Ivan David Ng

with Clara Peh

Deborah:

Hi everyone and welcome onboard the Shangri-La Art Podcast. I have with me here today Ivan David Ng, who is one of the Singapore artists we are presenting for Singapore Art Week 2022, alongside a solo exhibition by Jay Ho and also participation in a group show - the Art Galleries Association Singapore group show with Loi Cai Xiang.

 

Today, with Ivan, I’ve got a special guest as well, I’ve got Clara Che Wei Peh who is the Art Lead at Appetite, where she curated Right Click and Save which is Singapore’s first large-scale NFT exhibition, in collaboration with Coinhako. Clara is also an adjunct lecturer at the LASALLE College of the Arts and an independent arts writer. Her essays on NFTs have been published in Hyperallergic, Art Collector Magazine and Art & Market and she’s also the founder of NFT Asia - the largest NFT community focused on Asian and Asia-based artists. Today she’ll be going through with Ivan a little exploration of his thoughts on being an artist and also some input into his recent and upcoming exhibition.

 

Clara:

Hi Ivan!

 

Ivan:

Hi Clara.

 

Clara:

Okay, so, we’re speaking on January 3rd 2022, so it’s a couple days ahead of your first solo exhibition and a bunch of things are happening for you this Art Week. Since, you know, this is such an exciting moment, can we take a look back at the year prior, how is 2020/2021 for you and your practice?

 

Ivan:

Yeah, I think this is a very important question because I think in preparation for this show, I also had some time to really think through what happened in the last two years and how did I end up here. I would say that the last two years have been really good for my practice, actually, surprisingly good in spite of all the craziness and the frustration that’s happening in larger society. I think a lot of artists experienced that, right? I think the Circuit Breaker was a time for, really, consolidation, and then the fact that you can’t leave, can’t just go out to vacation somewhere and then wasting time somewhere. You’re always coming back to your art and being in a space where you are actually, even, with less social activities, just being by yourself and thinking about how do I move my practice forward? So, yeah, I think I’ve been developing this collage, assemblage, kind of series for a while, since 2019, and I’ve been thinking about this idea of the provenance of materials, the idea of diaspora and the diaspora of materials and how something is at first a whole and it’s scattered. These ideas, I’ve been thinking about these ideas and reconstituting materials from various places into whole objects. So, the last two years have been almost like me beating cream, you know, I cook, sometimes, so when you have full cream - what do you call that - whipping cream, if you have whipping cream, you need to beat it for a while before it becomes whipped cream, and especially in the first two minutes of beating it you’re like eh, am I doing it correctly because nothing is happening, right? But, then, as you persevere on, beating it, it becomes this other material and it changes texture, it changes form. Yeah, so I think that’s what happened with my practice, I just kept at it in the last two years because there was nothing much else to do, and I really finished a thought there. Then, it kind of culminated in the winning pieces of the, the winning series in the UOB Painting of the Year 2020, and then 2021 was really riding that momentum. In fact, this morning I just de-installed my show at Esplanade. I showed two pieces over there. Yeah, so 2020 and 2021, they were really good years and really busy years, but I would definitely say that it’s been helpful for my practice.

 

Clara:

It sounds like there was consolidation, as you said, isolation, as we all experienced, but also condensation and expansion. It sounds like a lot happened for you in the past two years!

 

Ivan:

A lot did happen, yeah.

 

Clara:

You mentioned that it feels like you had the opportunity to finish a thought, I’m curious what the thought is.

 

Ivan:

Yeah, I think coming back to the actual making of the work, the finishing of the thought actually refers to this visual language that I was developing of this, the collage works, so I think on my Instagram, if you scroll far back enough, you actually see the beginnings of some of these collage works. They were, it’s this picture I posted of a studio visit, like an open studio that me and my studio mate Tze Yang were hosting and the collage works were on the wall and, if you look closely at then, okay, you can see the something’s beginning to happen but they are nowhere near something that is polished or, yeah, like I said earlier, the thought hasn’t been finished, you know, it’s like mid-sentence. So, I think the last two years, the thought that’s finished is actually developing this visual language that I feel like is pretty unique to me, at least in the Singapore scene, you know, I feel like it’s unique to me. I think if you look at the larger contemporary art landscape, yes, there’s a certain lineage, you know, of Cy Twombly collages, there’s certain Mark Bradford threads in there, so I’m aligning myself with the practice of those artists, but, I think in the Singapore scene, I would say I developed a visual language that is true to myself and it’s mine.

