Artist Dawn Ng’s photo exhibition challenges audiences to question if what they see around them is all there is to the reality of the Singaporean lifestyle.
By Yong Yung Shin
Remember that giant white bunny balloon, Walter, that camped outside the Singapore Art Museum for months? The artist behind that memorable installation, Dawn Ng, is back with a light-hearted visual documentary of present day Singapore that at first glance, may look commonplace and familiar to most.
By juxtaposing panels of words with large-scale photographs and interviews gathered over a four-month period of photo-journalism, her new exhibition “Everything You Ever Wanted Is Right Here” seeks to explore the notion of “home”, and hopefully express the cultural sentiments simmering beneath one the world’s most oft-studied cities.
City News chats with Ng about her work.
What are you trying to convey through the title “Everything You Ever Wanted Is Right Here”?
“Everything You Ever Wanted is Right Here” is the core statement and counter-question which this body of work puts across to the viewer. These collages began as a four-month project that involved both photo-journalism and candid interviews with locals. I wanted to document the bubbling sentiments beneath our rapidly changing city, with all its inherent contradictions and idiosyncrasies.
So what are one or two of the highlight pieces you would like to draw attention to?
For “Dorothy”, an 18-panel installation part of this series, I went into over 60 homes of Singaporeans and captured their living environments, from government-subsidized one-room flats in Telok Blangah to mansions along Swiss Club Road. Anthropologically, this was the most fascinating. It is a very intimate experience when strangers let you into their homes. You can tell so much about who someone is by examining the space they live in.
Did you find out something new about the country, your own sentiments toward it and its people, throughout the process of shooting? Any serendipitous encounters?
Singapore is one of those countries that for the most part, is seen as culturally flat or monolithic to the rest of the world. But there are depths within depths to who we are and what we struggle with that are palpable and real.
This manifests itself in the tensions created by our collective obsessions, insecurities and ambitions, which this series of work addresses. A funny story I often recount is that once I was shooting at an MRT location in Pasir Ris. A young boy pointed up to a cluster of surveillance cameras attached to the ceiling and asked his mother why there are so many cameras in Singapore. The mother replied in Chinese, “Boy, ni bu zhi dao ah? Xin jia bo zheng fu shi se lang.” (Don’t you know the Singapore government is a bunch of perverts?) It made me laugh. The mother’s explanation was entirely candid and twisted. This led to the piece called “Surveillance Camera” where the text cut out of the image reads “Kind Of Kinky.”
With the opening of the exhibition, what sort of responses are you anticipating from your audiences?
With any work that actually says something, I think there will be discourse and debate about was said. I’ve said this before—that I have no wish to make work that’s purely aesthetic. I measure my work’s success in its ability to spark discussion, question, argument, myth and story because then you’ll know it exists beyond itself in making people think or feel something.
Dawn Ng is a studio art and journalism graduate of Georgetown University (USA) and the UCL Slade School of Fine Art (UK). She has spent the past 10 years living in Singapore, Paris, and New York straddling careers in art and advertising. In 2010, she was the youngest artist to be commissioned to design SAM’s building façade for the Art Garden show.“Everything You Ever Wanted Is Right Here” runs from Sep. 6 to 24 at Chan Hampe Galleries (Raffles Hotel Arcade, #01-20/21, 328 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188719).