Hello dear readers! Welcome to another Fertilizer Friday. Sorry this is a day late – had trouble with the Tumblr servers yesterday.
Fertilizer Fridays are interviews with artist friends. It’s about honest, casual conversation, sharing ideas + busting myths about being an artist/making art.
I met Yoong Chia when he was working at Reka Art Space where I had my first solo exhibition in 2005. A work of his sits in our library – a painting on the inside of a crab shell. It’s a small piece of his amazingly rich visual world.
Can’t tell you how happy I am to share this conversation. Yoong Chia’s answers are practical, wise and insightful, and I hope you get as much out of them as I did!
Self-Portrait Radiating, 2006, Oil on Seashell, 13cm x 13cm x 2.8cm
Just like everyone else, artists have good days and bad days. Could you describe what your working day is like, a good one and a bad one?
a) GOOD –
b) BAD –
When I was younger, I was at the mercy of my emotions. I was in cyclical state where first I would be euphoric for few a days, then, gradually descended into periods of deep sadness the following days and a few days later, I would become happy again.
I used to fear my happiness because I knew depression will come later, and I was optimistic during my sadness for I knew I would become happy again soon. And throughout all this, I continue to do my artwork. It was a way to negotiate with my emotions, to make friends with them.
It took some time, but eventually, like a muscle, my emotions became stronger and my artwork improved as well.
I don’t think we should call certain working days good or bad, because it is essentially just how we feel at that particular moment. And because by doing so, we limit our commitment to dealing with emotions we don’t like and thus will never be able to resolve.
Traveling Plant, 2006, Oil on Canvas, 64cm x 56cm
The title of your 2009 solo exhibition ‘The 2nd Seven Years’ really struck me because it highlights the idea of there being significant turning points in an artist’s life. It’s been exactly seven years since I first started my ‘professional’ art journey, and without warning there was a deep change how I think, feel and work. For me, it’s been an uncomfortable but essential experience. Can you tell us more about the process of hitting and going through these turning points?
A few years prior to ‘The 2nd Seven Years’ exhibition, I had been in and out of Malaysia on artist residencies in other countries. I was eager to show what I learned ‘out there’ and what I learned about myself to a Malaysian audience. In order to do that, I had me to reassess my work.
The first seven years of my ‘professional’ life (1996 – 2002) was spent mucking around, trying to find myself and trying to convince people to take me seriously. ‘The 2nd Seven Years’ (2003- 2009) exhibition was a summary of what were important themes and strategies in my work.
It was nice to put out that show, because it sort of announced that this is what I have been doing so far and this where my future work will come from.
The Spirit Leaves The Body, 1997, Lino Ink on Rice Paper (Monoprint)
Drawing seems central to your art – whether it’s monoprints, sewing or painting. What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about starting to draw, but feels like they aren’t able to?
When one thinks about drawing, one automatically thinks about it being on a piece of paper, a 2-dimensional world. This 2D world is what is interesting about drawing (and painting). 2D does not exist in reality but our mind allows us to believe that dots, lines and planes arranged in particular ways on a flat surface could bring us to another reality. That’s the magic of drawing and painting.
However, painting (and also drawing) has been getting a lot bad press from the art world. Those who only paint are considered old-fashioned or ‘commercial’ and those who only draw are amateurs (unless you are a street artist). Artist now are required to be articulate in other ways like making a bold statement and make artworks that engage with technology, be inclusive of different communities, care about the environment, socially active, etc.
Somehow, in all this confusion, the magic of creating a window into another reality is lost. Drawing is most basic visual art form, when confused, go back to basics and continue from there.
Quilt of The Dead, 2002 – Ongoing, Collaborative work about memory using embroidery, 224cm x 224cm
Like many artists, you’ve used very interesting and creative research methods when making your work. Could you briefly tell us about one or two processes you used to approach a subject or a material in order to execute your idea?
They all start as urges and questions. What is that? Why does this interest me? What do I want to say? How do I convey that? How will it evolve as I work on this further? How will this change me?
‘Quilt of the Dead’ started as a curiousity about the obituary photos in newspapers and a personal memory about the death of my grandmother. I found embroidery to be the perfect medium for this work because embroidery takes time and patience (perhaps love too) to make and also it’s symbolism to the cycle of life and death in many cultures. Quilt of the Dead later evolved into embroidery performances and workshops that engage people to discuss about death and what that means to the living.
‘The World is Flat’ started as nostalgia for my stamp collection and childhood days, which I created collages made entirely out of stamps to convey the era of ‘official information’ of colonialism and the coming of a new era of ‘democratic information’ of the internet.
When I start making a series of work, l start when it is still ‘half-baked’ because I like the work to evolve organically, over a long period time and flexible enough for me to make many adjustments along the way. I could never make a work if I can already predict the result. For me the process is important.
Queen E’s Private Moment (When Will the Bubbles Burst?), 2011, Postage Stamps and Adhesive (Collage), 30cm x 21.5cm
I’ve been thinking a lot about how art relates to the world, both as ‘industry’ (i.e. art world, art market, etc) and simply as field that involves self-expression and making things. What does ‘independence’ mean to you, in art and in life?
One doesn’t become independent by being an artist. True, you are independent from a lot of society’s expectations, but you are not independent from your calling, which demands all your life’s dedication to it, but that’s not your question.
To continue as an artist, I separate making artwork, art career and money as three distinct categories that overlap sometimes. Making artwork is always the priority, because that’s what I do, who I am.
Simply put, the art market is for selling art. Just because the art market has become a humongous industry that involves influential artists, curators and institutions doesn’t mean that the objective has changed, it’s just that the business of selling art has become more sophisticated. Therefore, artists who need to survive by selling their work have to be more sophisticated as well, while being aware that that is just one aspect of their artistic self.
Interestingly, we (as in the human civilization) have evolved to a point where we are now heavily dependent on each other while also highly individualistic …or maybe it’s because we are highly dependent on each other that we HAVE to be individualistic. Being an individual means living differently from others, but we now lack resources to be self-sustaining, so we go to shops that cater to our individuality, you need money to be an individual, the more money you spend, the more individuality you get. Buying (expensive) art seems to be one way of announcing your individuality.
The World Is Flat, 2010, Postage Stamps and Adhesive (Collage), 84cm x 134cm
Something has been bugging me for a long time about the art profession in Malaysia: the fact that galleries and collectors often take months (sometimes years!) to pay artists for works that have been sold and delivered. Has this happened to you? What do you think is the cause and how can we improve this situation?
Yes, it has happened to me also. But I think that is a problem with many professions in Malaysia. Before I became I full-time artist, I worked in a number of freelance jobs, like painting murals and what not. Sometimes you get paid promptly, sometimes you get paid late, and sometimes only partially. The problem is there are no union bodies that look after the interest of their workers. There’s no union for mural painters, and there’s no union for artists. How do we improve on this situation? I don’t know, but it will be the same answer as how to reduce crime rate, how to improve public transportation, how to provide better education.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on my next series of stamp collages. After my last series, ‘The World is Flat’, I felt there are still more things to say.
Thanks Yoong Chia.
Two portraits from Quilt of the Dead. Yoong Chia embroidered these based on photographs of my own grandparents who have passed on. Find out more about this on-going project here.
Fine Print: Images are Copyright Chang Yoong Chia 1997 – 2012. All Rights Reserved. Wouldn’t hurt to ask before using. But if you’re taking them anyway, credit correctly!