Sufian Samsiyar, Artist and Senior Executive (Exhibitions) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) Singapore
Venue: National Gallery of Singapore
Tell us about your outfit. What are you wearing, and what inspires your fashion?
I am wearing a Uniqlo shirt, accompanied by a pair of yellow Clarks Wallabees and a sacai x Nike women’s skirt, which I got from an online store called Farfetch since it had sold out on the official Nike site within a day or two. I strive to dress comfortably for all occasions. But I also love to change my style entirely from one day to the next, just to see how people might react. The vibes I get are always different – it’s weird to think that people would talk to me differently just based on how I’m dressed!
What I wear is my means of self-expression: turning myself inside out, and wearing it like a second skin.
We heard that you’re visiting the Setouchi islands! How are you enjoying yourself – and is it your first time in Japan?
Yes, it’s my first time! I am very fortunate that the Lasalle MFA programme has chosen to visit Art Setouchi.
The islands – notably Teshima, Naoshima and Inujima – are not only the main venues for the Setouchi Triennale, but they also house art museums such as Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, Teshima Art Museum and the magical Art House Project, which is a collection of architectural art pieces. I love that the islands are lined with white sandy beaches, pine groves and rice paddies.
I’ve also been eating a lot – just look at these pictures!
What’s one newly-discovered favourite artwork of yours on this trip?
My favourite would be Christian Bolanski’s Les Archives du Cœur and its locality. I was captivated by the experience of walking to its site – it was a good 15-minute walk along the shoreline from the ferry point, on a twisting path through the forests, to a solitary single-storey house at the edge of the beach.
The house is built in a style imitating the houses of the local fisherman, and clad with what seems to be torched timber – it smells good and looks gorgeous.
Upon arriving, we step into a white conceptual space that looks like a science lab. In the main room of the installation, a single light bulb is suspended in the dark. It was switched on and off in unison with the thumping sound of different heartbeats. This reminds me of Berghain, somehow.
What do you think of the way that exhibitions and works are presented on the Setouchi islands?
The museums there are works of art themselves. I could tell that the artists and architects worked very closely, and there was a lot of thought and care put into choosing the museum sites. The architects incorporated non-material elements, such as natural light and the sounds of nature, when designing the space – without which the works would not have had the same effect. The architecture integrated harmoniously with the mountainous landscape.
Do you think that they might influence your own approach towards exhibition design?
Yes, it is a wonderful place to get inspired. Personally, I feel that works of art are more than just objects; they have a relationship with their surroundings. I tend to consider support structures for an artwork – its environment, the hanging system, the lights – beyond mere appearances. I like to imagine how the work was erected on site. Noticing details that people tend to ignore is kind of my strong suit – that’s probably why I do what I do!
How has your MFA experience been so far? Any highlights?
It has been quite a ride for me this year! I am holding onto my appointment at ICAS while undertaking this MFA. I’ve also formed a collective called Neuewave, which champions exhibition design and installation. It is not easy juggling work, school, the various projects I am involved in, as well as a social life, but I am very grateful especially to my partner, who is always there for me when it sometimes gets too much. The programme leads for the MFA have been very accommodating and understanding as well.
So I am loving every single minute of this adventure, no complaints!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity, and all images are courtesy of Sufian.