I have been doing the series titled the Portraits of History, which I exhibited last year at Galeri Utama. It is a series which I will continuously explore different subject matters and the process of art creation. Last year, the series was watercolor works integrating digital image manipulation application such as Photoshop.
A few things came together at the right time and moment. I was visiting Tiong Bahru quite often due to one of my exhibition at Orange Thimble last year title “Portraits of History”. I was reinterpreting images from old photographs and postcard into watercolor works for that exhibition. Also, answering to Colin’s (Owner of Orange Thimble and creative community supporters) invitation to exhibit in his Art Cafe again, and his suggestion of Tiong Bahru as a place worthy of history and re-focusing its sense of place, is the culmination of this series of ink and digital works documenting Tiong Bahru.
I grew to love the place and the ambiance of the Tiong Bahru. Increasingly, more designers, artists and architects took up residents in Tiong Bahru; the community grew organically and I see the parallel of this growth with that of Dian Zhi Fang in Shanghai where I hung out and wrote part of the book “100 ways to Photograhy”. Together with the invitation from Colin, I thought it was more apt to document Tiong Bahru in Ink. The series resulted in this exploration of the methodology of art creation – an integration of digital photography, manual sketching and collaboration.
I thought perhaps a form of ‘in the making’ and defining Tiong Bahru’s identity vis a vis the current influx of the creative community, both local and foreign, working with my affinity of incorporating digital technology into my work, and my coincidental discovery of the Sailor fountain pen’s ability of making exquisite fine line, could capture and document Tiong Bahru at this moment in Time. Incorporating in it is also the hint of a certain inevitability of its future. The sketches set out to capture these multifaceted aspects of Tiong Bahru, which are not just limited to its architecture conservation merits, but its food, the people, the details indicating the trace of practices and perhaps unraveling the sign which would cajole the collective memory of the past or present residents whether Singaporeans or foreigners. It is in this direction that I construe my ink sketches. Of course, due to my training in architecture and urban design, my observation and understanding weighted towards its spatiality, be it the transient or the permanence. I hope to be able to unravel the Genius Loci of Tiong Bahru, a term borrowed from Christian Norberg-Schulz.
I thought it would be great to experiment a continuation of the “Portraits of History” but with a different approach to the creation process and methodology, but again exploring the interplay of digital and hand drawing. Perhaps it is my obsession with technology and the hand that I believe whether it is technology or the hand, it makes no difference, importantly it is the expression of the mind and the way we see ourselves and the exterior world. My approach tends to blur the boundary between the original and the copies. Perhaps establishing the legitimacy of the copy as having the value and significance as equal to the original, in this case, incorporating the copy in the original, thus diffusing the
mark of authenticity and establishing the copy as having the legitimacy of the authentic.
First, I studied the area carefully for weeks and then document it with the camera. Through a close adherence to the idea of Genius Loci, people’s rootedness to a space or place, it is the phenomenon of people having this belonging to a certain space or perhaps how the space becomes identifiable through their collective memory as in Tiong Bahru, scenes are framed carefully. It could be the smell, a certain fragment of the texture of the wall, the signboards, the food, the architecture, the terrain, the trees, arrangement of buildings or object, activities, the sound; they all contribute to this identity of the place and through this
combination of their being, the residents or transient users of the space find a special kind of comfort and in association with the place. It is from this perspective that the camera first captured those signs and anchors that become the reminders, the sparks that recall those feelings and emotions, thereby revealing their fondness of the place, allowing them to identify themselves with the place, thereby building an intricate relationship with the place all within the realm of their collective memory.
From the photographs, through the pen, a second layer of filtering, using the line and repetitive form, creating light and darkness, emphasizing the subject matters and guiding the eyes, aiding the viewers into focusing on the signs and icons.
It is hoped that through the Photographs and ink drawing, the residents and Singaporean can begin to enjoy and reminiscing on those good old days, traces of which could still be found in and around Tiong Bahru Estate.
There is a trend for artists to consider photographs as the basic research material and as a reference to reconstruct them in oil or acrylic, and it is in this
reconstruction that the artist perfect the image or his/her idea or concept. The process of the reconstructing, can add or subtract from the photograph as it is only a tool for the artist to perfect his portrayal of the concept. In a photograph, things are frozen in a thin slice of time, perhaps less than a hundredth of a second, whereas, as one sketch on site, time moves with the flow of the pen. For moving object, like human being and cars, birds, animals, it becomes a sketch partly from the scene and mostly from memory, or they can be totally eliminated. There is always an urgency when sketching on site as oppose to sketching from the photograph, which I felt this peculiarity when I did most of the my Penang sketches on site. I took more care and time when
sketching from photographs to complete a single piece. In the sketching Penang, I completed 80 over sketches in a week, while in Tiong Bahru, the whole process for 80 sketches would take me about 2 months. I started doing the photography and sketching after Chinese New Year. If one compares those lines, one can see the fluidity and the line trying very hard to capture those fleeting moments, while those on Tiong Bahru, the lines are more firm, purposeful and the image is like an imprint of frozen image, nothing seem wanting to
escape, but trapped in the moment of permanence.
