Episode 5: Clarice Ng


Intimate, participatory, touching and introspective ー these are words that can be used to describe Clarice Ng’s works. Although she describes herself as an artist and illustrator, this doesn’t seem to capture the rich granularity of her practice. Clarice’s practice centers the act of co-creating alongside and listening to the viewer.

For this episode, we sit down with the artist to discuss how she works across installation, video work, illustration, ceramic making and more.
Originally Aired: 9 March 2021




Transcript

Object Lessons Space
When was the last time you felt touched or deeply affected by an artwork, installation, or exhibition?

There are many ways in which art can create an immersive experience. Often, these works extend an invitation to audiences: enter a space, interact with the work, and complete the narrative. Audiences might become participants in an activity. This could take the form, for example, of an artist choreographing how audiences move through their installation. An artist might also have conceptualised a work with touch and interaction in mind. In that case, audiences become co-creators by engaging with these elements.

In a similar vein, this episode is an open conversation that we’d like to invite you to sit in on. I’ll be speaking to Clarice Ng, an artist whose works centre these tenets of relationality. Clarice creates multi-sensorial installations that encourage contemplation, collaboration, and conversation.
Clarice Ng
Creating this kind of conversation allows me to feel more connected, and to also acknowledge that the art exists beyond just me and my practice. It also can exist in other people's lives, and I also want to invite them into this dialogue, because I just feel like it's a lot more powerful in that way. I don't want to just tell my own story.
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Object Lessons Space
Hello and welcome to another episode of Mushroomed, a podcast hosted by the Singapore-based online platform, Object Lessons Space. My name is Joella — I’m the Founding Editor of the platform and your host for this podcast.

I first came across Clarice’s works by way of a small publication of hers. It was a slim and small book that you could probably finish reading in one sitting. Clarice describes the work as “an open letter addressed to the reader, an attempt to bring comfort to those in need”, and asks that the reader reads it in solitude. The book is filled with simple, line-drawn illustrations. On the cover page, a person lies in bed with the duvet pulled up to their chin. A darkened blob sits at the foot of the bed. Both figures look exhausted, drained, and in need of rest. In many ways, that sets the scene for the rest of the publication, which speaks to the reader in a soft, gentle voice - beckoning them to take up space, and to not rush time.

Since the launch of that publication, Clarice has graduated from university, participated in multiple group exhibitions, and embarked on expansive new paths in her own artistic practice. As part of Singapore Art Week 2021, the artist presented a work titled Notes on Quietness. The work was part of an exhibition organised by the curatorial duo Our Softest Hour, and was so wildly popular that there were long, winding queues of visitors outside - all waiting for their turn to enter the space. Notes on Quietness takes the form of text instructions and labels. These instructions were spread out across the exhibition space, and invited audience members to pause, reflect, and recenter. Instructions include, “Come near, be still. Close your eyes, listen closely. Allow your mind to drift to a memory.”  The work also invited audience members to sit down, lie under a table, or look up at the ceiling above.

For this episode, we sit down with the artist to discuss how she works across installation, video work, illustration, ceramic making and more.
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Object Lessons Space
It's been an incredibly busy time for you. And I was hoping we could start our conversation with a moment of pause, and to hopefully speak to the network's you've found yourself embedded within. What would you say your earliest or most formative experience of art was?
Clarice Ng
Like many people, I would say that my earliest experience with art would be drawing from a very young age. That would incorporate a lot of experimentation and playfulness when it comes to picking up crayons and colored pencils when I was three years old, or something like that. I think what really drew me to that was how there aren't really any rules when it comes to art, as opposed to other things that we were taught in school. So, I really enjoyed that. I remember that my favourite things to draw were dinosaurs. Yeah, and I don't know why. But I just really enjoyed drawing their skulls – the particular form or shape of it – and I would just make their eyes really big and sparkly. I think that's one of the many beautiful things when it comes to art as well, because you can take something as you interpret it, and you can also manipulate it to how you would like, how you would like it to be seen, and to show something as how you see it. When that transfers to how you execute it into the final form, that's how you can show it to other people and say, “Oh, this is what I see. Do you see this as well?”

