P L A C E: A guest post by Berny Tan

Today’s entry is a guest post written by VCS student Berny Tan. Over the summer, Berny participated in an art exhibition that she co-organized with a group of her former classmates. The piece below describes the show and its origins, and includes several images taken by Berny.


One of a trio of interactive designs (to go with the idea of collaboration) for our publicity materials, each based on the aesthetic of the residential area where we held our exhibition. This one was a complete-the-pattern concept derived from traditional floral floor tiles.

In less than three weeks, I’ll be on a 20-plus-hour flight back to New York City from Singapore, the country in which I’ve spent almost every day of the first twenty years of my life, in addition to almost every day of the past three months. It seems strange to call it a summer holiday because: a) in this part of the world, summer (in degrees Celsius) is all we know; and b) I’ve been keeping myself very busy.

Since last October, I have been part of a group of sixteen people who have come together to organize an independent group art exhibition, in which ten members of the group are participating artists. All sixteen of us were ex-classmates from my high school’s Art program, and all of us have turned or will turn 21 this year. Many of us are starting our first, second, or even third years at university in Singapore, the UK, or the US. Being international students, or simply being apart from people you grew up with, has nurtured the sense of nostalgia that was the undercurrent for this reunion. Such “displacement” was one of the main reasons why we chose to base our works on the concept of P L A C E.

The idea for the exhibition started from something small—three of my ex-classmates cut out colored paper circles and floated them in a swimming pool—but really, it began from our unusually interconnected lives and working styles, which stemmed from spending the better part of two years making art alongside one another. As such, every part of this process was collaborative; after all, we only had one another to build this exhibition from scratch (with the kind assistance of some over-21-year-olds and the many wonders of Facebook). We did everything together—preparing proposals for grants, developing our artworks, doing our artworks, conceptualizing publicity materials, participating in interviews, cleaning up, installing, gallery sitting, talking, eating, crying, laughing… even I, as the curator, could not have arrived at any of the solutions without the consideration of everyone’s opinions.

It was, of course, worth it. We were featured in newspapers and major (and not-so-major) local arts/design/lifestyle blogs. We received over 600 visitors within two weeks (16th-31st July), including friends, family, passersby, local artists and curators, an MTV Asia VJ, and even a Minister. But most of all, we created memories from memories.

To find out more about the exhibition and the art works, visit http://www.placeartshow.com/

Below, you’ll find our introduction to the exhibition and my write-up for my artwork, along with some pictures.

Our exhibition was held in a converted shophouse. As the name suggests, these buildings, found all around Southeast Asia, would typically have a shop or public area on the first floor and residential space on the second. We had to use the space creatively since it was not a "white cube."

P L A C E brings together a group of ex-classmates on the cusp of adulthood in an attempt to recreate and relive the experience of collective art-making. The project is an examination not only of overlapping physical, mental, and emotional spaces, but also the complex geographical, personal, and artistic spaces that have developed since they last worked together.

Each artist has chosen for himself or herself a place that they have had to navigate, whether it exists externally, internally, or in transition. What has emerged is a showcase of 10 unique and personal definitions of ‘place’ that have nonetheless been developed within a group dynamic of mutual understanding and stimulation.

This exhibition is as much about remembrance as it is about discovery. It is the knowledge that most of the time, art is more about the process of seeking than the arrival at a resolution. It represents the struggle to find their place as artists and individuals, and the reminder that this place can only truly exist in a state of flux.

Here is a brief description of my contribution to P L A C E, followed by some images interwoven with an account of the process I used to create it.

I want you to know that I am hiding something from you
Mixed media
254 x 84 cm each

The textures of peeling paint, with its simultaneous accumulation and decomposition of layers, speak to the underlying tension between creating and destroying. Each painstaking process in the making of this work is the visual exploration of this complex fragility. The relationships of the elements precariously balance that which is absent with that which is present.

Note: This work is best viewed in the day.

The piece is based on the imagery and texture of peeling paint, and the base medium is a long sheet of tracing paper/vellum that I cut out from a 65-foot roll. Some of the processes were inspired by techniques that I learned in Amy Wilson’s VCS Foundation Drawing class.

The black areas are an ink transfer that I did using Chartpak blender markers Because of the “greaseproof-ness” of the tracing paper and the dense liquid-y chemical from the markers, the ink ends up smudging and creating that effect, so I printed sheets of black/grey rectangles and went crazy with the markers to get the forms of peeling paint.

In the picture below, you can see lighter areas. I silkscreened acrylic gel medium onto the tracing paper, which makes it even more translucent. Those forms were based on actual photographs of peeling paint shot around the area of the exhibition. I didn’t have regular access to a print shop, so I handcut the stencils instead.

The third process was something I developed for one of my creative projects for Isabel Taube’s Visuality and Modern Art class, but it was rooted in my own response to the experience of doing a stippling portrait for Foundation Drawing. I wanted to see how far I could push myself in using a very mechanical process of dotting, but bringing it to another, more intense emotional level by piercing holes instead. I worked out the composition as I went along, piercing tiny holes with 2 different sizes of needles in response to the negative space of the ink transfer. It was also in response to choosing to do a work using those two great windows with frosted glass that threw really soft natural light into the room. The last image is actually the back of the perforations, which create a stiff white tactility (someone described it to me as “freezing the image” of every time the needle punctures the paper).

I was thinking of that idea of creation and destruction happening at the same time: negative emotions inspiring poetry or art > peeling paint as a destructive process happening on a man-made surface > holes destroying the paper but creating an image. There’s a lot loaded/layered into this piece, but I just really wanted to throw all these textures and ideas in there to create something aesthetically pleasing but also emotionally linking me to the viewer, who would imagine the pain of creating the work.

Visual & Critical Studies