Time Out Singapore: SBTG

As local husband-and-wife art collective SBTG – consisting of Mark Ong and Sue-Ann Lim, both aged 34 – get ready to open a revamped exhibition based on works they previously displayed at FLABSLAB in 2012, they take a break to tell Gwen Pew about their childhood and their art.

Mark Ong and Sue-Ann Lim, - the husband-and-wife duo behind SBTG. Image courtesy of Galerie Steph.

Mark Ong and Sue-Ann Lim – the husband-and-wife duo behind SBTG. Image courtesy of Galerie Steph.

30 Jun 2013:

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SBTG is an abbreviation of ‘Sabbotage’: ‘It’s a moniker that I created when I was in design school. I’ve been using it to brand all my works for the past ten-plus years and we have adopted it in our names,’ says Ong.

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The show’s title (Acoustic Anarchy) is inspired by ‘what happens when opposite forces collide and produce positive results,’ says Lim. ‘I used that name as I felt that painting and creating art is a very peaceful thing, which relates to the acoustic version of all that rebellious spirit,’ adds Ong.

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The works are a semi-biography of Ong’s life: ‘Growing up in the ’80s here in Singapore, I was exposed and influenced to all things American – cartoons, basketball, fast food and, most of all, the skateboarding way of life.’

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Ong’s ‘DIY spirit’ first struck him in primary school: ‘My dad once helped me build a rocket ship out of a toothpaste box – that opened my eyes on how I could evolve beyond my surroundings.’

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Since then, he had always put his creativity to good use: ‘When I was skating I would cut up weird patterns on my grip tape and mix colours and sh*t. In school, my bags were all decked with safety pins and my shoes had neon laces.’

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Lim was much more of a girly-girl growing up: ‘On my fifth birthday, someone bought me a Barbie doll, and from that point onwards she became the only toy I ever wanted to play with; I chucked all the rest.’

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Ong was predominantly known for designing and painting sneakers, which Lim used to help him on: ‘I started to get known for customising sneakers in the early 2000s, mostly in a tight community in the online forum called Nike Talk. There was a sneaker custom competition and I won. That did it for me – I got an order from Japanese shoe store Atmos, Chapter and local streetwear label Ambush to produce 72 pairs right after.’

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The couple officially started working together as a collective in 2008, a year after they got married: ‘It was very challenging at first, but I think any couple that decides to work together must learn to separate their personal issues from work issues and find that balance,’ says Lim.

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Despite the American rock ’n’ roll symbols in their works, the couple’s lives are ‘pretty mundane,’ Lim admits. ‘We don’t party or follow trends. Our idea of a great Friday night is watching movies in bed with our cats and a bag of chips!’

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Rock ’n’ roll is a state of mind, says Ong: ‘[It’s about] doing what you do and loving what you love with no apologies.’

Time Out Singapore: David Chan

Finally emerging from his three-year hiatus and making a return with a new series of works, award-winning local artist David Chan tells Gwen Pew where he’s been hiding the whole time, and what his latest pieces are all about.

'Misdirection' by David Chan. Image courtesy of the artist.

‘Misdirection’ by David Chan. Image courtesy of the artist.

3 Jun 2013: While I have not been as active in the arts scene, the last three years have been a rather fruitful experience in a different way – my wife and I had our first child in 2011 and I became deliriously distracted for a good long while. Having said that, I took the chance to catch up on my reading and researched on new themes. Hence, the creation of this exhibition: Every Trick Only Needs One Truth.

‘The idea behind the title and the works is that tricks and truth are like conjoined twins; one cannot exist without the other. In order to trick a victim, one has to provide a hint of truth. Although the rest of the information may be fake, striking the right cord will convince the victim to act to your fancy. On the other hand, to foster one’s “truth”, you need to employ the tricks of marketing and promotion to appeal to the masses.

‘I decided to use animals instead of humans to represent life, because if you were to consider mediums like story books, movies, animations, etc, it’s quite amusing to realise that sometimes animal narratives seem to be able to move people more than humans can. Moreover, as humans, we respond to facial features almost instantly, whether old, young, pretty or ugly; we have preconceived ideas of faces the moment we look at them. I wanted to avoid that by using animals instead. Naturally, I have to say they are definitely more fun and challenging to paint than humans. On top of that, I have also realised that even harsher depictions become more humorous and palatable when animals are used.

‘“Misdirection” explores our obsession with this validation process and not physical beauty itself. This diptych is made up of two portraits, each obstructed by a large rosette with the words “CHAMPION” and “1st” written on them respectively. Did you notice that one of the portraits is that of a cocker spaniel while the other is of a wavy-haired girl? Perhaps at the end of the day, the subject doesn’t even matter anymore. What matters are the prizes associated with it.’

