Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

Documenting Tiong Bahru in Ink. The series resulted in an exploration of the methodology of art creation – an integration of digital photography, manual sketching and collaboration.

This is a project spearheaded by Singaporean talent Mr Choo Meng Foo with collaborating artists: Justin Chin (Musician), Jason Ang (Musician), Zhu Hong (Artist), Pamela Yee (Artist), Tay Lim Lim (Artist), Yen Phang (Performance Artist), Karen Mitchell (Artist and Art educator), Meei-Ling Ng (Creative / Installation Artist), and assistance from Bhavik Bhatt (Senior Brand Strategist) and Henry Ong (Creative Director).

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

I popped by one of their group meetings to find out more about this collaborative project, and about the members and their craft.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and I was very late. But these creative folks were sitting at the café and “brewing” their project discussion.

I asked the artists what they thought about collaboration projects.

Mr Choo Meng Foo gave his view.

The two audio artists, Justin Chin and Jason Ang, as well as Mr Choo’s former collaborator Serene Chew, who is currently studying a Degree in Art Management at LaSalle.

Yen Phang (Multi-Talented Artist) and Pamela Yee (Artist, also known as PaperGirl)

I shadowed the group when they walked around Tiong Bahru Estate, discussing how they could express the location through their craft.

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

There was an audio performance planned for the opening night, which the two audio artists interpreted through their five senses around Tiong Bahru estate.

Mr Justin Chin, who works in regional sales for a technology firm, stated, “I love music, and am a part-time artist. Form of destressing, and having Work-Life Balance. It’s not about the time you commit to your craft but what you do.”

During the walk-about, I noticed Justin recording the sound of residents as they played ping-pong (table tennis) at the Community Club. And later at a bakery, he smelled and bought some muffins. He was taking notes and chatting with the bakery owner.

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

“Even the sound and taste of food in an area, represent the surrounding, since they are part of the environment.” Justin told me, with a smile as he enjoyed his food.

Jason Ang, Keyboardist for Astreal, said, “I have keen interest in community-based art, especially performance art, because it engages the audiences. And also the arts need not be just “High Arts”. Artists need to make their art accessible.”

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

I contacted the other artists who could not be at the project discussion.

I asked Ms Karen Mitchell (Artist and Art educator) by email, “What are your thoughts on artist collectives and collaboration, on a project basis?”

Karen replied, “It is an opportunity to work out of your comfort zone, out of your cocoon. Of course, the actual collaboration can happen in various formats and methods but it is important to be able to extract and allow each artist to be in the light and also to demonstrate their potential. For the group, the collaboration will pose as a learning journey in the area of strength and influence. For the individual, this experience will be the needed risk every artist should plunge into, once in a while, and see how far or how deep the artist is able to stretch himself or herself. Most importantly, collaboration should be done with an open mind.”

WT: “How does this benefit the artist and the local creative landscape in Singapore, Asia or a country you have experienced?”

Karen: “It can definitely benefit the individual artist as he/ she will get to work on perhaps different areas, mediums, themes. Being too involved with one type of interest may result in an obsession, as in too much of a certain thing may not be always good. It is crucial for individual art practitioners to be aware of others’ existence. It is like embarking on a blind date and hopefully it develops into something fruitful — you meet, you match, you communicate, you work together to produce something.”

I managed to ask Mr Tay Lim Lim (Artist) the same questions through social media messaging:

Mr Tay: “of course, it is of great help to budding artists as the market in Singapore is very small, and the joint project is also creating awareness of local artists to have greater opportunity to be networked to overseas markets.”

WT (me): “Should there should be more collaborations with overseas groups?

Mr Tay: “Yes, especially the South East Asian market and Mainland China.”

WT: “Which are the areas of focus for you and why?

Mr Tay: “You mean the overseas market? Since my style is oriented more to the Chinese brush style, the China market is the focus of my work presently.”

WT: “OK, noted. Artist’s target market is linked to their style of work. But, can’t Chinese Brush Style gain interest in the West?”

Mr Tay: “We must establish regional before attempts to the West, or can try both if avenues permit.

I asked Ms Meei-Ling Ng (Creative/Installation Artist), who is based overseas, through social messaging as well.

WT: “I understand that you are currently overseas?

Ms Ng: “Yes, I am currently living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.”

WT: “What are your thoughts on artist collectives and collaboration, on a project basis?

Ms Ng: “I love to do collaboration projects because in that way I learn more than what I know about my work and myself and how to work on a team to get the project done. I also find out that by doing so, I can push the limits of my art into a new level of creation. I totally encourage artists to do collectives and collaboration projects – working with other artists, non-artists, professionals, communities and organizations can add so many benefits to their artistic career, not to mention their social connections.”

WT: “How does this benefit the artist and the local creative landscape in Singapore, Asia, or a country you have experienced?

Ms Ng: “Well, it tends to get the artists out of their own studios and off any themes they may have been concentrating on, which can be nice at times. Interacting with other artists on a social and professional level in my experience has always been rewarding. They can do amazing things together. Adding the varying skill sets of artists together builds synergies that wouldn’t be available on their own. For example, a collaboration art project that I did here in Philadelphia brought together urban farmers, food co-op(erative) members, a lighting designer, an art advocacy organization, art lovers and foodies onto an urban farm to build an interactive exhibit. It was the collaborative effort that brought hundreds of visitors onto an urban farm to not only view the exhibit but also to learn about the importance of locally grown food and to appreciate the farmers growing it. On my own, I don’t think I could have achieved the scale needed to make this project successful.”

WT: “How do you collaborate on this project remotely since you are physically away? Kindly share with us.”

Ms Ng: “Thanks to social media, using Facebook, Mr Choo found out about me through my Singapore friend Karen Mitchell. She’s one of the artists/ collaborators working on this project. We mostly communicated through Facebook messages and emails, thanks to modern technology.”

Unfortunately, I was not able to reach Mr Zhu Hong (Artist) for an interview.

The Opening Night on 22 April was packed with people. With Justin and Jason performing their music inspired by the surrounding of the charming Tiong Bahru Estate.

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

The very talented Mr Yen Phang has been, in recent month, the “Go-To Guy” for performance/ installation art (within the first half of this year, played the “GateKeeper” at OH! Open House, was a “living installation art piece” for Ms Nicola Anthony’s “The Word Collection Project” at the MinimART 4.0, and did performance art for John Clang at 2902 Gallery’s new location Opening Night.) He took up the challenge to paint colours onto a print of Mr Choo’s ink sketch as the opening night guests watched.

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

Ultimately, such collaboration showcases the need to put together various artists with different backgrounds to create some “chemical reaction”. Instead of keeping to the same things or working constantly with the same group of people or materials, having bits of randomness might lead to more creativity and excitement.

The prints are for sale, to cover costs incurred by the project and also to fund future collaborations.

Tiong Bahru – Portraits of History IV

At The Orange Thimble
Blk 56, 01-68,
Eng Hoon Street,
Tiong Bahru, Singapore
23 April 2013 ~ 12 May 2013