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:)

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