledge what has escaped its consideration. Worse, the mute absence of the historically irrelevant is not acknowledged. At a stretch, it could be suggested that art, historically, comprises collections of art that survived death. Collections also imply a lack, are by no means complete and exhaustive, and yet the interpretation of human history from its leftovers, for example, is valid science. Archaeology goes beyond mere garbage collecting because of the existence of prior usefunctions that are not diminished through the acts of collecting the objects. A potsherd is part of a larger whole as well as part of a collection, and these meanings can sit comfortably until the will of the curator dictates its place in an institutional framework. The fascination of the archaeological object as opposed to garbage comes from the fact that it is a collection, and “… what makes a collection transcend mere accumulation is not only the fact of its being culturally complex, but the fact of its incompleteness, the fact that it lacks something. Lack always means lack of something unequivocally defined: one needs such and such an absent object”. 5 This is not a novel idea - artists as varied as Ilya Kabakov, Robert Smithson, Marcel Broodthaers, Maurizio Cattelan and Mark Dion have sought to address this. The Dada and Fluxus movements as well as a lot of performance artists and practitioners of the ephemeral have attempted to subvert the institutionalisation of their work. Yet, the fact that they exist in museums and in history books and in art school modules (and the fact that I know enough of them through academic 5  Jean Baudrillard, “The System of Collecting”, in eds., John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, The Cultures of Collecting (London: Reaktion Books, 1968. Repr. 1994), p. 23.


sources to quote them in an essay!), seems to turn their garbage into art, well documented, analysed, occupying its proper place in history. So what of the love of the ‘found’ object in art? The fascination of the artist with science, especially the earth sciences, can be traced to the sense of having lost our affinity with the land. The need to define ourselves in terms of our species and its relevance to this planet has led us to obsess about our origins, our lost civilisations, and our dealings with other species. We feel the need to somehow re-insert ourselves into the context of the earth, to find our place in the history, natural and human, of the planet. Science has equipped us with the tools to better understand the bewildering array of life around us, the tools of exploration, collection, classification, study, and display; it attempts to impose order on the chaotic shifting grey areas in natural and cultural extinction and preservation. When we look at art and garbage, it would seem that the distinctions made between them are largely a result of taxonomy and the institutions that apply them. The artifice of the museum (the objects in the collection, the collection, and the museum itself), is a point we are all aware of, yet we accept the discourse surrounding art still emanating from it as untainted by that artifice. At work too are the politics of display and curating that make distinctions between art and garbage. Of course, the shaping of perception by the visual is inevitable; for example, we tend to judge people by the titles of the books on their shelves, and this judgement by possession, language and implied ownership of knowledge is all implicit in the image of the book title itself. What is also interesting is that by allowing the placements of the titles in relation to each other to become more than the ‘visual’ of the individual title, we identify the collection with the character of the collector. The dubious provenance of art and artefacts in collections, whether private or public, makes for thrilling stories of backroom deals, tainted histories and not a few cut throats. Collections encompass the private as well as institutional hoards, where the objects per se in the collection are not creations of the collector, but in their disembodiment from their original context, become a new whole, carrying all the ideologies and sub-contexts of the collector. Points of origin are

Art and Garbage | 23


erased, subverted and replaced by taxonomic and hierarchical classificatory distinctions that supplant the original individual narratives. The ambiguity of ownership is at work and herein lies another blurring of the boundary between art and garbage. Whenever we discard a possession, we exercise our control, or rights of ownership to dispose. With respect to garbage, the act of discarding releases us from the onus of ownership, and consequences of decay. Art reclaims that, usurps that ambiguity whenever a ‘found’ object is used. But to what extent? For all our bourgeois renunciation of garbage, I doubt my neighbour would take kindly to me rummaging through his trash. So is garbage still owned till legally sanctioned ‘disposers’ claim it? Once we release our garbage into the public domain, we have no part in its disposal/dispersal or display. Clutter is more than hoarded pre-garbage, it forms a bulwark of sorts against loss of ownership, of control, and speaks much of our preoccupation with mortality. Nothing new here really, issues of ownership, acquisition, collections and possessions being our rather pathetic attempts at staving off death. Which quite naturally brings me back to Art. The mimetic successor to the collections of natural history must surely be the art collection. Art too seeks to impose a sense of ownership, a dominion over the environment, and a means to defeat Oblivious Time! Consider this then: if all cumulative human knowledge has indeed brought us this far, then why do we oft find ourselves impaled on this all-too familiar Catherine Wheel of Time? If we are doomed to repetition and reiteration in the Grand Circle of Time, then one might be led to wonder, why have we not learnt our lessons well enough to resist our inevitable skewering on the spokes of cyclic history? So it is that set against our innate love of knowledge and its accumulation, we find ourselves adrift in this sea of incontinence, with the many sphinctered Scylla of dialectic on the one and the Charybdian maw of oblivion on the other.6

6  S. Raoul, Art of the Americas: Secrets Unearthed from Levels Seven to Two (Singapore: Octopus Classics, 2006), p.18.


All these strivings for immortality are messily bound up in the very necessary release of the artwork into the wild, where we fear it will be ravaged by predatory market forces and academic dialectic, yet only its release can ensure a stab at that aforementioned immortality. Better still, a collective release to maximise one’s chances of being footnotes, after all, what else are retrospectives for, and who better to host them than the custodians of art and garbage, the museum. So within the museum proper, artists like Mark Dion have produced artwork that has shifted the meanings of art, science, history, anthropology, and the repository of all these – the museum and the gallery. In works that cleverly, and with more than a touch of irony, mimic actual scientific methods of collection, classification, sorting, categorisation, and eventual display, Mark Dion presents us with an alternate view to the museum reality. By staging most of his work in these settings, and by adopting a pseudo-scientific approach, Mark Dion gently probes at this façade of neutral authority, presenting objects in the hallowed museum setting in a manner befitting valuable artefacts so that, though aware of their mundane nature, we are moved and unsettled by their very banality, and through the sheer scale of classification, labelling and display, we are convinced of their profound importance and relevance. Dion intervened, and using on-site rescue archaeology, he painstakingly collected everything (including the detritus), from two townhouses demolished by MOMA and from the nearby site of the demolished Dorset Hotel. The resulting installation of objects lovingly cleaned, sorted, classified and displayed included bits of masonry, cornices, three fireplaces, keys, eleven doorknobs, a Richard Serra – like rusted iron beam, an intricately carved wooden frieze, and a custom made cabinet of artefacts like stamped bricks, matchboxes, broken cream jars, hotel soap, razor blades, and a mailbox lid with “Poor Richard” on it. Interestingly, what also emerged were the remains of Bruce Nauman’s Audio-Visual Underground Chamber (1972–74), which was installed in the garden as part of the artist’s 1995 retrospective! The installation is a critique of the changing social and architectural landscapes of our cities, and of the blanket order imposed by art institutions on what we should look at, and how we should look. At the same time the pathos

Art and Garbage | 25


of the show and its loving homage to times and peoples past cannot be discounted; as one reviewer put it, “… the installation’s evocation of time and history… haunted me throughout the day I saw it. I watched the snow drift over the sleek results of MOMA’s $425-million renovation; this too shall pass I thought.”7 It is an interesting exercise to define the museum by its opposite, the anti-museum, and the anti-museum of them all must surely be the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in California, USA. As the name implies, this Museum approaches the issues of collection, display, natural history and the people in the field with an attitude of serious questioning clothed in the garb of pseudo-scientific enquiry. With its blurring of the lines between fact and fiction, science and myth, the Museum has consistently defied any attempt to categorise itself (an ironical twist on the nature of categorical collections!), and presents seemingly serious collections, meticulously created and displayed, with a rigorous scientific air that paradoxically induces disorientation and a sense of the ridiculous in the viewer. Collections of the utmost banality are willed to the Museum; I personally witnessed the arrival of a store-room full of lovingly packed execrable cow creamers, which were accorded all the loving care of doting restoration staff cleaning artefacts of antiquity. Ralph Rugoff claims that the Museum calls “serious attention to a theory that holds all knowledge of the past as an illusion... calling attention to the aura of unreality surrounding its own recreations”.8 The Museum upsets the academic applecart by flitting on periphery of our cultural literacy, and “… subtly breaching our customary contract with museums”,9 where we enter expecting to be educated, but often where “so many museum exhibits attract our attention only to immobilise our curiosity”.10 Interestingly, Rugoff suggests that perhaps “we are all amnesiacs, and what we know as ‘memory’ is nothing more than an imaginative act 7  Steven Vincent. ‘Mark Dion at MOMA’, in Art in America, March 2005, p. 143. 8  Ralph Rugoff, ‘Beyond Belief: The Museum as Metaphor’, in Visual Display:  Culture Beyond Appearances, ed., Wollen Cooke (New York: The New Press. 1995), p. 72. 9  10 

Ibid., p. 78. Ibid., p. 78.


scaffolded (sic) around decaying fragments of lived experience... to buffer us against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrievability of its moments and events�.11

11 

Ibid., pp. 70-71.

