Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Conversation with the Delicate Art-Maker:

For our very next conversation, I'm very pleased to introduced to you: 
Betty Susiarjo

Hello Betty, before we get to talking, why don't you introduce yourself?
Hi Xin, first of all, I just want to say thank you for inviting me to this lovely sharing session. I have read the others' interviews you have done and what a cool idea to do such interviews!

Hahaha. Thank you Betty:)
All right, I am currently living and working in Singapore. I first came to this country when I was 15 years old. I was born and grew up in South Sumatra, in a place much slower than here. I studied in UK for 5 years, doing my degree in Art. Currently I am teaching part-time at LASALLE College of the Arts - having been there as a full timer for 6 years... And besides that, I am doing my own projects, planning things, observing things, absorbing things...

Precious Sediments (2012)
Precious Sediments (2012)
Precious Sediments (2012)
You've worked in quite a number of mediums: Video, environment/nature, craft, installation...what draws you to each of them?
Hmmmm....I think it was just a shift of dimensions as I work along and make art. I started by doing paintings and observed how the same sensibilities explored in painting can be applied in a three dimensional way. Thus I started to do relief works and objects. Then I became a bit more ambitious in regards to scale and was curious to try it within a space as an installation and so on. I think having different projects given to you as a student was quite helpful in shaping this exploration of dimension. 

Morning Day Evening (2011)

Morning Day Evening (2011)
With video work, I only started to do it during my MA studies... Video is so captivating for me, because it is a moving image and there is something about handling a camera and shooting a scene for some time, then go back and view it again as if time becomes a physical material that you can cut, you can flip back, you can stretch, it fascinates me... And then projecting the scene back on a wall in a studio or gallery space, I always feel there is a sense of 'returning' to that space/time, as if we have collected or borrowed something from its original position and after that, we realised the best place for that thing to exist is where we found it at the very first place.

I was looking up your website and this sentence pops up "Many of her works are placed in a quiet and organised manner, but often suggesting the potential to be disastrous and chaotic."
What is it about this dilemma or dynamic that appeals to you?
Yeah I see that process simply as the process of nature. That everything is always in a state of going towards a kind of destruction, a kind of death in a way. It is not necessarily a bad thing but seemingly, it keeps appearing in my works that there is a sense of acceptance that change will take place; and the state of my works (how I originally compose them) will simply be momentary. I like to initiate some suggestions within the work, that it is not the end, and that it is alive. It is in a process and thus it can become more chaotic and disorderly, for another state to happen. I see it merely as a reflection of how things are in life. This notion appeals to me because it teaches me to always remain receptive.

What is the material you've used for this particular work pictured below? 
Someday We Will Know (2009)
Reason I asked is, most of your works are titled like scientific studies with names like Ocean Rose, Precious Sediments and Dust. But when you used this particular material, your titles reflect a more personal, emotional touch. Care to share how these works came to be?
It is so true Xin, what you observed here. I may not really be aware of why it was the case! Perhaps it can be because of the materials chosen. In this case, they are ribbons and hama beads. I got them from some party shop and toy stores, and they are bright and colourful. I wonder why I titled it with so much personal and emotional touch. Maybe there is some sort of connection with childhood memory or fantasy. What I remembered writing on my sketchbook about this 'colourful grass' was that they need no water nor sun to grow, and that they existed in-between artificial and natural grass. Almost like a new species of grass. I think I was fascinated with how "science fiction" is becoming more like "science-fact" today. It is like saying whatever we could dream, could also become a reality...

It Was When I Thought Nothing Had Happened (2006)
It Was When I Thought Nothing Had Happened (2006)
What’s a childhood dream of yours that has turned into a reality? Wow, I like this question! Well let me think..., I have always wanted to be in the Arts, since young. I used to draw on the wall of our living room, and my Dad had to re-paint the wall all the time. 

Somehow I liked the wall more than papers! He was not too happy with that! But yes, I lived my dream of being an artist now. Another thing about me as a young child is that since a very young age, I have always seen life in a romantic sort of way. I think I was more in tuned than my siblings or friends at that time, to experiences and objects of beauty. 
Detail of Precious Sediments (2012)
For example, I remember once I was given a gift, and it was a set of pyjamas made from the softest cotton with small roses prints on it, with matching slippers and all. I remembered admiring the prints and loving the feeling of wearing that pyjamas for a long time. It was very different than the kind of cartoon pyjamas I used to get! My parents and siblings noticed how I often equate the term 'beauty' with 'romance' since a very young age. Let's say that it has given me more advantages in life than disadvantages, ha ha ha!