Time Out Singapore: Tim Wakefield

Gwen Pew puts together ten key things to know about the British artist who transforms songs by big-name musicians into explosions of colours on canvas.

British artist Tim Wakefield.

British artist Tim Wakefield.

31 Mar 2013: British artist Tim Wakefield, 50, never considered becoming an artist, but fell into the trade after working with creative people for over two decades. His unique project, titled Soundwaves Art, started in 2009 and involves transforming songs by big-name musicians – including tracks by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, ABBA and Bon Jovi – into explosions of colours on canvas, and then getting the original legends to sign the final work. Proceeds from their sales go to various charities that he supports.  His second solo exhibition at Icon Gallery features pieces that he’s created in the past few years – though none of them have been seen in Asia before – as well as several pieces from his personal collection.

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Wakefield first started Soundwaves Art as he wanted to create artworks with musicians that could be used for fund-raising: ‘A friend who worked in sound recording was showing me images one day and the idea grew from there.’

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The first musicians he worked with were Coldplay: ‘I dropped off a canvas at their North London studio just as Chris Martin was parking his bike outside, though I didn’t recognise him at first!’

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He has never been turned down by anyone: ‘Now we have such a great range of musicians on board, others are happy to take part.’

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The most difficult thing for Wakefield when it comes to his art is finding the time and space to focus his attention: ‘Locking myself away for days on end is the best way to be really prolific.’

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The colours of the sound waves are symbolic: ‘A love song would not be represented by sharp lines in black and red just as much as a rock song in pink and blue swirls wouldn’t work.’

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He translates music into art digitally: ‘I have developed techniques to customise the images that appear in the recording process. A kind of ECG [electrocardiogram], or heartbeat of the song, if you like.’

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His art is deeply personal: ‘I would only work on collections that I can relate to.’

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He’s a perfectionist: ‘I reject more than I keep. What I love when it is finished, I may not like the next day, so there may be a few dozen versions before I finally settle on a piece.’

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Apart from Soundwaves Art, Wakefield is planning on collaborating with a friend of his who paints in oil: ‘Early days yet, but we are getting some great results.’

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Right now, he’s working on a series for UK charity War Child that celebrates 50 years of great British music: ‘We will have artwork signed from as diverse a range of artists as The Clash, Paul Weller, Elton John, The Pet Shop Boys and the Arctic Monkeys.’

Time Out Singapore: Ben Frost

Australian artist Ben Frost seems to trade on controversy – his 12-metre painting ‘Where Do You Want To Go Today?’ was deemed so inappropriate that the Sydney police ordered it to be removed. His newest exhibition, ‘The Perfect Drug’ – which consists of 45 paintings done on various fast food and other boxes – is up at Kult Gallery this month; Gwen Pew picks his brains for nine things you’d want to know about him.

Australian visual artist Ben Frost.

Australian visual artist Ben Frost.

8 Mar 2013: 

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He first got into art by copying illustrations: ‘I spent a lot of time re-drawing superheroes from comic books… I’ve switched mostly to porn images now, but this process of “copying” or “appropriation” is still a big part of my work.’

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To Frost, balance is everything in art: ‘It’s about juxtaposing found images and objects to illustrate ideas in new and confronting ways.’

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His most controversial work to date is probably his 2010 project ‘Ben Frost is Dead’, in which he faked his own death: ‘A lot of people thought I was actually dead – even my mum cried – but I think it’s healthy to kill yourself off every so often.’

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His new show is about consumer culture: ‘I’m living in Canada at the moment and travel through the US a lot, so I’m immersed in an environment of billboards and fast food consumers… I enjoy exploring the trappings of consumer culture – as much as I’m repulsed by it.’

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He collected empty boxes and packaging from convenience stores for ‘The Perfect Drug’: ‘I get strange looks in the supermarket when they see me inspecting Corn Flakes boxes for folds and tears.’

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One of his favourite works from the current show is ‘Breakfast Undead’: ‘[It] shows Dracula howling at the Kellogg’s logo with one of his female victims in his arms. It’s kind of how I feel most mornings…’

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His creative process is organic: ‘More often than not, the most resonant compilations arrive by accident, so it’s very much a process of being aware and drawing out the meanings as they appear.’

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He’s a dog lover: ‘When I was a child, I was obsessed with French poodles, so much so that I convinced my second grade teacher that I owned one. But I didn’t.’