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p o t s j o m dernu k

yarnd

Alexis Hy


Study of a doughnut, 2006 Oil, watercolor and charcoal pencil on chopping board

Michael Lee: We both went through formal training in Communication Studies locally at the Nanyang Technological University, majoring in Electronic and Broadcast Media. Could you recall what your learning experiences were like? Alexis Hy: School helped because I knew why I was there: to find out why. Led to a course in mass communication by calculated instinct, I was open to whatever forms of study my interests led me to. The general exposure to film theory and cultural studies helped nurture an interest and foundation, albeit a shaky one, in intellectual debate and critical discourse. This I carried over to my personal research in art history and theory later on. A lot of smoky trash here and there really, but very stimulating to the mind. Access to art films was certainly a plus for me. University learning, in retrospect, was still less inspiring than I’d hoped for, considering what I’ve discovered for myself after graduation, but if you were to talk about the people I met, there were definitely gems. The crucial phase that validated the entire course I attribute to my Final Year Project (FYP). For my team of four, The Quack Squad, we produced a short video and a paper on Cosplay in Singapore. It was really ten months of hands-on research within the cosplay community that brought me a step closer to a subculture I grew to feel rather at home with.

Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard | 31


Preserved Anatomy of a Girl #04 (detail), 2006 Wall paint, plaster, bakery utensil, anime figurine on canvas

Our chosen tutor Ivan Kwek was significant for my artistic development as someone who, with a wealth of knowledge and infectious enthusiasm in his own studies (anthropology), opened a dialogue for intellectual discussion. That is important, because we don’t need people to open the door for us as much as we need them to spur us to find our own skeleton keys. My interest in cultural studies is derived from our FYP experience. Yes, the FYP supervisor can play a pivotal role in the success of the project as well as in developing a personal outlook to life and career after graduation. Your lecturers probably told you that you were likely to end up playing the roles of radio or television producer, presenter or director in the broadcast industry. At which point did you realise that your calling was to be an artist? I did not realise my calling to be an artist as much as I realised my calling not to be anything else. My 6-month internship experience at local production house Yes21 was the first experience to that made me understand that. No doubt I have a lot of good memories and went through the experience wholeheartedly. Still, there was something missing for me in it; I did not want to pursue that career long-term. After graduation, I found myself at Block43, a studio run by James Holdsworth, both as a student and a life-drawing model. I sensed something different in the air. How does the ‘lack’ of formal fine art training figure in your artistic development? Do you see yourself disadvantaged in any way, or do you feel instead that you are spared some of the baggage of art school training (for instance, we are reminded of the self-taught painter Francis Bacon’s famous quip that art schools teach all the things you do not want to learn)?


In terms of ego, extremely damaging. In terms of artistic development, probably the best thing that has ever happened – one less area for me to unlearn. More than either however, it made me prove to myself my will to do what I’m doing. Making up for lost time and knowledge is tough, maybe impossible, yet I still delight amidst the pain. That says something about myself to me, besides that I have a masochistic streak. Perhaps seeing my own fighting spirit makes me like myself more. My efforts at self-education brought me closer to Surrealism, Pop Surrealism, Postmodernism and Superflat theories. This area of study comes from an interest to investigate my own passion for the weird, offbeat and subcultural, and also manga aesthetics and story-telling. I attempt to dive beneath my own skin to understand the nitty-gritty of my own creative impulses.

top: The Many Deaths of Mr Sweet: Pop (detail), 2005 Putty, figurine, watercolor in fish tank bottom: Sweet Honey (detail), 2006 Watercolor, pebbles, honey container, anime figurine

The fruits of my labour emerged in my writing The Taste of Our Time. It helped me clarify my belief that postmodern/media junk like manga books and anime are the art form of a postmodern age. The inevitable chaos of symbols found in the contents of such entertainment apparatus is a metaphor of postmodern existential anxiety. In the face of a proliferating global visual culture, a context perhaps not entirely dissimilar to the emergence of a modern media culture accompanying the rise of Dadaism and Surrealism in the West during the 20th century, we experience the tension of communicationalienation forces when coping with mass media effects. Much catharsis from this adjustment explodes into our historical consciousness as art. Today, the recent Pop Surrealism movement in the West and Superflat movement in Japan may give us enough reason to believe a worldwide existential reaction to global media culture is gaining momentum.

Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard | 35


You have mentioned your affinity with “postmodern / media junk”, and your interests in Surrealism, Pop-Surrealism and Superflat. How did your relationship with these bodies of knowledge come about? Thirst, hunger, desperation for things that could help explain who I am to myself. When I came across my first Chiho Aoshima work, a permanent image burnt itself onto my mind. The discovery of Superflat, in an A5 hardcover collection of essays and Superflat works, was incredible. The thought process was probably something like: This is manga. Hey chotto – this is art!! Oh what the fuck – How do you specifically deal with your influences? The roots of my visual language come from contemporary manga. Since primary school, I copied a huge amount of my favourite manga scenes from series like Doraemon, Dragonball, Fushigi Yuugi, Rurouni Kenshin, Slam Dunk and 3x3 Eyes . Currently, I do the same with Naruto, Saiyuki, Loveless, FLCL etc. For many years, I had no desire to create original characters because my aim in drawing was to capture permanently, significant moments of the stories I loved so much. While in secondary school, my best friend inspired me to start telling my own stories. That triggered the idea of creating my own characters and contexts. As I wrote, I unconsciously went through the process of constructing story-telling techniques based on my personal taste and vision, which laid the foundation for the development of a personal voice in art. Influences outside art include many aspects of Japanese traditional culture such as chado, zen and wabi sabi aesthetics. The spirituality and philosophical teachings they promote attract me greatly because their attitude to life always encompasses the individual.


It is this key that I consider important in the success of their style of commercialism, which may be why the Japanese fit so comfortably in the global marketplace. Together with market consideration, they seem to also possess the heart to strive for quality and the well-being of the consumer. I aspire to many of the principles found in chado, zen and wabi sabi. My reflection on them usually shows up in the stories and characters of Mr Sweet and Salmon Girl. For example, in the negation of conventional concepts. Do you have particular habits with rubbish? I am a clean freak – something like Bree in Desperate Housewives. Figuratively, there is a charm associated with the notion of the cast-away, the useless, the junkyard. Something forlorn. Imagine a landscape with a gray horizon, a vision of media waste that speaks of our excessive indulgence in technology – such post-apocalyptic aesthetics, commonly encountered in certain manga, are powerful images of beauty. Japanese art critic Noi Sawaragi once said to Superflat artist Takashi Murakami: I felt so happy when I read through your new essay [on Superflat], because it was made not from high and noble materials, but solely from the massive amount of meaningless and unorganised junk aimlessly produced daily in Japan. Superflat and my interpretation of Superflat rests on postmodern media junk. The overwhelming amount of media entertainment I saw in Japan is incredible. Everything is as ‘pulp culture’ and banal as it should be. The meaninglessness of entertainment is stark, glaring but ethereal like a giddy neon kaleidoscope at the same time. Beautiful because it is too much of a compelling evidence of the reality that we predicted for our future, which we fulfill for ourselves now.

Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard | 37


top: The Many Deaths of Mr Sweet: Jam (detail), 2005 Jam container, figurine, broken mirror fragments, wood and others in fish tank bottom: Strawberry Girl, 2006 Plaster, light weight clay, Japanese strawberry jam container, anime figurine

In that sense, I find solace in this so-called ‘rubbish’, which we created with our own twisted imagination. To deny our guilty diet of media rubbish is to deny a part of ourselves. Hence my desire is to present this postmodern junk in art not as art, but as organic extensions of ourselves, for all the trash that we are. The beauty of postmodern junk lies in its ability to illuminate our socially-educated sense of shame and help us re-access the validity of society’s taste against our own, thereby freeing us from the ignorance of society’s shackles. Interesting. Does it mean that there is a diametrically opposite relationship between your view of physical rubbish and figurative (e.g., media) rubbish, perhaps not unlike that between yin and yang? Your observation is interesting. I have never quite seen the value of my apparently contrasting responses towards physical and figurative rubbish. While that means they exist on clearly different planes and hence not ‘yin and yang’ as suggested, it points to some things central to my beliefs. How is this so? Take my dislike for physical rubbish. It is a practical concern: a carelesslymaintained workspace is not conducive and possibly disruptive for living and working. I am very sensitive to the context of a space. Seeing unorganised chaos clutters my inner space; organised chaos however, is tolerable and perhaps even inevitable in a studio. What this reflects is my concern with the extension of yourself within your immediate physical environment, as some measure of your degree of self-knowledge – this I consider important in a person’s spiritual well-being.


A poorly-maintained space also reflects a lukewarm respect for one’s environment and I hardly think that is good practice. Maintaining one’s space requires discipline. But respect for ourselves should demand the task of creating the optimal conditions – which constantly shift due to our own evolving tastes and introspective environment – for ourselves, be undertaken. A good space free of unnecessary rubbish should reflect our lifestyle habits accurately. What is your primary artistic concern? To be a responsible artist, which translates as: Constant refinement of my art until I reach personal limitations or more practically, deadlines; sticking to my works, not giving up on them nor on myself; to value the audience. I am myself inspired greatly by other artists and sometimes the impact can be profound, possibly life-changing. I can only hope to return the inspiration I have found. Can you describe your research and creative process? Just do it, do it again, continue doing it, keep going. Basically I walk an uncharted journey. I will start in a horribly vague frame of mind and allow my intuition to make decisions. That’s probably the scariest and most thrilling part because you are aware of expectations, clueless as to whether you can fulfill them and aware of the fact that you are building something from scratch. I have always preferred working on existing things because then I can take advantage of the meanings and associations they are already imbued with. What I particularly enjoy is the process of subverting these meanings. Somewhere along the working process, after most of the initial works are realised, I start to identify links between these works and concepts will naturally surface. Everything will fall into place, start making sense and – lo and behold – there will be light at the end of the tunnel.


Having said that, none of the creative journeys for any of my exhibitions so far has proved to be smooth. When it comes to sitting down and conjuring something out of nothing, the agony cannot be escaped. Not to mention how easily that can draw out inner existential pain, which is the chief motivation for the frequent physical brutality found in works like the Chopping Board Art and Small Tofu: Preserved Anatomy of a Girl. Metaphorical externalisation of pain seems to serve a cathartic value for me, creating a point of identification for myself, outside myself. My delight in visual, stylistic violence finds inspiration from painters like Mark Ryden, Trevor Brown, photographer Michiko Kon and manga artist Junko Mizuno. The proximity to the idea – not the actual affair – of death and mutilation brings me closer to the idea of life. That death makes life clearer is also part of the Zen belief in the transience of life, a point I explore in the narrative of my original character Mr Sweet. page 42 top left: Shinnen Omedetou! Ikura wa ikura kana? (Happy New Year! How much is the ikura, I wonder?) (detail), 2006 Japanese new year food decoration, light weight clay and anime figurine on wood block top right: Strawberries and Cream (detail), 2006 Plaster, light weight clay, Japanese jam container, anime figurine bottom: Rei + Paper Umbrella (detail), 2006 Japanese paper umbrella decoration, anime figurine from Neon Genesis Evangelion

Mr Sweet is my channel to questioning and negating conventional concepts of death and gender. I always make him die in one way or another in each episode of his story. For instance, he is said to have ‘died at his own hands’ in episode 1. He also ate his clone Star in episode 2. The Many Deaths of Mr Sweet, my first series of surreal assemblage, also made this point. However, the more he dies, the more he lives. His presence is made stronger each time you witness his death/dying. This is similar to Akira Toriyama’s DragonBall series that featured dead heroes that can be recalled from the next worlds they have moved on to after death – I did not start Mr Sweet based on that but the notion of death as a continuance of life is indeed shared. Mr Sweet comes from a category of shoujo manga catering to a female audience. It is known as “shounen ai” or boys’ love and features romantic or sexual fantasies between boys. Shounen ai gave birth to the adolescent androgyny of Mr Sweet, as well as the suggested connotations of homosexuality in his works. The main issue however, is not homosexuality but rather a desire to transcend socially-defined gender boundaries and attain freedom through their subversion.

Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard | 41


In explaining reasons behind the popularity of the shounen ai genre among the Japanese female audience, Mark J. McLelland suggested the bishounen (young, pretty boy) as “a figure of resistance” against the idea of biology as destiny and against the correlation between biology and gender roles. According to McLelland: Only a boy who loves a boy (or a girl who loves a girl) is truly free in Japanese society to love beyond the constraining roles imposed by the marriage and family system. The bishounen presence has entered global mainstream culture and gathered online communities of international fans. The childlike, sexless quality of Mr Sweet is to me, a fantasy of the idealised bishounen among Japanese women’s media that is gaining a worldwide audience. To date, you have held three solo exhibitions: two at home and one in a fashion boutique. How has the reception been so far? Obviously these venues and platforms are outside of the usual fine art circuit – was it a strategic move to avoid or sidestep the art museum or gallery system? The events have been successes so far, by which I mean: The events did not fail; every event that doesn’t fail or suffer serious screw-ups is a success. My experience as assistant producer in TVC production helped me understand that. The efforts put into my works, the presentation of my works and event-organisation decisions were 200% satisfactory. Positive feedback was related to me, some which touched me dearly. I am lucky that in all three, some works were sold. I need to buy my food and basic lifestyle products.

Alexis Hy: Postmodern Junkyard | 43


top: Preserved Anatomy of a Girl #01 (detail), 2006 Wall paint, plaster, kitchen utensil, anime figurine on canvas

Working outside the fine art circuit during the first phase of my artistic career was a strategic move, but also an inevitable development, considering the nature of my practice. My roots are in ‘junk’ and it is important for me to find my starting point there – in a re-appropriated essence of Japanese subculture that I constantly identify with. At the end of the day, it all boils down to creativity and which platforms one finds an affinity with. Could you share some of your upcoming projects and future plans? I am currently preparing for an exhibition in December at Studio Miu gallery at Takashimaya, Level 4. Studio Miu is in fact, the first gallery I approached right after I graduated (one year ago). It is with much amusement that I look back at the incident. There I was, with a pretty portfolio bag packed with Mr Sweet sketches and nothing else except naïve enthusiasm – that I haven’t completely lost even up till today. (I wonder if that is a good thing....) I was kindly rejected, something that did not come as a surprise although it was still a setback. However, chance allowed me a dialogue with Junko (from Studio Miu), which served to be a current of strength that pushed me to emerge from the murky understanding of art that I was shrouded with. Half a year later, I returned and invited them to my first solo Eating Japan, which I held at my own residence. Their support and presence from that event onwards made me proud of what I’d done. Along the way, I’ve met specific people and encounters crucial to my artistic development. What I can do now is only to transcend my own fears as best as I can to discover a Way of my own, even if it contradicts their expectations. That, I believe, is the best way to appreciate the remarkable bright stars in my black universe.


Alexis’s new exhibition opens in December 2006 at Studio Miu, Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Level 4. For this show, she challenges herself to express her interpretation of Superflat visually on a single platform. Do visit to find out more about Superflat, especially if you believe in manga and anime. There will be a simple and cosy reception inside the studio. For updates, visit www.studioalexis.net.


