The Regency Made Me Blind is a collaborative project presented by internationally recognised contemporary artist Gary Carsley and Singapore-based artist Jeremy Chu, as part of National Gallery Singapore’s newly commissioned artwork series titled OUTBOUND.
Gwen Sin caught up with Jeremy, where he had finished adding paper cut-outs of the Singapore orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim, to the ongoing installation. The cut-outs were produced together with National Gallery Singapore’s volunteers.
How did this collaboration come about?
Jeremy Chu (JC): OUTBOUND’s curator, Dr Adele Tan was instrumental in connecting me to Gary Carsley for this collaboration. Gary was doing a research residency two years ago, and was working on the construction framework for his project. I have some impression of Gary, as he had another installation at the first Singapore Biennale previously. I do not know him personally, but he is Australian, and part of my family is also based in Australia, so we have some common grounds to talk about.
Adele was aware I was doing gold leafing work of Buddhist sculptures, where I was trained in Taiwan for several years and was doing it for the last three years. Gary has been wanting to do wall papering. It was on this premise that a meet-up was arranged to discuss what I’m doing. During that one session, I shared about my experiences in gilding in different parts of the world, predominantly in India, the Himalayas, Taiwan and China. That opened up the conversation, and the very next day, I got a call from Gary, where he went on to extend an invitation to me as his collaborating partner in this project. This truly came as a surprise, considering that I wasn’t part of the project initially.
How was the process like? Were you hesitant then, since you are more into gilding work and this seems like totally different?
JC: First of all, I feel very honoured about Gary’s invitation. He is an established artist; is world renowned and has participated in many major exhibitions. I’m a nobody. To be able to work with him is like going back to arts school, and I said “sure”. It is a fantastic opportunity and it also raises my personal bar in the artistic journey a little.
As to the institutional engagement – it was a conscious decision not to choose this route before for many years. I wanted to reconnect with South East Asia and to Singapore. Prior to that, I was away for many years. I didn’t understand what my fellow Singaporeans are thinking, or what are close to their hearts. So for the first several years after my return to Singapore, I used it as a way to research on what is going through Singapore, where I experiment with volunteerism as a research performance methodology to understand cultural and social change.
A lot of my work is reflective and questions a lot of the things that are not visible, like those on the periphery, and where things are going to reveal themselves. This has always been consistent in my life, because I always consider myself on the fringe of things. When the invitation from Gary came, I said yes.
The other level of hesitation is also because it is a huge space for the installation to be held. Initially it wasn’t so big. But for the installation to be immersive, it needs to be of two storeys instead of on one wall.
How was it like working with Gary on this project?
JC: Gary came to Singapore for at least three parts of the negotiation process for this project. The premise of this collaboration was well-established on the first meeting. That first meeting really rooted the foundation. We already connected on the conceptual level and he’s someone highly respected for his practice. It is a little bit of the relationship where I felt like I was going back to art school in a way. Gary himself is an educator at UNSW Art & Design (Sydney, Australia). I felt there is a lot for me to learn, and in the process, he opened it up by bringing up this to another collaborator to be part of it.
How were the commissioners convinced eventually?
JC: It has to be the sheer reputation of Gary Carsley. From the process of drafting the first brief; the conceptualisation; the visualisation; the process of presenting it – National Gallery Singapore appraised it, which was an extremely bold move. Also, the onset is this is part of the OUTBOUND commissioned series. The idea is to shift the gallery visitors’ experience beyond its gallery space. One is no longer limiting the artwork to be contained at the gallery walls, but also in between spaces that are often forgotten.
How is nature used as part of The Regency That Made Me Blind?
JC: It is to expand on the conceptual narrative of the landscape consisting of five botanical gardens based in Southeast Asia. From there, I was thinking of how do I insert different layers of timeline and narratives. The mantra itself is a layer, which kind of marked my meditative process of papering and the whole installation. There are four sets of mantras altogether, which are in Tibetan and Sanskrit. All the mantras help individuals in terms of sight. And just having those mantras in spaces actually purifies the individual and the environment, and also brings the individual who is the ‘seer’ closer to enlightenment. Without having understood what it means, just by seeing the form – it has planted a seed in our mental continuum to ripen in parts and as time progresses.
When it comes to the flower intervention, I chose Singapore’s national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim. For many years, I was looking into the history of our own Botanical Gardens, and thinking about our own relationship as the ‘City of Gardens’. What does it mean on a personal level? I am also thinking of its representation on a national level. More questions were raised when I started researching on its history. There are a lot of pockets of information that did not really match and there were almost two sets of historical notes being presented on how the Vanda Miss Joaquim was found / has been created / was created.
How do you interpret the information then?
JC: I conflated all the historical information and set it aside. Then I thought about my own relationship with a piece of paper, or the volunteer’s relationship with that piece of paper. How does one conflate time and space into that form? Using the now / the present forms another reflection into our relationship with the historical representation and facts of this national flower for Singapore. And by incorporating the form, I started to raise the question of our own individual relationship and understanding about nationalism as a Singaporean possibly.
National Gallery Singapore launched OUTBOUND, a series of artwork commissions to trigger unexpected and meaningful art encounters for visitors beyond the exhibition galleries. Curated as an ongoing series, each season of OUTBOUND will progressively unveil artworks in the Gallery’s public spaces over a period of three years. For more information about OUTBOUND, please visit www.nationalgallery.sg/outbound.