ego – skewed sonnet of learning curve

harmony in variety of five colours in tetrahedric relation, basic tones suggests ideas of young, intuitive learning.series inspired art direction of shinro ohtake’s pieces in ‘paper-sight’, an exhibition birthed during his residency at stpi.ego: skewed sonnet of learning curve is a series of twelve 20x20mm works that explore the obscure concepts of growth and maturity – childish sexual discovery and broken virginity.

the first three lines – y=9, y=13, y=16 – are based on a sonnet written by myself during my adolescent years. the poem goes by the same title. vocabulary used in each stanza are translated both literally and figuratively in visual chaos to create a whole new expression and interpretation of the sonnet.

the last line is based on a poem titled y=21, written to specially for this piece embody the current self.

throughout the series i play with local references to target subliminal memories of childhood without direct recognition.

the following line is based on this stanza

in each line, i use heavily saturated accent colours in the subject to create an emphasis, foreground and background. the composition of the elements follow a certain diagonal to create dynamic and order in the variety. one glance, a clear narrative. but upon every closer look, there is new revelation and symbols to skew the thought.

mutilated graduation photograph of young me
candy canes and cane rods
scissors &
drawing of scissors that looks like a penis
bata logo missing a T – baa baa baa
faceless sheep
ken doll

dragon playground
bandages that form crossses
drawing of playground

velcro bata shoe
tassel whip
carcass of sheep
skull of sheep
eyes from photo of young me in first composition
punishment lines that read: “i will make better choices”
photo of squatting young me
drawing of myself playing at slide that looks like a penis

the following line is based on this stanza

ideas of puberty creep into this line. lots of pinks and blues are used to pull focus and illustrate the concept of litmus (as emphasized in the stanza).

girl with tassle whip hair
christian school pinafore
my eyes in lab goggles
cats cradle
diagram of hand sign to intercourse
my surname – 姚 – with chinese character of female in green
chinese foolscap box
‘popo’ (missing p) and ‘fish’ from fish muruku packaging
sex diagram paper cut out

lab beaker
photo of me with eyes from first composition masked out
mouth from hentai comic
student couple kissing from stomp
data log chart
ovary diagram as pipette
ministry of education logo
pythagoras theorem
para para sakura arrows
old nokia phone

grapefruit and other citrus fruits
fish muruku mascot baby
hand holding litmus paper
nipples with milk squirting out
lab beaker
diagram of double helix DNA

the following line is based on this stanza

the great gatsby – my literature text – is an overarching theme in this line. green (as in the green light in gatsby) is used to pull and subvert focus from subject and background.

my teenage photo
face in gatsby cover
eyes from photo of my teenage self
gatsby blackout poetry
uno with ‘no’ highlighted

‘eyes of god’ from gatsby
batman’s joker mouth and nose (ref to shootings in 2012)
receipt with handwriting that reads ‘find rich husband’
eyes from my teenage self

rocking horse
handwritte ‘slut’ missing the L
snare drum
‘stop’ and ‘+2’ uno cards
the great gatsby analysis worksheet

the following line is based on this poem

this line is simplified to show mature concepts that have evolved with the young adultish mind of my current self.

sparkling fuji apple logo mispelt to form ‘spankin’
bird from snow white
photo of my current self overlayed with question marks
snow white’s mouth

drawing of snow white in sexy attire
birthday cake
birds from snow white
recording watermark
fuji apple from sparkling fuji apple drink
‘F’, ‘A’, ‘P’ highlighted

mother mary as the witch from snow white
sparkling fuji apple canned
egg and sperm that form bubbles
photo of my current self praying
snow white’s sleeve, collar and crown

alas, the final product — to be reproduced one day, larger scale, silk screen printed on canvas.



Forrest Gump: Shadow Stories

Time flies over us but leaves its shadow behind. Seven decades have passed since the last World War, yet here we are still living in finger-tapping anticipation for the next. Some say that shadows are the greatest teacher of how to come to the light. It is also my personal belief that to light a candle is to cast a shadow — and the reason we bring light to the philosophies of our predecessors is to live in its shadow.   The concept of shadows first tickled my curiosity when I discovered American Director David Fincher. His signature technique of shadow placement conceals the identity of the characters and adds texture to the setting.  

