Entering out, Exiting In on a Joo Chiat street

The East Coast community of Joo Chiat is possibly one of the most interesting neighbourhoods in Singapore. With, thankfully, no brand stores or celebrity chef restaurants in sight, it is instead filled with hipster cafes, beauty salons, eclectic retail shops and temples, just to name a few, all sandwiched together in a hodge-podge of colonial shophouses and conservation houses…it is possibly my favourite area on the island.

Only recently did I realise that some of these charming shophouses also contain the studios of several talented artists from the local art scene. One such studio is one which I visited this week, that of Young Talent Programme 2016/17 winner, Leow Wei Li, a graduate of LaSalle, and an emerging artist whose muses come from sounds and architecture.

Wei Li, along with two other winners, Vietnamese artist, Le Thuy and Singaporean artist, Tay Ining was chosen from more than 90 applicants to participate in a nine-month long apprenticeship under the tutelage of Curator, Seah Tzi-Yan. The programme, which is a collaboration between the Affordable Art Fair and ION Art, culminates in the artists’ three solo-exhibitions, running in parallel and presented at ION Art Gallery next week.

Her winning submission, a body of works based on plants and spaces, came from a lifetime of observing the world around her. Wei Li has always been interested in architectural spaces from an early age because her father was a building contractor who used to bring home blueprints from work. Imagining that the architects who drew them had to envision them in 3D arrangements, the forms fascinated her as she began absorbing their shapes and eventually using everyday sounds to characterise her own “blueprints” (paintings).

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Her upcoming solo exhibition, titled Entering Out, Exiting In consists of oil paintings, and her first-ever sculpture, and are visual recreations of moments in her everyday life. Partnered with audio recordings of the hubbub and silences heard from her studio over the street; cars driving past, dogs barking, a ride on the train, the fan in her studio, the wind blowing in the open window and going out the open window, all become the soundtrack to her movements. Elements of doors and windows inspire her, recreating a textured expression of her daily experiences, each painting documenting a “mini-story”. Such examples include gazing out of her window at the moon, or thinking while in the bath, as shapes of objects shape her thoughts, and with sound emanating from a speaker at the back of her sculpture of drains, everyday materials, which have been painted over, such as bubble wrap and wires, all represent the different qualities of reverberations.

Of the Young Talent Programme, Wei Li told me that the liberation she encountered under the guidance of the programme’s Curator gave her the artistic freedom she needed to grow her practice without boundaries, a testimony to what a programme like this can do for an artist. When I asked her what she sees herself doing next, she told me she would like to explore digital art, further marrying sound and painting in her works.

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