Ye Shufang: The Happiness Index

16th November – 26th December

Introduction

Ye Shufang ( b. 1971), Loss patterns: memory, bacteria and wonderment, 2011, 70 x 100 cm, pencil on paper

The Private Museum presents an exhibition featuring the works of local artist, Ye Shufang. Drawing inspirations from the ephemeral and the ‘ready-made’ in art, Ye Shufang delves into the world of the ordinary to bring out the hidden meanings in experiences of everyday life. Her works, while often playfully evoking a sense of collective nostalgia, have an underlying sense of seriousness. A significant chapter in Ye Shufang’s artistic practice unfolds as she makes a prominent shift in her choice of medium. This exhibition features her past 15 years of research interests, reinvented and delivered through a different medium in today’s context.

Artwork

Artist

Artist Bio

Ye Shufang (b. 1971, Singapore)

Ye Shufang’s art practice spans over 17 years, with a research focus on the ephemeral and the ‘ready-made’. She has participated in numerous solo and curated exhibitions and forums in Singapore, Asia and Europe.

Her exhibition credits include solo exhibitions at The Belgrade Cultural Centre in Serbia, Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta and Plastique Kinetic Worms in Singapore. Her curated exhibitions include Feminine Imaginare 2002 in Venice, Floating Chimeras in Sollentuna, 2001 and World Exposition 2005 in Japan.

Shufang’s drawing ‘Exercises in Shape (II) was selected as one of 100 favourite artworks of 2011 by Bazaar Art (China) magazine; featured in the January 2012 issue. Shufang was one of 10 recipients of the inaugural President’s Young Talents Exhibition award in 2001.

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2004 Other Miscellaneous Uses of Agar-agarBelgrade Cultural Centre, Serbia and Montenegro
The Black Forest Cake Project
Plastique Kinetic Worms Gallery, Singapore
The Black Forest Cake Project
Plastique Kinetic Worms Gallery, Singapore
2003 Orientations: a room of small gestures, The Substation Gallery, Substation, Singapore
2000 a wall drawing, LASALLE Gallery, Singapore

 

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2010 Etiquette, The Substation, Singapore
2009 Wolfnotes, Old School Gallery, Singapore 
2007 City_Net Asia 2007, Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea
2006 Love, Romance and other Recipes for Happily-ever-after, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
2005 The Case of the Missing Rose Merchant, World Exposition 2005, Singapore Pavilion, Nagoya Japan
2004 THE LASALLE SCHOOL, Earl Lu Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Art, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore
2003 EXTRAordinary tales of skylarkingJendela Gallery, The Esplanade, Singapore
text & subtextContemporary Asian Women Artists. X-RAY Art Centre, Beijing, China
text & subtextContemporary Asian Women Artists, The Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark; The Stenersenmuseum, Oslo, Norway; OPEN2002.
Feminine Imaginare, 5th international exhibition of sculpture and installation, Lungomare Marconi, Venice, Italy
2001 Floating Chimeras, Contemporary Asian Art, Edsvik Art and Culture Centre, Sollentuna, Sweden
The President’s Young Talent Exhibition, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
text & subtextContemporary Asian Women Artists, Ostasiatiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
2000 text & subtextContemporary Asian Women ArtistsIvan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, Australia; Earl Lu Gallery, Singapore
1997 Nine Dragon Heads, The 2nd International Environment Art Festival and Symposium, Chong-ju, Korea

Essay

An instrument for making a million curves

The following are excerpts from an interview on 10 October 2011 by art writer Lindy Poh who has followed Ye Shufang’s practice for over a decade. The session captures the seminal ideas shaping the artist’s drawing series and the preoccupations that have marked her artistic development.

Lindy Poh (LP): This upcoming exhibition at The Private Museum is going to mark a radical shift from what you are better known for – your installations and ‘experiential encounters’.It is drawings that are now anchoring this show. Why explore drawings at this particular point in your practice? 

Shufang (SF):Drawing is my first love. Though I have built my practice on installation, drawing is an old habit – a pleasure, a need, a compulsion and a relief.

LP:  And Drawings for Grace (Wonderland), 2009was the first in the seriesto signal this shift? Can you elaborate on what prompted this series?

SF:When Grace was younger, we spent a lot of time going through picture books together. I began to recognise the significance of picture books in developing word/image association in a child. I started to think about images from my childhood that left an impact on my sensibilities and aesthetics.

I would considerDrawings for Grace (Wonderland), as the start of this series of works. the first row of images is taken from one of her favourite books when she was 13 months old. The second row of images is taken from my research on carousels, the third row of images comes from amusement park tokens that I have collected. The images and text represent transient childhood experiences.

LP:The qualities of transience or ephemerality run through so many of your works – in your agar-agar (jelly) installations, your cake wafer-flowers for Aichi Japan, your ‘human breath’ installation for Veniceand your chocolate paintings – where the idea of ‘shelf life’ or expiration for the material is key to the pieces. Do these drawings also address or embody these preoccupations, even if they don’t break down the way these other materials do?