Jane Porter


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A Linty Find, 2005 Photocopy transfers, ink and food colouring on found paper

Michael Lee: You hold a Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. How did art school (assuming it did) help develop your artistic interests and growth? At what point did you decide to foreground animation, rather than painting, as your medium of expression? Jane Porter: Ha… yes assuming it did. I really enjoyed life drawing and drawing projects. They allowed me to surprise myself continuously. I joined a video documentary elective and from then on, I started walking around with a video camera and spending time in the editing studio. While I was still painting, many non-constructive opinions were constantly being thrown at me. I was sick of hearing things that didn’t aid me in my growth. At the same time, I was gradually losing confidence. During my second year, I decided to animate some matchsticks for my final project. I thoroughly enjoyed it and well… I guess it helped when I received positive reviews. Animation, thereafter, became my choice medium. The lecturers had fewer things to say. Mostly, they told me to “experiment more”. I spent more time looking through a camera and editing for hours in the lab, hardly speaking to anyone. I was really happy. So video became a kind of paintbrush for you from then on? It did, in a way. In the beginning, I shot quite a bit of footage. I especially enjoyed watching insects through the camera. The collecting of footage was more akin to the process of painting than the postproduction process; editing involved a lot of waiting time and there was always the case of the hanging computer. I am often switching between modes of concentration and spacing out while the video clips are being rendered. I can’t deny the epic sense of fulfillment when the video is done.

Jane Porter: The Private Lives of Clutter | 49


However I do miss the physical involvement in painting- the stretching and priming of canvas…. Do you have particular habits with rubbish? I never seem to clear it. Why so? So that my garbage empire will prosper! Your biography states that you often experience anxiety. Could you elaborate on that and how you deal with it? I’m a worry wart. I worry what I do isn’t good enough. I worry where I’ll find the next computer to work on (I don’t have my own working system) SO… I scratch and scratch (I have a habit of scratching my hands when I’m worried) and scratch till I bleed. Then I stop. Washing one’s hands is painful business after that. Anxious Shorts (2004-2005) and A Linty Find (2005) both feature trash as primary subject. What are the concepts behind these two works? How do these two works relate? While reading Richard E. Cytowic’s The Man who Tasted Shapes, I chanced upon several mental conditions that affected the way people see the world. Some see their world upside down while others see red jagged lines when they hear shrill sounds. But aphasia struck me the most. It was a condition where one loses the ability to understand words. Patients are able to read text but the meanings of words are lost on them. In my work, objects are made to move and work together but they serve no meaning. Several shorts were shown one after another, flashing from different monitors and projected onto a makeshift board while the viewer is made to sit in a chair in a room filled with junk. Clutter and flashing shorts do not make for good understanding.


pages 51, 52: top and bottom: Necessary Intervention (stills), 2005 Video installation

A Linty Find was about note-making during one’s travel. Notes were made on scraps of paper, receipts, tickets; items that were conveniently at hand. Conveniently handy, handily forgotten. Receipt with notes on it enters pocket of pants which is put into wash. Notes become lint. I use trash in both works to mark my space. It serves, at once, as the protagonist and the backdrop of my works. It’s a wonder how much we can learn about ourselves through reading and making work! Does your fascination and relationship with trash tell you something about yourself? Ha… that I’m a cheapskate and a hoarder?! Do physical space and objects around you reflect, affect or in any way interact with the world in you? Things are thrown away because they cease to function the way they’re built to. With that, I get to DICTATE their functions! I get more attached to objects as compared to people. I suppose there is a certain amount of order I am able to achieve with objects. How did you develop the strategy of animating your clutter? I have an inability to make feature film length plans. The longer I spend planning something, the higher the probability of it never being realised. So I make a vague plan: Animate some tiny balls of paper from a previous project. I pick up the video camera. Find a spot. In this case I find a dripping pipe and I respond to it by stuffing paper inside. I spot a pile of dead leaves nearby. I go back to the studio for crushed paper, I bury it among the leaves and the animation process begins.

Jane Porter: The Private Lives of Clutter | 53


So filming is pretty much a matter of free association? Free association is of course upheld by psychoanalysts, surrealists and creative thinking gurus as a useful tool for sidestepping the logic of the everyday. Earlier, you spoke of another animated piece involving matchsticks: In Matchstick Massacre (2004), you showcase many hilarious and yet plausible ways that a matchstick can get killed! How did you come up with these possibilities?! Yes, free association! Thank you Michael! The massacre was birthed thanks to some foundation students who dumped a truckload of matchboxes that I happened to find. There is a tendency to inflict injury upon anything smaller than you. It could be plain curiosity or just the ease of squishing something tiny. So it wasn’t so hard to think of ways to kill a matchstick. A box of props, a stay at Hotel 81 and helpful friends yielded many deaths. How about post-production? Is there any particular filmmaker’s style that you try to emulate? I don’t think I have enough knowledge of filmmakers or have seen enough of their work to say exactly. But I do enjoy Michel Gondry’s works very much.... Can you also talk a bit about the particular modes of the somewhat ‘cluttered’ presentation for Anxious Shorts (20042005) and the almost inconspicuous setup for Necessary Intervention (2005)?


I used to do mock set-ups of Anxious Shorts in my studio space. To enter my space, one had to make a considerable effort to maneuver around my clutter lest they tripped and suffered the consequences. From there, I recognised the possibility of clutter complimenting and creating a believable environment for this video. This mode of presentation would heighten the senses of the viewer and at the same time, make them feel uneasy. Necessary Intervention took flight because of various opinions people had about a particular artist’s artwork and my amusement with artwork surveillance. It seemed like a huge joke to keep an eye on bad art. Since this work was meant to imitate the setup of a security desk, it was necessary to keep its presentation understated to ensure its believability. Only the truly inquisitive ones would be rewarded with the security footage and a chance to go through the guard’s personal items. Who are major influences in your art? From your practice, I can discern at least two related genealogies: the history of moving images, especially avant-garde film and experimental animation; also, surrealism and psychoanalysis appear to figure quite a bit. Tony Oursler! His talking creatures/dummies! His early videos! The attraction lies in how handmade his videos appear to be. You can see the strings, the artist’s hands, the flimsy backdrop… but yet one still gets lost in his work by patching these so-called loopholes with one’s imagination or preconceived knowledge of the subject matter. I remember watching a surrealist film a while back that featured Calder’s Circus and it has always been at the back of my mind. At times I try to emulate what these artists do. I attempt to include their interests as part of mine.

Jane Porter: The Private Lives of Clutter | 55


top and bottom: Anxious Shorts (documentation), 2005 Video installation

I can understand your appreciation of the “handmade” quality of Oursler’s work. A lot, perhaps too much, of the contemporary media world uses digital manipulation software to alter photography and video, often foregrounding the technology rather than the story. I often lament the near-impossibility of creating a surrealistic world using photography and video, as opposed to painting. However, I’m able to discern that illusionist, hence highly believable sense of an other-world in your video pieces. It is said that the most believable fiction is grounded in reality. Do you agree? How do you think you’ve been able to engage that psychological realm? Hmm... not really. Everything we create is more or less grounded in reality. Just because a piece of work or fiction is said to be more grounded in reality doesn’t necessarily guarantee its believability. It’s true that reality might hit closer to home but we mustn’t forget… we create monsters, fantastical worlds, and imaginary people to escape and cope with reality a little better. Something that turns its back on reality might just garner more believers. I employ simple items and basic editing. Getting people to sit in the dark helps too. But make sure to leave them alone. How do you specifically deal with your influences? Ha. At the end of the day, I either feel like a fraud, a copy cat or I have to admit to myself that this really doesn’t work for me. But because of that, a lot of experimentation has been carried out, things that don’t work or don’t rightfully belong to me are weeded out and well… I end up with something of my own.

Jane Porter: The Private Lives of Clutter | 57


Your biography states that your belongings communicate with you by “sending… subliminal messages.” What are these messages? Usseeeee usssssss or dieeeeeeee. You lazzzyy... piece of…. Can you describe your research and creative process? I plant myself in libraries and secondhand shops. Something in there always fascinates me. I buy an old security camera and incidentally I walk pass bad art. I go on a security monitor spree, talk to strange men about wirings, spy on security guards, write little notes in tiny book which I can’t find anymore and spend a week with a box of props in a cramped space along with my partner/assistant (whom I’ll take this opportunity to credit. She is very much part of my creative process. Ha.). Rummaging through dumpsters starts a whole new cycle of experimentation yet again. So the electronic shops and the dumpster are your sanctuary of art materials? Which places are especially good places to search for the electronic equipment and the trash you need? Cash Converters at Ang Mo Kio.