But I think when it comes to creative practice, maybe speaking from the perspective of who I am right now, when I see different people and their different practices, I can kind of see the same childlike curiousity that people have, and how they've specifically developed it to who they are now, through how they are as people. Different people have chosen mediums such as sculpture, or photography, or animation – different creative processes that best represent their thoughts, and how they inject their own personhood, and their own perspectives about life into it. I think it’s great that we can still hold that same curiousity and experimentation at our early stages and carry it forward to who we are right now. I do see this whole art making process as being quite close to your soul. When I see other people's art, I do see that and think to myself, “Oh, this is you, and this is your soul, and our souls are connecting.” It sounds very deep, and it might not be that deep, actually. But I do see it in a very sacred way, almost.
Object Lessons Space
That’s really interesting, because it does seem like for many of your works, particularly with the recent iteration at Singapore Art Week – which we'll come to later on our conversation – it does feel like you're looking, or encouraging people to, either look into their own souls, or look into each other's souls. A recurring theme that I've noticed across your practice is this intentionality around creating safe spaces, and it's evident with the care you take in making your work. But it's a sentiment that you also extend almost as an invitation to viewers or listeners. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about how you began incorporating elements of comfort and assurance within your work, and why it continues to serve as a guiding star of sorts for you.
Clarice Ng
I would say that all of this started with my very first project, which you know of. It’s a small book titled To You Out There. I think this was the first project that really encapsulated what you just mentioned, of creating this safe space, and offering it to the person who is receiving or experiencing the work. How that specific piece came about was that it was very much a message that I needed to hear for myself, and also looking at the people, and the spaces around me, I felt like it was also much needed. So, I thought it was just very apt to create that at that point in time. That was when I was maybe sixteen or seventeen years old –
Object Lessons Space
Yeah, I remember. You were still in school, like you were still at SOTA (School of the Arts) at the time, right?
Clarice Ng
Yeah, I was. I was probably seventeen, because I did that work during my IB (International Baccalaureate) years. A prominent experience that pushed me to create this – this may be more specific to this book, but it also carries on to future projects – was that I went to the toilet in school, and saw one of my classmates there. She was crying, and I wasn't very sure how to respond. I was not extremely close to her, but we were friends. So, I just sat next to her, and I asked, “Oh, are you okay?” and if it was about this or that. But I also didn't want to pry too much as well. So, I just offered her my presence for that period of time, and afterwards, I also gave her space to just be in whatever she was experiencing at that point in time. That was quite significant to me, because it made me think about how can I offer the comfort or assurance I wanted to offer without making it too intrusive? Because I really did want to help her at that point of time. It made me think that the book for that project was the most apt way of facilitating that connection or conversation where it's like – this is the message I want to say to you, and here it is. The nature of reading a book is also quite personal as well. It's just between you and the author, and no one else, because it's very much an individual experience. I think that was one of the more formative experiences I've had, and it was quite significant in my decision-making processes of what works to the messages that I want to convey to other people, where it's very individualistic, or one to one and personal. I will say that creating safe spaces are quite important, because I do want to capture people in an environment where they can feel vulnerable, and they are in the headspace where they are receptive to whatever message I am conveying, depending on the project that I am producing. I think that that just facilitates an experience that just allows them to just be and feel and respond, I would say.
Object Lessons Space