 

Clara:

And, in an interesting time where, you know, we talked about how this year, so much was put still, and so much was kind of put at a pause, so, we weren’t allowed to go away, so usual notions of rest or leisure or resetting were also reset. And, this being the moment within which this visual language of yours really came into being. What do you think was the impetus behind that, or, like, the environment that allowed it?

 

Ivan:

That’s a really good question and very deep, actually. So, what you’re asking is what happened in my immediate experience that allowed this sentence to be finished?

 

Clara:

Right.

 

Ivan:

Okay, um, so I think, really I think for a lot of 2020, for a good three to four months, I think larger society was really still, right, there was almost like a standstill for the Circuit Breaker. I think it was really good for me, I mean, family-wise, because my baby, I have this, my baby was born in 2019 October, so, by the time the Circuit Breaker came along, she was about six months I think, and she was starting to eat actual adult foods, so I was there to experience that. I guess with family, it was really good, but, at the same time, family was all that I had because we just stayed home right, so it was me, my wife, my baby during the Circuit Breaker, so there was actually not much else to do, of course, I was working from home at my full-time job, I was working from home but, at the same time, the workload really, I think organisations were taking a while to figure out how to do this work-from-home fully thing, so there was definitely more white space, so, thankfully before the Circuit Breaker kicked in, I quickly brought back a few things from my studio, so I could work at home, yeah, and then it was like that white space during Circuit Breaker that allowed me, yeah, just to have time to sit with the work and then, also, to organise this kind of disparate, a lot of things colliding, type of aesthetic, into something that is a little bit more resolved. Yeah, so actually, it’s the white space of the Circuit Breaker and the enforced time at home that caused me to sit down, because, I think, if it’s just regular day-to-day right, no Circuit Breaker, no Covid, I think we’ll just be running around meeting people, networking, meeting friends for coffee, all that, where it clutters your life and I think the white space that’s created by this pandemic - I think, not just me, but for a lot of other artists, it’s been very helpful,  yeah, in finishing thoughts.

 

Clara:

The white space is such an interesting analogy. I’m also thinking about how you’ve used the term of, like, windows, or like peering into different worlds and different times of being, different environments when you showed me your paintings. Can you tell me more about that, how the windows sit against the white space?

 

Ivan:

Yeah sure, so, this is a perfect kind of segue into talking about the solo show, so the solo show, actually, is a kind of reflection of the last more than two years of just being grounded in Singapore and I think Singaporeans are one of the most well-travelled peoples in the world, right, that’s why our passport became the number one passport in the world, right, of most number of visa re-entries, it was a big hoo-ha, you know, Singapore released a new passport design, everything, because our passport is something that we use very often, people leave, you know? So, we’re one of the most well-travelled people in the world and I think a lot of us are just used to saying oh, okay, I have a long weekend, I’m just going to go to Malaysia, or Bintan, or something for a few weeks, ah, a few days and rest. And then, there’s this kind of forced extraction from your day-to-day, where we go to some of these places that are a little bit more scenic, a little bit more quiet, a little bit more natural, that’s not the concrete and the pavements that we know.

 

We go to some of these places to reframe and recharge. So, but, the fact that we didn’t leave for two years, right, I think that really is very jarring for a lot of people, like, when we didn’t leave, there is this rest that becomes missing or one of the routines of rest that become gone. So, I think, for me, there’s something about not being in Singapore that, leaving Singapore that gives us a sense of rest and respite, but, the fact, often, even when we go out, when w come back, there is a running out of that rest very quickly, yeah, and we become, I think in my artist statement I called it, like, helpless and harassed once more, because it is, we are so bombarded in the city that when we, even after having rested and come back, the rest runs out. So, my exhibition is very much so about the idea of trying to peer into some of these other places for rest - even though in Singapore right now, we can’t really leave easily as before. Yeah, so it’s about using some of these windows to peer into these other landscapes and, I think, in the last two years of being here, I think I regressed into using some of these childhood means that I would tap into to look into other landscapes, so, a little bit about my family background - I didn’t leave Singapore for the first 21 years of my life. Technically, I did go to Johor, but, you know, that is not quite leaving, right? You’re still, a lot of things are catered to Singaporeans still, going to shop, but my first time on a plane was when I was 21, I left to New York City on an ORD trip, a friend and I just decided to get the cheapest ticket we could and then we just went to one of the furthest places we could. Yeah, never do that, because the plane, the cheap plane resulted in this horrendous plane ride that I’ve never experienced anything like that ever again before, after this situation.