You mentioned your collaborative relationship with your partner. Do you two brainstorm ideas? Does she help out in the shooting? Does she make cameo appearances in your videos? Can you elaborate? How does she deal with your clutter? First and foremost, she is none other than Tania De Rozario! I guess having a relationship entails obligations. Ed: I beg yo

ur pardon? ??!

Ha. I make her listen to my plans and we discuss possibilities. She has a dual role - the mover of props and a prop herself. Worms crawl out of her navel... she is attacked by tape.... As for having to deal with my clutter, Tania is a clutterer herself. You’re an art teacher with very good acclaim at a local art centre. Your popularity is evident, for example, in your students voting you as their favourite teacher in this year’s National Day coverage in the English daily, The Straits Times. How do you strike a balance between work as a teacher and your own art practice in animation, installation, book-making and illustration? Does anxiety come in the way, or facilitate the process? I become two people. When I’m teaching, I go into some sort of trance where I make funny voices. I grunt, squeak and squeal. This is very unlike me. Luckily for me, lessons are done behind closed doors. After class, I lapse into my usual poker-face self.

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Matchstick Massacre, 2004 Digital video

After a long stretch of teaching, restlessness and misery pay a visit and I find refuge in my work. This refuge usually turns into anxiety once the deadlines draw near. Anxiety occasionally clouds my judgment but it always keeps me from sleeping before I finish the job.... well. I would like to discuss the split in you a bit more. Freud has of course written about the split ego being the outcome of unresolved conflicts between instinctual wishes and social norms. Does that concept apply in your case? Jane #1: No. Jane #2: Maybe. I understand that a book of your illustrations has just been published. Can you share a bit about that project? Any future plans? It’s a children’s book called The Adventures of Lofty de Lizzard. Lofty’s a gecko! This collaborative project between the writer and myself spanned a year and I must say… phew it’s finally out. So go get your hands on Lofty! As for future plans, I plan to learn Dutch and spend a year or more in Holland.


To find out more about The Adventures of Lofty de Lizzard, log onto www.octopus.sg/lofty/. Purchase a copy for your favourite child, adult, reptile or artist.


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Shubigi Rao


Michael Lee: You attained a BA (Honours) in English before embarking on your art training at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, where you obviously did really well, receiving a Distinction for your Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) and a First Class Honours for your BA (Hons) Fine Arts (Painting). Could you recall what your educational experiences were like? How do your respective educations in language and in art relate? How did art school develop your artistic interest and growth? Shubigi Rao: I was laughably naïve in my rebellions as a younger college-goer, choosing to opt out of the System and get my English degree through correspondence; it meant that I had to tackle the same syllabi, exams, and invigilation as regular universities without the benefit (academic coddling, I called it then) of notes, classes, tutoring or instruction. I always opted out then. It seemed that if I could make it harder for myself, so much the better. It’s been 8 years since, and I’ve come to realise that a surprising amount of growth can happen within the bounds of an institutional framework. I’ve found that there’s a particular pleasure to be had from working within the constraints of a system – it makes me more contrary than ever. What could be better than the constant chafing against authority/academia/institutions and systems, a chafing that serves to kick oneself in the rear, to avoid the complacency of finding a formula and sticking to it? I don’t work well in isolation, I find myself terribly uninteresting in terms of the ideological conflicts I can generate; I certainly can’t hold a candle to academic institutions when it comes to the right inducements for self-evisceration! Art and language, like most ‘fields’, overlap all the time (obviously!). I’ve always enjoyed the quibbling over semantics and the selfabsorption of bibliophiliacs, activities I find mirrored in the art world. How is art academia all that different from its literary counterpart? I find tremendous joy in using/examining the language of one in the context of the other, especially where overuse has rendered clarion calls like Juxtapose! and Appropriate! completely impotent in the art arena.

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page 64 Untitled (detail), 2005 Pseudoscience in suitcase

I cannot agree more with your point on institutions as a subject of ambivalence: You love them, you hate them, often simultaneously. Such dialectics of emotions can be a good resource for creative imaginations and acts. Speaking of art, literature, and bibliophilia, you obviously have wide-ranging interests. You’re also a keen reader of natural history, environmental issues and museology. My interests are actually a lot wider than that; I’m a shameless gaming addict, for one. It was cumulative RTS gaming, coupled with my loves of history, archaeology, and extinction (whether of civilisation or species), that inspired my series on pseudo-archaeology, wherein layers (or levels!) of specialised study cosied up with fictionalised characters, a love story, academic politicking, and endeavours that led nowhere. I’ve never been aware of conflicts or tensions between these issues – everything is a Babel of voices and ideas and differences. I have an instinctive distrust of anything that masquerades as pure (sorry Clement!), for anything that exists in a self-contained hermetic bubble is in defiance of natural law, a lie, which essentially means that its very existence is in contradiction to its stated aims. Simply put, how pure and incontrovertible is a minimalist work, for example, when it will invariably be viewed differently and reinterpreted by every viewer, generating diverse discourse and creating myths of its own? Of course, I’ll probably make an aboutface by tomorrow, and declare my pursuit of an utopian ideal. Oh well.


Can you describe your research and creative process? I’m always consumed with a restless energy and an avid interest in everything, especially the banal, so it often comes about that the most mundane activity or stimulus will spark off an outrageously monumental idea. I like to take that idea and run with it, reading/researching indiscriminately and with no particular discipline, picking seemingly unconnected bits and pieces, throwing it all in, and then stirring the ghastly soup, skipping with glee at each stage of its mutation/evolution; the final work very often ends up bearing no overt resemblance to the original idea, a process that I love and one that thematically-concerned curators bemoan. The reason I suspect it works is that while the process is chaotic, there is a rigorous critical analysis of the concept that ties it all together. Much like writing, in my work there is a synthesis of the disparate and unconnected, with attributes being accorded in surprising ways – like archaeology, writing too uncovers secrets and gives new relevance and meaning to the undervalued. A lot of my recent work involves the making of books - the writing, illustrating, often the binding as well. So much has to come together, and each aspect requires an academically informed decision. It’s incredibly humbling to see all one’s effort hidden away in sealed books, as mine was for No Cover, No Colour (2006), a recent exhibit where 3 ‘display’ books were insinuated into the bookshop of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The display books belied their function – while suitably eye-catching and glossy, they merged with the other glossies, and hence disappeared. page 69 Earth=Unearth II (detail), 2005 Pseudoscience in cabinet

Shubigi Rao: “All Art is Garbage...” | 67


Do you have particular habits with rubbish in your daily life? That’s a strange one. There’s a real tension here – I dislike a cluttered living area, yet my environmentally primed conscience disallows me from throwing anything away. Everything has a history, and the fact that all these incredibly diverse objects, some with undeniably shady pasts, come to rest in my house/studio is fascinating in its own right. Of course, they won’t escape the dustbins of history, for I seriously doubt my future heirs would want to hang on to any of them. In a way, all my stuff/junk is tied to my mortality. What a clichéd trinity. Art, the Artist and Death. Speaking of death, I understand you have thrown away many of your own artworks?! You mentioned being impatient with your art pieces taking up space in your studio, until you finally decide to throw them away. Such a matricidal streak you have there! Especially for the pieces for which you transformed garbage into art objects by way of archaeology, it is interesting that you have facilitated a somewhat cyclical (recycling) process: trash – art – trash. Ironically, you are more interested to safe-keep rough paper than art pieces: Would you say you’re more an environmentalist than an artist? Or is it a case of being ideologically against any form or concept of permanence, which is upheld as one of the traditional concerns in art? Funny you should call me matricidal, because what else would one do with one’s litter (sorry, poor pun). I have no illusions about the value of my work. Calling it art doesn’t make it so. Freedom from any illusions of inclusion in the canons of history means that I can really be as shamelessly self-indulgent as I want, and treat anything I make with a disregard that comes from my perverse sense of humour; the more monumental the effort, the more I play down its ‘unveiling’ in the public arena. It’s easier to throw your work to the lions if you know it will be eventually thrown away.

Ed: H a h aha ha ha !