I remember reading To You Out There. It’s such a small, slim publication, and I am sure it was intentional to have it be that size, because you hold it in the palm of your hand. You really just cup it really nicely. I remember being struck by this really quiet, assured tone that the publication had. I think what this publication offered up was such a beautiful response, in the sense where you were asking people what they needed, to take the space that they needed, and to engage people in that conversation as you talked about earlier. I wanted to talk about that particular invitation to facilitate conversation and to sit with people, because that seems to also take up quite an essential and prominent role within the way in which you put work together – regardless of the media that you work in as well. Within your work, why would you say the act of facilitating conversation is crucial?
Clarice Ng
In terms of art making, I do see that creating or facilitating this dialogue with the individual experiencing it is very important to me. I see my practice as a means to not only express how I personally see and exist in the world, but it's also a means for me to connect with my surroundings, as well as the communities that I'm in, as well as the people that I'm connecting with as well. Creating this kind of conversation allows me to feel more connected, and to also acknowledge that the art exists beyond just me and my practice. It also can exist in other people's lives, and I also want to invite them into this dialogue, because I just feel like it's a lot more powerful in that way. I don't want to just tell my own story. I feel like it would resonate with a lot more people, and it would be a lot more relevant, when I have this sort of platform that people can enter, and for them to also say, “Oh, this is how you see things, and this is how I see things.”
Object Lessons Space
Prior to us hopping onto this call, we had a short chat. That was when you also spoke about how important it was to co-author alongside readers, or viewers or listeners, and I was wondering if we could also spend some time speaking to that particular process as well. For people who think about art making, or artists who work as individuals, the idea is almost always that you present a final product at the end of a day, be it either in the form of an exhibition, a publication, or whatever that might be. But it almost seems as if that leaving it open-ended has been quite important for yourself. I was wondering if you could tell us about what some of the possibilities that have been birth as a result of this open-endedness are, and whether there are particular moments that come to mind where work of yours was able to take on an entirely different nuanced, or it was deepened incredibly, as a result of an audience's response or participation?
Clarice Ng
My practice is not fully completed, or the works I produce aren’t fully realized until the audience is existing within it. This happens only when it comes to its showcasing, or when it's open to the public, and that's when the experience comes full circle. One example I can give is of an older work I made in 2019. It's entitled For A Moment, We Were Children Again. Essentially I made a blanket fort in an independent gallery space – this was back in London when I was still there – and it was in response to the theme of childhood through this perspective of adulthood. I created a blanket fort, and I got people to come into this little fort made of five different chairs and there were curtains draped all over it. It could hold about maybe four to five people in total. What was inside was a mat laid out, as well as a chest full of objects reminiscent of childhood, and I was planted inside as a sort of mediator or facilitator to prompt the conversation. I would introduce the space to whoever walked in by saying, “Welcome to the blanket fort. In here, there's no concept of time, so feel free to interact with these objects.” The audience was invited to speak about their childhood experiences that come to mind as they played with these different things. I included a multitude of items in the chest. It ranged from children's storybooks, to soft toys, to scents like aroma therapy and medicated oil – because I quite like that, and it was a childhood scent of mine – and music boxes as well. It goes beyond just the visual to textures, sounds, music, and how that can prompt you to go back to specific memories that you've had or that they've had when they were younger. In this case, I would say that the work doesn't exist just as a blanket fort sitting in a gallery space. It’s more about the experience of the audience entering, how they feel when they listen to me set up this alternate world for the few minutes that they're inside of it, and the experience of them really digging deep into themselves and sharing about their own thoughts and their own experiences with their friends or with strangers, and us having that very intimate conversation. I remember being quite drawn to the variation of responses I got from people who were around my age, and to those who are much older. They were reminiscing about things that they remembered, and I couldn't always relate, but it's just so charming to hear everyone from different backgrounds come together and to say that that was their experience. Even though we're all talking about the same thing, our childhood, it’s so specific to each person. I think that that just brings to light that everyone really comes from different roots, and that really is a big part of who they are today. That was also a means to have a quiet nod to that part of their life, and how that established a foundation for who they are today.
