We’re kicking off a new series today, in which we chat to movers and shakers in the art scene — artists, gallerists, curators, collectors, historians, art enthusiasts — basically anyone who’s invested in the space and has something interesting to say about it.
We thought it might be fun to bring you a slice of the Asian art world, directly from the horse’s mouth — if you think you fit the bill for an interview, feel free to drop us a note so we can chat more:
Seriously though, as Singapore artist Jeremy Sharma is going to be all over town in the next couple of months, we thought he’d make an excellent candidate for our inaugural Plural Pow-wow.
In this two-part interview, we speak to Jeremy about the origins of his artistic practice as well as the current direction of his work. Jeremy works across all media and investigates various modes of enquiry in the information age, addressing our present relationship to modernity, reality and interconnectivity in the everyday.
First up, his work The Annunciation, presently on display in the exhibition, That Was Then This Is Now, at Sullivan + Strumpf Singapore . It’s a series of three light boxes showing shadows and impressions of excerpts from a film, the Gospel According to St Matthew. While the larger exhibition explores notions of abstraction through works by five selected artists from the region, we have to say that we were particularly struck by The Annunciation.
Shadows and tones dance across the boxes, forming colours and impressions much like an electronic impressionist painting, while a loudhailer blares out a song, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child by Odetta, at certain intervals. It’s an involved work that changes with each subsequent viewer, as music doesn’t always spew forth when one stands before the piece. It’s also rather sad. The “annunciation” in Catholicism is typically understood as being a celebratory angelic message to the Virgin Mary, that she would conceive and bear the son of God. Presented in a sterile white space, accompanied by blurred images and melancholic music about the absence of maternal love, the work is oddly gut-wrenching.
Visit the exhibition however, and you’ll see no wall text or explanations.
Lost? Confused? Convinced that Singapore contemporary art is too ridiculously incomprehensible for your liking?
Let’s see if our chat with Jeremy sheds any light:
So, tell us a little bit more about this work?
This started as a long-standing project four years ago, a project to “paint with light.” Light boxes after all, function as three-dimensional panels which show all the colours of the spectrum. The original idea was to use a slick of transparent paint on the boxes to produce some iridescent colour, but this project was put on hold and subsequently morphed into something else. I’m interested in memory, perception and in translating videos into light, the idea of how we perceive memory. These are sculptural installations bringing forward light, sound and structure. After all, perception is not purely visual, it’s imaginative and fictional as well.
What are colours anyway? Are they merely a scientific thing, where you see bits reflected off a surface? Does the understanding of them derive from any cultural phenomena?
How would you explain these abstract works to someone unfamiliar with art? How do we approach a work like yours without wall texts and curatorial guidance?
I’d like to upend the idea that abstraction is purely formal. One could approach it sensorially and also conceptually. [You don’t always need a lot of wall text] — if you’re curious enough you will find out more. I’d like to make the audience think a little bit more.
Think about this: if you look at a sunset – do you try to understand it? It’s about engaging your body and your mind. If you only have one answer, it’s didactic – it becomes a statement and it’s not art. Forget about arguments like “painting is dead” – really good art is about artists changing the way you think about art.
Tell us a bit more about Slow Fury, which this present work seems to resemble.
[Editor’s note: Slow Fury was another light box work which made its debut in this year’s State of Motion. The art tour featured works inspired by movies about Singapore. Slow Fury was set up in Labrador Park, in response to Ring of Fury, a schlocky martial arts flick set in Singapore, and made in 1973. The film was initially banned in Singapore for promoting gangsterism.]
Slow Fury was produced with the idea of the degradation of film in mind, and how its colours fade from cyan to magenta. I also did a lot of research on the director Tony Yeow who was himself an interesting character. The journey of setting the scene for the work was already an experience in itself. We would set it up and take it down every day, it was very physically tiring. There was no power source, and the whole thing ran on car batteries. We experienced hits and misses – sometimes the boxes didn’t work at all.
Why this interest in light boxes?
I am interested in many things – technology, film, reading, songs – I play in bands and make my own music. I am trained as a painter but I am not satisfied with painting alone. One can take anything and turn it into a work in contemporary art. Films, books, scientific phenomena – in the internet age, anything can be extracted and changed into something [artistic] . In any event, most artists are artists of circumstance, responding to the lives they are leading, and where they are at in a particular time of their lives. Your art will often take you somewhere where you least expect to be.
Who is your favourite contemporary artist right now?
It always changes, but for now it’s On Kawara with his date paintings. His show with Alberto Giacometti’s works was great, it was a good pairing of two artists connected in a similar space. I’m also giving more thought to Marcel Duchamp who started the whole mindfuck thing.
[Editor’s note: In 1917, Duchamp famously bought a white porcelain urinal from an ironmonger and submitted it as an artwork- named Fountain – to the Society of Independent Artists. In so doing, he questioned why a readymade object, stripped of its utilitarian function, could not also be considered as art.
It was indeed, as Jeremy describes, mindfuckery of the highest order]
What do you think of people who run around galleries, madly taking photos of, and Instagramming everything in sight? (Editor’s note: Full disclosure: we at Plural are said mad people)
[laughs] Instagrammable art !? I don’t know, it’s a sign of the times? I do search from time and time and sometimes I see my name or my works tagged on social media.
Does that make you feel happy?
I try not to indulge myself too much. After all, Instagram is also curated in a way, it’s an exhibition within an exhibition. Artists may hate explaining themselves and their work but it’s really the middlemen (i.e. gallerists, people on social media, art managers etc.) who do all the work for us. Wasn’t it Andy Warhol who said, “after art, comes the art business?” [Editor’s note: Quite right, full quote here.]
Is it easy to be an artist in Singapore?
[laughs] It’s not easy to be an artist anywhere!
Usually it’s the people with problems who find art as an outlet, while trying to stay true to who they are. To an extent, you must operate outside the mainstream in order to be a good artist. No it’s not easy at all. Art doesn’t discriminate. Whether you come from a rich or poor background, it’s just as hard to be an artist. If your father is rich, or worse still, a successful painter himself, you will have to live up to all that and prove yourself in different ways.
If you’d like to see Jeremy’s light boxes, they are on display in the exhibition That Was Then This Is Now, at Gillman Barracks, till 25 June 2017. In July, Sullivan + Strumpf expects to hold a larger solo show of Jeremy’s works – he is in fact the first Singapore artist to be represented by the gallery. When asked about why he was selected, a spokesperson for the gallery had this to say:
“Jeremy Sharma’s work is international in its approach and fits in with our desire to ignore a nationalistic approach and look to a broader global view of contemporary art. Our reasons for working with Jeremy Sharma are not based on the fact he is Singaporean, more so that there is a level of conceptual and aesthetic excellence that we love.”
We can’t help but agree.
If any of this is of interest, there’s still time to pop down to Sullivan + Strumpf over the weekend, for a little preview of what’s to come in July.
Next up, we eavesdrop on a conversation between Jeremy and an early benefactor of his, Marjorie Chu of Art Forum.
Stay with us!