I wanted to use this concept as a backdrop to dictatorship across the decades. The shadows give light to the religious connotations and propagandist notions of their rule, exposed by the literary cipher of their corresponding religions.   

The artistic direction of the following compositions were inspired by the propaganda aesthetic of the respective dictators. The amount of literary elements in each composition correspond to the level of verbal communication used in their chapters. 

In an insane world, a sane man must appear insane.
– Golic/ Alien 

This composition revolves around Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim sentiments. When I first read this quote, I was reminded of how the words of Donald Trump sound insane to some, yet manage to captivate the audiences. It portrays him to be a Jinn — a genie mentioned in the Quran to be made out of smokeless fire.

They are said to be created before man, and are mentioned in the Quran as malicious, wicked beings with supernatural powers created by God from a pure, smokeless fire, which would explain why they are often seen with smoke coming out of them:

​“The Angels were created from light and the Jinn from smokeless fire.” — Saheeh Muslim

The visual of Donald Trump is juxtaposed by a Surah in the Quran about Jinn in arabic cipher that reads:

“And there were men from mankind who sought refuge in men from the jinn, so they [only] increased them in burden.” –Surah 72

The Jinn are analogised as genies (and are depicted  in hidden ways in stories such as Aladdin) and present themselves in different forms, including humanoid and animal. Hence it is possible that they could appear in a kind of shadowy form too. They dematerialize quickly and are able to appear dark, animalistic, and even in strange contorted figures, vapours mists or cloud.

It is said that they are created out of free will as we are, and live in a parallel world to ours and in communities (much like humans). Because of their free will, some are good and some are evil. They feel themselves to be superior to humankind, and thus it is said that God cast them out of this world until ‘judgement day.’

These beings have an agenda against us, and cause a lot of chaos and havoc much like demons do, and it is believed that they are a part of the army of Satan. They have shape-shifting abilities and use them in order to create deliberate confusion.

The shadow of Trump is cast upon in a streak of arabic cipher that reads ‘build a wall’ in an visual style that mimics the propagandist banners of Al Qaeda.

His shadow is seen to be receding into the light. It makes you question his words, which is the most powerful dictating tool of Donald Trump.

What sick ridiculous puppets we are and what a gross little stage we dance on. – John Doe/ Se7en

This composition is satirical of Hitler’s Nazi rule. It portrays him to be crucified on a shadow of the holy cross. The silhouette of satan forms the other hand on the crucifix, it the poise of cruxifixction when placed against the iconic nazi hand gesture.

This quote reminded me of how Hitler puppeted his audiences with common enemy and fear. I decided to use a spotlight to depict a stagedness. The cipher cast upon in hebrew reads:

Psalm 41

Happy is he who considers the poor; the Lord will save in the day of evil.
The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; he is called happy on earth; and You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.
The Lord will strengthen him on his sick bed; whenever he is prostrate You will heal all his illnesses.
I said, Lord, be merciful to me; heal my soul; for I have sinned against You.
My enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish?
And if one comes to see me, he speaks vanity; his heart gathers iniquity to itself; when he goes out, he tells it.
All who hate me whisper together against me; against me they plot my harm.
They say, An evil disease cleaves fast to him, and from where he lies he shall rise up no more.
Even my own close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may pay them back.
By this I know that You favor me, because my enemy does not triumph over me.
And as for me, You uphold me in my integrity, and You set me before Your face for ever.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.

Man is the most dangerous animal of all. – Zodiac/ Zodiac

This composition is expressive of the dictatorship of Pinochet. I was inspired by an interview on the rule whereby a Chilean pronounced coup as ‘coop’. This reminded me of a chicken coop, which sparked the idea of portraying human beings to be animals. The helicopter in the background to represent the notorious purging style of Pinochet.

I wanted to express this under the premise of a notoriously dangerous shadow being known as the Hat Man. He is just like the classic shadow figure, but also different in appearance and energy vibe. This one wears what appears to be a cape or trench coat and a hat which can range from a top hat to a fedora or cowboy hat.