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If he weren’t an artist… ‘I’d no doubt be in jail.’

Time Out Singapore: ‘Celebrating Women’

In celebration of International Women’s Day, this group show features works by female artists. Gwen Pew hears from five participants.

'The Loom in our Bones 7' by Izziyana Suhaimi.

‘The Loom in our Bones 7’ by Izziyana Suhaimi.

8 Mar 2013: You may know Pamela Ng as the gallery director of Michael Janssen Gallery at Gillman Barracks, but the passionate and ever-bubbly 33-year-old will also be making her curatorial debut with ‘Celebrating Women’, opening on the eve of International Women’s Day (and hosted in association with AWARE, a leading gender equality advocacy group in Singapore). ‘Since I was young, I’ve encountered many women who have been abused. I’ve always wanted to do something to speak out against that and express females in a positive way,’ says Ng. ‘I came up with the idea to do an art exhibition two years ago and tried to stage it then, but couldn’t secure the venue and sponsors, so it just fell apart. This time, everything came together really nicely. I have 12 brilliant artists, who are all committed to their art and create these really beautiful works.’

Debra Raymond

The American-born, Indonesia-raised and locally-based artist has displayed her illustration-like works in galleries across Indonesia and Singapore – most recently as part of art collective Almanic’s ‘Dustbunnies’ exhibition at the Société Générale Gallery at Alliance Française. Her series for the show is titled ‘Vanitas’, inspired by the word ‘vanity’, which explores how the inner workings of the human body coexist with our outer shells. Her paintings are essentially portraits of women with parts of their insides showing – though not in a particularly grotesque or scientific manner.

Allison M Low

This Singaporean artist, who is about to complete her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sydney, centres her work on the idea that ‘I am held up by the very sticks that you used to beat me down’ as a metaphor for overcoming abuse and rising above the experience. Her previous works often depict struggling, but Ng has encouraged her to focus instead on overcoming those struggles in these new mixed media works, which show classic Asian beauties perched on top of battered, broken furniture.

Eunice Lim

The 20-year-old is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Lasalle and has exhibited in Singapore and America. She has always been fascinated by human relationships and the stories that intertwine people’s lives; her newest pieces will turn familiar fairy tales on their heads in order to bring across the idea of feminine values and strengths. At the time of print, the artist was planning to display three to five self-made books on a shelf whose pages will consist of a collage of painted materials as well as contents from actual magazines.

Izziyana Suhaimi

Coming from a family where both her mother and grandmother are seamstresses, Suhaimi has chosen to take the traditional skill of embroidery further and use it as an art form, which she often combines with pencil sketches and watercolour on paper or cloth. She hopes to express the idea that while society is fundamentally fragmented, she can literally stitch life back together using thread and needle; her new series will feature pieces in a similar style.

Jamie Marie Lewis

Lewis is a local performance artist who divides her time between here and Melbourne, where she is one quarter of the art group Transparency Collective. She often draws inspiration from her friends and family as well as her own personal struggles, and her current fascination is with staging intimate performances in public settings. On the opening night of this exhibition, she will be creating a piece involving waterproof ink and ice blocks to show how a woman’s tenacity enables her to overcome challenges. A video of her live performance will be made on the night and shown on a screen throughout the rest of the exhibition.

Time Out Singapore: John Clang

Despite living abroad, John Clang attempts to connect to his family through his photography and Skype. Gwen Pew asks the photographer more about ‘Being Together’.

John Clang.

John Clang.

4 Feb 2013: John Clang, whose real name is Ang Choon Leng, first earned his moniker from the badge on his National Service uniform, which read ‘C L Ang’. After a short stint at Lasalle studying fine arts, Ang left school to become an assistant to Cultural Medallion-winning photographer Chua Soo Bin. To give himself a leg up and increase his chances of being noticed, he adopted the European-sounding pseudonym, and it stuck. He’s certainly made a name for himself since, becoming the first photographer to be awarded the prestigious President’s Design Award in 2010. Clang also had his works displayed in museums and galleries all over the world – including New York, Paris, London and Hong Kong – as well as local venues such as 2902 Gallery, The Esplanade and the Singapore Art Museum (which has a selection of his works in their permanent collection).

These days, the youthful-looking 40-year-old is based abroad in New York, though his works continue to look back towards his home and family in Singapore. ‘Being Together’, a new show currently on display at the National Museum of Singapore, collects five of his recent photo series, some of which depict family members with blurred faces, as well as several family portraits showing groups from three different angles at the same moment or bringing together family members in different countries through Skype. Here, he tells us about his works and his sense of ‘home’.

