Yayoi Kusama and The (Irritating?) Interactors

The first time I heard of her was when my prof in university showed me her work as a reference a couple years ago. Still a vague-sounding Japanese artist to a noob student like me then, she became more and more well-known in Singapore, with her work printed on Louis Vuitton bags and now, the ultimate mass publicity of all, the exhibition Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Life is a Heart of The Rainbow’ in the National Gallery. This is perhaps the most popular exhibition I have visited so far… in terms of the most number of visitors, most photographed, and most hashtagged. When I went there on a weekday afternoon after work, the queue at the ticketing office was longer than usual, and the staff admitted they had been busy for ‘the past few months’.

The walkway from the MRT station that leads to the National Gallery – conspicuously Kusama.

Polka dot… and mirror. Two of the most important elements in Kusama’s work

I am not going to describe so much about her work to avoid spoiling the experience of those who have yet to visit. So I will just share some snippets of my experience in the exhibition in relation to the fellow visitors:

The first hall contains paintings from her formative years of pattern exploration. I leaned forward as I was wondering how she executed such perfect brushstrokes and shapes, examining the little details and imagining the possible methods… when I saw a lady touching another painting next to me with her index finger.

I felt irritated instantly. What is she doing and why?? I mean, even if you don’t know basic museum etiquette, shouldn’t you stay away from touching something that is barricaded for a reason? Since she stopped doing that immediately, I just rolled my eyes and walked away. Even if you feel that your fingers are clean and you only touch gently, or if the tactile quality of the artwork make your hands itch), just don’t touch anything (unless you are specifically invited to do so). It may not even be only about artwork per se, but also things in general. If something does not belong to you, what gives you the right to disturb it? Our fingers have a thin layer of oil that may accelerate the degeneration of the paint. Or for whatever reason. Just keep your hands to yourself.

One of her ‘Infinity Nets’ large-scale paintings

The closer look at the painting

Then I arrived at the first installation, which is a yellow room of black polka dots with a mirror box in the middle called ‘The Spirits of The Pumpkins Descended into The Heavens’. I managed to enter the room after 20 minutes of queuing, and I waited again for my turn to take a peek into the peephole on the mirror box that was put in the middle of the room. There were a mom with her two small kids waiting behind me, and the kids were left wandering inside the room. Of course the kids were curious of what was inside the box and started to attempt to climb the steps that led to the peephole, slightly obstructing the people who were having their turn. What made me roll my eyes was the fact that the mom did not do anything to stop her children… So she just let the situation run its course, as if it was cool if her kids cut someone else’s turn. Erm… ok.

Waiting to enter the polka dot room

The next hall houses the famous light room ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of The Souls’. Similar with the previous installation, I was queueing for about 20 minutes to enter this room. I did not know what to expect of what to see inside, so I just made a mental note to myself not to ‘touch the lights’ or ‘get off the platform’ according to what the signs said.

Suddenly something happened. Around 5 minutes before my turn to go in, someone shrieked from inside. The visitors froze for a while. What happened inside? Should we be worried? The museum staff went into the room to attend to the matter. Did they knock on something? Did they step out of the platform? I wondered. Is something broken? Are they going to close down the installation? (just before I can go in!) But people in front of me continued to talk again, as if nothing had happened. No announcement. Nothing. The queue moved forward again, so I concluded nothing serious had happened. And indeed it was the case, as my turn to go in finally arrived.

The museum sitter ushered me in and told me that I only had 20 seconds inside… I suddenly felt a jolt of panic. I quickly prepared the camera function on my phone, trying to capture the scene quickly and to have enough time to enjoy it with my own eyes without the camera. And then they knocked the door three times. The time was up. The description in the brochure that says it ‘invite(s) contemplation in an infinitely repeating, expanded space’ is questionable. There was just no time to contemplate.

My effort in taking a picture in the light room

When I moved to the next hall, a child (who happened to be in the same group of the lady who touched the painting) brought in an opened packet of biscuits into the gallery. The museum staff happened to see it and and politely told the kid to finish it before he could go in to see the exhibition. To be frank all the museum staff that I met that day were friendly and helpful, despite some difficult visitors that I described.