​The reason for this added attire is unknown. One can only speculate that it is to give a sense of mystery or even intimidation (because he is a dark, intimidating entity), or he has picked a fashion from an era and stuck with it, trying to blend in. It could be a form of mind control or manipulation, working on our subconscious minds in some way. Perhaps we associate the hat as part of a universal symbol or archetype that conveys a sense of status, influence,  power and control. It establishes a stark sense of ‘presence’ and is something you can’t forget.

​The hat could be a form of disguise to cover up an unusually shaped head that could be alien in appearance, or it is some kind of otherworldly technology or even protection device.

The shadow of Pinochet is juxtaposed by a light overlay of the arabic text from the bible that reads: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished. 21 But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property.”

We’re meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us. – Benjamin Button/ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This quote reminded me of Saddam Hussein and his ultimate objective to unify by purging. A concept that led to the idea of shadow figures who are often seen appearing and disappearing in groups.

Some people have seen shadow figures outdoors or in nature settings like forests. These ones that hang around trees are said to be ‘shadow stalkers.’  Some say that they are protective spirits that guard nature and protect the elementals. They appear as shadow beings but are possibly not actually harmful.

​One of the quirks of such shadow stalkers is that they mimic people who see them. So when the person moves, they move too, when the person stops, they stop too and so forth.  Another noticeable characteristic is that when they traverse through the woods they do not cause the normal nature sound effects you would hear from an animal or person (such as leaves rustling and twigs snapping). This is because of their inter-dimensionality.

This is juxtaposed by the quote from the Quran shone on Saddam that reads: “Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects – you, [O Muhammad], are not [associated] with them in anything. Their affair is only [left] to Allah ; then He will inform them about what they used to do.”

Collectively, these compositions serve as political, social, and religious commentary from my personal interpretation and sentiments towards their dictatorship. It represents what I have to say as an artist and as a human brought up in a highly stringent, highly religious family — yet keeping it scoped out and open enough for interpretation.

What came of this was a propagandist multiverse that is surrealist in logic, but realistic in nature.

Principles of Design

This is a 3-member presentation with
Ryan Sng and Sherry Yap

The Principles of Design describe the ways that artists use elements of art in their work. They are mechanisms of arrangement and organization. Today we will touch on the principles of harmony, pattern, size, scale, proportion — which — when mastered can help you to purposefully compose elements of art to communicate your desired effect.

Harmony in visual design means all parts of the visual image relate to and complement each other. It is the visually satisfying effect when we combine similar elements in a work. In A Basket of Flowers with Shells on the Ledge (1975) by Balthazar Van Der Ast, the artist used a red colour to create harmony throughout the differentiated shapes and axes of the elements. The use of adjacent colours on the colour wheel can help to harmonise differentiated shapes, and likewise the use of similar shapes can help to tie elements of contrasting colours together. This can be achieved by using repetition and rhythm — a concept commonly synthesised to be known as pattern.

Pattern is showing consistency by connecting the elements.

The use of pattern can synergise the elements in a composition. In The Web of Corporate Good (2017) by Ryan Mamba, the repeating triangles pull together the different directions, scale, perspective and axes of the shards. The variation in its scale creates a flowing dynamic in the composition of the architecture that leads towards a focal point.

This principle is evident in architecture, urban landscape, film and photography. It can also be used to synergise works of a series.

Wes anderson uses blocked symmetry and a curated colour scheme in his works to create synergy throughout the scenes — and even define his style.

Pattern can also be used in more candid, photorealistic works. The three-tined shape of the pitchfork in Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) is repeated exactly in the clothing. It is also repeated in the windows and vertical lines in the house. On the other hand, curved shapes surround the woman’s head – in the broach, curved edge of her dress and background trees. This repetition of shape unifies the painting, while the differences between the vertical and curved shapes give the painting a balancing sense of variety.

How do we properly leverage on the properties of these patterned shapes or lines or forms? We can use them in a rhythmic manner by repeating elements, creating a movement in which some elements recur regularly. Repetition works with pattern to make the artwork seem dynamic.

In a rhythmic pattern, elements could be regular or irregular and even or uneven. Elements in the form of radiation where the repeated elements spread out from a central point. Or the form of gradation where the repeated elements slowly become smaller or larger.

In Anthem (2017) by Ryan Mamba, identical polygonal elements and identically positioned flags are repeated in a predictable manner, creating an organised direction that guides the eye to move diagonally.

