Your personal statement alludes to exploring “the friction between a romantic and scientific experience of the physical world.” These two experiences seem to coexist gracefully in your work, can you tell us a little about achieving a visually representational middle ground or do you find these two experiences to be mutually exclusive?
I found myself really drawn to romantic painters like John Constable, Caspar David Friedrich, or J. M. W. Turner. I enjoyed how romanticism in the 19th century really emphasized an emotional self-awareness, shifting from the objective to the subjective. I grew up in Singapore, an extremely practical and pragmatic society. But I am also a classic Pisces, hopelessly impractical, escapist, and emotional. So my impulse is to rebel against the rational and logical. A person’s emotional experience of the world is undoubtedly mediated by real world, political realities. These two modes of navigating the world are built into me, at a constant friction with each other.
A few months ago, I spent a few weeks photographing sidewalks in New York. I noticed a lot of surfaces on the sidewalk that looked like naturally-formed striations I had seen on mountains upstate. I saw cracks that themselves looked like little grand canyons. There were these interesting man-made marks or accidental flaws that I began seeing on my daily walks to the subway. I would stop and make a picture, completely entranced by the textures on the ground. I was taken out of my routine completely unexpectedly. It was as if the canyons had moved thousands of miles from Arizona to the sidewalk in my neighborhood.
The photo-based installations I was making became a way of bridging the far and the near. For example, I lay a 6-feet-long print over a fluorescent light. The luminescence of the light is alluring, but on closer inspection, the reality of the image breaking down into grain becomes apparent. I hung a 8-feet-tall print of Niagara Falls from the ceiling, in space, using rudimentary objects such as a flashlight and a DVD to project a rainbow on to the print. A phenomenon was made in a simple and crude manner.
What projects, other bodies of work or photo books are you looking at for inspiration? Can you also talk a bit about your recent book project For the Time Being and your collaboration with Troy Wong?
A few months ago, I read A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, an investigation of the art of getting lost, and being comfortable with uncertainty. She writes so beautifully about the longing she felt for horizons and mountain ranges in the far distance, and whether it was possible to cherish the sensation of that longing itself without trying to close the distance.
Also, I recently saw Robert Irwin’s show at the Hirshhorn in DC. Irwin’s work is categorically fluid, from paintings and sculpture to spatial and architectural interventions. It’s clear that for Irwin, the medium isn’t the materials, rather, he is interested in the perceptual experience of the work itself. I think his installation-based practice is brilliant. At times subtle and fleeting, it heightens one’s experience of the physical space it inhabits, providing a new perspective on the space around you that you thought you already knew.
For the Time Being was a project that my colleague, Troy, and I started a couple of years ago, when we were juniors in college. As we approached the end of college, we had many anxieties that we were eager to frame as questions. We were inquisitive and wanted to honor our curiosities. When we would come across someone (usually an artist, curator, educator, or writer) that we felt was interesting, we did everything we could to reach out to them and ask for an interview. We sent emails, attended lectures and openings, and really made full use of the fact that we were students in New York and had access to really anybody. This book became our platform; an excuse for us to sit down with someone and have their attention for 45 minutes to an hour. In a practical sense, this book was an exercise in research, in sending emails, in talking to strangers at openings, and in asking good questions. But the most valuable thing we gained from doing it was just forming genuine human connections with people who were doing work in the world that we truly respected.