Fashion photographer Chuando and Frey and their website, Ave Management –
Fashion photographer Chuando and Frey and their website, Ave Management –
No doubt, Michael Lee Hong-Hwee will be the next happening name in Singapore!
Michael Lee Hong Hwee is an artist, art writer and independent art curator. He is also currently a Pathway Leader in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore. He has exhibited widely and his works concern the relations between desire and space. He is particularly intrigued by how human aspirations may reflect, inspire and interact with the architectural environment.
My art explores the relation between desire and space, particularly how human aspirations may affect, reflect and engage with the architectural environment. Within and across these two themes, I am interested in a broad range of issues, from outing to erotica and hardcore pornography, from identity formation to personal neurosis and relationships in relation to both natural and urban environments, and issues of architecture and urbanism. I adopt an inter-media approach, which involves the sequential or simultaneous use of drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, video, installation and text. The turn (and return) from one issue or medium to another gives me necessary diversion and distanced contemplation so that I could do something different or bigger each time whilst regarding each project or material from a fresh perspective. The solution to one puzzle often emerges as I work on another.
I value learning tremendously and have found collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects to help sharpen my learning curves. My three-pronged professional practice in art making, art writing and art curating nurtures and propels me towards continual learning, experimentation and spiritual growth.
My concern and approach allow me to experience art and life in diversity first, then in depth. Ultimately, what I value most in Art is not truth, beauty nor social engagement per se, but its capacity to embrace and further enrich the diversity in the world.
– Michael Lee Hong Hwee
Some of the tiny images of his various projects that were about digital print on photo paper of various random human and their different postures being placed on a medium.
An except from http://www.post.fm/:
Post-It 1: A Few Caveats
“My name is Rudolph today!” Michael proclaimed, referring to his dermatologically afflicted nose when we met up for lunch just the other day. In fact, the lunch itself was a kind of prelude to the interview which we had arranged for the following day. I did not know how to react. Such mental immobility is common, when one is in the presence of an artist – irony is always a possible mot-clef in the mantra of artistic sensibility.
The over-arching thematic concerns in his body of work stem from two domains: architecture and anatomy. In his creations, he translates these concerns into an exploratory dialogue between body and building, desire and space. Through a host of art forms and media, he constantly addresses the question: “What’s a body got to do with a building?”
Hence the title of his recent solo exhibition in August 2004 held at Alliance Francaise de Singapour: When a Body Meets a Building.
His writings have been published in Asian Cinema, Singapore Architect, Artizen and Vehicle, among other journals, and has written for various art exhibition catalogues. He has also curated art exhibitions in Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Woodlands Regional Library and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).
Currently Pathway Leader of two Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Fine Art programmes in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, where he lectures on professional practice, studio practice and art theory.
Post-It 2: Dialogue
Given your formal trainings in Communication Studies, graduating with a major in video production and film analysis, how has that prepared you as an artist? More specifically, as the artist that you are today, working with such a wide array of art forms?
These formal trainings helped me develop my visual and verbal languages. I was trained in all the basic rules of making a “good-looking” video image. One cannot break rules without first knowing what they are. In fact, I become quite good at it early on and proceeded to more experimental stuff in my Honours year. My video production skills, with, I think, a particular strength in visual composition, continue to help me in my art today, no matter what media I’m handling.
By contrast, my verbal language came less naturally. Not having a family with a reading culture meant that I was pretty much lagging behind in terms of general knowledge and skills in research and writing. But my interest in selected subjects on my Bachelor degree studies like visual communication and advertising spurred me to work on my reading and writing habits. Additionally, my Master’s research further developed my intellectual department and academic writing. In my dissertation, I employed a semiotic-psychoanalytic framework that continues to underscore my current professional practice as artist, writer and curator.
As for working with, like you’ve mentioned, a wide array of art forms, you could say it’s both my weakness and my strength. It is an extension of my own personality. I always have had an anxiety that I’m not doing enough, so I tend to end up trying to do more every time. Looking at my life thus far, there seems to be an immense anxiety to compensate for many self-perceived lacks. This anxiety is also the driving force behind my creations. Being a Gemini, I guess such crisis is understandable. Being a middle child might have further contributed to my need to prove my worth, to seek approval.
On a more serious note and in relation to my art, the use of different approaches and media promises vast possibilities. If at any time I were involved in several different projects, each utilising an artistic medium different from the rest, or even in the same work itself different art forms may be incorporated, there is the excitement of bouncing ideas off from one idea and using these new ideas to feed the inspirations of the other projects.