 

For me, not having left Singapore for the first 21 years of my life, how I interfaced with the landscape was a lot through picture books, through TV shows - there was this show that I loved called Everwood that would show in the middle of the night on Channel 5, I would record it so I could look at the mountains in the show. And then, later then also through the Internet. Yeah, I would try to behold the glory of some of these landscapes that were a little bit different from what I know from my day-to-day. So a lot of the exhibition is about recapturing some of these landscapes of wonder, of majesty, that is so - in our experience of living in the city - so, kind of, divorced from our daily experiences and, often, Singaporeans leave to go experience that and then come back, but then, now that we can’t, the exhibition’s about reclaiming that.

 

Clara:

You’ve talked a bit about recapturing these landscapes and it sounds like these are landscapes that really recur throughout different phases of your life and, earlier, you also talked a bit about the provenance of the materials that you are using, what’s the relationship between them?

 

Ivan:

Yeah, thanks for asking that question, great question, because, so after I left for the first time, I got the opportunity to study in the U.S., I studied my undergraduate studies in Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art, which is in Baltimore, near Washington D.C. And, during those four years in college, I really got a lot of travelling out of my system, I went to all kinds of places, I went biking in the Rocky Mountains one winter myself - never do that, because it’s actually really dangerous, there was ice on the road because, Singapore boy, coming from the tropics, never left before, never knew that there was ice that was dangerous to bike on roads during the winter because it was icy, yeah, so, nearly got into a car accident but thank God nothing happened. So, I went to Colorado, went to Hawaii, went to Columbia, went to Turkey, got stranded in Turkey for three days, I went to teach English in Xinjiang which is far west China - in this city called Kashgar which is where you don’t feel like you’re in China, you feel like you’re in Kazakhstan or something and then I visited the border and the Pamir mountains, and all that.

 

So, every time I went somewhere, I would collect something from that place - soil, flowers, sunlight through cyanotype and darkroom paper, or I got into paper-making so I would visit paper-makers, because paper-makers in some of these places, they are acting on the natural environment to make the paper, so I got some paper from Xinjiang that is made from this desert mulberry plant, it’s really cool, so every time I went somewhere I would collect something. Yeah, so that is something that triggered my interest in the provenance of things, because if you just see a rock on my table in the studio, right, you’d just be like oh, okay that’s a pretty rock that’s, like, picked up from the ground, probably somewhere here, but, if I tell you it’s from Xinjiang, then all this narrative about what’s going on there and whatever politically is happening becomes imbued into this object that, before this information was given to you, the object is just seen as null. So, a lot of things like that, the idea of provenance which I'm really interested in. So, even in Singapore, everything is imported, right? Even if you find a rock on the street, the rock probably is not from here, it probably came from some mine in the region because we don’t have rock quarries anymore to support our building industry, so, the rock is probably transported from somewhere to here and it witnessed some kind of migration journey that it’s not able to tell you.

 

So, I think this idea of provenance is something I wish that more people were aware of, because we’re actually swimming in all these hidden stories all around us, like the cardboard that you see over there, or some tree that’s nourished by some land and it’s made by some machine that’s operated by someone - all this information we are not privy too because the object can’t tell us and, also, we’re not conscious of that daily. But, I do think that it’s just all around us, that, I think, will give us a different perspective if we become conscious of it.