Who is one artist/person that inspires you in life (or in your art)?
I can't say for sure really...But I always find Robert Smithson to be influential.

Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson.
Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson.
How so?
He was an amazing artist and an excellent writer. His work often deals with aspects of time not in an abstract way, but very much in a real way, like he is showing time in a scientific way, but yet at the same time, able to keep it imaginative and suggestive. I love his usage of metaphors. I remember first knowing him by reading his essay on "The Sedimentation of the Mind" - He draws parallel between the geology of the earth to the process of human's, artist's mind, and since then I am hooked by his works.

I am for an art that takes into account the direct effect of the elements as they exist from day to day apart from representation.- Robert Smithson.

Betty here is also the person who started POPIN, a craft community that seeks to encourage public members to enter a space, pick some tools and make something. What have you learnt about yourself since starting POPIN?
Actually being in POPIN has taught me to really respect people from all walks of life. I become drawn to connecting with people more and more. Sometimes when I have conversations with them during our craft sessions, I realise how I know or experience so little and that there are so many things to learn in life.

How and why did you start POPIN? And what does POPIN mean?
lt started by regular meet ups with Noriko, whom I have met in UK as we were both studying in the same art college. Noriko was interested in the idea of making something together in a group, inviting anyone who was keen to join. She has had some brief experiences before in this area but mostly overseas. I was interested in a similar idea, especially in having a craft collective or organising craft exhibitions. We both thought that the craft scene in Singapore was gradually becoming more active, but it was (and maybe still is) mostly filled with crafters who sell their handmade creations. These crafters do their work at home, alone, and only mingle with other crafters in markets, etc. 

Children participating in a POPIN event:)
So POPIN was born with the idea to provide an experience of meeting and crafting together in a group, with the objective to connect with other people. With no products to sell and no teachings involved, we are there simply to provide a platform to be together while making something creatively. POPIN came from the words "Pomelo and Pineapple People" - randomly named because on that particular meeting, we were crafting and eating pomelo and pineapple tarts! But it was then shortened to POPIN, which makes it sound like “pop in”, giving connotations as to welcome, to invite, to join.

Hahaha, I really love how the name came to be. How do you feel when people come up to you and say, “Hey, you guys should really look into selling handmade art,” when clearly that’s not your intent?
I dont know, I think such question will not affect me much. I will just say whatever it's there.  

Morning Day Evening (2011)
Morning Day Evening (2011)
Do you have a distinct memory that is related to experiencing beauty and horror at the same time? To go back to your art, specifically the video works (more pictured above), where...I find, something beautiful and serene is captured yet there's a void or sinking feeling about it. Am I wrong in seeing what I’m seeing? What do you see when you take a step back and look at your works?
It is so interesting to know what others read about your work. It is true that there is a sense of beauty that is being captured in many of my video works, but at the same time, this experience of beauty gives me a sensation of longing. I experience it more as longing, rather than as horror. A longing for something beyond what I see, a desire to be completely still and one with that. I think that stillness is like the 'void' you mentioned, a sort of empty space. In my mind, it is a solitude, a silence. 

Dream (2005)
Dream (2005)
But I guess you are not wrong in what you see either. Because there is something scary about the void, about silence. Only there, you are faced with your own fear. I heard once that one of the biggest fear for astronauts when they are in outer space, is to be faced with the total is silence but silence can be deafening.

Is it the fear of silence, or is it more about… the fear of insignificance? What do you think?
It is the fear of not being part of something. We live daily with the support of waves that surround us, sound waves, light waves, etc and these waves somehow make us belong to something whole. To experience total silence would be a scary experience, because we will lose the support we are so used to having. But ultimately, sooner or later our nature is going towards that point, if you think about it.
Anemones (2010)
Sky (2005)
Have you ever completed a project, or a particular work that you weren't proud of at the end of it? I know I have, so I wonder about you. Haha!
Yes for sure! Ha ha ha! But I think as a viewer, you don't need to find out which one, it is only for the artist, for me, to know :) On the other hand, I have done some art pieces which I am very proud of, something I regard to have turned out beautifully, but the documentation of it does not do justice to the actual piece, and that is something quite upsetting too.