That’s why I really admire artists who are able to do various different things, play different roles concurrently. Artists who especially amaze me are those who are able to traverse different disciplines, and perform equally well in the respective domains. Artists like Victor Burgin: He’s one of my idols. As an image-maker and a writer, he is excellent in both fields. He’s able to bridge the respective demands imposed by two different disciplines. Closer to home, Susie Lingham is an important role model: She makes exciting installation artworks, she writes beautifully and profoundly, she curates cool shows, and she is an excellent lecturer! “Super-ultrawoman”, I’d say.
Tell us about your other influences. Magritte was impassionedly discussed yesterday at lunch.
Magritte inspires me with his subtlety and his astounding ability to combine words and visual in his paintings, thereby questioning their respective and related conventions. He went way beyond Dali in his exploration of the surrealist sensibility. His violence, unlike the blatancy of Dali, is subliminal. His images are always ostensibly calm; ostensibly because one can discern that such visual serenity is a fragile construct in attendance of an eventual “crack-
down.” So, the profundity and poetics of Magritte’s works are what attract me. Added to that, his powerful visual sense. He is truly amazing!
Another influence would be Tom of Finland. He does drawings of the male nude, or what he himself affectionately called his “dirty drawings.” The reason why his works appeal is the sheer beauty of the smooth, powerful musculature of his male figures. I guess there is a universal appeal there, for people of certain persuasions, if you know what I mean. Though aside from the raw nature of his drawings, Tom of Finland was able to infuse them with a kind of buff-ering (pardon the pun) mellowness, even vulnerability. There is this nice tension between hard-core pornography and pure emotionality in his works. I like that.
My idols have always been multitalented multitaskers, and I regard another Tom – Tom Friedman – to be a particularly mind-boggling interdisciplinary artist. He is the only living artist I’m aware of who still does things the hard way. I’ve always like to see artworks which, upon close inspection, I can actually discern the immensity of effort that went behind actualising them; works that make me go: “Is this artist crazy or what?! Damn cool, man!” I never really like art that are too “easy.” I think it brings the integrity of the artist to suspect. I like to be both conceptually and “corporeally” challenged by a piece of work.
Tom Friedman once said: “When I make something, in a sense, I want to build it from atom up to when I know what it is.” For yourself, what is the atom, and where is the end?
Friedman continues to be quite impossible to surpass, and he inspires me by virtue of the fact that he does not take the easy way out when creating his art. All his works are really painstaking process of actualisation, and that is the amazing thing about him.
He also provided me a model of resolving my own works. I did a painting for submission to the UOB Painting of The Year 2001 competition, entitled Three in One – I gave myself some guidelines: I wanted the work to be exhibited. I also wanted to satisfy my lust for the male nude. And in Singapore, to have both would be equivalent to having your cake and eating it too. I wanted my work to be exhibited without offending public propriety. Hence, male nudes disguised as trees; and all three figures were done from a back-view perspective.
Usually when I’ve addressed the original vision and wishes, hopefully the end-product goes beyond the statement, that is when the work is complete. There should be some kind of ambiguity and mystery. Most importantly, for me, a resolved work is one that has, first of all, visual interest, and where possible, an indication of “labour”.
I also don’t enjoy works that are either too minimal or conceptual. There are a number of contemporary artists – no, I won’t name names – who engage political or social issues like gender and race, use trendy technology like digital photography or video, or do minimal work that has weak or no sense of visual aesthetics. These artists also likely use words – in their statements, for example – to explain (away) their minimalism or conceptualism. But if you think about it, some of the most important and interesting conceptual artists (for instance, Christo & Jeanne-Claude who wrap up architectural monuments and Robert Smithson who built a spiral jetty) go through hard labour to arrive at their work and have very good visual and material sense.
This is why, I dare say, there is only one true video artist around: Eija-Liisa Ahtila. Her works have stunning cinematography, are highly experimental in mixing genres and formal conventions, and are both mind-boggling and heartrending at the same time.
Looking at your body of work, one can say that there is a distinct evolution towards a more personal, intimate expression. Cinetectonics of Desire (2004) is arguably the culmination of this trend. Tell us more about this externalization of the internal.
Especially in recent times, I have begun to firmly believe in the mantra “the personal is the political,” a phrase that has its historic roots in the Feminist Movements of the sixties.
I must first mention Stud House (2003), an architectural model, which was also a rather personal project. Through conceptualizing and creating it, I was exploring issues that were close to my heart. I was very much concerned with the question of how two people might live together without getting tired of each other. The management of distance; we all know the proverbial truth: familiarity breeds contempt.
It was also a prelude of sorts to Desire.
