Sculpting is often considered the most complex of all the visual arts in terms of technique and conceptualisation. Three Singaporean artists share their views on working with this powerful medium.
BY MELANIE LEE
Published on 19 July 2016
BY MELANIE LEE
The love of sculpture is often discovered in art school. Says sculptor Yeo Chee Kiong, who has been at this craft for 25 years, “I just fell in love with it. The idea of building something up and being really hands-on with the work.” For artist Sai Hua Kuan, it became his favourite form of communication. “I’m not good with words, and with sculpture, I felt it was a language where I could convey my feelings through form.”
For Japan-based artist Lim Shing Ee, who has done a few sculptural projects in Singapore, working in 3D was something she had to gradually ease into, but when she finally did, she began to thoroughly enjoy the medium. “The space becomes a material on which I ‘draw’ in. I create objects to work with the space. I love the process. It is like creating a picture that people walk into and become a part of.”
For these three artists, the most interesting part of working with sculpture would be choosing the materials to work with.
Lim prefers “light” materials such as fabrics, stuffing, vinyl, piano strings, balloons, and wall putty. “I go with what I’m most comfortable handling. You have to understand the material you use and how it works with other materials, while also considering your intended effect,” she explains.
Contemporary sculpture can even encompass intangible material. Sai, for example, came up with the Sound Like series, which is, essentially, wearable sculpture on the head with speakers that enable the wearer to hear amplified sounds from the surroundings. “I was inspired to do something like this after discovering a friend was talking about me behind my back. That got me thinking about how sound can actually fill a whole room even if it is not really there,” he says.
“Most people have this notion that sculpture is boring because they just think it’s all about clay or steel statues. But I believe you can still use traditional materials in new ways and come up with something interesting,” adds Yeo. His recent exhibition Beauty Centre was literally set up like a beauty clinic, and featured semi-abstract bubble-like steel figurines to explore notions of idealised beauty.
While Lim feels that there is a local market for sculpture today as many people are economically capable of buying art for their homes or offices, both Yeo and Sai think the work may be challenging for the next generation of sculptors.
Says Sai, “When you just graduate from art school, no one will really pay attention to your original work. But you’ve got to keep on making things for at least five years even if no one likes them. That is the only way to grow. After you’ve learned all the sculpture techniques, the next stage is to just play and explore. You should not restrict yourself to just what you have studied; you should start responding to the world around you.”
Yeo, however, feels it is a more structural issue. “By nature, sculpture takes longer to produce and requires more space compared to a conventional painting. As such, it doesn’t seem to get that level of appreciation here compared to Europe, where there’s a long history and general understanding of this art form.”
Yeo is also the president of the Sculpture Society (Singapore), a 60-member non-proft group that organises sculpture exhibitions, workshops and symposiums, giving young sculptors opportunities to showcase their work. “In fact, I recently had a talk where we discussed how there was the first Sculpture in Singapore exhibition at the then National Museum Art Gallery in 1991 featuring local sculptors. But 25 years later, there’s yet to be a second of such an exhibition. Why is this so?”
BUBBLING WITH CREATIVITY Sculptor Yeo Chee Kiong’s Beauty Centre exhibition featured semi-abstract figurines to explore notions of idealised beauty. PHOTO semi-abstract figurines
TIPS ON APPRECIATING SCULPTURE FROM HOME-GROWN SCULPTORS.
LIM SHING EE, 40
“Don’t try too hard to decipher or decode the artist’s intention. Just enjoy and feel the shape, texture, appearance and how you personally respond to all that. Does the sculpture remind you of something or trigger something in your imagination? How does it make you feel upon first impression? Be like a child and be yourself.”
SAI HUA KUAN, 40
“If the artist happens to be around while you are viewing a piece of sculpture, do approach him or her to find out more about the intention and vision behind the work. Most artists are happy to tell their stories, and it makes for a much richer appreciation of art.”
YEO CHEE KIONG, 46
“One of the ways to tell if a sculpture is good is if it doesn’t need too much explanation in order to be appreciated. Actually, to me, if a sculpture engages or touches you, then it has worked.”