Artist Interview: George Wong Yung Choon

Tell us more about the systems and structures you aim to interrogate with your art.

My practice involves questioning my daily encounters and examining them through a lens of absurdity. At this point, I am investigating the Singaporean experience. One of the themes I am exploring is Singaporean education, having returned from London upon completing my Master’s programme.

Could you expand on how you chose to incorporate two types of printing (pigment inkjet and letterpress on paper) into your series Daydreams?

I was reflecting on the many examinations I had undertaken while growing up in the Singapore education system. There was a turbulent period during my university life where I repeatedly failed a module, Maths II. Thankfully, I passed it on the final attempt and survived the rest of my time at university unscathed.

Although the experience left me scarred whenever I reminisced over mathematics, it also challenged me to question how one defined a correct answer. I often found my mind wandering when faced with mathematical equations. This was the premise of my series Daydreams, which is a part of a bigger idea where I aim to recreate an absurd classroom in a gallery. Within this setting, placed on classroom tables will be the prints that I had submitted for the STPI open call.

I downloaded the exam papers from a uniquely Singaporean website called www.sgtestpaper.com. The PDF copy of the downloaded exam papers contained many traces of Xerox due to excessive duplications. As I wanted to give the print an archival quality, I printed the work using pigment ink on a type of hundred-percent cotton paper called Crane’s Lettra. This particular paper has relatively uncompacted cotton fibres; it is soft and luxurious to the touch, yet strong and stable on letterpress.

Letterpress printing was the dominant form of printing text in the mid-15th century and remained in wide use for books until the second half of the 20th century. However, there was an evolution in the letterpress printing industry where the “bite” grew more popular than the “kiss,” due to the former’s tactile quality. In other words, letterpress today prefers the deep indentations on the page over applying ink as gently as possible over paper. Every letterpress differs as it is manually hand-printed. I would like to think that everyone has a different answer to the select exam question. Hence, I printed my suggested answer using letterpress printing in grey.

When I first saw the results of both methods superimposed on the same piece of paper, I realised that I could discern the grey text from a distance and only see the exam question upon closer inspection. Personally, I found it absurd that the answer was presented ahead of the question. Perhaps it was the wrong question for the suggested answer, rather than the other way around as convention has dictated.

Your works exude playfulness, absurdity, and a sense of humor. What roles do you think these qualities play in contemporary art today?

I am a big fan of Albert Camus, who believed that absurdity is a way of explaining life and it proves to be a tendency of contemporary art. He once said, “for the absurd man, it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing. Everything begins with lucid indifference.”

I also recently encountered the book “Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture”, by Johan Huizinga, where she enlightened me with the idea that “all play means something.”

You recently completed your Master’s in Contemporary Art Practice (Critical Practice) at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London. What was that experience like, and has it honed a new lens for you in perceiving the contemporary art scene in Singapore?

Attending the RCA was an eye-opening experience as I did not come from a Fine Arts background. I graduated with an engineering degree and was not as young as the rest of my class. Thankfully, I had Singaporean housemates who helped me along the way. There was also a restaurant in Chinatown called Rasa Sayang that sold Singaporean food, which alleviated much of the homesickness I experienced from being so far from home. How can a Singaporean survive without his chicken rice and char kway teow?

I spent my first year in Photography before switching to Contemporary Art Practice (Critical Practice) in my pursuit to be freer with my art-making. This culminated in a participatory installation for my degree show. Maybe it is the London experience that encouraged me to ask seemingly silly questions and pursue ideas and projects that do not fit the typical standard of normalcy.

I believe I have gained more confidence in my art-making. Most times my work is intuitive and I do know that the key is to continue learning and exploring. I feel Singapore also has a smaller but equally vibrant art scene – though I’d trade Singapore’s humidity for London’s cold as Singapore is home!The pandemic is changing the world but I see the Singaporean art scene adjusting very quickly too. I am happy that I did make it to London despite being a Singapore boy and having difficulties with people understanding my Singlish. I hope to contribute to the contemporary art scene by sharing part of my imaginary world with a wider audience.