Creative Studio, a new art residency program kicked off last month at private members club Straits Clan. Four Singaporean artists, Tiffany Loy, Masuri Mazlan, Dawn Ang (a.k.a Aeropalmics) and André Wee, were invited to create new works in a specially-repurposed studio. The initiative is a collaboration with art and design consultancy The Artling to provide up-and-coming artists and designers a platform to hone their craft over a four-month period.
Artist Aeropalmics (aka Dawn Ang) and Ben Jones, CEO/Founder of Mandala Group, partner and co-manager of Straits Clan, tell us why, in the midst of a global pandemic, art and artists are more essential than ever.
To much controversy, a Sunday Times survey revealed in June 2020 that the majority of approximately 1000 respondents deemed artists the least vital in society. What are your thoughts on that finding?
“I think (art) is super essential,” Dawn mused. “With art comes design as well, and I feel that design is quite important. Like street signs – (they) make all the difference in how we perceive and digest information. Fine art, fashion, I feel like all these things help with readjusting the mind, (cultivates) the appreciation of beauty. Art reflects.”
Ben nodded, “I agree with all of that. All the arts, somewhat broadly, I believe, if anything, play a more important role in today’s age when the world is being so heavily influenced by these things (gestures to his phone), your digital life starts to pull you away from “real life”. What we call “analog luxury” is what the arts are: music, visual arts, performing arts. It’s all about switching this thing off and enjoying something that’s present. The club is leaning more and more heavily into the arts because we believe how important it is that people make it part of their day, part of their lives, because there’s a risk that it’s getting lost in the digital age.”
The Mandala Group, headed by Jones, partnered with The Lo & Behold Group to co-manage Straits Clan in November 2020. “We sat down with a few of our arts partners and brainstormed about how we can be more active with the arts (community) in Singapore, and what we can do to support the arts. Covid-19 has affected a lot of industries but art, especially,” said Ben. “We’re blessed with a fair amount of space in the building, and we came up with the idea with The Artling to identify four of Singapore’s key emerging talents to support. And as the residency develops, exposure and curated events. It felt like a nice start for us in terms of giving back. We do have a number of other things planned. Luckily, we had the space and Artling as a partner, who has a great network in the art community here.
Dawn had no prior residency experience, but had been part of Facebook’s Artist in Residence program, where she was commissioned to create a wall mural in their Marina One offices in 2018. Understandably, she was thrilled to be selected for Straits Clan’s Creative Studio. “It’s amazing,” she enthused. “I found out late last year, and everything was quickly confirmed this year. We had Discover Studio sessions where people came in and asked us about processes, practices. We got to trade stories and get critique (from the other artists). I feel like all these things really helped. Personally, I think I’m not particularly social. A lot of artists have practices that are internal, where you’re just ruminating on all your ideas and it’s nice to be able to bounce it off of someone else.”
Oh, so you’re all working together in the same space?
“(There are) four of us,” she explained chirpily. “We’re in the same space, but we have sections, our own studio space, but it’s open so we see each other across the room. We’re constantly talking, trading ideas and figuring out specific systems for things. Little details that many people don’t consider, because they don’t work with materials we do. ‘What’s the best pencil?’ But to outsiders, a pencil’s a pencil. Or trying out new technology, because André does a lot more tech than we do. Tiffany does weaving, and Masuri works with industrial materials – they almost look like cakes. All our practices are very different which makes it extra exciting.”
Ben, what drew you to these four artists?
“As a club, generally, as you’ll see from the art collection, we like the contemporary art side of things. It’s probably one of the key decisions in terms of the talent.” Ben smiled, “Personally, I love colour, which was naturally what drew me to some of the work, especially Dawn’s. It was (also) personality, it was previous exhibitions, the scope of the artist, variety of work, which made us feel confident and hopeful that it’s coming through. Broad answer. but it was a few boxes ticked and a gut feel, really. And The Artling was very hands on as well, and they were able to guide us on that front.”
Which piece of Dawn’s jumped out at you most?
“I don’t know the names but there are a number of pieces.” He turned to Dawn, “You’ve done some mural work right?” Turning back, ” Which have been pretty incredible. The one she did for Google Singapore’s Headquarters reminded me of an underwater scene. And her recent work is like neon camouflage. I love those trainers. I want a pair.” Dawn laughed. “If we can work some of the artwork into the building, it would be really fun to inject some of the energy that these pieces create within the space.”
Did the residency meet the expectations you had, Dawn?
“I didn’t have specific expectations. With these kinds of things, you just see what happens, see how the people are like, what kind of systems you can employ. Right now, it’s clear that we’re allowed to mingle, we can network, we’re given such a lovely space to get inspired,” she said, brightly. “I think your physical space kind of changes your brain space, how you feel, how much light you get, how large the windows are, how lovely the people are around you, it definitely makes a difference. I’m so lucky that I live nearby and I can walk over. It’s a tiny apartment, so this space is amazing; I can make larger pieces. My pieces hardly fit through the door (there)! I feel like a lot of times, hearing stories from friends, that galleries are not particularly forthcoming with what they need from you. Here, everything seems pretty transparent and people are so genuine in their interactions with us. If they want something, they’ll ask. The networking is quite lovely, and not something you’d get from a residency from a gallery because they’ll just chuck you in a space, likely in the middle of nowhere.”
Ben nodded, “I think that was always one of the motivations. We have a really diverse and interesting member base within the club, from within the arts – gallerists, curators, artists themselves, which presents an interesting exposure. And I guess more people that are interested but don’t know much about art, aspirational collectors looking to dip their toe in emerging talent. Beyond trying to provide a great space for the artists to go crazy and do what they want, it’s also a mutually beneficial exposure for both groups.
I remember you had a studio at Ulu Cliffhouse, right?
“Ulu’s been closed for about a year. It’s all wrapped in cling film at the moment. Recyclable cling film,” he chortled. “We have a lot more space in Bali, so one of the ideas was to work with artists who work with sculpture and bigger format stuff. And because Bali has access to incredible materials. If Bali starts to reopen by the end of this program, we might potentially move the next phase there. But we’ll just keep nimble and see how the world is looking at the moment. We have ambitions, we’re trying to secure the site to do a second member’s club in Bali and if we do that, we might tie in the artist residency there.”
“We have businesses in Bali and Japan as well, so we were looking at doing one in Bali last year, but then Covid-19 happened,” said Ben. “Our brand has a philosophy, and six key pillars, and art is one of the most prominent pillars – our support for the arts and also the fact that we embrace the arts in all of our properties, be it members’ clubs, restaurants, hotels, villas. Visual arts, music, literature, the whole works. So layering in an artist-in-residency program would be really interesting. In Bali, one of the ideas was to have an artist-in-residency program – a visual artist, but also a musical artist. We built a studio and looked to secure emerging talent in the music space.”