All the texts in Desire were personal interpretation of my terminated relationship with my partner at that time. I wanted the video to be a record of that leaving and pain. It was both a way of punishing myself for losing myself (without hurting myself physically), and also a reminder to myself of who I was. It was an emotional reclamation of sorts.
In your videos you juxtapose texts and images. I find the compositions extremely poetic, thus moving. Which writers influence and inspire you? How important is literature to you as an artist?
I’ve always had an admiration for people from a literary background. I did not come from one; I’ve always been a “science” person. Perhaps this explains my fascination with people who are able to communicate ideas through words, literature, poetry. Amongst the writers whom I read are John Berger and Susan Sontag. These are critics who not only write beautifully, but are also able to convey their ideas effectively, and without seeming to compromise their literary values. Their intellect shines through in their writings, and their prose is simply magical.
Jeanette Winterson is also someone who has greatly moved me with every piece of her essays. Her prose is concise, hard-hitting, to-the-point. She writes in a way I would love to do, and which I can’t, at the moment. All the more reason to strive towards that, you could say.
The reason why I’m unable to write as well as I would like to, I think, is that I have this internal blockage – the anxiety to prove myself as an intelligent and informed writer. So often, especially during my early days as a researcher and writer, I was dropping names and jargons like nobody’s business and using a lot of flowery language – at the expense of clarity and perhaps integrity. Fortunately I encountered writers whose style, the delicate combination of aesthetics and intellect, I have always strived – and continue – to emulate.
Being exposed to all these writers actually prepared me for Jenny Holzer. She is a post-modernist artist who (in her Truism project) incorporates, no, uses short phrases of her own construction as tools to create her art. These short sentences, of truisms, would be printed on shirts, painted on murals, put onto billboard etc. I find her art emotionally stimulating. Getting acquainted with her art actually helped gave birth to Desire. She was one of the important influences for the texts that appear in my videos, including the commissioned video art piece for Gallery Hotel, entitled Caressing the Gallery. I continue to be rather productive in generating my own collection of truisms.
One of your works, A Thesis on Cruising (2001-3), is a video installation that examines the cruising culture. What gave birth to this baby? What were the concerns that fed into and informed this work?
Actually I didn’t intend to make another work on cruising, especially since I have already addressed the issue in an earlier video, One or Zero, in 1997. In fact, when I was filming the images, I didn’t even envision it to become a work.
I was in UK with my students on a study
trip in mid-2001. I did what I was supposed to do: take care of my fellow travel mates, participate actively in the tour itinerary, document my experiences and so on.
However, one day during the trip, I got bored after a series of museum and gallery visiting. Before I knew it, my videocam was tracking and recording footages of good looking men around me. From then on, I allowed my camera to lead me, and as that was happening, I also thought to myself: “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool and sweet to bring home images of gorgeous guys for my partner to enjoy?!” What was really interesting and thrilling about the process was that I was myself aroused by the people I stalked. So issues of fidelity, of my personal safety, of the intrusion of other’s privacy – were invoked and were going through my mind. My body got the better of me, of course, and I persisted on this cruising-video project.
When I returned from UK, I had tapes after tapes of cruising video images from this risky endeavour to share with my partner, who was only mildly impressed. The tapes remained in storage for 2 years. Until – I committed to a group exhibition on video and electronic art with fellow NAFA colleagues.
To create my video installation, I collaborated with fellow artist Brian Gothong Tan. I really enjoyed the process and outcome because I learnt a lot from Brian – not just about making installations, and also cutting images to music and the whole business of professional practice and career planning! Pertaining to the video installation, I really enjoy, for instance, the way my subjects ‘appear’ and ‘disappear’ from one monitor to another: It uncannily (because so precisely) re-enacted my cruising experiences. I’m also glad that some of my fellow artist-friends and visitors to the show shared with me that they too were aroused by the work. I continue to be turned on by the video, myself.
Do you feel alienated, pursuing your career in the arts?
There is definitely a sense of alienation. Very strong in fact. Both as an individual inhabiting a society with a “non-artist” majority, and also as an artist working in the areas that I’m doing.
In my opinion there are two camps in the local arts scene. One emphasises strong visual aesthetics whereas the other is more concerned with the profundity of conceptual ideas that frame the art work. I try to combine both orientations. So, I see myself as striving for what most local artists don’t. And this as it is can be quite alienating as well. At the same time, I’ve also grown to enjoy this loneliness through strong belief that this is part and parcel of the strive towards developing a distinctive art practice.
