In Conversation with Genevieve Chua, July/August 2020

GL: I’m curious about these images in your series After the Flood. As I understand it, they are of a particular weed that grows and envelopes the surrounding trees, and you have taken these photographs standing at the periphery of various secondary forests in Singapore. What is your affinity with this weed?

GC: The vocabulary of these weeds and the noxious manner in which they grow really interests me – the common ivy can grow up to a foot a day under harsh sunlight and rainfall. It forms a tightly woven veil over trees, and so thick to the point that it suffocates them of nutrients. Once, I pulled the weeds off a tree frond only to find that it kept the shape of the frond. It makes a phantom of the object it shrouds – a bicycle, a wall, a tree. It thrives on neglect and makes visible the amount of time it was left to its own devices. 

[From left to right] After the Flood #30#31, #32 (2011–2019), digital pigment ink print on photographic paper, hand-coloured with ink, 75 x 109 x 8 cm. Photos courtesy of STPI.

These plots are usually found at the periphery of the forest, outside the shelter of the canopy. A lot of their characteristics remain curious to me, almost unnervingly. They also form as quickly as they are eradicated for new real estate projects. It’s a relentless cycle.


GL: I see this recurring interest in the ‘edge’ of things in your other works, like those in the new series Edge Control – the edge of the forest, the edge of the vegetation, the edge of forms, the edge of paintings etc. What draws you to the boundaries and shapes of things?

[From left to right] Edge Control #42, Second Nature (2020); Edge Control #13, And, And, And, acrylic on linen, 60 x 42 x 4.5 cm. Photos courtesy of STPI.

GC: For me, it’s more like eradicating the margin of safety (or in printing terms, the ‘bleed’) – the line the audience is supposed to stand behind, the warning signs, the prohibition; eliminating all of these conditions and then seeing what else can happen.


GL: A lot of your works take inspiration from organic forms, be it nature or the body, but you have also chosen very graphic and (seemingly) industrial methods of production in your paintings and objects. What are you looking for in this juxtaposition of soft and hard qualities?

GC: In design, I am attracted to the obsolete 90s aesthetics of flatness, loading bars and the hourglass on Windows OS. I like the depiction of time passing in such instances, where glitches or errors were still obvious as trailing pixels. This design has since evolved or devolved into skeuomorphism – an imitation of physical texture and material – and then most recently in 2019, harked back to the same flatness of the 90s with a lot more finesse.

In Anthropocene, there is a similar manner of obvious deterioration of shape happening as weeds overcome trees to deprive them of sunlight. Eventually, as seen in After the Flood, the shape that remains over the trees is a veil and another entity altogether.  


GL: I really enjoy the relation between different works in this new series of paintings. There’s a playfulness, both on a formal and a semantic level. How do you choose titles for your work?

GC: I can’t give my work inert titles like ‘White on Black’ even if it accurately and objectively describes the colour treatment as such. It is something that is enviable but unattainable for my practice. As such, they are a description of an event, an instance or an idea. I group and title the paintings as siblings. For instance, there are three Edge Control Paintings with the titles: Shadow Stack; Light Stack and Bright Stack. As one would imagine, these are paintings that describe a stacking formation predominantly in white. They may or may not be hung in succession however, not unlike synonyms.

The siblings also have cousins, with the titles Shade (A dialogue), Shadow (A dialogue) and so on and so forth, each expounding on something else from the generation before, like the way you describe, on a formal and semantic level.


GL: For both your recent exhibitions at ICAS and STPI, you referenced an excerpt from “On Being the Right Size” by British-Indian scientist JBS Haldane: “But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension.” I was struck by this idea of approaching surfaces not only as an outward appearance or two-dimensional covering but also as an active entity itself, full of liveliness and force. I see a sensitivity as well as a variety of approaches to material surfaces. How do you decide what to do with surfaces in different bodies of work?

Seconds Accumulating on a Hundred Years (2017), acrylic on linen, 230 x 550 cm. Photo courtesy of STPI.

GC: I first find out the limits that the material can withstand with a particular medium or force, then I work backwards. The essay by Haldane has an excerpt about a man being able to leave the bath with a film of water on him, but a fly in the same instance would drown under the weight of the water. This scene that he describes is the most evocative and resonant to me – to leave a film (of ground, medium or glaze) without dousing.


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