 

Clara:

It’s interesting to think about bearing witness to provenance and the stories that these objects and materials that are in the works have experienced, but, also, it sounds to me like this solo is also bearing witness to a pivotal moment of your career, of your life and you’ve just kind of walked us through different phases that you’ve experienced, up to when you’re 21 and then there being this moment where there’s a lot of travelling, a lot of exploration, of something being set free and then coming back and then experiencing this pandemic and then that being a period of condensation, consolidation and so forth. And then, now, we get this chance to kind of witness part of a journey that you’re going on. Earlier, you kind of mentioned how 2020/2021 were these really exciting years for you and it kind of changed or shifted your relationship to your practice. I kind of want to come back to that and ask you, more broadly, how do you look at your identity as an artist today? I know you also wear a lot of different hats, what is that relationship like, or how do you see yourself as an artist?

 

Ivan:

Yeah, I think that you’re right in saying 2020/2021 was a pivotal moment or period in my career so far, and, I think, apart from finishing the idea of finishing thoughts, I’d say also the UOB win did make a difference in my career, because, previously, I was just always looking for opportunities to show my work. I would, I think it was something I was actively looking for and I think I had some really generous artist-curator friends who would include me in their shows, like Zulkhairi Zulkiflee - whenever he did something he would invite me to join, and I think these opportunities were really precious to me to keep momentum, but, I think, after the UOB win, what changed for me was that I didn’t need so much to seek out these opportunities, the opportunities were looking for me. It was, it definitely influenced a change in how I related to people in the larger art community. I think, in the past, whenever I met a collector or curator or fellow artist, I think in the way that I managed or stewarded our relationship, there was a lot of intentionality, yes, I wanted to relate to you as a person, but, at the same time, I felt like there was a sense of networking in it also - not that networking doesn’t exist in my practice now, but I think after the UOB win, it became a little bit more natural in the sense, like, I felt the freedom to really relate to some of these people that I mentioned earlier in a way that’s more authentic and genuine, that I could just be myself, I didn’t need something from you, if there was an opportunity to work together, yeah, I’d be happy for it, but, it wasn’t this very intentional kind of networking which I felt like we talked about this in our earlier conversation, that sometimes I would leave some of these networking events feeling gross because I felt like I wasn’t myself at the event. But, I think, what happened in the last year or so, what really changed for me and what I’m thankful for was just the ability to be myself and be genuine in my relationships with some of these members of the artist community and I really appreciate that, because that’s all I want to be, but, at the same time, in the past, the tension of moving your career ahead has produced in me - sometimes, I feel like I could be more authentic. Yeah, and I think now’s the time that I feel the permission to do that.

 

Clara:

That sounds really freeing and it sounds like what feels especially rewarding about that is the more consistent kind of merging of the external self and the internal self, but we were also talking a bit about when you’re within this ecosystem and there’s kind of the market in general, there are certain expectations within the arts of how to interact with each other, of how artists present themselves or talk about your practice, versus maybe what is internal, what you might intimately feel about yourself, what’s going on internally and, it sounds to me it’s the fact that those versions of the self are becoming more consistent is what feels particularly liberating.

 

Ivan:

Yeah, I completely resonate with what you’re saying and I would say, like, yeah it’s this idea of congruence - you’re the same person with friends and the same person in professional relationships and I think that is definitely a place that we all want to be, because no one likes to split themselves and be guarded or whatever, but I think this idea of congruence and consistency is something I want to journey even closer towards and I think the last year has given me the opportunity to do so and I want to stay that way. And, I think we talked about this idea of code-switching also and how you’re expected in certain contexts, in the art world, to talk a certain way, then suddenly you lapse into Chinese or your mother tongue, or into really uncle Singlish and it throws people off a little bit, but it’s also disarming and I think it allows people to say hey, I’m taking off my mask, do you want to take off your mask too? Yeah, so I think that is something, in our conversation, I really enjoyed that portion.

 

Clara:

Do you want to touch on it right now?

 

Ivan:

Yeah, sure. Would you like to share?

 

Clara:

Well, actually, I was thinking of, maybe we could talk a little bit about, do you feel like between the different hats that you’re wearing now, do you feel like you code-switch between them, because I definitely feel like when I’m in my different positions or my different roles and I know I’m talking to very different audiences that I change the way I speak or I use very different words and it’s quite an intentional thing that I know I’m doing, I was wondering how you feel. Maybe you could tell us a bit about the different roles that you do occupy.

