Profile: Ho Tzu Nyen

Published on 23 December 2014

Film-maker and creative whiz Ho Tzu Nyen reveals why time remains a recurring theme in his work.

BY pamela ho

“I’ve always been obsessed with films, literature and music,” reveals film-maker and multi-disciplinary artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 38. “By 13, there were films I’d re-watched so many times on VHS tapes that I knew every line of dialogue by heart. When I encountered an interesting book, I’d read every work by that author, just as I’d spend all my pocket money on discovering new music.”

What ensued was a style of artistic expression that enveloped various visual art forms. Ho’s filmic installation, The Cloud of Unknowing, was presented at art exhibitions such as Venice Biennale 2011 and film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival in 2012.

Ho is currently an Artist-in-Residency with the German Academic Exchange Service, an international scholarship programme in Berlin, where he is transforming his 2014 theatrical performance Ten Thousand Tigers into an installation.

One may be inclined to label this National Arts Council 2009 Young Artist Award recipient a ‘jack of all trades’, but Ho is definitely not a ‘master of none’. His film Here (set in a mental asylum) was selected for the 62nd Cannes International Film Festival in 2009 while his fine-art works have been showcased at international biennales, galleries and museums.

Yet for Ho, who holds a Master of Arts in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore and a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Arts from the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, there is a certain reluctance to being called a multi-disciplinary artist.

“During the Renaissance, paintings were composed in ways that resemble staging in a theatre, just as the subject matter depicted the literary, philosophical and theological discourses of its day. So the need to brand oneself or one’s work as ‘multi-disciplinary’ doesn’t make much sense to me because every good work of art already incorporates other art forms within it,” he reasons.

The invisible thread that runs through his works though, is time. “For me, time is potentiality; it is the promise of change, of becoming, of creation. At the level of content, much of my work engages with objects and figures from the past. At the level of form, I create experiences where the passing of time can be felt in an intensified way — like slowing down a film or speeding it up.”

Adds Ho, “The creation of something truly new is a revolutionary act because what is new breaks so completely from existing paradigms that one has to invent new rules in order to think and evaluate it. In this sense, in every great work of art are planted the seeds of new worlds.”

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