Shubigi Rao: “All Art is Garbage...” | 69


The more environmentally conscious you are, the more you agonise over every decision you make, every time you consume and discard. So while the caveats may be there in my work, the admonitions and the castigation are reserved for me, for I can never be completely at ease with my place on this planet. The discarding of my work has very little to do with environmentally sound practice; for that matter, how much art is? One of most self-indulgent yet paradoxically detached running pieces, was when I ruthlessly ‘curated’ the prior work of the pseudo-archaeologist, hosting a fake retrospective, and then writing a ‘biography’ based solely on the selective information that the retrospective detailed. This ridiculously detailed performance eventually existed only as a series of photographic records of the retrospective, since photographs in themselves are a means of curating, a selective record. The biography is no longer extant; though an explication of this act of selecting and excluding, called Bastardising Biography (2006), does exist. Eventually, the confused viewer is left with meaningless photographs and a booklet, because the physical artwork and the actual discourse surrounding it (all my effort and artwork in my BA!) have been deemed irrelevant and discarded. I think the confusion is quite delicious; it points to an absence that comes from the removal of all that is considered garbage. So thank you, Michael, for ensuring that the work displayed here has escaped the maw of the Dustbin of Time, for at least a little while longer! The pleasure of keeping the shelf life of trash longer than usually necessary is entirely mine! Well, I would also like to add here: It doesn’t take an environmentally conscious person to agonise over whether to keep or throw. Clutter can accumulate in the space of a sentimentalist. Either that, or I’m a closeted environmentalist. What do you think is the intrinsic relation between garbage and art, if there is one?


All art is garbage salvaged from the dustbins of history, by the magisterial decrees of Museums and their minions, by critics and collectors. The rest is swallowed by Time, that inexorable marcher… blah blah. Why do we deem a single thought amongst so many others, worthy of the effort, of translation into art? I always think of what’s missing, or discarded or lost, whether in physical form, or as neglected abstract thoughts, clamouring with beaks open, ‘Mama feed me!’. It’s been said before, a lot better, so I think I’ll leave it at that. Please shed some light on your proposed work for this exhibition. And yes, this is a question desperately seeking some kind of conceptual anchor, also known as a preventive measure against too much or too loud bemoaning from the curator. (Laughs) For this show, the artwork is, in essence, a piece I did as part of the pseudo-archaeology series. It was a milestone of sorts in my development, and a culmination of the accumulated work of the series. What’s different is that it appears in a mutated form, something that happened willy-nilly, without me being aware of it.

After completing my BA, I had discarded all my artwork, the only survivor being the work shown here; a piece inspired by garbage I had collected from the beaches of the East Coast Park, Singapore. Over the course of the last year or so, sitting in a corner of my studio space at the College, it had become a repository of junk, failed work, or artwork that simply took up too much room on my table, all crammed in with the original bits and pieces of the artwork. I would imagine that might make an interesting comment on the artwork unintentionally becoming garbage (talk about irony!). This piece was shown originally at my Diploma show, and entered for the Della Butcher Award, so it will be interesting to see how it is received in its bastardised form by those who’ve seen it before. Of course, a lot would depend on their memories of the original work and I would hope to see a conflict; I do enjoy reinventing it’s always a great way to tinker with perception/memory/idée fixe (including my own!). Since this was one of the few pieces where the audience actually reacted to and interacted with the work, this will be one of the few times I will be looking out for their reactions, as well the reactions from those who haven’t seen it before.

Shubigi Rao: “All Art is Garbage...” | 71


I enjoy the irony of a suitcase being both part of that work, as well as a bin for trash. Is that the magic of the ancient vessel? Ever thought of recycling one work (trash, as you call it) into another, rather than throwing it? Or perhaps keeping all different pieces of work in one huge luggage? I have done that in the past, but I find that garbage loses a lot of its freshness (ha) when recycled this way. I find that the novelty tends to wear off, unless it’s repackageda damning indictment. I think of how much image and Sensation (sorry, Damien and co.) supersedes content. I’m horribly human that way-I even categorise my garbage. As for the luggage, its appropriateness is in question for other work. I used the suitcase for this particular work since it symbolised the forgotten-ness of the work, to echo the intimate experience of discovering someone’s lifework in an attic. Ironically, this suitcase was lying under my bed, forgotten, while I trawled flea markets looking for a suitable ‘ancient vessel’ to cradle the work. It was originally displayed with three years worth of dust on it, the accumulation of its existence under my bed. Who, in particular, have been major influences in your art? Also, how do you specifically deal with your influences? Do your varied interests fit comfortably with one another in your art practice, or are there tensions and conflicts amongst them? S. Raoul (Centre stage, misty-eyed, clutching long list of names): I really have to thank my parents for this. There were never conventional discussions at home; we invented skits, plays, characters and comic routines to entertain ourselves. My father was often dismissed as an ‘expert on all affairs’, though his extended bedtime story version of Sinbad the sailor drew on this indiscriminate knowledge of everything from morality tales to science fiction to the correct way to make baits and lures!


Punishment for me was being forced out into fresh air (ugh) and made to play with humans my age. I grew up devouring the books in their library - natural history, monumental endeavours (Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom an old favourite), entire encyclopaedias, obscure folk-lore, murder mysteries and stories of the macabre (especially Sleeman on the Thugee)- essentially everything was grist to my mill. Naturally, a love of language develops when one reads widely and eclectically – I revelled in the cacophony of so many different voices and styles. From the Santal Parganas to Andrei Zvyagintsev, Gondry to Gary Larson, Vonnegut to David Mitchell, thank you. Thank you all! (Walks to wrong end of stage, still gushing gratitude, till gently steered by erstwhile mentors to exit, stage left) Mentor M. Li: (Rolls eyes) This way, lady. Michael Lee: How would you compare and contrast your practice with that of other artists who similarly employ pseudo-archaeology in their art, such as Mark Dion?

Shubigi Rao: Being considerably more selfabsorbed (and arrogant!) than artists like Mark Dion, I invariably devolve into a shade, a singular facet of myself, which then becomes the persona that haunts the rambling artifice of the work - with as much a sense of sham that this metaphor carries! In my various guises as pseudo-archaeologist, pseudo-curator, pseudobiographer and writer using a pseudonym (ha), I’ve been able to imbue a sense of intimacy, of secrecy and skeletons in closets, all of which serves, at the very least, to keep my own interest from flagging. At the risk of being labelled deliberately obtuse, I think I’ve managed to shrug off the burden of reaching the viewer. Since I dislike the literal and the glib superficiality of imagery, preferring to run with the concept as far as I can, I don’t find myself shackled by a need to gain the acceptance or understanding of every single viewer.

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top and bottom: Study of Leftovers, 2004 Installation comprising objects, mixed media drawings, etchings, litter from Singapore’s beaches

So while I can still enjoy work by artists like Dion, especially on an aesthetic level, I think I’ve more empathy for work by Kabakov, for instance. I grew up on Soviet literature/propaganda in the ‘80s in India, and I still admire their peculiar, perceptive, unglamorous insights, whether in art, literature or film. Kabakov may show in a gallery, but he effectively makes us forget the site. I’m always painfully aware of the artifice of the whole gallery structure, and it’s why I often choose to work in denial of that. Dion’s work Rescue Archaeology, where he excavated Museum of Modern Art during their renovation is, while quite literal, also extraordinarily moving. I don’t think I’ve been able to reach the stage where I can transmit that sense of loss and beauty and anguish to the audience without reining in my self-indulgent twaddle. Maybe when I find that balance, I’ll stop treating my work like garbage. Any future plans or upcoming project? Perhaps a trio show with Dion and Kabakov? Future plans… well once I’m done playing Sid Meier’s Civilisation IV, I think I’ll clear my clutter. Maybe categorise my collections - of books, music, games, spare envelopes and used-up batteries. Maybe sit down and finally write my paper on the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Maybe I’ll complete that half-written manuscript mouldering in my cupboard. Maybe I’ll hunt down Kabakov, smuggle him back here in my suitcase and torture him for his secrets. I might even get a haircut and think of how grateful I am to myself for not turning my discarded body clutter, clipping, parings and lint into art. In between, I might as well continue on my campaign to have my art recognised as garbage.