 

Ivan:

Yeah, so I’m a dad, right, I think, I also make art, I’m also an educator so I work with young aspiring arts professionals and I think it’s something that is really important to me that I see myself continuously doing for a long time in various capacities. Yeah, so these are my different hats, then, also, within the artist role, there’s the community artist that gets all the NAC projects, then there’s the gallery kind of high-art artist in talking about your work to collectors and curators you want to be able to angle it from a critical perspective, art historical perspective, so it’s all these different hats that I guess I transition into depending on the context.

 

Clara:

So, tell me more about being an educator and a mentor, and how that kind of sits with your practice or yourself as an art-maker?

 

Ivan:

I think I’m still looking for that place where everything makes sense together. I do think that this idea of being an educator and being that adult influence in some of these young lives is something that will continue to be important to me. In making art, you’re often tapping into some really deep places, the good art usually comes from a deep place. I heard this artist talk about this this way before, his name is Chris Jordan, he’s a photographer, filmmaker, and he’s known for this series of works that he made photographing birds on this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and these birds live on this little, little island with just one airstrip on it - it used to be a U.S. military something. So, these birds would live on this island and then when they die, they’d just decompose on this island, but, what is compelling about his work is that when these birds die, you can see that their insides are just filled with plastic, so, this guy, Chris Jordan, this artist, he came to my university to speak in 2015, I think and he said something that really struck me. He said “you cannot make anything that is deeper than you are spiritually and emotionally”. And, I think that that is something that, even today, is so resonant with me because when you’re spiritually and emotionally not in a very good place, my art is not good. But, when there is a sense of depth, there is a sense of reflection, then, the art then correspondingly transitions or manifests that depth.

 

So, coming back to education, often in mentoring young people who are wanting to enter the arts, you’re asking them to also go there, to that spiritual and emotional depth. And, I think we’ve all been teenagers before, at 17, 18, sometimes, when you go there, there’s pain or there’s irresolution, there’s struggle, there are things that you don’t understand. And, I think, as an art teacher, you also need to be able to steward that properly to say that, hey, you know, we are opening this up for the sake of reflection, so that your art can move, but, at the same time, I’m also here to be that safe adult to give you that listening ear, advice if you want and also broader perspectives about how life usually plays out and that I’m here to walk with you. So, that part is actually very important, that, at the end of the day, they make powerful artwork, not just about pain, but about the complexities of life. But, at the same time right, I think I’ve seen a number of kids that I’ve journeyed with, they find resolution in the process of making their art because it’s something that they’ve never told anyone before and you’re the first trusted adult that they’ve shared it with. It’s sometimes some kind of resentment that they have towards people in their lives, but you also see that they, through making the art, they see various perspectives on this that the emotion that they feel towards this person or this group of people is no longer just resentment, is a whole host of other things that is more balanced and complex, and that’s human life, right? And, I think it’s growing in maturity for them and I think I really value that as part of my role as an art educator, that is really beautiful and it’s something that I’d never trade for anything. And, I wish that when I was 17/18, going to art school, in JC trying to do my work, that my Art teacher did it for me. I’m glad that I’m able to journey with some young people like that now.

 

Clara:

Yeah. I feel like there is so much that just came up and it’s something that I’m definitely resonating with, it’s just the relationship that we have the opportunity to share with younger students or people who hope to go into the arts and I definitely share a very different relationship with the students that I supervise currently. I’m lecturing on dissertations in Fine Art at LASALLE right now, so they’re in this kind of critical moment, I want to say, in their student career, but also in their professional career where they’re about to graduate and come into being, in a way, and you start embracing their identity as an artist more and more and a lot of the conversations is actually going back to what you were talking about in this congruence between the external and the internal self, trying to negotiate with the fact that, technically or academically, there’s something that the student wants to achieve or someone wants to be able to produce or chase down, like chasing a thread, but often there’s so much internal, so much of what is happening internally, be it spiritually, emotionally, mentally, just trying to grapple with who am I, who’s the self, that kind of thing, that creates a lot of different tensions in just approaching a work. And, I suppose, also being in this time where, in a way, there’s a lot of stillness, but also a lot of noise, that is very hard to simmer down and fine the consolidation, condensation that was necessary, for example, for you, to find that space. But, you also brought up these ideas of what’s internal, what’s spiritual or that very deep and internal relationship and you mentioned that you feel that you produce really good work when those relationships within you are kind of in place. I was wondering if you wanted to share a bit more about that.

