It’s always a pleasure to speak to fellow LASALLE alumni and never more so than with Hazel Lim and Ginette Chittick, Programme Leaders of the school’s Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts and Diploma in Fashion respectively. We sat down for a chat with them this week at their two-woman show Planes and Envelopes, presently ongoing at UltraSuperNew Gallery.
Hello Hazel and Ginette! You’re both looking great, tell us about what you’re wearing today?
Ginette: My (second) skirt is by Stolen and the designer is my friend Elyn Wong who I have known since we were in our teens and in the punk and music scene. She had a boyfriend in the indie scene and we used to hang out. It’s been very nice to see her trajectory from being in an advertising agency to now, working in fashion. Her work is also very architectural and inspired by art and design.
Hazel: My dress is from Mango, from years ago. When I wore it once before, it was with a friend from Taiwan, who is also an artist, and he had a shirt on in almost the same print. We didn’t realise until we took a photo, that we looked like we were wearing just one thing!
For women in the arts, or in any industry really, clothing often attracts a disproportionate amount of attention. What are your thoughts?
Ginette: Of course you always want to look great, but you don’t want it to be the only thing that people focus on. So sometimes I do try and tone it down, but then again I ask myself, “Why the hell should I?”
Maybe it’s my lighter hair too? I don’t know, but sometimes in these situations, people tend not to take me seriously and that’s a bit of a struggle for me. I’m not the most serious person, I won’t just sit there and go straight to the point all the time. I like to liven things up and laugh, and that sometimes sets me back. So, even if I’m jokey I do try to raise my voice a little to say more and put my points across.
Let’s talk about your art – what have you both created here?
Hazel: This is origami folding:
It’s modular and each piece is very small. I do it at home and it can be brought around everywhere. It’s very portable, you can literally fold at any time of the day when you are free and have the energy. I actually do quite a lot in front of the TV. Once I accumulated a big mountain of the pieces, I brought them to Ginette’s studio where I have a space, and that’s where I started to piece them all together.
Ginette: Since I was a little wee punk, I’ve been making things with my hands, like zines. I’m not in the punk scene now, but I’ve always carried that blueprint of making things throughout my life. When I was about 15 in 1994, or 1993 it was very hard to find magazines that spoke to you. Now you can find printed magazines, or if you go online you can find articles or magazines on anarchism or anarcho-feminism and stuff like that – those were the things I was interested in.
We couldn’t find things like that so we would make our own — we would make our own underground. We made stickers and printed T-shirts and sold them. There were these really interesting things back then called the ‘distros,’ which were kind of advertising broadsheets for zines and people would pore through them
My zine was called Cherry Bomb Press and I was a riot girl, so my cause was to bring women into the forefront. That movement was huge and it changed my life.
So, using this DIY blueprint of my life, I started to make art. I had learned how to weave when I was pregnant because I thought that if I was going to be a mother soon, the shackles of motherhood would not allow me any time! Two weeks before I gave birth, I took basic weaving classes, learning things like how to warp the loom. I then gave birth and for about a year after, I didn’t touch anything. Then, I started again and I even learned how to make my own yarn.
Why was this kind of weaving on your bucket list of things to do?
Ginette: I was in the vortex of Pinterest, devouring all the images there! I was also looking at tapestries, there, and also in museums abroad — tapestries which had been made by women. The interesting thing I found was that the tapestries would be made by women but that the men would be the ‘masters.’
I used kapok because it’s readily found in Singapore and you can just pluck it off the trees. We even have kapok trees in the LASALLE Winstedt campus. It’s very silky, it’s also called silk-cotton and in Asia, we put it in pillows and bantal busuk or chou chous.
My friend who lives in Pasir Ris has many of these trees near her place so she picked the kapok for me. I think it’s quite nice and poetic because our mums would use kapok to make pillows for us and now (as artists) we are talking about craft while linking it back to what women used to do. At the same time, the technique used is a weaving technique that men (tend to dominate) in workshops.
Hazel: Our work is actually about protest, it’s a kind of silent protest. It’s not a real shout, but more of a quiet riot. It underlies our work and it’s what brought us together. Why must craft be relegated to a lower rung? My material is just paper cut into squares and but it’s all been folded (many times).
Ginette: I always tell people that she worked at it until her arms had repetitive stress injuries!
What then makes these works ‘art’ as opposed to ‘craft?’