Object Lessons Space
These are such precious moments. I think the way you described it earlier – sacred – is probably the right way to encapsulate these experiences, because it almost feels like within that space, there aren't any boundaries, except the ones that we make with each other and ourselves. It’s just such a lovely encased space to have these really important and precious conversations about who we are, and the people that we are. You touched on this when describing how you put together the blanket fort with scent and with all of these really sensorial elements. A large part of what makes a space, or what makes your work or the installation so inviting is the way in which you emphasise this multi-sensorial experience or whole-bodied experience. You encourage people to pick up the ceramic objects that you put together, you encourage people to sit within – very literally – spaces that you've built, you very carefully put together scents that are comforting and reminiscent of a particular point in time in a person's life. I was wondering if this particular emphasis or attention to detail with regard to this whole-bodied experience was conceived in response to a prior experience, either with the arts or something that perhaps might be more much more personal for yourself?
Clarice Ng
I think this attention to space and a whole-bodied experience when it comes to art was developed in my teen years. That was a period of time of my life when I was very observant of my surroundings and the spaces I was in. I remember taking a lot of walks – walks to nowhere – so I would be exploring different small streets and different structures. I also remember exploring the school I was in, and it was quite cool. In the basement there's a door that you can open, and that leads you to the space underneath the main staircase.
Object Lessons Space
That sounds kind of creepy.
Clarice Ng
Yeah, it's kind of creepy, but you know that there are people above it. Environments like these are so interesting to me, and I will always think of what I could make or present over here that would be an art experience? It would be very dependent on what I would actually make, but I think I've always had that thought process of creating things that would exist in the public or through everyday experiences. I also do have this very specific space that I enjoy being comfortable in at home. I think that translates through a lot of my installations, actually. I feel like this is just me living the space that I'm comfortable in, in my room, and putting it into the installations. I would say that it would be a very comforting, dim light, warm light as well. Just imagine yourself being in the cleanest bedsheets, and it's very cool, no one is sweating. You just feel so comfortable, and one with yourself, and I feel like that's when I can be the most introspective, and I can be the most reflective of taking stock of where I'm personally at in life. What do I want to do next? Even journaling a little bit – that kind of thing. That’s also when I start crafting out my ideas when it comes to creating projects as well, because that's when I'm most deep in thought. How do I want to proceed with certain ideas? How do I want to connect with different people? I think that that kind of environment really facilitates that quite well for me. Those few very personal experiences that are just reflective of my world is just how I've come to these conclusions.
Object Lessons Space
It almost always seems as if there is this ambience and this atmosphere that you strive towards creating, and the media and the materiality of how this comes together is something that perhaps is also a constant process of like seeing what works best in order to fit what you have in mind for space. You work so deftly across so many different media – you do illustrations, you do sound work, you do ceramics, you also put together these amazing and immersive installations as well. Often you incorporate multiple elements within a single work. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about your approach towards materials, and how that process is like for you when you're bringing these media together when making works.
Clarice Ng
Creating multi-sensorial experiences are quite important to me. When it comes to art, I personally feel that the most memorable works are those that are the most engaging, the most inviting, those that put you in a space where different senses have been piqued. That's how I've chosen to translate those similar elements into my own works.