Do you have a sample of a work where you felt the documentation of it didn't capture its essence?
I don't have the pictures in digital format. The work is titled Circles, made back in 2004 during my BA graduation year. It is not on my website because the work is too subtle to capture. What I did was I planted some colourful threads on real grass, in the form of circles. The ground itself was used by a lot of people to have picnics on the weekends (I was living in Farnham, UK, at that time) and so, people noticed that there were ribbon grass among real grass.  But at first glance, it may not be noticeable. There were thousands of these ribbons. I took some time to finish the project with the help of 3 other assistants. Through my sculpture lecturer at that time, I found a way to somehow 'plant' them properly without them being easily pulled out. The installation was the seed to my subsequent installation pieces involving ribbons.

Betty's hand-sewn pouches.
Love the beautiful details:)
Ever had interesting reactions from your family about what you do?
I guess it takes some time for my parents to understand what artists do. I remember bringing my Mom to Art Friend when I was in my third year in Diploma of Fine Arts; and she was so impressed by the fact that Art Friend is a shop that only sells art supplies. She suggested to me that after graduating, I could open a shop like that!...

Oh my gawd, haha.
That was her idea of how to apply what I studied to something useful, practical. But both of my parents are very supportive despite their lack of understanding of what I do. The only thing they seem to notice, and which I find agreeable sometimes, is that art making can be physically draining because it is hand-work... I do think that to be a responsible artist, we need to look after our health and well-being! For this reason, I find to somehow disconnect from what you do in your profession and explore other fields or other interests which are seemingly different, is helpful to bring a new level of experiencing life, which indirectly helps you to re-approach your art-making in a fresh perspective. More and more artists are prone to exhaustion, physically, mentally, spiritually, and I believe that artists need plenty of rest and time in between productions.

That’s true! 

Thank you so much Betty!
You're most welcome!  

To see more of Betty's works, please visit her website:
AND to find out more about POPIN, please click here! 

Enjoy the Conversation With....series?
Please check out the previous conversation with art-maker Noreen Loh:)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Conversation with the Flower Child:

Today, I would love to share with you, a conversation with the high-on-life, quirky and loud art-maker Noreen Loh (loud as in, one recognizes her laughter from metres away:)) Here we go!

Tell us about yourself, Noreen:
My name is Noreen Loh Hui Miun (miun is my artist profile). It was an accidental mistake on the birth certificate, as the officer misspelt "min" as "miun".  I was born in Perak, Malaysia, in a small town called Ipoh, which is a very popular place with many nice food!

Singapore has been my home for the past 15 years and I love it here:) Lately I have been craving for prepared bbq cuttlefish covered in sugar. Hahahah, and I'm chewing on it while typing this.

Now you got me craving for some snacks too. Okay, let's begin! I first got to know you when you working for POLLEN (a floral shop formally located along Erskine Road). Could you talk a little about what you did over there?
I did EVERYTHING: From meeting the clients, sourcing of materials (flowers, plants, pots, ornaments, beads, table settings...etc), designing and executing the entire arrangement…and this includes a lot of dirty work behind the scenes. Flower arranging can be deceiving. It is all nice and pretty when you see them at an event/weddings/hotel reception areas…etc, but the labour behind each arrangement is a lot: The preparation before the installation date, cleaning the vases, removal of thorns, carrying heavy vases with water, as well as enduring accidents like cutting your own hands.

What was it about working with flowers and/or plants that fascinated you?
The first time I discovered flower arrangement was after I went for an interview to become a creative assistant. The owner of POLLEN showed me a piece of work, a floral arrangement with an interesting form and structure. Before I joined, I was interested in jewellery design. But after seeing the unique flowers in the shop, I discovered a new interesting medium that gave me the same feeling I’ve had with jewellery design.
Is there any particular kind of flower or plant that’s difficult to work with?
Roses! Hahaha. So many thorns and so boring. Actually, flowers are very nice individually. The stranger the form, the more interesting they are! In fact, I was always drawn to the unique and weird flowers because they are challenging and are often the focal of the attention.
Noreen's sample of what counts as a weird plant for her: The Tacca Chantrieri, or Black Bat Plant.
What's the common misconception people have about floristry?
People have little idea as to how much labour is involved behind a good floral arrangement. Most people are distracted by the nice and pretty imageries they see in magazines and the internet, and they often don’t realize that it takes skills and a good eye on colours and sensitivity to details to make a nice bouquet. I guess, they think floristry is something low (like low-art and/or is a low paying job) so it is easily dismissed. In recent years, it is gaining recognition as a serious form of art, but mainly overseas. Singapore is catching up but still not quite there yet.