The next hall has a lot of big paintings. And when you have a lot of big paintings, people tend to make it a background to their picture, because they are big, and they look really good (to be fair the exhibition so far had been Instagram-worthy). However, many were just taking too long, snapping many poses at different angles. I mean I am not trying to be this puritan art critique who feels artwork has to be enjoyed in its purest way: looking at a painting, thinking of what could possibly be the meaning while stroking our chin. By all means, take picture for documentation, take picture to maintain your persona on your Instagram account (the museum even provides a hashtag #sgloveskusama for social media purposes), but think of others who want to enjoy the exhibition as well. Perhaps you can step aside and check the string of photos you have just taken. Let other people approach the artwork before you resume the pursuit of taking the perfect photograph.

Having said that, I too decided to take a selfie in front of the painting in an attempt to recreate the publicity poster (see below). Due to the lack of red wig and sharp glare, the attempt failed ;p

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Life is The Heart of A Rainbow’

The publicity poster

Despite all what I wrote above, the exhibition was a good one 🙂

Yayoi Kusama ‘Lide is The Heart of A Rainbow’ opens at the National Gallery from 9 Jun to 3 Sep 2017

Check out their website for admission matters.

Chill Cat

So I had already wanted to write this blog before this interesting news about Miley Cyrus singing with a giant cat as a backdrop came up recently. How apt. Never in my life I had ever thought that I could draw a similarity between her and me.

This is the censored picture hehe:)

This is a more censored version of the picture hehe:)

OK, this is what I want to write about. Recently I made a giant cat. And its name is Chill Cat. And this blog will chronicle the making of this cat.

In one of the classes that I attended, each student was supposed to come up with an artwork to be exhibited. This was rather stressing since the last time I exhibited (my final year project in uni), I had a few months or so to prepare. And now we only had one month or so, not mentioning that the first few weeks could not be used to start making the artwork due to the piles and piles of other assignments to do. Nevertheless, I could still start planning early, and was thinking along the line of what I always liked to do so far… things like comics, cartoons and what-nots. I had a little chat with my teacher, the famous sculpture artist Tang Da Wu… He didn’t object my initial intention of having a 2D work (he is so awesome, he respects the thoughts that you put into your artwork), but he said it would be good if I used this chance to explore the area of 3D sculpting and stuff (which I thought, was an awesome thing as I could get to learn from the master himself).

So in a fine afternoon a few days later I was struck with an  idea of having a garden with an animal sculpture lazing around the compound in my school. The premise was simple: that will serve as a reminder of how people need to chill and stuff in a place where students feel so stressed with examinations. And I proposed to him and he agreed. So that’s how it got started. And I naturally gravitated to choosing a cat as the character perhaps because I did something like this before:

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This is Chill Cat’s predecessor in 2D moving form.

So I felt so satisfied about the fact that I cleared the first stage which was thinking about what to make. The questions remained like how on earth am I going to make it? I knew zero about this thing?! But since Da Wu was so confident about me – the absolute newbie – making this thing, I felt very secured too. I made a miniature wire frame of a cat for a start.

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Then time flew by and came the week before the exhibition. The crazy thing was I even had a notion to go back home during this weekend. Looking back, if I had ever gone back home, Chill Cat would not have been around… it would have just stayed a notion, an idea, disappearing quickly as the wind blows… ok.

First thing, I made the structure using wire, a very thick one. I combined some not so thick one because the thick one needed more strength to bend. But using a thinner wire was wrong (read it carefully: THIS WAS WRONG!), because later on I learned the importance of having a robust wire frame so as to make the structure not sink in when we apply the plaster. I ended up having to make more reinforcement from bamboo sticks to get the structure holding up.

The head in progress

The head in progress

The whole thing in progress

The whole thing in progress and my yellow bag making a cameo. Look at how big the pliers are!

After the frame was somewhat there, I covered it with wire mesh. This was a painful process (literally!), because there were billions (ok, this is too many) of the wire ends which poked and poked.

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Before long, I have already gotten a lot of scratches from making this cat.

The plastering was done for the whole weekend. My life was dedicated for the cat for the whole weekend. My teacher came down everyday to help. I readied myself by bringing a lot of food and the sore throat medicine, as I was unfortunately stricken by another blow of sore throat.

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Pampering a sore throat with sashimi really helped a lot.