Of course, the alienation also comes from my neurosis. Basically there are many mental knots in my head that constantly worry and depress me. The video A Psychotectonic Experiment (2004), which addresses the question: “How can a neurotic become a psychotic?!” – exemplifies and explores the chaos in me.
However, learning about other artists’ struggles – through personal contact and reading – helps. Most notably Marcel Proust once wrote: All great works of art are made by neurotics, and neurotics alone. Reading stuffs like this is both consoling and encouraging. But the true neurotic never learns his lesson: He constantly finds new worries and pains.
Pain is essential to your creative process.
Yes, very much so. I’m a sucker for bastards. Without them, without the pain they inflict, my work sucks. I think I’ve also developed a pain-inducing system that helps me in my creative process: through over-sensitivity, through hallucination – you get my drift. Doing things the hard way, doing too many things at one go and feeling anxious that I can do more – all contribute to sustaining pain in me. As I’ve said, every work that I do is, at least in part, a form of self-punishment, even if the process may be enjoyable or therapeutic. Every work is a reminder of who I was, and a reclamation of that self.
The anxiety of inadequacy, the feeling of not doing enough, of underachieving, is also what propels me along in the trajectory of the artistic career. I hope to grow as an artist, above all as a person. Perhaps I take the saying, “No pain, no gain”, too literally.
How much of Michael can we discern in your next project?
I’m currently working on an installation which would be one of the art pieces to be featured in Asian Traffic , an exhibition that explores cross-cultural interactions amongst cities in the Asian Pacific region. I call it Notes Towards a Corporeal City.
For this installation, I am creating a cityscape in the shape of a square on the exhibition floor space, and this perfect square is to comprise smaller squares of varying designs. I really want to emphasise the perfect straight lines at the edges of this gigantic square. At the moment I have made fifty small squares. I’m aiming for a thousand, to give it that visual impact.
Interview by Yisa.
Singapore Fashion Designers Contest (SFDC) is a nationwide search for the next big thing in Singapore’s fashion industry. The contest which was on 21st October 2005, has become a platform crucial to the launch the careers of up-and coming fashion designers.
And here we see is the contest runners-up, Franco Tan’s full twelve men collection:
Photographs courtesy of http://www.singaporefashionweek.com.sg/press_images.htm.
I’m still waiting for his email reply or something.
I think at random,
And stare at the computer screen.
My sister slices a mango
And offers it to me.
I choose the slice with its sweet
And enjoy it while browsing Nacho Alegre’s photographs.
He’s an illustrator, painter, photographer, mail artist, cartoonist, collagist and a journalist. And you bet that collaging is so much fun.
One day you woke up and began seeing things differently, you started using your colgate as your shaving cream, started calling your dad your mum and then you will start freaking your grandma out.
You certainly won’t feel like seeing any Roger Ballen’s photographs on a Sunday afternoon before because you despite weird photographs a lot but today you did. And wearing a big smile and telling yourself you enjoy it a lot.
The black images make his photographs even more strange, ambiguous, dark, disturbing yet humorous.
Sunday Independent – South Africa
4 December – 2005
Bleak images make an exhilarating exhibition
By Robert Greig
Roger Ballen’s technically audacious photography reinterprets the notion that the art form captures ‘the significant moment’, writes Robert Greig.
Roger Ballen’s new photographs are haunting additions to what we know and experience. They also, technically, modify the relations between fine art and photography and between the camera and its subject.
In both ways, their value is in creating possibilities of seeing, expressing and making.
They add to the genetic pool of opportunity, understanding and feeling. This is exhilarating, though it may seem paradoxical that the work itself is bleakly austere. But then, we don’t just extend ourselves by wearing big smiles.
The vision of the American-born, South African resident (30 years) in his latest work is of a state of being and a world that makes Samuel Beckett’s seem lyrical. And, like Beckett’s, it is shot through with sly, subject irony.
The world of Ballen’s photographs resembles features of the known – it has human figures, walls, light fittings, animals and birds. But these are rearranged tightly in a context of black-and-white, and an atmosphere one would call ominous if the word didn’t suggest something was about to happen. In the world of these images, past and future have no meaning; they depict an unending state of being.
Emotional variation in the portfolio certainly exists – with slight comedy. However, the effect of the photographs is as much for space – shadowed, bright or blurred – between objects, human beings, animals, birds and objects. Space does not define objects; it is swamping them. Technically, the photographs are audacious. Audacity is in Ballen’s revising photography’s relations to fine art and to photography’s own history.
Ballen has reinterpreted the notion of photography capturing “the significant moment”. He has also revisited that place in the early 20th century when photography ceased to be a kid brother of fine art.