The other phenomena is that a photograph is ‘distorted’ by the lens on the camera, somehow they are never the same when compared with what we see with the naked eye. In fact, most of the sketches I did for this series, are super-wide angle shot, as one can see the parallel line becomes convex instead of diminishing straight line in perspective. I love the curve panorama and I combine multiple wide-angle shots
to achieve the image I was visualizing. It intrigues me a lot as the process is rather taxing on the imaginative faculty, because I see multiple segment while shooting and only see the resulting image after the stitching application complete the process in the computer. It almost has the same thrill as one shoot in the film and only see the final result after processing. Of course, in some aspect of it, perhaps all forms of photography are a practice of seeing in the mind and recreating or searching for that unique image with the camera in reality. So that is the first layer of creation, there after the pen and the eye retrace the photographs onto paper with the image on the computer display, details can be zoomed in and added to the sketch, if need be, a form of flexibility,as oppose to on-site sketching which has a fixed magnification, unless one use a binoculars, but its magnification flexibility will never rival that of the computer zooming function. The digital photographs are given more choices in terms of visual selection. This manual retrace with pen added a certain difficulties as any mistake cannot be erased without a trace as no pencil lines are made prior to using the fountain pen. This process also forces me to re-discover the peculiarity of the fountain pen as opposed to the felt-tip pen.
Again working with a process-focussed methodology, it demands that the artist has to be focused and discipline in getting his work done. It also debunks the fact that most people view the artist as ill-discipline, flamboyant, irrational, and insensitive to punctuality. This whole process is to prepare a series of ink sketches within a short period of 2 months and complete the publishing of it into a book form. The purposeful process is to produce 1-2 sketches each day, starting from mid Feb, after the Chinese New Year. The process is one of using the digital camera to capture and create a series of photographs, combine them into a singular piece, re-framing them and sketching them out in ink. Again, I am intrigued in the notion of the digital that capture and freeze the moment, but the output is through re-drawing in Ink and scanned digitally, adjusted digitally and recolour using various media, be it markers, acrylic, watercolor or digitally.
Expanding the idea further was the collaboration with other artist to work on printed pieces. They would add their mark onto the pieces, giving life and another dimension through their interpretation. This is also a learning process in two folds. We learn to collaborate with different artists, through various interpretations and permutation. After the work is done, a re-look and re-read the completed piece as a form of learning about each other and perhaps understand the possibilities of interpretation through their insertion of their marks.
As the line works are two dimensional in nature, the way it emphasizes a certain area of the sketch constitutes a certain graphical spatial flow, stops and pause, together with the overlapping of lines it gives a certain sense of depth to the object in the sketch. When read by another artist, who make no reference to the photograph I have, has to read and re-constitute the spatial construct of the ink sketches, before they could add to the sketch. It is from here that the viewer could read the lines and colors as two separate entities, reading them and referring back to the intention of these two different artists, seeing how one differ from another or coincide with another, performing a form of duet awaiting for the viewer to decipher their intention.
Other than an exploration of collaboration with other artists, it explores the idea of co-ownership and copyright issue. Who has the copyright to the pieces in these collaborative works? If it is both artist, then the usage of it, depends on both parties giving permission to use or either one will suffice. The other is the exploration of the level of insistence by each artist to assert his/her presence, would artist upon invitation evaluate that adding color is a secondary activity or happily accept the offer. Are they open to the concept of collaboration on the same canvas? These are some question one begins to ask, explore and perhaps the result can be further analyzed in a deconstructive ways to explore the possibilities of those marks of the line and the color of the completed work. It will be very interesting to watch and re-read those completed collaborative work and explore them textuality and spatially. Perhaps the way the ‘differences’ interact on the same paper could also be intricately explored. The audience is asked to review those questions when they read and review the final complete pieces.
The copy and copied in a form that confuses one as the process purposefully explore this notion. Yes, the hand and pen retrace the photographs but not in all its exactness, and so a little confusion is introduced here. Thereafter, the ink sketch is scanned and printed out where artists are invited to add their color or mark on these printed copies, which after their intrusion, a form of originality is introduced here and they complete the final artwork. However, this final works have also incorporated the scanned image. Another, variability of the process, is also the scanned copy is colored using digital application such as photoshop and the final form is printed from the digital files, where the original and the printed copy are in a sense original works too, and each copy is also the original. So the question is therefore does copy or original maters in art? Or it is just a figment of the mind one is buying and the idea of copy and original enjoy the same privilege. It also pushes the buyer to evaluate this whole notion of the importance of originality and authenticity in artwork.
Sample of the works
|Artist, Karen and Meng Foo|
|Artists : Meei Ling and Meng Foo|
|Artist : Choo Meng Foo|
|Artists: Yen Phang and Meng Foo|
Here are some of my works on Tiong Bahru, https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=55C8ADF4F2DA704B!1307&authkey=!ACcYTKmlLci6-5U
An article was also written about my work of Tiong Bahru here, http://www.indesignlive.sg/articles/Choo-Meng-Foos-Tiong-Bahru-Sketches
You can see the complete works here https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.158550324309449.1073741830.152031971627951&type=3