I have this framework that I've made for my personal practice. It's a method that I think works best for me. I consider five different elements – these are based on what I feel I resonate with the most, and what I think would work best for my personal projects as well. The core of it would be the visual because I am mostly a visual artist. Secondary elements that I will incorporate include text as well as sound. For text, I feel like language is something that allows me to speak to someone else without being present, so that's quite relevant to my recent work, Notes on Quietness. For sound, it's something that is quite immediate. You can really bring out a certain emotion in someone just with a melody, so I feel like that's also another layer that adds on top of the visual that just brings you to a different space, or headspace, as well. The last two tertiary elements that I consider would be social and spatial elements. All of this together creates the multi-sensory experiences that I produce. I use this little equation to figure out which works best for what I’m making. There are some exceptions. For example, In Your Hands was about weight, tactility, and feeling. But loosely, that is how I approach it. I mostly start with a concept first, before thinking about what areas of this I want to touch on. What message do I want to say, and what would be the best way to say it?
Object Lessons Space
That really comes through in Notes on Quietness, but before we spend some time on that work, I also wanted to speak to the ongoing collaboration you have with Our Softest Hour as well. Notes on Quietness was the second piece that you've shown as part of Our Softest Hour. The first was I’m Listening… (an echo), which was first presented online – if I’m not wrong, during the Circuit Breaker (lockdown) period. Could you tell us a little bit more about this ongoing collaboration that you have with Our Softest Hour, and how that came about?
Clarice Ng
Our Softest Hour was started by Kim and Nature. They function as collaborative curators. For the first iteration, where I showcased I'm Listening… (an echo), it started off as an open call that they had for the digital exhibition entitled Encounters. I know Kim through a mutual friend, and she knew about my practice and how it deals with intimacy. She invited me to submit something to the open call, just because she thought that it aligned quite well the themes that they wanted to address. I submitted two different proposals for two works. The first proposal was for I’m Listening… (an echo), and the second proposal was for Notes on Quietness, where it only existed as a proposal. Instead of doing both of them for the first exhibition, we kind of split it up where the second work surfaced during Singapore Art Week a few months later, which I think worked out quite well in the end, because Notes on Quietness works well as a physical exhibition. It works well existing in a physical exhibition, as well as a digital exhibition, and it would be the most suitable piece to discuss how we shift between digital and physical spaces when it comes to art experiences.
Object Lessons Space
With Notes on Quietness, the work almost seemed like an instruction manual, so to speak, that encouraged or nudged readers towards moments of softness or care. You included texts such as, “Verbalise your thoughts as you think them for a minute street”, and “An unfiltered reflection or thought. Repeat in front of someone else.” For those who are familiar with you or your work, I'm sure that you have been reading those texts in your voice as well.
Clarice Ng
Oh my gosh, you’re so funny – you guys remember my voice.
Object Lessons Space
I’m sure they would have heard it because it was such a personal touch, and I wanted to talk about that as well. Of course, it makes complete sense, but I also wanted to get your thoughts on this as to why it felt right in that moment to be speaking to readers or the audience in such a direct manner, and to insert that personal touch into this work. This is especially against the backdrop of Singapore Art Week which tends to be quite frenzied with the number of things that are going on, the number of happenings, and the number of shows. Why was that something that you felt was appropriate or right for the moment?
Clarice Ng
Just a bit of background on Notes on Quietness. It was conceived in the middle of last year, during the Circuit Breaker. It addressed the context of how we exist in our immediate spaces when we were under Circuit Breaker where we couldn't exactly leave our homes, so I was looking at how we could see our home settings or domestic spaces in a different light, where it doesn't necessarily have to be something constricting or suffocating, or be related to a state of stasis or being stuck. There’s so much richness within our own imaginary spaces. If we just tap into our brain, there's so much there that you can explore, and you don't have to be physically outside. You can just have a change in perspective towards something to really understand that, “Oh, not everything is routine. Not everything is mundane.” You can sit underneath a table, and you'll feel something different. You don't have to do everything conventionally, essentially. Not that everyone was feeling this way, because I'm also speaking to myself where I did feel a moment of anxiousness or anxiety of the future, because this was in the context of COVID-19, which is still happening, but during the Circuit Breaker especially. That's the perspective that I wanted to offer to the audience for that specific work. I wanted them to look at their neighbours in a different way, look at the people they're living with in a different way, or to look at their