Hmm, let's talk about your drawings. On the outside, your drawings and floral works are completely different. They looked like they could have been made by 2 different person! Do you see a relation between the two?
Perhaps I have a few identities within me. I have never really thought about this until you popped this question! They are not related at all. I’ve only recently began drawing a lot more after I got tired of the floral industry. Maybe one day, these two completely different mediums will work together as one.

I think flowers and drawings working together would be awesome. Pressed flowers to form portraits of people? I don’t know... How do you envision it if you be given the task now to combine the two different mediums to create, say, a series of works?
It is a huge challenge. The reason I have yet to combine these 2 mediums and techniques is because I'm trained in fresh floral design, a material that can only last for 5 days. If given a short span of time to come up with a work, I would like to draw on the flowers/plants. 
Why the inverse lettering in your drawings?
It all started when I was drawing and writing during my train rides. I hated how people would peep and invade my privacy. I begin to write backwards and it became a habit. I'd never planned it to this extent, and I was a bit shocked at myself in the beginning when I realized how naturally I could do it.

Could it be a form of dyslexia?
Yes, a psychiatric friend of mine once made that observation too. I'd not been diagnosed with it...but I do know that when I was a child, I had difficulties studying, especially reading.

Okay! Now let's talk photography. You once told me, you are not a fan of portrait photography, though you draw a lot of people in your drawings. Any inkling as to, why the separation of interest in subject matter in different mediums?
Photography has always been a fun thing for me. I began to use photography to capture things around me, happy moments mostly. Next, I discovered the endless possibilities the photographic film itself provides, and I found it so intriguing I began to explore it as a material. So, it isn’t so much about my photographing a subject, but rather I’m using it more as a material. I picked up photography as a hobby, learning the basics of photography: framing the subject, how to use the camera…etc. Now it’s the material that leads me to the subject rather than the subject that leads me to photograph it.

What inspires you when you are using the photographic film as a material?
Things that happen around me, the mundane stuff that we always come across but never look closely. Be it a stranger sitting by the coffee shop, the carpark attendant writing a coupon...but I would rather look into the drain to see, if I find surprises looking up to the trees, hoping to see a ball or a kite. That usually starts my photographic-film journey.

Do you have a photographer that you admire?
Maybe not so much photographers...but I'm very amazed with Edwin Herbert Land! The creator of Polaroid. He is like Steve Jobs, a legend in his era. My current favourite artists are Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams, Chuck Close,Bruno Bourel, Lucas Samaras and David Hockney.

Lucas Samaras, Photo-Transformation, August 17, 1976
Who is an artist/person that inspires you?
I’ve always loved Cubism. Pablo Picasso is the very first artist I knew and learn about Art. But, I think the most inspirational person will be my Mum! She is a very talented crafter. I learn to sew from her. She handmade a lot of things for us when we were kids. My Mum played a big role in my life and everything I learned from her is still very useful for me, even till today.

Noreen and her Mum:)
What's an artform that fascinates you but you've yet to try it out?
Installation art has always been interesting to me. Perhaps they have something to do with floral arrangement too, like how an empty venue becomes different with something simple like a small bouquet of flowers arranged in a certain manner.

 Why is it interesting (for you) that an empty space changes once something foreign is introduced to that area?
For example, with an empty vase, if you put soil and plant in it, it is so predictable. But what if I see a pile of shit inside? I will start to question, why a piece of shit? Where does it come from? How did it end up here? But if I see soil in the vase, I will never ask. 

Question is, whose shit it belongs to...Okay, before I disgust anyone else, my last question! If you didn’t choose a life of making art, what would you be doing?
I will open a floral shop, that's also a camera shop! I would like to travel around the world too. There is so much to learn and the world is so big. I would like to explore more!

Thank you Noreen!
Noreen can be found here:)

Enjoy the Conversation With....series?
Please check out the previous conversation with ceramist Amy Woo:)