Profile: Nic Foo

Published on 1 February 2016

Artist nicfoo explains how he balances being a civil servant and art-maker.

BY jo tan

Mild-mannered civil servant by day, intrepid interdisciplinary artist by night. For nicfoo (or Nicholas Foo at his day job), the clash between his identities is surprisingly useful. “I think the fundamental essence of bureaucratic work is not so much about creation, but more of maintenance and ensuring the efficient execution of what’s good in the status quo. As a creative person, you continually need to question what you stand on; there is no scientific method to what you do, you keep trying different methods. This contrast creates artistic tension which I use a lot in my art,” explains nicfoo.

His latest exhibition, For Your Approval, Please, is a reaction to what he calls the hierarchy and bureaucracy inherent in Singapore, something thrown into sharp relief when he was based in Delhi for several years. “When I was in a foreign place, I became even more Singaporean. I demanded cleanliness, efficiency… I shut out my current reality. One day, a friend said, ‘Stop resisting this city. You need to let yourself go and ride the wave to thrive, not just survive.’ I realised it was true, and began asking, ‘Which parts of my super-Singaporean identity can I let go of?’ ”

The exhibition contrasts nicfoo’s identities using ‘storygraphs’ — combinations of text, music and images. Specifically, he superimposes his photographs of Singapore scenes with those taken in India, and sets them to different soundtracks or text. “My belief is that photographs themselves are not my creation — something is already there and I capture it. But I can take the captured scenes and combine them with other raw materials, like music director Clarence Chung’s compositions, to tell a story. Also, diversity excites me!”

Nicfoo’s artistic interests are diverse indeed. In junior college, he wrote music, performed ballet and choreographed hip-hop. He took part in university musicals and was a backup singer at Hard Rock Cafe and Acid Bar before finally falling for photography. “I suppose I choose the multi-disciplinary storygraphy to cram as many passions as possible into my after-hours ‘passion-time’,” he laughs.

These days, his ‘passion-time’ is decreasing, which is why he may adopt a different approach to taking part in art. “With more work responsibilities, it’s become harder to balance art-making, which takes up a lot of head-space and heart-space. And I can’t give up my job because I enjoy serving the nation this way,” he says.

“So I founded the creative collective arthack, which presents this exhibition, as a community of support for people who are in corporate jobs but also restless creatives, who’d like to make art on a project basis. That’s why, rather than someone more experienced, I got Michelle Neo, who deals with art outreach in her work but has never got her dream opportunity to curate and run a gallery, to curate this exhibition. Likewise with Clarence. Like myself, others have passion but not enough opportunities or time, and I want to create these opportunities.”

For Your Approval, Please is on at Artistry (17 Jalan Pinang) till 20 March.

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