own room, or living space, without looking at it – to look at it without the lights on by experiencing it through texture. That’s essentially the core of what the work is. In terms of it being suitable for Art Week, now that you've said that and now that I've experienced Art Week in a more immersive – I'm literally in it. I’m in it, I'm going around it, and I have not seen everything that I want to see. I do think it is a nice way to just pause, and I think Shifting Between also allowed that because only fifteen people were allowed in at a time, which also led to a very long queue, unfortunately, but also I think that gave each individual person the time and space to really sit down with each different work. There were six artists in total, and all of our works do prompt the audience to sit down, engage with it, and there are instructions for most of them, where you can kind of interact with the works as well. I do think that that specific work, as well as the exhibition in totality, was quite a good pause, just to breathe and then to carry on after that.
Object Lessons Space
It was a breath of actual fresh air for a lot of people within the landscape of these multiple things, and often multiple things that were happening at the same time, and feeling like you had to split yourself five ways in order to attend all that you wanted to. To really wrap everything up, I just had one final question for you. It’s been such an incredible time for yourself. You've been in a place of huge, constant growth on multiple levels – artistically, professionally, and I'm sure personally as well. What are you most excited about in thinking about this coming year, and what are the sort of trajectories you're hoping to embark on moving forward?
Clarice Ng
Usually when I produce new works, I do reflect on what I could do better with it. At this point in time, I think what I would really like to work on is to be more ambitious with the installations I create, in terms of really working with scale, working with lights, and how I can make the experience the most controlled – in a way that will best facilitate what I want the viewer to feel. I'm quite excited to look into potential collaborations. That’s something else I want to work on – to be more collaborative in producing work. So far, I feel like the art making process for me has been very intensive, very individual, and very personal. It's almost like looking inward to myself and like extracting what it is I really want to see in this specific way I want to see it. But I also acknowledge that there are limitations if I want to work with mediums that are outside of my expertise. I've had some people reach out to me in terms of collaborating with structures or architectural backgrounds, or when it comes to performance art, or even in the field of music. I think that I would definitely want to expand my practice. I'm also interested in creating more public art, and to work with communities. So far, a lot of the works that I've showcased in Singapore are within the realms of gallery spaces. And I'm very grateful for that, definitely. But I also do want to explore alternative spaces and reach communities that are beyond the traditional profile of a person who would go to an art exhibition. I'm also quite interested in looking into artists residencies. I think it would just give me more of a space to explore, and experiment, and to develop my work, and to produce more as well. By the end of it, if I could just aim towards having a solo exhibition, I think that would be quite nice. It's more of a bucket list thing, but I think it's also nice for the works I make to have their own space as well, just because of the nature of it, especially for installations. Those are roughly what I'm looking at. I'm excited to experiment more with sound. I would say that the first time I experimented with it was during I'm Listening… (an echo), which you mentioned just now. Aside from sound producing, I'm quite interested in voice – which is why this like podcast thing is so apt. You can really understand someone's character based on their choice of words, their tone, the way they speak, or the nuances or how do they enunciate certain things. I just feel like you can kind of tell a lot about a person based on that, so I'm quite interested in creating something using that as a core medium.
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Object Lessons Space
Clarice Ng is an artist whose practice explores the intimacy that exists between the artist and the audience by facilitating multi-sensory experiences through the manipulation of text, sound, social and spatial elements into visual forms.

If you’d like to see more of Clarice’s works, you can visit her website at www.clariceng.com.

Thankyou so much for spending time with us today. We had a lot of fun with this conversation, and I hope you’ve enjoyed sitting in. You can find more articles and transcripts from these podcast episodes on our website, www.objectlessons.space.

We also have a presence on all the usual social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. If you like our work, we do have a Patreon page that you can check out as well.

Mushroomed is a podcast series hosted by Object Lessons Space, and produced in collaboration with the wonderful people at Singapore Community Radio. We’ll see you again next month!



 
Mushroomed is a series of conversations around art making, artistic networks and ecosystems. Sit in on conversations with artists and cultural practitioners. This podcast is hosted by the Singapore-based online platform, Object Lessons Space, and produced in collaboration with Singapore Community Radio.


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