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Yeoh Wee Hwee


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Michael Lee: Once, you mentioned that you had been collecting quite a few diplomas and that you obtained a degree only recently: You have diplomas in education, hospitality and fine art. You obviously did well for your BA (Hons) Fine Art with Contemporary Writing, graduating with First Class Honours. Do you recall what your learning experiences were like? How do your respective educations relate? How did school help develop your artistic interests and growth? Yeoh Wee Hwee: I don’t know how they relate but I think going through different educations provided me with different experiences I value. I would not have done anything differently. The best education I had was my diploma and BA (Hons) in Fine Art because the right people appeared at the right time. I was very lucky (hope I have not used up all my luck) to have very inspiring, patient and critical lecturers and tutors who taught me how to love my Art, see and work on my Art and want more for my Art. Who, in particular, have been major influences in your art? Also, how do you specifically deal with your influences? My father has been a major influence. To me, he is the most (YES) creative person. He never fails to amuse and amaze me with the simplicity of his material and his sometimes even primitive way of working, whether he applies it to making a toy or to repairing something. In him, I see creativity as a juxtaposition of choices. It never occurs to me to deal with my influences. It is only natural that he grows in me. I think we possess similar behaviour presented differently, that stems from different contexts. I remember you referring to artists like Tim Hawkinson whose practice is of interest to you. Could you explain your fascination with them?

Yeoh Wee Hwee: Litter Cultivation | 79


page 78 top left + right: i am growing on you... (detail), 2006 Cellulose tape and masking tape installation bottom: Plastic Organism II (detail), 2006 Cellulose tape

Maybe I like the clean yet complex ‘look’, the tactility or the simple and easily accessible materials. I am not sure… I just like them. I think if I were sure of why I like them, they would not captivate me so. Do you have particular habits with rubbish? Anything not used or appreciated is rubbish. I always relate rubbish to my artworks that I leave under my bed or in some corner for too long. So to classify objects as rubbish, my habits must define them as such: I have to have left them alone long enough for them to have gathered enough skin cells to be thrown away. ‘Sentiment’ is also on my list of rubbish. It is like a rusty piece of metal that I find so irresistibly beautiful and yet have no use for. So I transform it into my Art at times. What do you mean by your rubbish gathering skin cells? The dust that collects in a house is composed of atmospheric dust combined with dust generated by the inhabitants, mostly from sloughed skin cells. The more people staying in the house, the more dust gathered… amazing! You have vast interests. I do? Yes. From biology to psychology and philosophy. How do these various bodies of knowledge come together in your artistic development? You title your artist statement “Of Angst At Ease”, can you explain its significance?


I think I am a person who is not interested in many things except doing my Art… I read very randomly. At times, I think that all these readings just complicate matters. They are like the tools used to remove clay so that the form is more recognisable; sometimes, I just like to have my sticky earth all muddled. Terrible, I cannot remember how angst feels like now. I am living in my own world. Its significance features only at that point in time during which it is experienced. What is left now, is just matter. What, in the first place, were you angsty about? I can relate to the loss of memory in this respect. In your situation, do you think it is a case of having successfully come to terms of with your angst, or some kind of strategic suppression of it? Perhaps something else? I cannot remember what I was angsty (you just coined this word, didn’t you…? I know you secretly just want to come up with your own ‘Leetionary’) about but my best guess is that provocation got the better of me and I never learn to go with the flow. I think it is definitely not suppression; if and when provoked, I usually just say whatever I feel or think. If I don’t my heart beats real fast and a lump of anger starts blocking my windpipe. I had to let it out or die. Maybe I was externalising the residues. Can you share the concepts and processes of what you will be presenting for this exhibition? I am very inspired by the title of the show Appetites For Litter. I think about ‘litter’ as leaving something personal behind… which brings me to ideas of leaving and being left behind. I think we are all litterbugs who leave things in one another’s life and that we have the capacity to be littered. I am presenting my fragmented thoughts.

Yeoh Wee Hwee: Litter Cultivation | 81


Marking Territory (detail), 2006 masking tape installation

Can you describe your research and creative process? How would you describe yours??? Usually playing with material teaches me what to do; it is like having a conversation with it. Other times, I am abducted by a surge of emotion, which acts like a starter. That very short period forces me to externalise whatever thoughts and feelings I have. After the internal combustion dies down a bit, I will then read from different sources. Usually, one reading leads to another and the art may end up being quite different from its original startings. It is a cyclical process of playing, thinking, reading and creating. You have shared about being inspired by everyday materials like cellulose tape and paper. How did this come about? How do you deal with your materials? I am lazy. I do not like following very technical or methodical processes. I create my own process. I use and play with things that I can get easily and make easily without much technical knowledge. The more I play with the material, the more I learn about it. The different properties of the material teach me how else I can work on it. It could be a long indulgence but whatever; that is why we sleep less as we grow older. Any exciting upcoming project to share? Ask me again next week. I am not sure if the upcoming project will be exciting until I actually start building it.


Wee Hwee’s new installation will be on show at The Asylum at 22 Ann Siang Road, during 15 Nov – 1 Dec 2006.


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Arnewaty earned a Diploma (with a Distinction) in Fine Arts (Painting) from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts and was a recipient of the Winston Oh Travel Award in 2006. Her experience includes working as an assistant to a muralist and organising a variety of exhibtions. Exhibitions she has participated in include TheVeryHairyJellyBelly Show (Front Row Gallery, 2006), [In}Finity (MOS Club, 2005) and Antipode (Front Row Gallery, 2006). Though trained in painting, she now extends her art practiceto object-based works. She is inspired by a wide range of art and so, dedicates her time to the administration and organisation of exhibitions in Plastique Kinetic Worms. (Email: choko_oreo@yahoo.com.sg) Tania De Rozario is an artist and writer whose practice addresses notions of gender and memory. Her work has been exhibited in spaces such as the Esplanade, the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore and the Singapore Philatelic Museum. She has written for bodies such as Editions Didier-Millet as well as the National Arts Council, and her poetry and prose can be found online at the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. She is the co-author of Threesome, a story that received development funding from the Singapore Film Commission and her curatorial projects include Animal Instinct (Utterly Art, 2005) and Things in the Dark (Pelangi Pride Centre, 2004). Her most recent stints as editor include a commemorative awards book by the Singapore Institute of Architects and a children’s book entitled The Adventures of Lofty de Lizzard. Her occasional ventures into various areas of film and photography never outweigh her love for painting and writing. She currently heads the editorial department of Octopus, a creative house specialising in design and words. On some days, she can be found teaching Contemporary and Contextual studies at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. (Email: tania@octopus.sg) Born in 1982, Brendan Goh is an artist, writer and curator, having spent his formative years at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and subsequently furthering his studies at the LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. He has written for

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a number of projects, most notably, Brian Gothong Tan’s Soul to Soul: Remixed, presented by National Museum of Singapore. He has shown in a number of exhibitions, the most recent one being Sama Sama at 72-13, Mohamed Sultan Road, for which he was also co-curator. Brendan gratefully received the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan’s Arts and Cultural Scholarship in 2004, as well as the National Arts Council¹s Georgette Chen Arts Scholarship in 2005. In 2006, he was awarded the LASALLE-SIA Foundation Grant by the LASALLESIA College of the Arts as well as the National Art Council¹s Local Arts Bursary. Currently, Brendan is part of FARM, a non-profit multidisciplinary collective that grows local creatives. (Email: brendan@farm.sg) Alexis Hy is a young, independent artist whose works explore Japanese popular and sub-cultural consumption in the commercialised global community. Born in 1982, Alexis grew up on a media diet of manga, or Japanese serialised comics, before discovering Japanese rock and Japanese contemporary art. Her fascination with Japanese subculture and low brow art creates a visual language heavily influenced by Superflat theory and Pop Surrealism, both current art movements that recognise the rising popular appeal of subcultural art in Japan and in the West. Following her debut event-exhibition EATING JAPAN (NISSHOKU), presented inside her three-room flat, she organised a second solo, TOFU TANABATA at SUMAIRU, one of the first fashion labels to bring in Japanese punk/gothic apparel to Singapore. During her third solo SWEETENED + EATEN, she launched S + E VOLUME ONE, a 60-page book based on original characters Mr Sweet and Salmon Girl. Together with her latest Chopping Board Art series, S + E serves up a menu of everyday surrealism for the art consumer. She publishes the stories of androgynous boy Mr Sweet and offbeat darling Salmon Girl at STUDIO ALEXIS, her official website. She has a Bachelor of Communication Studies (with Honours) from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. (Email: sixblacktriangles@gmail.com; Url: www.studioalexis.net) Michael Lee Hong Hwee is a Singapore-based artist, writer and curator. The 2005 recipient of Young Artist Award (Visual Arts), given out by National Arts Council, Singapore, he has co-curated group art exhibitions in various Singapore venues, including Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Woodlands Regional Library. He also curated Txtrapolis: Contemporary Text-Based Art from Singapore at NAFA Gallery in 2005, from which charitable contributions were made to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore. He has written for Asian Cinema, Asian Art News, Singapore Architect, Manazine, vehicle, iSh, realtime and various art exhibition catalogues. His artworks have been exhibited internationally in cities such as Philadelphia, London, Sao Paolo, Hong Kong, Nagoya, Beijing, Bangkok and Singapore. He was previously Pathway Leader at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, before his current work as Academic Associate at Republic Polytechnic, Singapore, and PartTime Lecturer at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore. He will also be a Visiting Scholar to Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2007. He has a Master

