Issue 2: What’s Up, Wong Lip Chin?

In this issue of Generosity as Medium, Wong Lip Chin discusses contemporary art critical theory, cars, hawker stalls and mustaches. And while some may not see the relations between these seemingly unrelated topics, Wong has the ability to spin them into a brilliant depiction of his artistic practice. Please join us as Wong shares insight into his complex way of thinking and his trajectory as a young new artist. Our conversation reveals that his funny and wacky paintings are not always what they seem on the surface.

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Wong Lip Chin in his studio. Courtesy of the artist.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your art? Can you also talk a bit about the inspirations behind your latest works (which seems to be Pop Art or popular culture)?

I would say that I am most inspired by my everyday life. I try to wake up every single day and live life to the fullest. It isn’t always easy and it certainly isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but it’s imbued with Kafkaism which in itself is enough to inspire me. Talking about my most recent work, I think that it’s been shaped by our current ‘new normal’. The coronavirus has really been forcing us to create differently. The digital work and the recorded performance video for my upcoming exhibition are manifestations of my realignment as I am facing this challenge. As I have been considering all of this, I think that it’s also interesting to present a performance art that is already recorded. For me, it feels like the borders between video art and performance art, past and present, are blurred. 

Performance with a live cow at 2 Cavan Road, 2020.

You have done some interesting performance works involving a live cow, a marble bus stop, and getting tattooed during an exhibition opening. Do you enjoy doing performance art and why? Where do these ideas come from? 

Most might not know this, but I actually started my artistic career with performance arts in 2006. I don’t know if it’s simply because I enjoy it, but I do lean into the idea of performance as a form of contemporary expression. I find that creating through the medium of body language offers an immediacy and confrontation that I can’t do with any other medium. Performance, for me, has always been about making a bold statement and I often consider performance art when I am pressed for time-- I feel like I can communicate through my body just as well as I can through a 2 dimensional medium. 

Work in Progress of Om Ah Hum. Courtesy of the artist.

Do you have a favourite medium to work with? And are there any mediums that you are looking to try? Are there any that you try to avoid?

I don’t really favour one medium over another. To me, the most crucial thing is which medium best expresses the idea I have. I have lately been exploring the medium of the olfactory complex. I think that the senses that are not visibly detectable but are able to be perceived are becoming a focal point of my study. I’m really exploratory and open to trying new things so there isn’t a medium that I am trying to avoid.

Lilou drawings. Courtesy of the Artist.

Your art can be seen as very quirky and funny. What do you think the role of humor is in your art?

I actually find it very interesting when people tell me how lighthearted and funny my art is. Sometime I feel like a lot of the unhappiness that I put into my paintings end up being funny to other people. I think that comedians are some of the most depressed people, and comedy is their way of joking about themselves-- a way to create some sort of cognitive dissonance from the issue. I am not someone who’s really good at expressing myself through writing or speaking so art is just my way of expressing. I guess the thing with art is that there’s always the side of the viewer and the audience’s interpretation is out of my control.

Studio shot. Courtesy of the artist.

The paintings for your upcoming show were mostly created in 2014 back when you first started out as a young emerging artist, why are you showing them now? Has your thoughts about this body of work changed? How do you see yourself developing from here?

I made so much art from 2013 to 2015 and I really felt a lot of enthusiasm towards those pieces. I had really wanted them to be shown but it just kind of fell through. To a certain extent, I feel really detached from these paintings, partly because it’s been quite some time, but also because I think that once I complete a piece, it has a life of its own. It grows and changes by itself. Looking at these paintings now, I no longer see them the way that I used to while I was creating them and the dialogue has completely transformed. 

Looking back at the trajectory of my thought process in art, the expression of the idea is more important than the artistic and aesthetic concept. These past couple of years, I’ve been thinking about how to keep my clear idea or expression while also packaging it in a clear visual and aesthetic direction that best encapsulates the balance between the blue and red pill-- the unpleasant truth versus blissful ignorance. 

Ramen break! Courtesy of the artist.

You were the owner of multi-concept store Steamroom with The Pillar and Stones in 2017, and a ramen stall at Maxwell in 2014. What is the relationship between business and art for you?

I would say that I approach business methodology the same way that I approach art-making-- It’s actually something that I want to discuss in my upcoming artist talk. 

In my opinion, there isn’t enough interest in the arts in Singapore; people aren’t really getting out there to see what’s new in our local arts scene or trying to buy art and there really isn’t any platform to discuss art in a genuine way. It’s been making me think about how the public interacts with the arts. I think that folding art and business together is a way to help reach a larger audience. 