Hazel: If it has a story behind it and draws links to ideas then it’s art. There is always a question of packaging it and branding it. My work, I think, is both art and craft. It’s a very tough question.
Ginette: We are still grappling with this! When I first started, I didn’t want to make full tapestries because I didn’t want the work to be fully craft. It had to be right in the intersection of art, design and craft or the investigative aspect of this research would not have succeeded.
What’s the ‘story’ behind these works that you’d want a potential buyer to know about?
Hazel: I’m trained as a painter so my work has origins in and pays homage to painting, to the colour chart and to colour theory. I’ve been making these works since 2009, and this is the third iteration in which I’ve included more colours. In the first few sets, I used greys, silvers and whites – neutral, monotonous colours. The aim was for the work to melt into the space and become somewhat invisible. This was my preoccupation for a long time, about colours and the act of trying to ‘untaint’ them. Now, I’m bringing colours back and using acrylic frames to reflect and throw off different colours from the white, to create sculptural, object-based work. It’s a bit of a tribute to painting too. I want viewers to see these works as an illusion because the paper doesn’t quite look like paper. It looks like fabric or plastic and I want to create this duality of the work not quite being what it looks like. There is an element of deception to it all. I would also like the framed works to be seen as a type of painting. The unframed ones — well, these react to the gallery space, and I wanted them to hug and embrace it.
Ginette: My work is an amalgamation of who I am. I do all these different things, so it’s craft, design and art all at the same time. When I was looking for visual references I was also doing my home renovations. A lot of the pictures I was consuming, were of architectural design objects around the house, like pop art chairs and Memphis design. I also wanted my artworks to appear as though they were floating. When I hung them with fishing string I could see the lines and I really didn’t like it, it spoilt the aesthetic for me. Because I come from a design point of view, I’m always wondering what the backs of paintings look like when painters finish their work. For designers that is very important, every seam needs to be in, your canvas should be hidden and staples should be in a line!
Hazel: I feel this is the main difference between the artists and the designers. The designer pays such good attention to finishing! For me, I am usually more preoccupied with the making and completion of the works. The presentation is thought about in relation to the space that the works will be shown in, and I then try to find a solution with regard to how the works can be hung or installed.
Do you have particular kinds of collectors who like your works?
Ginette: Well I’ve just started so these are the first (few) works I’ve sold and they’ve all been sold to different types of people. I really can’t tell! Hopefully, in future, there will be enough people buying my works such that I’ll be able to profile them!
Hazel: I sold my work to someone who wants to place it in their home. That’s the usual case for Singapore collectors. Our collectors tend to be younger, they seem to like the aesthetic and have an appreciation for the stories behind the work. I get the sense that the young collector base is growing – these people are affluent, they travel, they want to support artists locally and invest in them.
I also get the sense that in countries like Indonesia and Myanmar, the more well-off, more established artists will also collect the works of younger, emerging artists and have their own private museums and spaces.
Singapore collectors tend to be quite low- key don’t they?
Hazel: I’ve been told that if you head to ICAS in the afternoon, and you see these old men coming in very discreetly and holding onto plastic bags, they are likely to be collectors! They are very low-key and don’t want to be showy, they’re probably old money.
We do wish people were more open about collecting. It’s a good way to encourage a new generation of art patronage. After all, people have thousands of dollars to spend on designer bags and watches, yet they may not necessarily spend similar sums on an artwork.
Ginette: That’s because you can’t bring an artwork out to show your friends! Labels like Chanel and Gucci, they have their histories invested in the brands so all you need to spend is that little bit of money, and you don’t have to explain further. People will make immediate associations.
Hazel: If you are a household name in art though, people would want to ‘buy your brand’ too!
Tell us – why should people come to see Planes and Envelopes?
Hazel: Because these are provocative, thoughtful, craft, art and design-based artworks housed in a beautiful brick-walled space, which is in itself, unusual.
Ginette: Our work has many contradictions and it reflects us – it’s a perfect mix of who we are. I know we keep talking about the brick walls, but when I first saw them I was so shocked at how the works really popped against them when they were put up.
Hazel: I also really liked that this space used to be Post Museum and I liked the energy (and history of it being) a ground up, artist-run initiative. I like that it’s not a perfect space, it’s so much more interesting and vibrant this way.
The exhibition Planes and Envelopes runs at UltraSuperNew Gallery till 14 April. Details here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.