 

Ivan:

Sure, so, let me see how I can explain it in a way that normal people would understand (laughs). Okay, one of the names that I thought of for this exhibition is actually called Making in a dust devil, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted the word devil in my show, the title of my show. So, you know what a dust devil is? Dust devil or dust spout is this column, almost like this tornado that happens in certain desert regions, so I saw a lot of them when I went to Israel in 2019 to visit one of my good friends who’s Israeli, so I saw a lot of these dust tornados in the desert.

 

Clara:

Don’t know why I’m thinking about Bugs Bunny (laughs).

 

Ivan:

Oh yeah, yeah, exactly that! And then, sometimes you see those tumbleweeds. So, those dust tornados, I thought it was a very apt imagery for how I was making work. I thought I was constantly living in this dust tornado in my life in Singapore. So, at any one point, I think my colleagues sometimes laugh at me about this. You know, sometimes when you share your screen, or when you project your laptop, then they see your WhatsApp Web open - I have like 150 messages left unopened. I kind of gave up clearing some of them, so that’s my life. I have a lot of messages all the time, because of what my full-time job requires of me. And, I feel like my life is always really cluttered, there is so much chatter that’s going around. I think this idea of spiritual chatter is also something I was interested in, that there are so many things emotionally and spiritually that clouds our vision. And, for me, I feel like, often, so I’m a Christian and I don’t even get time to pray, even my prayers are, like, just talking to God.

 

Clara:

It’s just the rhythm of the environment that we’re in.

 

Ivan:

Right, you’re just talking almost like texting God or something, you’re on the go, you know, like texting. But, I think it’s in a very different mind space when there’s a good half an hour every day where you’re just saying, okay, I’m going to talk to God in the sense of having coffee with him. Very different from texting, you’re on the go and texting, it’s like a by the way kind of thing. So, that’s been, to be honest, that’s been me in the last two years, in spite of the pandemic, because of the other things that are going on in my life. There’s this clutter, this chatter, I feel like I’m living in a dust tornado all the time and I’m trying to make art through that, but, we had this really interesting experience where we were driving and a dust devil came over our path. So, they’re not like strong winds or anything, so the car wasn’t flipped or anything, but you could see suddenly everything was dust in front of you - can’t see anything anymore. So, for the longest time, I felt like I was making art trying to see through this dust tornado to see the reality or the clarity that is beyond that dust. So, yeah, did I describe it in a way that you feel like you understood?

 

Clara:

Well, now, I’m curious, where do you think the dust devil is? Is it still around you in the car? Do you think you have kind of emerged from it, or has the dust settled?

 

 

Ivan:

That’s a good question. A very difficult question, yeah, but I guess I have an answer for you, something that I wrote also in my artist statement is that all these works, all of them are made at night, late at night - so after I put my baby to sleep, after my wife goes to sleep, that’s when I start working, late at night. And, so I have a studio in Tai Seng, but I think every artist figures out their workflow or like what works for them, so, a lot of times I would do the first layers of my collage  at home late at night in the living room, so my living room is actually, there’s stains on the floor, there are glue marks here and there. It’s really a workspace, my living room is a workspace for me. And then, the final layers of, maybe the varnish or the oil paint, or the clarifying moves on the painting will be made in the studio later on, and then, also, some of the more slightly toxic processes will be in the studio. So, late at night, actually, is when the dust devil kind of disappears a little bit, and there’s some kind of clarity, there’s some kind of relationship with the work that is a little bit less cluttered because no one is texting me, sometimes people still text me late at night, I always text our gallerist late at night, Deborah gets texts from me at 1am just to reply her! Yeah, so but at night usually the dust settles and there’s a kind of clarity, there’s a kind of focus, then I usually go to bed at 1.30am/2am and then start the day over again. Yeah, so to answer your question, the dust devil goes away a little bit at night.

