By Neo Hui-Lyn and Ryan Mario
2020, with all uncertainties lugged along by the pandemic, brings uneasiness to anything that is new and upcoming. Aside from the onset of business closures, the desolation of it becomes even more palpable when students due to graduate within the year are denied of their ceremonies as a rite of passage into the industry – the tape omitted from the finish line of a marathon. Between a Rock and a Hard Place was the title chosen for their graduation show by the students from Lasalle College of the Arts BA (Hons) Fine Arts programme, and there really cannot be a better one that encapsulates the strife of these artist as they emerge into the bleakness of a new decade with so much to offer to a world that is not ready to receive their brilliance, save one Singapore art gallery: ART NOW.
As an emerging gallery operated by veteran gallerist Miss Jasmine Tay, ART NOW is a keen eye that celebrates all that is original and fresh. In its provision of pedestals for rising artists and designers alongside industry heavyweights, Jasmine ensures that there will never be a lack of spotlights to shine upon deserving talents who require that initial thrust into their careers. With that said, the gallery’s opening exhibition titled Flights of Fancy, alongside Art Herald, has dedicated this piece to the works of five honourable mentions who show no signs of slowing down in carving out a path for their creativity and uniqueness.
Mikhaela Ysabel Ong
For fine artist Mikhaela Ysabel Ong, embarking on this project was a way of reconnecting with her Filipino heritage, having focused on her Chinese one for most of her life. Her sculptures depict figures from Filipino folklore such as the moon goddess Haliya and the demon Bakunawa. Their pure white finish adds to a slightly elusive feel – which suits Mikhaela, who felt that colours would distract from the purity of their forms, and suited just fine since they are also the now-faded deities. Initially trained in oil painting, she later transitioned towards sculpting so that she could better explore forms. She explained that this better conveys her concept of culture lost and found, too, as oil painting is closely associated with western masters and their influence over the Filipino traditions. Like herself, Mikhaela finds that the country has forgotten its roots; in particular, its culture before these colonial powers washed ashore.
Fashion designer Kwok Minh Yen, too, is focusing on something that is fading white. 1.5°C is her collection to spread awareness on climate change and the bleaching of coral reefs; the title eing a nod to how much global temperatures have risen over the past industrial age that results in more coral deaths. Her concern for the environment is evident, right down to the delicate lattices that are reminiscent of both the corals themselves and their vulnerability in our hands – they are hard-knit and thus zero waste. But it gets more well thought-out than that when Minh Yen shines a UV torch on her works. The white fabric turns vividly coloured under the light, mimicking how corals flash a series of bright colours as a final cry for help before bleaching. As someone who has been sewing from an early age, she believes in the power of textiles and clothes, hoping to harness their vitality to diffuse widespread awareness of pressing environmental issues.
Whilst Minh Yen calls for attention to life in our oceans, Swiss fashion designer Nathalie Schriber directs us to damage on land, namely, the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest for land use. True to her cause, this collection is vegan – a lifestyle that aims to minimise one\’s impact on the environment she feels should go beyond food choices for maximum effectiveness. A glittering pastel myriad of colours, these works take inspiration not only from the beauty and fragility of the rainforest’s wildlife, but also Peranakan culture. Depicting both flora and fauna in its motifs, her decision to incorporate this imagery was sealed when she witnessed the careful restoration of traditional tiles at the Peranakan museum. By blending these two influences, she questions if we should conserve the living as thoughtfully as we do with the dead before it gets too late, and the answer will always be a resounding yes.
Lastly, throwing another few sculptural pieces into the mix is Lewis Choo and his Retribution series. Heavily influenced by his Chinese upbringing and Japanese folklores, he infuses these elements into his explorations of sculpting and woodblock fundamentals whilst questioning the behaviours of humans and their impact on society. Mostly humanoid, Lewis’ resin and ceramic sculptures are designed with otherworldly oddities that aim to disturb his viewers into considering the notions of morals and ethics. For Flyboy No. 1 to 5, Lewis’ subjects are clad in housefly masks and blue shorts, loosely evoking the idea that, like houseflies, people have the tendency to gather in swathes whenever and wherever an opportunity arises for them to secure better prospects.
While art may be seen lesser as a commodity amidst these trying times, ART NOW’s exhibition initiative of Flights of Fancy is the show the society needs to recognise the undeniable relevance of its contribution in soothing troubled waters.