Biographies | 85


of Communication Studies from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. (Email: michael@farm.sg; Url: michael.farm.sg) Yvonne Lee is a curator and gallery director. Over the past 12 years, she has focused her research interests on contemporary art in Singapore and Asia. She was a founding member of one of the first independent non-profit art spaces in Singapore in 1998, Plastique Kinetic Worms (PKW), now an established organisation well-known in the Asian region for its continued, passionate support of artists. She has managed a range of educational and curatorial projects, including Project 304 (2000), which culminated in a series of events throughout the Asian and European region, including PARA/SITE (Hong Kong), GLASSBOX – (Paris) and CEMETI FOUNDATION, (Yogyakata). In 2001, Yvonne Lee initiated vehicle, a quarterly arts journal that provides resource material circling artists, exhibitions, gallery directories and guides on contemporary art in Singapore and Asia. She also contributes to the Art Business Management and Professional Practice syllabus as a lecturer in LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. Yvonne Lee is currently the Director of PKW. (Email: yvonne@pkworms.org.sg) Jane Porter was born in 1984. She did not have a particularly interesting childhood. Her mother forbade her to watch television. Now as an adult, she is an avid collector of monitors, projectors and anything that is able to capture or contain an image. Contrary to common belief, her mother does not have anything to do with this; rather, it is the transfer of images from one apparatus to another that greatly intrigues her. Long occasions (“Too long!” her partner shrieks) spent with these machines have led her to attribute living qualities to them. Her use of stop-motion animation is further evidence of this fascination with inanimate objects. These inanimate beings include her neglected tubes of paint who have been sending her subliminal messages. In an attempt to appease them, she started illustrating a bunch of lizards for a children’s book. These lizards have now be published with the help of the MDA’s “First Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative”. Jane is currently creating a set for her machines and bit characters. She has a Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts. (Email: jotterpot@yahoo.com) Shubigi Rao was born in Bombay sometime in the last century, but fled for the hills within six months of her birth. Unfortunately, since her family fled with her, she has been fleeing ever since. Thus, short of breath and fleet of foot, long of words and big of boot, she wound her way to Singapore. Now, caught in the undertow of The Art Scene, she leads a thrilling life battling murky market forces, and fending off the powers of logic and reasoning and the promptings of sensible behaviour. Never one to shirk from impossible tasks, her latest venture involves using an economy of words in her daily articulation. While daunting this may seem, knowing her as we do, struggling against the voluminous volume of her verbiage, we believe she will prevail, and will learn to use fewer words, and commas, to lend grace, sensibility, humility, and good ole human decency


to her formidable repertoire of useless skills. We may only hope that she will progress from a ‘mere art student’ to the next rung of the ladder; that of chronic worrier, semantic quibbler, and erratic practitioner. In the interim, she obtained a BA (Hons) Second Class in English, another BA (Hons) First Class in Fine Arts, and a Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) with Distinction. She won the SIA Award for Excellence in the Arts for the most outstanding student in 2006, the Student Development Award 2006, both from LASALLE-SIA, (the latter Award allowing her to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles), as well as the Certificate of Merit in The Della Butcher Award, and the Winston Oh Travel Award, both in 2005. She has shown in groups at least a dozen times, solo once. (Email: shubigi@yahoo.com) Yeoh Wee Hwee was born on 12 March 1978, in Singapore. She graduated with a first class honours degree in Fine Art with Contemporary Writing from the University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom, in 2006. She is very material-driven. She is usually inspired by the qualities of materials that prompt her to carry out series of explorations which lead to the creation of works. She creates her work by transforming simple, everyday materials like tissue paper, cellulose tape and masking tape into objects, sculptures and installations. She is deeply influenced by biology and psychology, and especially the phenomenon of defense mechanisms adopted by living things for the sake of survival. She engages in obsessive repetition in her processes so as to gain a little control over life’s unpredictability. She received the NAFA President Award 2006 and won the Outstanding Travelogue for BA (Hons) Fine Art in the Have Logue, Will Travel exhibition in 2006. She also received an Honourable Mention at the Philip Morris Singapore Art Awards 2005 and a Merit Award for the Della Butcher Award 2005. (Email: dawynnci@yahoo.com; Url: non-physical.tripod.com)

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Biographies | 87


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Established in September 1991, the National Arts Council (NAC) is a statutory board under the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. Its mission is to nurture the arts and make it an integral part of life in Singapore. Eight divisions within the NAC (Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Literary Arts, Resource Development, Audience Development, Market Development and Corporate Communications, Planning and Corporate Services) work in synergy to implement strategies, programmes and initiatives to help develop the arts in Singapore. (Url: www.nac.gov.sg) Octopus is a creative house that specialises in design and editorial. Its affiliation with trash is evident in the current state of its office. While it tends to be surrounded by myriad clutter, the organisaton’s portfolio is concise, succinct and smart. Its appetites for litter are evident mostly in its editing stints, during which it takes pleasure in deleting other people’s words. (Email: look@octopus.sg; Url: www.octopus.sg) Plastique Kinetic Worms (PKW) is an artist’s co-op formed in April 1998. The group comprises 11 visual artists including volunteers like art students, art administrators and professionals. The group started when it was offered a rent-free space for three months at no. 68 Pagoda Street. The response to a series of exhibitions over the next three months motivated the group to continue their efforts. Collectively, the group gets together and shares the overhead operations. Plastique Kinetic Worms’ objectives are to establish an independent contemporary visual art space where artists can present their works outside institutions such as museums and other formal spaces, and to present experimental and non-commercial art forms that most commercial galleries would not show. The aim is to foster artistic activities whereby creative processes, cultural development and community access programmes reflect the society’s constant changes. The space has also served as a venue where artists can network with artistic communities and the public. It has been a space where artistic exchange has taken place between artists through workshops like drawing and photography as well as talks by artists. One of its primary

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objectives is to expand its work further through artists-in-residence programmes and artists exchange programs with overseas artists’ organisations that share similar objectives. At present, PKW has developed an educational programme comprising workshops on contemporary art and artist residencies in schools. Through the projects and programmes, PKW seeks and hopes to bring a broad diversity of visual art practices and contemporary art awareness as well as an appreciation of mainstream contemporary art and community art to the wider public. (Email: info@pkworms.org.sg; Url: www.pkworms.org.sg) The Patient Care Centre was set up in February 1996 by the Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Communicable Disease Centre providing community-based service for HIV/AIDS patients and their families. It aims are two-fold; to be a safe haven where HIV/AIDS patients and their families can come to terms with their conditions and acquire assistance, support and non-judgmental acceptance; and to act as a bridge to help HIV/AIDS patients face and resolve the problems they encounter in the community and to provide services the community does not. With the help of dedicated volunteers and sponsors, a variety of services and comprehensive programmes/activities are offered, not limited to those such as the Education Programme, Nutrition and Exercise Programme, Food Bank, Transportation, Women’s Support Group, Sponsor Workers Scheme, Recreational activities, Home Care Programme as well as befriending, fundraising, events, and subsidies for tests and medication.

Organisations | 89

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Appetites for Litter  

Appetites for Litter is the companion document of Plastique Kinetic Worms' 8th emerging artist show, from the 9th to 25th November 2006 at t...

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