Dawn Ng, Artist: To Paris With Love

SLIDESHOW: Dawn Ng’s ‘A Thing of Beauty’ is a set of photographed installations of small, locally sourced objects.

Creator of the beloved ‘Walter’ installation and its accompanying prints, Singaporean artist Dawn Ng’s recent exhibition saw her showing in one of the biggest art capitals of the world.

You probably know her work even if you do not know her by face. As the creator of Walter the rabbit who spent some time on the lawn of the Singapore Art Museum and of the Perfect Day (Feng He Ri Li) neon lights at Loof rooftop bar, Dawn Ng has made a name for herself in the local art scene. But this artist also exhibited at one of the more prominent art fairs in the world, the Art Paris Art Fair in March 2015, bringing her unique mix of satire and cheek to a whole new audience.

We caught up with the affable artist when she previewed her exhibit at Chan Hampe Galleries prior to her Paris showcase, where she talked about her works, the difference between conventional and installation art, and the importance of nostalgia.

Daniel Hilarion Lim: A lot of your work consists of installations, which aren’t the kind that people would buy per se. What are your thoughts on investment art versus installation art?
Dawn Ng:
My husband and I have endless debates on this topic. He believes that the value of an artwork should be measured by its resale value. While I understand this theoretically, it would be most unnatural for me to evaluate a work of art in monetary terms. But although we have differing views, my husband has been a huge support. We were just friends then, but Walter was a project for which he found financial help for the construction and logistics of the piece. It was just a pet project — honestly, I didn’t think it would go to the Singapore Art Museum. I just wanted to do it and I held my first solo for Walter at Loof.

And now you have a permanent piece at Loof.
It’s quite funny how it has all come full circle. I love to do installation work. It’s always fun to work on something that is really bigger than you. I like being able to envelop someone in a certain environment, something that prints or an image can’t do as much of. I think most art creates some sort of universe for someone to go into and explore. But when something’s actually 360 degrees and completely experiential, it really draws someone fully into that world beyond, say, what a visual would be able to. I think the visceral tangibility of the environment is so important
and interesting.

Do you think Singaporeans are more welcoming of installation or conventional art?
For installation work, it is more the museums that would support it, for who else would have the space for things such as that? Really wealthy individuals with an excess of space perhaps? [Laughs] I think they’d rather use it to store their Birkins. For collectors, they’d prefer something smaller that they can house at home or in their own private stores. That said, the past few print collections have been added to the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection. It has a couple from the ‘Everything You’ve Ever Wanted is Right Here’ collection and, of course, Walter.

How was Walter conceived?
To me, the real artwork in Walter is a series of photographs in the various pop-up locations and not the actual rabbit. If all you see are the attractions, then you’ll never see the real Singapore. You always see this glossed-up city that looks like Tokyo or Hong Kong. And I wanted to put something so surreal into an everyday environment. Take a second look, try and see what’s so special about the space or see the charm in something that you would have missed. Walter is part of the permanent collection at SAM, but for that, since it is a very ephemeral piece and it’ll degrade over time, it bought from me the right to reproduce, which is unlike my other art pieces. To date, there have been about eight to 10 Walters. It has to destroy the previous Walter piece before it is allowed to make the next one. [Laughs] I believe he gets incinerated each time.

Tell us about your showcase in Paris in March.
‘A Thing of Beauty’ is a set of photographed installations of small, locally sourced objects — the objectified minutiae of everyday life culminating in a structural wonderland of monochromatic shapes built on stone. I handpicked the objects provisioned for the palette of this work from a total of 138 ‘mom-and-pop’ shops throughout Singapore’s residential heartlands, making each installation an anthropological documentary of things we collectively own in this day and age.

I see this overarching theme over a number of your installations from Walter to ‘A Thing of Beauty’.
When we’re young, we really see things because we see things for the first time. But when we get older, it’s almost impossible to see something for the first time again and the capacity for that shrinks. I am really interested in taking something that is already there and recreating that first-time experience — to see something again almost with a fresh set of eyes when you’ve seen it all your life. I find that tension interesting. You’re right, it has permeated a lot of the work.

I know a lot of my work is based on Singapore but I never consciously tried to make it so. Singapore is just where I was born and where I grew up. And I can’t help that a lot of which I draw from is quite contextual. I am really interested in the main themes of nostalgia, time, memories and space. And these themes are both infinitely personal and infinitely universal. 

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