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 “The studio is where strange magic happens, as much for the artist’s imagination as for the public’s. It’s the conjuring place of new concepts, styles, or forms.”

George Philip LeBourdais

This article is the first in a series of interviews with artists in their studios, in which we attempt to explore artists’ working habits and the places that nourish them.

 

Multimedia visual artist Alpana Vij’s practice comprises installations, videos, stitched leaves, and paintings, but it is the latter that feature most prominently in her studio space, a corner unit of a warehouse building in Ubi. Over tea, the artist shares with us why she considers herself primarily a painter even in her approach towards other mediums, and shares insights into her working processes in her studio.

 Michelle Lim (ML)

How did you come to have this studio, and how has the experience been?

Alpana Vij (AV)

I share this studio with a friend who was my studio mate when we did our MFA at Lasalle.

She’s been travelling quite a bit, so it’s practically been just me here. I enjoy working on my own. I don’t even listen to music when I’m working. I just like the place to be very quiet when I’m here.

ML

What do you enjoy most about working in the studio?

AV

What I love most about my studio is the mental and physical space it gives me. Studio for me is a solitary place – I love being on my own with just my thoughts and my work – but it’s in no way lonely. It’s alive with possibilities and a place where I can truly explore. Making as much mess as my heart desires. So many experiments may fail here – but the fact that I have this freedom is a privilege.

ML

I notice that the works that you have here in your studio are rather different from your video works, as well as the ones of the mended leaves that I’m familiar with.

AV

These are different facets of my practice, so in the studio it’s more of my painting work that happens. But even when I’m making my videos, I look at it from a painter’s perspective.

ML

The way the layers and colours shift across time.

AV

Yeah – there is so much drama that happens in the way that shadows come and go in puddles after the rain, for example.

ML

That I see clearly in the videos, but perhaps you could share with me how the sewing and crocheting relates to painting?

AV

It’s more about what I’m exploring through my work, which is the idea that things are constantly changing, and how life is so ephemeral and interconnected at the same time. So even for my work with the leaves, there is a whole story that underlies the work, in the way that each leaf is a result of so many things in nature that had to come together in order to give birth to it. And then it dies, but it was also once beautiful and lived a full life. For me, the stitching of the leaves is to celebrate the life that the leaf has lived. I’m very influenced by the Japanese idea of kintsugi, which celebrates the imperfections in ceramics because these scars bear witness to the passage of time. Things change, and that’s the one thing that we can be sure of – not to sound morbid, but life is short and we should enjoy it.

ML

I think the morbidity would be if we were coming to this fact with a fear of death, because life and death just happens, but if we’re afraid then maybe it’s morbid. But wasn’t it the Bhutanese who say it’s healthy to think about death every day?

AV

Exactly, because then you really live in the present and it grounds you. So for all my work, the idea comes from slowing down and observing the marks that life makes on us, leaves, even cement, stone, and wood; objects that age but are considered strong.

My painting process is very open ended, because I don’t have a definite idea of what it’s going to look like. All these paintings have many layers of paint, with every stage involving a lot of scratching, scraping, adding of solvent… I don’t know how the marks that I made in the first layer are going to look like by the fourth layer after I’ve added solvent, for example. And this interaction is just like what happens in nature as well, right?

ML

Like in Penang or other places where they don’t tear down the buildings so quickly, there’s all this decay and mould, but then it’s also beautiful.

AV

Yes, even in Singapore there’re enough things that are old and beautiful if we look for it. I see all my work, whether it’s the stitching of the leaves or videos and paintings, as interconnected. It’s not the medium that connects them, but the idea of slowing down, observing the moments, and celebrating them.

ML

What does a day in the studio look like for you?

AV

I try to come here by 11 and leave around 5 every day. I spend about 5 to 6 hours a day in the studio. If there’s a show coming up then I would spend more time here, sometimes even on the weekends. But even if I don’t have anything particular that I’m working on, I just make sure that I come to the studio anyway. I know that once I’m here, I will end up doing something. This helps me a lot because I’m by nature a little lazy (laughs), but something happens the minute that I’m in the studio that puts me in the mood to work.

ML

Do you sometimes feel that when there’s so much beauty out there, why do we bother making art? (laughs)

AV

Yes! Sometimes I’m in here struggling with the painting and then I go outside and look and–

ML

And it’s already perfect­­–

AV

Yeah – but then I think that’s the thing – we can observe, of course, but then it’s such a joy to be able to try to participate in the smallest of ways. All we are trying to do is replicate that which has already been done so beautifully and perfectly in nature, and just feel like we can be a part of this creation in some small way. I think that creating is about living in that sense, truly living, if we can. And it doesn’t have to be painting – most people are creating in some way or another. But sometimes I do wonder, why we bother when there’s so much beauty out there.

ML

But I think art then does the job of pointing people’s attention towards the beauty that exists in a wider context – like when I see the leaf that you stitch and it makes me more curious about my everyday, and hopefully that’s the experience of others as well.

AV

If it can make a person who’s seen it just stop and look a little more closer the next day, then that’s worth it. As an artist, a big stage is when you yourself are creating, and the next stage is when the work is done. At that second stage, it’s as if the work gains a life of its own, and I am able to look at it as an outsider. There are parts of the finished painting that I become so excited by, as if I were not the one who created it. It’s odd to say, but I don’t feel like I knew how to do that, and how the process even happened. And even though I would love to do something like this again, there’s no way that I know how to.

ML

Perhaps it’s because of this shift in awareness, like maybe you had gotten so into it that once you step back you no longer remember.

AV

Exactly – What colours did I use? What did I do first, and what followed? What scratch did I make? Was it solvent first or graphite first?

ML

Perhaps that’s also part of the magic of being in the studio and being in the zone.

AV

What’s interesting is that both the magic and the very mundane things also exist at the same time. People think that only when it’s this exciting that the magic happens, but sometimes you just have to get on with the process for the moments of magic to happen. I have to mix the paint, mix the cement and sand the wood. It’s all the things that I don’t have to think about, but they are necessary. But then the work is really you, at every stage of the process, even the tedious ones.

 

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Curious about how these works-in-progress in Alpana’s studio eventually turned out? They will be featured in her upcoming solo show, “Wood Metal Stone” at UltraSuperNew Gallery, from 4 to 13 October.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

 

 

 

 



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