hy did you decide to become an artist? Was it a path for you from a young age?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I’m someone who is quite a generalist – curious about everything and a ‘jack of all trades’ (master of none!). There are pockets of creativity in my family but as a kid I wasn’t exposed to art. As the child of a Chinese tiger mum and a super-traditional dad, art wasn’t exactly seen as a viable career path (arguably, it still isn’t!). But growing up, I remember these reproductions of classic Australian landscape paintings hanging in our immigrant household – works like Tom Robert’s Shearing the Rams (1890). Maybe this archetypal vision of Australia had an early impact on me in all its foreignness.
Your work explores cultural stereotypes, identity and nationalism. Why are you interested in this? Ultimately, what message are you hoping the audience will take away from your work?
My work draws from my own cultural heritage – it comes from a specific and personal place to explore wider questions and tensions that all human beings face when they brush up against other human beings. These tensions have always existed but right now, as our world becomes increasingly globalised, connected and polarised – they are more pronounced than ever and in need of unpacking. As a second-generation Australian, my parents migrated here from Singapore during the White Australia Policy (thanks to the Columbo Plan which was a Commonwealth scholarship program) and they experienced endemic racism and orientalism in a remote QLD town in those early years. A generation later in Melbourne, I mostly skipped that – but I have also grown up between two cultures as a child of diaspora and never really felt at home in any one country.
“Ultimately I hope that in some way, my work will help my audience encounter other people – no matter how ‘foreign’ in terms of gender, sexuality, race, religion or politics – as fellow human beings and citizens of the world.”
“Of course as an artist, I am an idealist. I make art because I believe it offers the space and possibility to change the way we see ourselves in the world.”
From left: Narcissus, 90 min performance, live feed, Wii controller, laptop and monitor. Collaborators: Helen Grogan (dramaturgy), Casey Rice (tech), Annabel Lacroix (KINGS). Photos: Annabel Lacroix, Rachel Feery and Eugenia Lim, 2012. Shelter, Performance, Dimensions and materials varied, 2015. Photo by Zan Wimberley and courtesy of the Artist.
ou are creating a video work called The Australian Ugliness about Australian identity and culture through its architecture and built environment. What drew you to this topic? What specifically about Australia’s architecture and built environment are you looking at?
My video work has always been shot on location and responded, maybe intuitively rather than intellectually, to the built environment, but I’m a late bloomer on architecture. I edited a magazine for four years (Assemble Papers) and through it, I sort of self-taught myself about architecture and design and what I do and don’t like. I became interested in the architect Robin Boyd, not only in his built work, but as an outspoken public intellectual. He was really forthright on the Australian identity and what the design, architecture and culture of the day said about its deficiencies, WASPishness and underlying racism and mediocrity. His acerbic text The Australian Ugliness (1960) talked about ‘featurism’ as an aesthetic and ethical gap in the Australian psyche. Through practices like Ashton Raggatt Mcdougall (ARM) and Edmond and Corrigan, Australia had a fiercely intellectual culture of debate in the 70s-early 2000s that kind of rallied against Boyd’s ideas (but were indebted to his legacy) – but I wonder who the 21st century Boyd is? My work will extend Boyd’s line of enquiry into the present day to see what has changed and what remains the same. As a Melburnian, I have grown up in a city that prides itself on its design culture and unique architecture – and there’s a lot I love and hate about its built environment! My ambassador character will roam through some of the cities of Australia a la Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) inserting an Asian and female perspective into its architecture and streets – which still are mostly designed by old(er) white men. I guess I’m basically writing myself into the landscape to reflect an Australia of colour, Asianness, performativity, playfulness and non-maleness.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given? You can do it.
Favourite Book? The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon
Favourite Film? A tie between Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) and Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002)
Favourite Band / Musician? Bjork
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? A nuisance
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Women (or female-identifying people) would run the world