THE BIOLOGY OF ART                                                                                                               

Text and Interview by Ang Hwee Chuin 

 ish     fragments from an urbanscape 3.4. 

I sow the concept in my mind, where I allow the subconscious to play with the concept freely, and allowing a vision of the artwork to emerge from the inner competition of thoughts.


Calling himself a "highly-inquisitive and passionate 33-year-old", Chng Nai Wee is a young artists who is through and through Singaporean (albeit the fact that he has spent some years being educated abroad). The subjects of Nai Wee's art are strangely connected to our lives though they deal with the less obvious things in life, bringing forth what have little crossed our minds as possible objects of elaboration and investigation.

What makes Nai Wee's works highly characteristic is his strong fascination with biological science adn technology, topics that provide a direct basis upon which he builds his artworks. In Nai Wee's works, his works employ the concepts, logic, and aesthetics inherent in science and technology." The biggest curousity that comes into people's minds when they first see Nai Wee's works must be the scientific imagery that his works evoke. This is not without its cause, if you learn that Nai Wee is in fact a practicing ophthalmologist.

Having won numerous awards and mounted several group and solo shows spanning a 10-year art career, Nai Wee recently updated his portfolio with an exhibition entitled "Moleculux - Luminescent Bodies in Hyperspace" held at the Sculpture Square, Singapore.

In his short interview with ish, Nai Wee dissects on a slice of his life and shares with us the art of philosophy, and the philosophy of art.


        I'm sure this is a question often posed to you: What accounts for your interest in art?

I am interested in Art because I am interested in life. Artworks engage viewers and lead them to question and to marvel. Art is about ideas and ways of thinking, seeing, experiencing, and living; and extends more than aesthetics. Art is about challenging boundaries and assumptions that we have marked for ourselves.


What is your chief motivation in practicing art and what do you hope to derive from it?

Practicing art is primarily a self-indulgent activity; I enjoy art-making and therefore I do it. The practice of art is immensely challenging intellectually. An artist develops his ideas and researches on the best ways of presenting them. The process of open reception to external influences, internal development of ideas and creative construction of artworks, and communication to viewers are exercises in the examination of life. An examined life is worthy of living.


In every article we read about you, the media casts you as an ophthalmologist before an artist, and inevitably there must be mention of the many prestigious awards you have picked up in your artistic career. Do you think that in this we see that people are legitimizing their attention for an artist because of his or her achievements and status? Does this not hint that gaining acceptance and recognition is very much a problem that artists in Singapore face and yet can do little against?

Categories and labels are to aid people in understanding, just like boxes drawn on a page. I would rather be seen in my entirely. When society views me with a label, it assumes my abilities and potential. I like to meet people who are able to engage me without the aid of labels, and able to assess the quality of my works, and the essence of my mind without relying on assertions of formal titles and expert opinions of professionals. All of us to some extent, tune our attention selectively, and use stereotyping screening to quicken our cognitive assessment and to dampen cognitive dissonance. In an increasingly dynamic and multi-disciplinary world, these old cognitive tools may be more misleading than helpful.


You once mentioned that “In every man lies an artist waiting to be discovered.” Do you still believe in that? And what has ascertained that belief in you? Do you also think that creativity or artistry can be nurtured?

An artist is a person who incessantly seeks the opening of his mind, the comprehensive understanding of life, and the communicating of his insights to his fellowman. This liberating journey is an unanswered call in a man who is oblivious to ubiquitous artistic elements. The moment the man begins on his liberating journey, he discovers himself as an artist, initially spiritually, ultimately functionally. Creativity and artistry are a set of universal skills that everyman can exercise in his domain. I have reached this conclusion by reflective introspection and observation of the world at large.     


From your works I also see that there is a layer of symbolism imbued into the images derived from your scientific or medical work. This is somewhat like the chicken-or-egg question: do you decide what to do with one particular image first or does the idea hit upon you out of the blue before you search for that one image to fit your vision?

In the expansive field of Technological and Biomedical Science that I have chosen to focus, I am aware of the ideas, logical systems, and tools that are used by practitioners in their daily work. The concept – the question I am asking or the experience I am isolating – is most important. I sow the concept in my mind, where I allow the subconscious to play with the concept freely, and allowing a vision of the artwork to emerge from the inner competition of thoughts. I decide on the media and tools to present the concept; I may employ media and tools uncommonly used in art-making but commonly used in other industries. If these tools are unfamiliar, I seek to learn about them.  I make an intuitive judgment on whether the vision of the artwork – the concept expressed in this form – will be successful. I continue to refine the vision, and am responsive to the vision, the actual physical product, and the constraints, and attempt to reconcile all three. For some works, I highlight the symbolism in the works, for other works, symbolism is an additional mode of viewing, and for others, I choose to eliminate this point of view altogether. The concept of the work takes precedent.


Tell us about your studio: how it was shaped, how is the space like, what are your working habits, how it has impacted upon your “life” – that is if you see your medical and artistic work as separate from “life”!

I have a small space at Telok Kurau Artists’ Studios where I store some of my artworks. It is a standard commercial trailer and is not large enough for me to work in it as my works outsize it. I try not to separate medical and artistic work consciously except for administrative filing and financial budgeting. My medical perspectives are truly essential to my artwork, and it is reasonable to state that some of my works will otherwise not be what they are. My approach to engaging life is holistic.


Tell us what you do in your leisure time. Have you any other passions in life?

Beautiful woman and the finer things in life, in addition to reading and writing , financial analysis and investment, entrepreneurship and management, architecture and structures.


What's the one thing that you'd really like to attempt next -outside art?

The most unpredictable, the most hazardous, the most demanding, but potentially the most rewarding - marriage.


You have one minute as Mr Universe - what would you like to say to the world?

Seek your passion, embrace and enjoy it. The greatest manifestation of art is Mankind, and your most important artwork is yourself. When you have an open mind, seeing the relevance and possibilites in the infinitesimal and the colossal, and gaining a positive and sincere mindset, then you have become an artist of ideas and the ways of the world.