I’m very interested in the study of relational aesthetics. It’s a study of art observed and highlighted by French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud.  In a nutshell, relational art encompasses a set of artistic practices that are predicated upon a direct interaction with human beings and their social context. It is effectively meant to take art out of private and white walled spaces. Likewise, I’m trying to bring art outside of sterile spaces and make it available to everyone. I think that creating these projects like The Pillars and Stones and Jefu at Maxwell Food Center is where I can bring art to people through a business, and food, that is familiar and palatable. 

Oomoo (left) and Hipster Lilou (right). Check out more iterations @lilou.oomoo!

Can you tell me more about the two characters Lilou and Oomoo that you have created and often feature in your work? How long have you been developing them and what iterations have they gone through since? Are they a reflection or representation of you in some sense?

Lilou (the male) was created in 2008 and Oomoo (the female), maybe around 2013. Lilou has certainly become more handsome around 2013 (*laughs*). I’ve been trying to change him to be able to express more emotions through facial expressions. These characters are highly influenced by my interest with popular culture, from games to manga or a mascot of a household brand. I like the ideology behind creating a representative character. I am always intrigued by characters like Mario or Mr. Pringles. There is a certain sense of role-playing for the characters in my work and I see it as a sort of catalyst for me to work and manifest myself in the work. If you want to see more developments of Lilou and Oomoo, you can check out my instagram @lilou.oomoo!

Painting of Oomoo in the studio. Courtesy of the artist.

Why did you choose to have a male and a female character? What is their relationship with each other? Why does Oomoo (the female character) have a mustache? 

Oomoo is actually Lilou’s companion, like his other half. They are always on a date in my work. As to why Oomoo has a mustache, I guess it’s just because when I see a woman with a Dali-esque mustache in old movies I find it quite sexy and mysterious.

What are your interests outside of art?

In my free time, I do a lot of sports. I can’t now because of coronavirus but I do like to do rock climbing when I have time. I also do calisthenics which is an outdoor sport relying on body weight. I think that painting can be mentally strenuous so doing something physical lets me clear my mind. 

The artist's environment. Images courtesy of the artist.

Tell us about working at a car workshop. How does your surroundings affect your creative work? Do you like cars? 

I help co-manage the car workshop. I don’t repair the cars but working there has piqued my interest in cars' body paint. I see cars as a three dimensional canvas and I’ve been thinking about the different mediums it’s been introducing me to, for example an automotive airgun on canvas or paint on a car body.

I chose the car workshop because, well, I like cars. I first started getting into cars and JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) when I was younger. I love the symphony of exhaust and the vehicles that we get to see. My interest with JDM started while hanging out with my uncle; he and I started this car workshop and after he passed, I helped take care of it.

I’ve also taken to painting on the walls of the workshop, you can see some shots on our instagram @ygmotorworks.

A glimpse of prosperous proportion, 2014. Courtesy of the artist.

Your work explores the multisensorial - does this mean you like to live life at large? Which of the five senses guide you the most? What are some of your impulses?

I am really intrigued by the idea of the multisensorial because I think that when someone sees a painting, they are visually stimulated, but the other senses are just as important and can have such a transformative effect on people. For example, the olfactory sense is so powerful and immediate that just smelling something can transport you back to a specific time and place in the past. I really find that notion so interesting, it’s so abstract and unable to be seen or felt and that’s kind of why I’m really interested in the multisensorial. The other senses that a visual artist may not necessarily consider can be just as impactful as a visual representation. 

I hang out with a lot of creatives, not just visual artists, like chefs and musicians and I am greatly inspired by my friends and their crafts. For example, I think that the artistry of being a chef is so true and deep and they actually engage with their medium similarly to how a painter would. There is such detail paid to not only the plating, but the taste. While the way that the food on the plate can be artistic, it is a completely different expression and experience to taste an amazing dish. 

I guess this all comes back to relational aesthetics. I think that art that departs from the human experience intrigues me the most. And this doesn’t mean solely a visual experience, it’s a multisensorial one, an all-encompassing one.

What shows are you into these days?

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the Netflix drama Extracurricular. I think that it’s such an interesting show. I really recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a new show to get into. It’s all about how what you see is not what you get and I like it when things are deeper than they seem because that’s kind of what my art feels like; on the surface my art seems really lighthearted and fun but in reality, the inspiration may have been dark and something difficult that I’m trying to parse through by myself.

Thank you for talking to us!

INTERVIEW AND EDITED BY RILEY YUEN