The artwork featured in this article, Everything in Its Right Place, has been kindly donated by the artist in support of AWARE. Everything in Its Right Place is up for auction as part of AWARE’s upcoming charity fundraiser on 2nd November 2019. To arrange to view the work or place a bid, please contact Phoebe Longley-Cook via email at Phoebe@aware.org.sg or on her mobile, +65 9235 1312.
We first saw her work in 2012, emblazoned all over our national newspapers, when she was arrested on several counts of mischief for spray-painting our roads with the words “My Grandfather Road”. Nowadays, we come across her work in the form of collaborations with commercial brands like Nike and G-Shock, or on walls as murals, like this one.
Your friendly neighbourhood sticker lady needs no further introduction, but perhaps this particular work of hers does.
After all, you might not immediately recognise this as a work by Sam Lo (aka. Skl0), especially if you are familiar with her only through the sticker and graffiti works that first shot her to fame (or perhaps, infamy) in 2012. With its pale, pristine veneer and intricately carved parts, this work, entitled Everything in Its Right Place, seems more at home in a gallery than on the streets; more fine art than graffiti.
Here, nine birds hold bits of ribbon in their beaks, connecting each to the foot of the bird flying above it. When repeated nine-fold, a tapestry emerges where no bird is an island. Even when one – the rightmost bird – seeks to break free and fly from the boundaries demarcated by its tile, it remains bound to its neighbour by its thread and hence cannot fly too far away. In the words of the artist herself, this work “speaks to our desire to be free in a reality where we cannot run away from everything that we are connected to”. Fittingly, Lo has chosen the common sparrow, a street bird, as the main subject of this work, since it is meant to represent the everyperson.
While this imagery of birds may come across as idyllic and timeless, finely etched images of CCTV cameras lurk in the background of each tile, giving a more contemporary – and some might say, sinister – edge to the work. This symbol of surveillance is almost a Skl0 signature; ever present in our environments as well as her work, it is one of two familiar touch-points connecting this work to her other works.
The other is the Peranakan tile motif, which Lo has co-opted to various effects in both her commercial projects as well as her mural work locally and in the region. Her use of these repeated tile motifs injects an unmistakable local flavour to her work, as Peranakan tiles are iconic of the heritage shophouses here in Singapore. While Lo tends to deploy a striking crimson and blue in her tile designs, she departs from her signature colour scheme in the case of Everything in Its Right Place. Instead, she has turned to local architecture for inspiration – namely, the white and slightly aged relief elements commonly found on colonial-era buildings.
Sharing a snapshot that she had previously taken on her phone, Lo expressed her interest in how the features of a relief can tell the story of the time at which it was made. She thus sought to achieve similar relief effects in her own work through an elaborate, multi-step process of hand-carving, casting, and even laser etching. Lo is no stranger to such processes, as she has previously hand-sculpted toy figurines and owned a designer toy company. In fact, sculpting is a medium that she has found herself returning to, as it helps her to stay grounded:
“I’ve always liked sculpting – I first picked it up when I was discovering what medium was best for me after the arrest. A lot of people only thought of me doing stickers, and I didn’t know how to paint, but I wanted to find a medium I could resonate with. When I started sculpting, I realised that I could really connect with it, and that it’s something that I really loved. Not a lot of people know this, but I actually really enjoy it … sometimes even more than painting.”
Given her clear love for the medium, we’re looking forward to seeing this multidisciplinary artist explore the sculptural side of her practice further, as it is clear that Everything in Its Right Place is just the beginning.
Sam Lo will be showing a series of new sculptural works, which she calls contemporary cultural artefacts, in her upcoming solo show, Rising Change at Shouten, Mandarin Gallery (333A Orchard Road, #03-23, Singapore 238897), from Nov 1 to 29.