SF: Yes, the ephemeral in my installations was vividlyevident when the material  decomposed or when fungus began to grow. In this new series of drawings, I continue to be invested in the ideas of ephemeral experiences – and the pleasure or happiness associated with ‘small things’ like an amusement park ride or even just sucking a sweet.I have used images from personal photographs, storybooks that I have had since I was 6 or 8 years old, old dictionaries and encyclopedia; and things that I have collected like cookie-cutters, jelly moulds, rulers and other measuring instruments.

LP: And Enid Blyton books..So many from our generation have grown up on a diet of her books, myself included!Do you have problems with all her references to strawberry jams, chimneys, boarding schools and other ‘foreign’ referents? We read about scones and berry jams but were probably guzzling kaya(coconut egg jam) and roti (bread) in ‘real life’. You would have some people calling it colonising of our imaginations! You obviously have a great feeling for her – what did you think of her books now as an adult?

SF: Well, growing up, Enid Blyton books were my primary reading material. I was so absorbed in the stories and illustrations that it took me a while to realise that I did not look like Bessie, Mollie or Lotta, and that I will not be tasting aHot-Cold Goodie, wishing on a Wishing Chair or joining a circus! But I did notice that I had shoes that looked like their shoes and that gave me some hope – as if my shoes kept open the possibility that I could have adventures like them or I could be like them.

I tried to capture this sequence of emotions and realisations – pure happiness/fantastical imagination/loss/hope…in the drawing A quick loss and a slow realisation thereof (I).

LP:You re-created Enid Blyton pages in an enlarged scale, painstakingly painting even the written letters forming the reading textsfrom these pages. You had some people questioning why you would ‘copy’ or make identical images from the original storybook pages.  Perhaps this exploration is closer in spirit to Lichtenstein’s act of meticulously painting benday dots and typography rather than a case of making copies – but please elaborate on what you were pursuing..

SF: Aschild, I used to copy my favourite illustrations but they never turned out well. Now that I am more equipped technically, I decided to enlarge two of my favourite pages, staying true to the scale, proportion, typeface and illustration of the pages. While the enlarged ‘page’ becomes monumental, there was something quite hopeless, futileand sad about the process of measuring, enlarging and copying. I felt as if I was trying to retrieve or make real, some past happiness through the act of copying a page that I had copied many times as a child.

LP:So theact orprocess of painting an entire page from scratch, is central to understanding these two pieces. From this, you also started to include texts in subsequentdrawings? For me, the texts also perform as a visual component, a graphic element in your composition. Were the contents or messaging of these texts important to what you wanted to express?

SF:The content and choice of text were carefully selected to either complement or complicate the visual imagery. This links to the word/image association that I mentioned earlier. As a child, you recognise that a grey animal with a long trunk is associated with the letters E-l-e-p-h-a-n-t; a smiley face is associated with the letters H-a-p-p-y.

As an adult, associations of word/image/memory/emotion get more complicated. An image could trigger unexpected memories and emotions. Looking at picture books with your young daughter could trigger strong feelings of loss; the most beautiful cakes could remind you of your first encounter with disease and sickness. I guess I am trying to say that there is a fine line between positive and negative associations.

LP:These are really interesting premises..We so quickly accept the universality of certain images – that’s why we have icons or symbols or even picture books, I suppose. But you are right that such associations or trigger points do get somewhat complicated when we ‘grow up’.

You resist having this drawing show labelled precious, sentimental or nostalgic, and seem aware that some may call it such. I don’t have issues with an artist’s works being ‘too personal’ especially if there is a convincing honesty. But in relation to your work, I think there is little risk of people regarding them as nostalgic or emotional.

There has always been so much restraint or discipline in your works – even when you work with material like sweets or chocolate where the material has this huge potential to go over-the-top. You never get too feverish or flamboyant.  For the drawings, you’ve assumed an order or organisation in the way you lay out the image of your cookie cutters, snowflakes or measuring instruments… which goes against the usual way one would code or read something as a sentimental or nostalgic exercise.

SF:I have been told that I am too rational with my approach but this rational approach is a strategy for me to maintain some sense of distance and objectivity to my work. It’s the same with my installations – or I would be making multi-colouredbreast-shaped jellies or allowing the mould and fungus to run all over the place. The more the works are driven by personal and private experiences, the more I need to order, classify or categorise the experiences in a clinical manner.

In Loss patterns: snow, mould and happiness, the images and text refer to items/experiences that are highly ephemeral, quickly changing and inevitable. The drawing Loss patterns: memory, bacteria and wonderment, hint at conflicting events, emotions and experiences through the images of brain scans, bacteria, amusement ride tokens and fabric patterns of favourite childhood dresses.

Both drawings are deliberately drawn and composed in a straight-forward, almost clinical manner, like a children’s picturebooks or a classification chart.

I remember in art school when a teacher introduced the French Curve as an instrument for making a million curves, I had a strong feeling of wonderment, I felt as if the French Curve could be as magical as a Hot-Cold Goodie. An odd-shaped template had somehow triggered emotions and memories, and reminded me of that feeling I had as a child looking at my “Enid Blyton” shoes.

It is this sort of unexpected triggers and odd combinations that I am looking for in my drawings.

 

Lindy Poh is an art writer based in Singapore.

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Documentation

Opening

Press

Listings

Joy of Everyday Things – The Straits Times – 2011