 

Clara:

Yeah, when you’re talking about, kind of, nighttime and, seeking for that kind of more silent or when the dust settles a little, I’m just reminded of this phrase that recurs in this book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the author repeatedly says The world is quiet here and that’s a phrase that they use. Anyway, sidetrack.

 

Ivan:

The world is quiet here…I might name one of my pieces that.

 

Clara:

Great! I’m glad that I add value, but I did want to come back to something that came up,  or, you know, just this conversation and the title of your exhibition as well, all of it is leading me to think a bit about that process of collaging or layering of each different kind of element that you’re adding on to the painting bearing something new, witnessing something that you’ve experienced, just this process of layering I suppose. I don’t know, could you tell me a bit more about it? The physical act of layering, of adding, and what it feels like as you’re working on them?

 

Ivan:

Yeah, sure, the process of the work. Usually I start out with a sketch. For this exhibition, a lot of the undergirding compositions that serve as jumping off points, they are actually illuminated manuscripts from various periods of time. Illuminated manuscripts are actually drawings that are commissioned by religious bodies to help enflesh or visualise some of the concepts in scripture. So, in almost every piece of the work that you see in the show, undergirding composition is an illuminated manuscript, but, as you can see, the initial composition - majority of them - have just been obliterated, because, if you see that the images of the divine or the otherworldly symbolises a sense of clarity about reality, then, I think the human touch or the human behaviour is to clutter and add layers to it, that really just obliterates or blots out that kind of clarity. This idea was, you know, how sometimes you make work without thinking so much, you go on impulse and then on hindsight you figure out what you’re doing, so, I think this idea of what I’m doing to some of these images of clarity, how I’m blotting them out, obliterating, complicating them, is something that I realise on hindsight - that that’s the disposition of humanity, we complicate things that are simple and divine, but, at the same time, when we realise that we’ve complicated it, we try to excavate and peel back and re-behold the divine. So, for me in my work, not only do you see layers, impacted upon layers, but also in a number of works there’s this idea of excavation, you see the work being torn into, places being ripped out, but often the beautiful thing that emerges from that is that when the surface is being ripped out, what is exposed underneath is more beautiful than what I could have made. So, I guess, relating it back to spirituality and the complication that human beings generate and when we realise that we’ve complicated something, when we try to re-constitute or re-see what we’ve obliterated in our acts of excavation, there is something beautiful that emerges from that, that is, maybe even, more intentional or even more divine than the original image or clarity.

 

So, that is what I think I’m trying to do, so, the reason that I named the exhibition Roads Around A Mountain is because this mountain that I think we’re all looking for some kind of relief or rest, or some kind of satisfaction, that is true and deep, but that mountain is elusive, this mountain of rest, respite, satisfaction is elusive. And, I see myself, I think of a lot of people as pilgrims that are paving roads around this mountain and trying to, because whenever you look at a mountain, you only see one side of a mountain, but when you pave roads around a mountain, you behold it from various perspectives and gain a certain better clarity of it. And, also, roads around a mountain often are constructed not to go through the mountain or go around the mountain, but it’s to summit the mountain to climb it, as you climb it, you understand it. So, for me, I see this exhibition as that and this idea of circumambulation, it’s something that’s especially prominent in the practice of Buddhist faith - it’s that pilgrims pray in circles, so, for example a stupa, it’s this conical kind of shape that pilgrims would pray around. In the same way, a pagoda, you know how like in Chinese Gardens there’s a pagoda, I don’t know if you’ve been, I used to live next to it so I always ago. There’s this pagoda that you kind of climb, so, the stairs in the pagoda is always coiling around, like a spiral staircase, because it’s for prayer purposes, that’s the traditional design of it, original intent, so this idea of circumambulating this mountain of true satisfaction, of true rest, true respite, I think I see my paintings as roads being paved with my collage, paving roads with my collage that would form this road around this spiritual mountain of sorts.

 

Clara:

Well, thank you so much for sharing all of that for me. I’m very excited to see the solo in person and the culmination of all the things we’ve talked about today and looking forward to bearing witness of this being such an exciting moment for you and all that’s to come!

 

Ivan:

Thank you so much, Clara.

 

Clara:

Thank you Ivan!