What’s the main inspiration for your photography?
My photographs tend to be inspired by the slices of life, the minute experiences I encounter. To live a life is key to my work. The people featured in my work tend to be my family members, friends and total strangers. They sound like a whole range, but they are the same to me. It’s an intimate encounter when they enter my life in my pictures.

What do the faded faces and figures in some of your series symbolise?
I left my family fourteen years ago to pursue an artistic career away from home. The blurring of the faces in the photographs signifies the difficulty I have picturing their faces accurately in my mind, and the fear that, one day, I might not be able to remember their faces anymore.

Given the name of this show, what is it about ‘Being Together’ that you are most fascinated by?
Togetherness in a portrait session is a momentarily bonding at a specific time. I’m fascinated by the moment where all frictions or differences, if any, were being cast aside during that brief session. It shows the possibility that we can all actually tolerate one another, should we choose to.

Explain the setup you used with Skype to take some of the family portraits – how were they taken?

A webcam was brought to the family in Singapore, while me and my wife Elin were stationed in another country with their other family member. Then we used Skype to contact the family in Singapore, and projected them onto the wall of the family member stationed abroad. Through this coordination, we arranged for them to stand precisely together while I photographed their portrait. The whole process is live, and it’s important to see the interaction.

With more people living abroad, do you feel like people are becoming increasingly out of touch with each other, or have we found ways to bridge the geographical gaps?
Like any developed country, Singaporeans are turning to be very sociable via social networking. Personas in the cyber world tend to exude more warmth than the actual self. Have we bridged the gap in geographical distance? I’m not sure. I sometimes talk to my wife using internet chat even when we’re at home.

Being away from Singapore, do you feel like your own sense of rootedness has been warped, or does travelling give you a more solid sense of what ‘home’ is?

My sense of ‘rootedness’ comes from my Singaporean wife, my accent and my childhood and youth memories. They stay with me in my apartment and give me a sense of ‘home’. Through them, I understand what home means to me – it’s the memories and moments I bring along with me wherever I travel. Any plans to return to Singapore? I’ve been asked many times if I’ll ever return, and the answer is always the same – I can’t.

Time Out Singapore: Agostino Bonalumi

'Bianco', 1963, by Agostino Bonalumi. Photo courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery.

‘Bianco’, 1963, by Agostino Bonalumi. Photo courtesy of Partners & Mucciaccia Gallery.

11 Dec 2012: Agostino Bonalumi’s retrospective exhibition at Gillman Barracks displays he’s made in in the past 50 years – Gwen Pew takes notes on the most important things you need to know about the Italian master.

Agostino Bonalumi was born in 1935 in Vimercate, a city near Milan, Italy. His works were first exhibited when he was just 13 years old, and by the age of 21 he had his debut solo show at the Galleria Totti in Milan. He soon established a name for himself at the centre of the Milanese art scene, and has gone on to have exhibitions in important venues all over the world.

Aside from being a painter, he is also known for his poems and books on philosophy. In 2001 he was awarded the President of the Italian Republic Prize for his contribution to the arts. Although he is now approaching 80, he is still very active as an artist and continues to produce new works each year.

His works are first and foremost an exploration of form and shadows.Unlike his good friend Lucio Fontana, who wanted to express the idea of space by making sharp slashes directly into his painted canvas, Bonalumi wanted to create something with more movement.

He rarely uses more than one colour in his paintings – especially in his earlier works. Instead allows the light in its surroundings to accentuate the contrast between the different shades within them, and to create various other shapes across its surface. As a result, his works are rather easy to name, for he just titles them after their colour: Rosso (Red), Bianco (White), Blu (Blue) and so on.

Most of his earlier works are painted with a type of paint known as vinyl tempera. His more recent ones (made in 2000 and onwards) are done with acrylic.

His works can be separated into several distinctive phases.In the ‘50s and ‘60s he was mostly preoccupied with creative curves in his canvas; in the ‘70s he moved on to straight lines; in the ‘80s he combined the two forms; in the ‘90s until present day he has reverted back to curved lines, but the pieces are now more pictorial in that there’s more going on than just geometric patterns. They are also no longer necessarily a hundred per cent monochromatic, and instead have slight variations in shading.

His works are deeply rooted in research and he dedicates much of his time looking into different ways of seeing things. The most important part of his creative process, however, is the preparation, as he painstakingly measures all of his geometric shapes or lines to ensure that they would create the exact effect that he had in mind.

