Media / Section: TODAY / plus
Date: 20-21 Sep 2008
Title: Page Turner: Confessions of an Artist
Lead: New book revealswhat artists really dowhen they’re not working
Author: Mayo Martin
ONE’S a self-professed karang guni woman, another has “binged” on teh si kosong (tea; evaporated milk, no sugar) for the past five years, another plans to read and watch science-fiction novels and movies for the next 30 years and another has a penchant for, well, cross-dressing. Yes, Singapore’s artists are a quirky bunch when they’re not creating works of art.
These “revelations” by artists Yeo Shih Yun, Susie Wong and Heman Chong and playwright Alfian Sa’at, respectively, are found in the anthology titled Preoccupations: Things Artists Do Anyway.
Co-edited by visual artists Michael Lee Hong Hwee and Cornelia Erdmann,the recently-launched book features some 111 international artists — more than half of whom are Singaporean — and their musings on what they do during their free time.
Conceived last December, it’s the fourth in a series of studio exhibitions on Things Artists Do — and it became a book simply because there was so much material culled from submissions, said Lee, 36.
Other Singapore artists include the dance collective Ah Hock & Peng Yu, design collective :phunk studio, photographer Tay Kay Chin and filmmaker Tan Pin Pin.
According to Lee, the responses weren’t simply about the artists’ “non-artistic” hobbies but “anything they’re obsessed about. We were looking for autobiographical sharing, but despite this, they end up looking quite like art.”
Just how candid were the artists? Lee said it varied. He noted how Alfian’s contribution was “interesting because it combines his hobby with his social critique. By dressing himself in an imperfect way, he’s commenting on Singapore’s obsession with perfection.”
He also cited photographer Sherman Ong’s hobby of reading news articles on the Internet and combining these to form interesting texts. “Some of the artists took it beyond just reporting about their interests. They transform their obsessions into something creative.”
Lee himself seems to be interested in books and paper: the name of his Hong Kong studio is Studio Bibliotheque. At the ongoing Guangzhou Triennial, he’sexhibiting a work called Constellations of Museology, which features “10 museums presented as books”. His current exhibit at the Baba House, A Psychotaxonomy of Home, uses paper as the main medium — he created certain motifs in the Peranakan household like the phoenix and qilin (lion dog) using origami, traditional Chinese paper-cutting, as well as paper sculpture.
Why paper? “It’s super fragile. It can be folded and is torn, but it’s also very strong. People can get paper cuts. It’s like a paradox,” he said.
But you might be surprised at Lee’s own secret “preoccupation”: it’s ... updating his curriculum vitae. Laughed Lee, “It contains future accomplishments up to the year I die, where I die, as well as the names of museums and exhibitions that pay homage to my contributions. Some people ask me, ‘Are you sure? It’s so shameless!’”
Preoccupations: Things Artists Do Anyway retails at $38 at Books Actually, 5 Ann Siang Road, and Baba House, 157 Neil Road. A Psychotaxonomy of Home runs till February 2009 at Baba House.