INTERVIEW  (VERBATIM)                                                                                                             

Conducted by Ang Hwee Chuin of ish. May 2002.


        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.


You received your art training at Nafa. Why did you choose to enroll yourself with Nafa? Was that experience important in shaping the approaches, principles and beliefs with which you practice art now? If not, what other events in life did?

I attended Nafa during Sunday mornings when I was in Junior College for a year. These sessions were introductory. There was no other comparable art course in Singapore during that period. When I studied and traveled abroad in Ireland and Britain, I was exposed to an open and questioning society. There was a vibrant arts community with accessible art collections and contemporary exhibits, and my immersion in this community sparked the germinal seed of creativity within to thrive.


You have participated in immersion programs in many places – which include a good mix between Asian and Western cities. Was that intentional and how do you think such a wide-ranging experience has shaped or altered your outlook on life at large?

I am stimulated in all senses and probed in my belief systems when I am in a foreign land with its culture. This exposure takes on a different nature compared to reading at my comfort in my home; I am able to explore, observe, and interact. There may be far less formal and structured knowledge that I can immediately learn  (compare with the flow of theories and methods imparted by a lecturer in a classroom), but the immersion experiences are unique and irreplaceable in their intensity, flexibility, and totality. My outlook in life is broad and that has helped nurture in me a joyous appreciation for other subjects and experiences, an ability to recognize universal patterns and to connect different systems in creative endeavors, and a healthy tolerance and respect for the values of fellowmen.


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. VOICES is a series of mental and emotional orientations I identified that can be learned and internalized by everyman to access the creative process. The orientation of the mindset and the adoption of these approaches can enable everyman to be creative. 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.     


In your “Biotechnics” series of works, I somehow see a vague relationship drawn between science and the supernatural. Of course believers of metaphysics can argue that they are both fundamentally branches of philosophy, but was it just me or do you believe that there is indeed an intricate relationship between the two?

The dichotomy of Physics and Metaphysics define the majority perception that these fields are founded on different logical systems. What the relationship between the two hold for me is: Even if all the questions of the universe are answered, each of us will wonder about his identity, his purpose, and his role in the grand story of the universe.  How many of us will accept the concept that we are self-propagating agents no more than evolutionary vessels for DNA, and action agents for the epic resolution and ascendancy of ideas and values in the grand story of the universe? That we must be alive as we believe ourselves to be, we must seek out the great tampering spirituality that comforts and inspires, whether it is in us, the incipient or the outer reaches of the universe, or the space between nothing and something. That we would have known how events have happened, we would have rather known why events have happened.


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 seed 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.


What is “Brave New World” and what does it signify for you?

I enjoyed reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley when I was in first year junior college. The book is simply written yet is rich with provocative issues of eugenics, genetic engineering, social stratification, and knowledge deprivation. Presently, I believe that genetic diversity, despite its apparent physical flaws, keep the genetic pool in a state of dynamic tense equilibrium, and the same holds true for subculture diversity, despite the clash of views, for intellectual capital.  The Brave New World represents an exciting time when rapid and ground-breaking technological advances will require an equally brave and responsive change of mindsets to manage their introduction to mankind for their benefit.


Do you think that you could possibly have been a designer, since your works are very much the synthesis of art, science and technology – the very elements which make up design? If yes, what sort of things would you be designing?

Design elements have always been part of my work. I have completed some basic architectural design studio credits, and hope to be able to design small building and structural projects and artworks in collaboration with architects sooner rather than later.


Your works are always named in such a way they take on a science-fiction edge. Do you think your art works will ever depart from that?

Titles of the works clue the audience in on the work. The works are named because the works are based on concepts of science, and the aesthetics and relationships among scientific objects. I appreciate science-fiction. I have created artworks on socio-political themes, among others. That I have focused on Technological and Biomedical Science is partly based on my greater experience in these fields, and partly based on my desire to explore a niche field with depth in a highly competitive art world, where failure to distinguish styles and themes in artworks lowers visibility.


Did you design your own website?

I designed my websites with the help of public domain code and I am comfortable with new media tools. Since I started off with multi-screen video installations more than a decade ago, and have been developing multi-media works on my internet sites, tools of new media design have consistently been part of my arsenal.


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.


What is home like for you? Which is your comfort space? Why do you enjoy that space?

Home is sanctuary for the restoration of the soul, the taming of the senses, and the rejuvenation of the body. My shower is my comfort zone, because the few minutes of warm water rushing onto me softens the tension of my muscles, washes away the worries of the day, and refreshes my mind.


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.