I learned how to make a mix of plaster. I did not count how many basket of plaster I made for the whole process but I think the number could easily fetch to 50 baskets (yet I am still far from pro). Working with plaster, especially for a newbie, like me was very tricky. One thing about the mixture of plaster and water is… you can’t stir it because you will spoil the structure formed in the mixture. So to get rid of the existing lumps, you have to gently push them down and crush them against the base of the container.

And then not mentioning the ideal thickness when you start dipping the cloth into the plaster mixture to be applied onto the wire frame. Too thin a mixture will make it splashing everywhere (poor shoes). The best will be when it is like a dough. But at this point of time we have to work fast because it will harden very fast from that point onwards. I should admit I wasted a lot of plaster for not working fast enough or not having the right approximation of the amount that I needed at one point of time. This photo below was the initial stage of putting the plaster cloth. Look at the amount of bamboo reinforcements and the strings of rope that were tied around to keep the shape as much as possible.

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Getting covered... At this point of time I could already breathe much easier. At least the shape was there.

Getting covered… At this point of time I could already breathe much easier. Seeing Chill Cat gaining its flesh and skin was very relieving. Look at the mess I made in the studio. Much thanks for the understanding of the lab technician.

(I have to omit describing a lot of details to avoid a long-winded story)

Really I learned a lot from this process. The good thing about this was that… I did not feel scared after all… The security that I got from the fact that I was just a beginner trying out, having a few friends working around me and the assurance of having an experienced person who would always be there to help really made me chill. As chill as the chill cat. This is not like me. I used to be so stressed and so depressed. I guess this was one of the most important takeaways from this process.

Me working with the master.

Me working with the master

Even though the whole structure was covered, this was still long from completion. Since the shape was rather distorted (due to the problem with the wire frame as explained earlier) and the surface was not so smooth, some patching had to be done. We also moved the cat to the site to see if it blended with the  surrounding (that was a really heavy thing to do. I got a backache from that).

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Chill Cat in the environment

At the end my teacher suggested having the sculpture at the end of the staircase as to make that more obvious to anyone, as opposed to having it laying around at the side. This was a diversion from the initial idea as I was thinking of having it chilling on a green patch of grass at first. During the crit session someone commented that putting it there was very apt because a cat would just be lying in the middle of your way without caring of anyone around it.

Afterwards we brought Chill Cat back to the studio to add the necessary details on its face. The shades, the nose, the bumps on its face. I should admit I did not do much here. I was too scared that I would ruin the finished smooth surface that my teacher could achieve.

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Stopping for a picture. In the middle of shaping the shades for Chill Cat.

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Smiling in its sleep

So we did the remaining work to smoothen the surface out. And I thought the journey was still long because I still needed to colour it. But at the end I decided not to. This was based on a more practical reason, but during the crit session, somebody said that it was more apt to leave it white as the environment already had a lot of colors and giving it colors would make it distracting (or something of that sort). I also felt that leaving it white made it less gimmicky and mascoty.

Monday came (the exhibition opened on the next day), and I was still doing the surface smoothing as it took me longer than expected. People had moved their works to the gallery and I was left behind in the studio. I had no idea when I would be able to end. There was still much rough surface I needed to cover. So my teacher came and told me, “let’s move it to the site at 8 pm.” (It was 7pm). So I worked for another hour and when the clock struck 8, I stopped, looked at it and felt satisfied that my work was done (despite the fact that there was so much more that could be done). So here is an interesting concept: there is no finish line in making a work. One has to take the liberty to put a limit to what is considered as done.

So the exhibition opened. I heard a few remarks that that cat looked like Garfield (which I just realized. Lucky I did not paint it, because I was thinking to paint it orange)

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Sunbathing

Looking back to the time I was not even sure how to make a sculpture and looking at the big white monument in front of me  was like a dream come true… And seeing how people and my classmates took picture along side Chill Cat with the same pose was also like a dream come true, because that was how I imagined people would interact with it (although they had to be instructed to do so haha).

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So (referring to the start of the blog), do you see the similarity?

That’s all! Oh, and as to its whereabouts, Chill Cat is resting at one of  the sculpture garden at Goodman Arts Centre, courtesy of Tang Da Wu.