Screen display, context and painting for painters
By Ian Tee
Genevieve Chua is a Singaporean painter who works primarily through abstraction. She employs a method of working that unfurls and reveals the painter's process through diagram, palimpsest, syntax, and the glitch. Her recent exhibitions include 'Choruses 副歌', Edouard Malingue, Hong Kong, 'Vestigials and Halves' at Seven and a half, Seoul, and 'Rehearsals for the Wilful' at Silverlens, Manila. The artist was also conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council, Singapore in 2012, and shortlisted for the 2015 Prudential Eye Award for Contemporary Asian drawing.
In this interview, we discuss developments in Genevieve’s 15 years of practice and the thought processes behind her displays.
You recently completed an MA at the Royal College of Art in London. How has the experience enriched your practice?
RCA gave me a break to survey my role as a painter in a very insular environment amongst other painters. It was something I would not have gotten anywhere else. Discussions and seminars took place in very different speak, rules, ideology and pace. It was unlike discussing painting with someone who does sculpture, performance or sound. That environment fueled me to make paintings for other painters, which currently spurs the way 'Edge Control' and 'Swivels' are developing.
Your new solo exhibition 'Closed during opening hours' presents an unusual premise in which the gallery space is transformed into a diorama, where viewers look in behind glass walls. Can you share the ideas behind this show as well as the process behind putting it together?
I question the idea of what a screen display is, because the viewer is also always behind a piece of glass that is usually smaller. In this instance, the screen display is larger, taking the form of glass gallery walls. The space is seen as a diorama in this context because the audience is not inside the space, yet its interiority is taken in as the viewer descends from the ground floor staircase. At this vantage point, it may be difficult to look critically at the exhibition, but there is already involvement. It was that involved distance versus critical distance that motivated my discussions with the curator Melanie Pocock to pursue ideas about installing the paintings without hanging them, or bringing objects to the fore of the gallery, viewed low. The ramps, tiled flooring and arrangement of paintings are mere "extrusions" from the ground carefully placed to privilege an audience standing on the outside. A table and empty chair inadvertently emphasises an absence of a body invigilating the space, while other movements within the gallery can only be projected and imagined.
A recurring theme in your work is the idea of the unseen, unknown or obscured, yet at times, they carry rather evocative titles that suggest wordplay or something tangential. Two titles that jumped out to me are: 'Swivel (Detail from Things I Know to be True' and 'Edge Control, #14 Gut Sensation'. Can you speak to the function of titles and their relationship with form?
I subscribe to Briony Fer’s spectrum of labelling abstraction and my work falls comfortably as near-abstract. It refers to a figurative reality but maintains abstract examples of hard-edge, monotone and duotone. The numerical value in the titles are drily for archival purposes and a secondary title hints at a situation or an event.
Paintings and walls have a codependent relationship and in 'Swivels', the brackets are as much a part of the paintings as prosthetic to the body. By drawing the work away from the wall, the bracket or prosthetic messes up the perceived dimensions of the work and reveals the back of the painting usually held discrete. 'Things I Know to be True' is an accumulative repository of models that I have kept in my studio as a way to map the direction for each series. The body of work consists of mini etch-a-sketch drawings and a text by J.B.S Haldane on being the right size. In this case, the text refers to an insect. It is also displayed in 'Closed during opening Hours'.
At the moment, my studio practice is directed towards identifying what is intuitive in painting, then making or finding instruments and gestures that are counter-intuitive. I find it to be one of the many ways to progress a discussion about abstraction.
Did you conceive of 'Unnatural History Drawings' as a trilogy from the beginning? Also, how do you know when to end a body of work? Are there any unexpected evolutions/deviations in the series?
None of my series really ends, so the 'Unnatural History Drawings' hang at 2014-. Also, I have not exhibited the last of the trilogy titled 'Orchids'. I need the right time to show it, one that doesn’t coincide with an SG50, National Day Parade or the Bicentennial as I find that these events really affect the context of reading the work. I do let every series of work deviate its course over time. Once in a while, I find a confluence which is a nice surprise.
Looking back to the first five years in your practice (2004-2010), what was the art ecology like then for a young artist and how did you keep it going?
It is so difficult to describe the ecosystem but this was my reality then: My first studio was at a car scrap yard in Eunos with three other artists and there were no galleries in the vicinity. I was involved in a lot of group shows which exists on documentation as print photographs that nobody digitised, hence they don’t show up on Google today. We were in pre-Facebook, pre-algorithmic times, where exhibition invites had to be sent out months in advance. Exhibition catalogues were precious objects and everyone had their hand at art writing and making zines.
I am not saying that there is a better or worse way of doing things, but that all the peripheral aspects of a show have changed, disappeared or been presented differently. One example is the Singapore Art Book Fair. I was held together in one piece with the help of arts council grants, museum and private commissions.
Any upcoming projects you would like to share?
I am currently part of a group exhibition 'Matter and Place' at museum MACAN, Jarkarta, and will be presenting a solo show 'Hard to Say, Soft to Touch' as part of 'Pink Fest' in June 2019, at Art Porters, Singapore.
'Matter and Place' at Museum MACAN's Sculpture Park runs till 21 July 2019.
'Genevieve Chua: Closed during opening hours' is on view at Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore from 18 April to 3 May 2019. There will be a tour by the artist and exhibition curator, Melanie Pocock, on 27 April 2019, 4.30 to 6pm.