In the month or so in the run up to our launch on April 13th, we are going to be interviewing a number of the artists whose work we will be distributing. The first of these is the artist and illustrator Clarice Ng, whose book To You Out There, Vol. 1: You Are Not Alone will be available from us from June 2019.
Nathaniel: Hi Clarice, first of all would you like to introduce yourself?
Clarice: Hey, I’m Clarice! I’m an artist from Singapore who's currently based in London. I’m in my final year doing an illustration degree but recently I've been branching out into interactive, installation art and ceramics.
N: Great, I was just looking at your last installation on your website - and I definitely want to talk about it later. But first of all, shall we talk about the book we will be stocking, "To You Out There, Vol. 1: You Are Not Alone"?
C: Yes! "To You Out There, Vol. 1: You Are Not Alone" was my graduation project in my previous school, SOTA. It's a book that reads as a personal letter that's addressed to the reader, with the general yet important message that ‘you are not alone’ in your struggles. I mostly wanted to address personal doubts commonly faced by individuals and to offer words of comfort, conveniently packaged in the form of a book. I also wanted to explore the intimacy between the author and reader through the act of 'reading' and did so by creating an authorial voice that blurs the lines between character and narrator, in a tone as it if were written by an old friend. It got a positive response when it was first exhibited in a WIP show, to the point where visitors wrote personal notes that directly addressed me and my work, saying how much it impacted them. This prompted me to approach a local publisher just so I could extend the message by making it more accessible to the public, as opposed to the niche audience that would pass through a gallery space.
N: That's impressive, I thought when it had an almost diary-like tone, as if the reader was an imaginary friend used as an exercise to allow you to write, perhaps. But the idea of it exploring the relationship between author and audience is really interesting, especially in relation to your other work.
C: Haha yes that's a theme that I'm looking to explore a lot more into. I wrote my dissertation on it too - on how the relationship between the artist and audience is constantly being redefined.
N: One of the things I really enjoy about it is how, even though it is quite conceptual and in parts has quite dark content, the book is also very endearing and quite funny.
C: Yeah, as much as it was serious, I wanted to balance it out with lightheartedness and humour by including little 'breaks', hence the little cartoon girls. It's almost like how your mind wanders off in a conversation without you realising but then you snap back into it.
N: The work on the artist/audience relationships, does that relate to the themes of isolation present in the book?
C: My dissertation revolves more on the traditional structures found within the art world where the artist is seen as the 'producer' of the work while the audience merely 'receives'. But with artists like Sophie Calle and Marina Abramović, that traditional structure is being challenged as the audience is given a greater power in impacting the result of the work. Bringing it back to the book, I did include a 'write back' feature in this current edition where the reader is given an opportunity to respond, which would enable the beginnings of dialogue rather than creating work that exists to talk ‘at’ you.
N: I think that your idea of audience or viewer involvement is really interesting as it relates to books - because a book is an object that opens up to you - physically as you open it, and thematically and aesthetically as you read it and I think that the way you have made this connection somewhat more explicit in the book (and with the write back section) is really interesting.
C: Haha, aw thank you. I totally agree with you, it’s really the tactile nature of books that gives it that unique experience, from how it fits in your hands to the flipping of a page. The authorial voice and the use of language also makes it a lot more personal because of its direct sense of communication.
N: On a less conceptual note, I really like the emphasis of self care in TYOT. Is that something you think is becoming more important to people today - I know in my personal experience that taking care of ourselves seems quite often neglected. But simultaneously there is a growing move to centre self care.
C: Yeah, I would say that it's most prominent in TYOT, because it was a theme that I heavily related to during that period of my life. Incidentally, I think that the emphasis on the need for self-care has resurfaced itself in my personal life as well. Perhaps it's because of my general nature as a person, I would say that I tend to put others first and end up forgetting that I'm human too. And all of a sudden you find yourself being stretched too thin. Sometimes you need that external reminder from someone, or something I suppose.
N: I think that's quite a universal experience - people sort of struggle to treat themselves with the kindness they treat others.
C: Very true, also, as much as TYOT is a letter to the reader, it was also a letter to myself as well.
N: I was wondering if you’d like to talk about any of your other works, specifically the I Begin To Write installation? I really like the little porcelain figures.
C: Yes, those were recent experiments. They were the first batch of porcelain that came out in fact!
N: The install itself; you had set up a small desk and chair with a notebook and pen for people to write in - how did that go? Some of the writing I saw was quite funny, was that what you expected?
C: Some of it did come out quite humorous, I really didn't know what to expect! Especially since this was its first trial run. For this piece, I tried to take on the role of 'artist as a facilitator', where I would provide a platform for the audience to interact with the work and with each other. What happens after that would be out of my hands and into theirs, which is the beauty of it, I guess.
N: I think it worked really well, there seemed to be a running theme of dogs and personal and uplifting bits of diarist writing.
C: I really enjoyed those. I think that the contributions that I was most surprised by were the illustrations.
N: Some them were quite absurd, but I was expecting more joke writing if I’m honest. People took it quite seriously, which I think is interesting given it was a public space. You wrote in the TYOT book that it should ‘be read in solitude’ but this was placed in a public gallery space and people were quite candid - what was your reaction to that?
C: I think part of it was the nature in which the installation was positioned, down to the use of the ink nib dip pen to the quality of the paper it was printed on, which created a delicate, deliberate and ritualistic feel to the experience. I was hoping to create a safe space where the audience can engage with the piece comfortably and from the writings that came out of it, I think that it was effective. Let's say I used a store-bought ruled notebook and a cheap ballpoint pen for the installation, I'd say that the outcome would have turned out quite different.
N: I think so too. Creating a safe environment through design is something you have obviously thought about. I like that you were acting as a facilitator of intimacy. I especially liked the point where the 26 year olds were writing to each other about getting older, and a 60 year old chipped in.
C: Yes, I actually knew three of the people who were involved in that four-part conversation. I was present when each of them were participating, so it was anonymous between them but I saw how it played out. Part of the work was how I wanted to create a space where people from unlikely backgrounds were given the opportunity to interact with each other - how everyone who passed through the gallery space are all at different points of their lives, but the common ground they shared is the fact that they visited the space during the period of the exhibition. I think that anonymity allows you to bring out your true, unfiltered thoughts which can be a double-edged sword at times.
N: Very true, obviously anonymity can be very negative - such as online in the worst parts of the internet, but I think you've found a way to make it much more positive.
C: Yeah, that's where the need for curating comes into play, both in the delivery and establishment of context and environment. I try to curate the context in which my works are received because I know how much it affects the overall impact of the work. Which is what I tried to do for TYOT, where it would have been received very differently if it were read in a crowded, public space as opposed to a dimly lit corner of your room on a quiet evening. So in that sense, all I can do is produce the work, but the emphasis is the unique interaction that the reader has with the work.
If you’re about in London, best look out for Clarice’s work! As she graduates this year, she will have many ideas brewing and coming to life. You may follow her work updates and activity on instagram: @clriceng and her website: cargocollective.com/clariceng