Profile: SPANG & LEI

Published on 28 November 2015

Experiential artist duo Spang & Lei use food (among other things) to engage the senses and encourage interaction.

BY JO TAN

“Don’t play with your food!” This is not something you’ll ever hear from art duo Spang & Lei (S&L). “We just love food! We dye it blue, shape it, use it in projects,” declares the effusive Serena Pang (Spang, left).

Adds Wen Lei (Lei, right), “For us experiential artists, food is perfect because it engages all the senses. It’s tactile, visual, it’s auditory when you hear it being cooked. You taste and smell it. Plus, food is a very good point of entry for discussion, especially in Singapore culture. People are more willing to open up and talk about issues when food is involved.”

S&L weren’t always experiential artists. They met on a Drama Box theatre production (Pang was an actor, Lei the designer) but later took a different direction. “One day, we felt theatre could no longer provide us with that same intensity as before, and perhaps there was another language that we could look for,” says Pang. The two experimented with creating ‘art experiences’, and later studied in NYU Tisch School of the Arts in New York. Pang was awarded the 2014 Performance Studies Emerging Scholar Award by the school’s Department of Performance Studies, while Lei completed her Masters in the school’s Interactive Telecommunication programme.

Despite different courses, the duo’s common takeaway was an increased drive to create. “Sometimes art can be top down, commissioned by big organisations. In New York, it’s ground up — if you want something, you put effort into starting things, even if nothing is provided,” says Pang.

S&L have initiated a slew of very diverse projects, all of which are interactive. “We want to make sure our art is accessible, so our works always require the audience to perform some act. Meaning emerges when they take part in the art,” says Pang.

The pair’s projects include The Wall of Us, where audiences shared stories and speech-to-text software projected the spoken words onto their bodies. Their current project, Five Floor Plans, requires audiences to download an app and use it to examine Housing & Development Board (HDB) floor plans. Sounds, videos and images emerge from examining seemingly sterile plans of living areas, telling stories of the different people who inhabit HDB flats.

S&L have also made a name for themselves with their food-related experiences. “We have an ongoing project called Between Servings,” says Pang. “It began as a secret supper club with a few strangers exploring how to break down barriers amid the intimate setting of consuming food together.” To help them along, unconventional things happened mid-meal — an actress stepped onto the dining table with utensils attached to her clothes; guests formed words in alphabet soup.

“For the recent [National Arts Council-initiated] Silver Arts project, we had seniors feed each other. The memories evoked were strong and keen. One participant said, ‘I am not married and my parents are gone, so I don’t know what it’s like to feed someone. It is too intimate, but I enjoy it.’ ”

S&L’s future flights of food fancy may fuse the duo’s love of food with technology. Shares Lei, “Usually, ingredient amounts in recipes are determined by the desired flavour. But what if the amounts were influenced by data, like Singapore’s population growth or migratory patterns? What does population growth taste like? How do migratory patterns smell? There are endless possibilities.”

For more on the duo, visit www.spangandlei.com.

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