If you want to show off some ‘artspeak’ about Bonalumi’s techniques, these are two of the terms you need to know. Evagination – when parts of the work are made to protrude out by having bulges and other structures inserted behind them; de verso – when an artist works from the back of the canvas.

Time Out Singapore: Rob Higgs

Rob Higgs. Photo courtesy of Opera Gallery.

Rob Higgs. Photo courtesy of Opera Gallery.

4 Dec 2012: British inventor Rob Higgs, who currently resides with his family in a wooden fishing boat that’s moored on a creek in the quiet seaside town of Cornwall, England, likes to build things with his hands. In 2009, the 37-year-old made the world’s largest corkscrew – it can open and pour wine bottles. That gadget took him three years to make and has been replicated in 25 limited editions, one of which is being sold in Singapore for a staggering $220,000.

Tell us a bit about ‘The Corkscrew’.
The original one was made of old iron and steel found in scrap yards, junk piles, farm yards, steam ships, dumps, fishing boats, flea markets, beaches… I started making it in the summer of 2006 and originally planned to spend six weeks on it. I finished three years later. Making it pour without spilling a drop took a year or so. I tried so many different ways – spinning the bottle, twisting it, chasing the glass, but got it in the end. It has 341 separate pieces, not including nuts and bolts. Each one is different. This one [in Singapore] is made of bronze.

What inspired you to create it?
I am inspired by the ingenuity of our society, yet baffled by our obsession with labour-saving devices and our need for gadgets. So I like to take these things to an extreme to have a bit of fun with them.

Have you built anything like this in the past?
I’ve never made anything like this before. All my jobs are very different. I’ve made everything from huge eight-ton, ten metre-high nutcracking contraptions and miniature robots to theatre props, comedy mouse traps, man traps… [continues to list about 50 other inventions]. This is the first time my work has ever been replicated, so I was hesitant at first as to whether it would retain its solidity and happy that it has done so. Prior to ‘The Corkscrew’, my works have always been one-offs as they are made from numerous found objects and therefore unrepeatable.

It seems like you’re quite the engineer – what’s your background?
My grandad started the engineering thing designing and building trains and planes, my dad carried it on. I grew up in an industrial city near London before escaping to the coast in beautiful Cornwall. I didn’t get on with the academic route, so I moved to the sea, bought an old wooden fishing boat up a creek, where I now live with my wife and two boys. I started making machines for a laugh, which people then started buying. I have my workshop in the boatyard in a shipping container and an open-sided shack full of old metal treasure where I build my contraptions.

‘The Corkscrew’ is on display at an art gallery – would you consider it art?
I think a tool or machine is art if someone feels a connection with it. We all appreciate well-made or beautiful things, whether it’s a spanner or a bird’s nest. I don’t like the ‘is it art’ question for this reason. I’d like to think that people can see the beauty of it, but also understand the nonsense of it all as well – the pointlessness of building such a complex machine for a simple task and also the irony of making it out of scrap metal as a statement about our excess, and then recreating it at incredible complexity and cost from solid bronze. I think on the whole, art gets taken way too seriously, so having a little fun with it is important.

Time Out Singapore: Andrew Gurnett

'Angels in Strange Places'. Photo courtesy of Andrew Gurnett.

‘Angels in Strange Places’. Photo courtesy of Andrew Gurnett.

29 Nov 2012: ‘I like to photograph things that people don’t generally photograph in places that they don’t generally go to,’ says Andrew Gurnett about his debut exhibition at Artistry Gallery this month. Born and raised in the UK, the part-time photographer has had a camera for as long as he can remember, but credits his move to Singapore in 1995 as the catalyst for beginning to take his art seriously – among his earlier shots is a series of macro-lens works inspired by dragonflies at the Botanic Gardens, close to where he used to live. Still, during the day, he continues to pay his bills as the director of his self-founded corporate training company The Right Angle, making time to take photos on weekend ambles along the various back streets and alleys around town.

The exhibition features 12 images, all of which were taken between 2004 and 2011. The photos reveal a fascination with the traces of industry left behind in more weathered areas of town; cropped and framed without any outside context, they possess an abstract quality and it’s often difficult to determine the scale of the photo or even exactly what the subject is.

The title of his exhibition reflects the philosophy behind the images: ‘They look like something that someone would’ve deliberated created,’ says Gurnett. ‘I imagine that I could be walking past an art gallery and see these hanging on the walls in there as paintings. And yet they’re not made – they’re just there.’

‘The best shots are always the ones where you don’t anticipate them,’ he continues. ‘Same with the best things in life, you know? You always find them when you don’t set out looking for them.’