Yeo Shih Yun, a Singaporean artist renowned for her groundbreaking approach to ink painting, has carved a distinctive path in the realm of contemporary art.
With a career spanning over two decades, Shih Yun’s artistic practice reflects an unwavering commitment to experimentation and a fearless exploration of unconventional mediums. Lead curator of the exhibition, Arielle Lau’s collaboration with &Larry, a branding expert, is a strategic choice to enhance the exhibition’s presentation. Arielle, who is also the assistant curator for Fashion of the Asian Civilizations Museum, has thoughtfully curated the essence of Shih Yun’s work, emphasizing the significance of the artistic process and originality in the contemporary art landscape.
Her fascination with chance and certainty is evident in her techniques. From rolling dice to determine paint application to letting toy cars create forceful lines in her paintings, she introduces an element of unpredictability, allowing the artistic process itself to influence the outcome.
This blend of intention and spontaneity adds a unique dimension to her works, challenging preconceived notions of control in art creation. Shih Yun has also been involved in international residencies and exhibitions in cities like New York, Tokyo, Munich, and Shanghai showcases a global recognition of her innovative contributions to the contemporary art scene. Her tenacity and dedication to her craft have garnered accolades, including the Sovereign Asian Art Prize People’s Choice Award in 2012 and the 26th UOB Painting of the Year Competition Singapore in 2007.
Further, Shih Yun is deeply committed to the art scene, particularly through her role as the director of INSTINC. Her commitment goes beyond nurturing individual artists, as she is dedicated to fostering a culture of collaboration, and believes that true innovation in the arts emerges from the intersection of diverse talents and perspectives. This commitment is evident in INSTINC’s endeavors to create an environment that encourages collaboration, recognizing it as a powerful catalyst for artistic innovation and growth.
Popspoken: In your upcoming exhibition “DEFY INK,” you reflect on your early works. How has your artistic style evolved over the years, in terms of experimentation with ink?
Yeo Shih Yun: My artistic style, characterized by abstraction and rootedness in the aesthetic principles of ink painting, has retained a consistent thread of expression over the years. However, recent periods have witnessed a deliberate expansion of my creative scope, particularly as I delved into various mediums beyond traditional ink applications.
One noteworthy venture unfolded at the National Gallery for Keppel Centre for Art Education during the exhibition titled “My Ink-credible Adventure” in the years 2020 and 2021. This initiative saw a collaborative convergence of artistic vision and technological expertise, as I partnered with technologists to imbue the gallery space with dynamic ink strokes. These strokes, responding to gestures, sound, and pressure, created an immersive experience that extended beyond the conventional boundaries of ink on canvas/paper.
In the subsequent work titled “Mind Ink Painting Machine” in 2021, I embarked on a fascinating exploration at the intersection of neuroscience and art. Through the utilization of an EEG device, my brainwaves were captured and transmitted to a computer. This data was then intricately transformed into captivating moving ink-scapes using the sophisticated program TouchDesigner.
The underlying ambition was to wield the human mind as a potent tool for orchestrating digital ink—a venture into the enigmatic and formidable realm of the brain’s energies in the act of creation.
Popspoken: John Cage’s approach is mentioned as an inspiration. Which aspect of John’s performance art rhetoric is most intriguing for you? Would it be his silent work or the ones with coyotes?
Yeo Shih Yun: In my admiration for John Cage’s artistic methodology, particularly his incorporation of ‘chance’ as a pivotal element in his creative process, I find a profound appreciation for the novel perspectives embedded within his works. Cage’s innovative approach to composition, a deliberate challenge to conventional musical structures, beckons listeners to engage with sound in unconventional and thought-provoking ways—a facet of his oeuvre that never fails to captivate me. The deliberate silence in his iconic piece, “4:33,” stands as a powerful manifestation of Cage’s defiance against traditional norms in music and sound composition.
In the year 2021, I received an invitation to exhibit in the tunnel of Esplanade, an opportunity that inspired the creation of a series of seven large-scale ink drawings, each measuring 4.4 meters by 1.5 meters. These pieces, collectively titled “Chance Encounters《偶然》,” draw direct influence from Cage’s chance-based processes. Guided by my enduring fascination with spontaneous gestures, random occurrences, and the use of unconventional tools, I established a set of rules for the creation of these ink drawings. My work similarly embraces the incidental through playful and unconventional experimentation with ink, aligning with Cage’s legacy of pushing artistic boundaries.
Popspoken: As a director of INSTINC, how has the experience of nurturing other artists influenced your own artistic journey, and vice versa?
Yeo Shih Yun: I do not perceive my role as solely nurturing other artists. Instead, my primary vision has consistently revolved around the power of collaboration. Over the years, INSTINC has remained steadfast in this commitment, and we aspire to continue fostering a culture of collaboration in the future. As Marissa Mayer aptly expressed, “When you need to innovate, you need collaboration.”
This belief underpins our dedication to working together, recognizing that true innovation often emerges at the intersection of diverse talents and perspectives.
Popspoken: As the curator of “DEFY INK,” what drew you to curate this particular exhibition, and what themes or aspects of Yeo Shih Yun’s work did you find most compelling?
Arielle Lau: It happened over a laid-back chat over coffee about AI, the ultimate game-changer. We pondered over how this incredible tool can make and break, especially so in the contemporary art sphere. The big question pops up eventually – how does originality fit in? We both agreed that the magic is in the process.
Her experimental approach, constant rebellion with ink, struck a chord in me. The collaboration with &Larry was a natural choice, given their expertise in branding. I tossed in some keywords as design prompts, “ink”, “mark”, “defiance”, “gesture” and “rhythm” and &Larry ran with it.
Popspoken: How do you see Yeo Shih Yun’s work fitting into the broader context of contemporary art, especially considering the evolving landscape of art in Singapore?
Arielle Lau: Her work occupies a significant space in contemporary art, as we observe a male-dominated art scene and global trend of artists redefining traditional practices. Her oeuvre stands at the intersection between tradition and modernity, melding western ideas to the traditional medium. The spirit of experimentation, to me, is inherently Singaporean.
Do not miss Shih Yun’s upcoming art showcase from next week between 17 January to 4 February 2024, here.