He has turned the relationship upside down by noting, in lines on walls and in composition, how we still arrange the seen as if it were a painting. In this, Ballen subverts notions that a photograph is about something that exists outside itself – or about anything in fact – and a painting is the perception of something, or a variation on a visual theme. The use of a painterly attention to texture, for example, reduces the documentary elements of these photographs, and accentuates that they are created images.
The photographs, square and black-and-white, are suffused with a sense of texture and pattern. Ballen’s minimalism with dangling wires and smears on the wall evokes painters like Miro. The world has become skeletal.
The innocent but sinister figures of Ballen’s earlier work – those deformed, poverty-stricken grotesques of Outland – reappear in some of these photographs, with their real pets or plastic animals: chickens, dinosaurs.
With a mixture of threat and tenderness, the figures hold white mice, rats, chickens and birds. The creatures are proffered to the camera; they are both held captive and embraced. Similarly, the distinction between, for example, a living bird and an inanimate teddy bear is blurred. Figures and creatures exist but do not actually live. The life seems conferred by the photographing, it seems to exist only in the context of the photograph.
Though the photographs in Shadow Chamber and its accompanying book are not arranged according to the order of their being photographed, I had a sense of process in Ballen’s work. It seems that later works involve the bleaching out of human figures, leaving a residue of hanging wires, marks on a wall, shadow and light. Narrative elements have diminished; the visual evidence that stimulates the construction of narrative is diminishing. Without stories to intervene between the eye and the image, the image becomes starker.
Shedding the narrative is clearly purposeful: it has the effect of reminding the viewer that narratives are also ways of lending sense to a world where sense is a pasted-on, protective device. In the world of these photographs, just as distinctions between real and toy are dissolving, so are distinctions between the living and the dead, the human and non-human. Such distinctions are, after all, the apparatus we use to attribute meaning to what may be inherently meaningless.
Some of the human figures, hidden beneath dark blankets, could be dead. Others
stare out but their stares betray no recognizable focus, idea or feeling.
Looking at them, you wonder about your own gaze, of course, but also do not feeling that anything is about to happen or will happen in the world of the photographs. The significant moment becomes endless. It has been infinitely elasticized. The concept usually suggests that the photograph captures one element of a sequence in live experience. Implicit in this is the suggestion that the image gestures to experience.
The image seizes a simulacrum of “life” and implies a sequence: “This happened, then this, and this, the photographer captured the part of the sequence, implying the whole.” But, ultimately, capturing the significant moment tends to be an allusive act, gaining meaning from what we experience of the world and what precisely happened in it.
At best, such photographs make us see the world differently, revealing something about it. Sometimes they are illustrative, captions to events, or visual shorthand for obvious general truths. (For example, most photographs of children are less about the specific child than hopeful affirmations of the idea of innocence.) Some photographers use the surreal to “make it new”. Others like Diane Arbus, with whom Ballen has been compared, have so powerful a vision of the world that, in her case, social conventions are cleared away. Her children are bizarre: not just under grown adults but bonsai monsters.
Ballen does something slightly different. He creates images that both represent and embody a felt sense of his world in a way that the felt sense rings true for at least this viewer. Their power makes one feel that these images are not simply subjective expressions of his experience but an accurate and earned knowledge of the world as it is.
Ballen’s insights don’t come easy. They are reminders of the kind of convictions that we may have but could not live by, necessarily placing them in a shut bottom drawer.
This does not mean they are wrong, fanciful, irrelevant or – the ultimate dismissal – “merely personal”, any more than religion, dealing with equivalent apprehensions of existence, is.
What matters more is the feelings behind the images rather than the degree to which the images leave you believing: “This is real: and this explains”. The photographs convince one of the world that they depict, a world we may or may not acknowledge as our own but we know exists.
This is visionary art. If Hieronymus Bosch were living today in this underclass, these images would be his.
Sunday Independent – South Africa
December 4 2005
New York based graphic artist. And he’s one of the illustrator that you can see his textile art on Comme des Garcons’ garments.
Sterling Hundley is a freelance illustrator living in Brooklyn, N.Y. and his work has appeared regularly in the pages of the major annuals, including Communication Arts, American Illustration, Print Magazine, LA Society of Illustrators, Step by Step Graphics, Society of Publication Designers, and New York Society of Illustrators. Sterling has been awarded a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators, New York, as well as gold and silver medals from the Illustrators Club in Washington, D.C. Some of Sterling’s clients of note include Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Atlantic Monthly, Grammys, GQ, New Yorker, New York Times, LA Times, Harper Collins, Penguin/Putnam, Scholastic, UPS and Virginia Living Magazine.