Whereas in Cuboid (2016) by Ryan Mamba, the lines lead towards a vanishing point, guiding the eye to the subject at the center. The idea of graduation is seen in these diminishing rectangles, creating a depth. The idea of radiation is seen in the splayed axes of elements created by the perspective of the photo. The repeated parallelograms also create a synergy that composes the elements of photo in the same direction.

Rhythmic composition of elements can indicate movement and make an artwork seem active. The repetition of elements of design creates a clear sense of consistency, cohesiveness, and unity — which we will talk more about in the later parts of this presentation.

Unity refers to the synergy of the whole composition. The parts of a composition made to work together as a total visual theme. /It is the relationship among the elements of a visual that helps all the elements function together.

my line is emo: documents_

what is an emotion? is it an intrinsic feeling or an extrinsic expression? how then can we document_ these intangible emotions on physical matter?

a sentiment, an experience, a memory or a feeling — captured in a document_ — emotions splayed upon these fibres in ink, etched upon my memory in nerve, marked upon these matter in matter.

and thus upon these lines, materialised my emotions as \outward reactions to inward feelings.

documents_ is an abstract mixed media piece that constitutes of six lines of block printing ink upon paper mached documents. each line expresses an emotion that is embodied by the document in question.

while the lines carry visual indicators of the relative emotions, the process and mark-making tools used are also significant of the premise. and while the lines symbolize varied emotions, there is a gloominess throughout the strokes — a dark joy, a conflicted surprise, etc. — that comes off the organic expression of a heavy narrative.

the paper mache brings a different texture to the lines, while the lines bring a different texture to the documents and its pretext.

preliminary mark-making_
the first step in my mark making process was to curate a set of close-to-heart documents_ that embody six different emotions (to be discussed in the later parts of this entry). i then scanned and processed them in adobe photoshop to reproduce the print on paper of my choice.

choice of paper_
i chose paper to match the contextual properties of the documents. the colours and textures of the paper resemble what these documents were originally printed on — vintage newsprint paper, certificate paper, stone-textured paper, etc. the varied textures also created a nice variation in the grain and texture of ink marks.

treatment of paper_
i soaked the paper in hydrogen peroxide mixed water to wear the print. afterwards i lay them on a silkscreen and pressed them dry with a roller and felt paper. they were then dried between sheets of newsprint paper on a rack.

paper — my grandfather’s death certificate
ink — block printing ink
tool — my grandfather’s slipper

my grandfather was an abusive man. at his funeral, though gloomy, i felt a stark feeling of joy. it was a spontaneous feeling that bubbled and exploded in little bursts, yet the undertone was sinister. there was an intense happiness during his wake. my brother and i kicked around the cathedral for the first time, it was the start of our freedom. we could finally return to a home without worrying about how our calves would feel the next day. it was an exciting new feeling – tears of joy were salty yet sweet.

for this piece, i trampled on a mache of my grandfather’s death certificate with an inked slipper. the grain of the slipper and the ink that gets caught on the grooves of the paper mache form bulbous shapes that combine in little explosions. the movement is swift and has an upward trajectory, much like the bouncy feeling of joy. yet the undertone is not too pleasant, significant of the deep feelings that brought about this joy.

paper — music score to ‘drown’ by bring me the horizon
ink — block printing ink
tool — fingers drenched in diluted ink

during my teenage years i experienced simultaneous crises of identity and purpose. i was in a slump and my feelings were raw. many of my peers poked at my fragile emotions and made me question my existence. and the silence at home was deafening. i would listen to ‘drown’ by bring me the horizon, an alternative metal song that bore uncanny resemblance to my plight, proof that i was not alone. even to this date, the song pulls at the strings of my adolescent memories and feelings of tenderness.

What doesn’t kill you makes you wish you were dead.
Got a hole in my soul, growing deeper and deeper.
And I can’t take one more moment of this silence.
The loneliness is haunting me.
And the weight of the world’s getting harder to hold up.

It comes in waves, I close my eyes.
Hold my breath and let it bury me.
I’m not okay, and it’s not alright.
Won’t you drag the lake and bring me home again?

Who will fix me now? Dive in when I’m down?
Save me from myself, don’t let me drown.
Who will make me fight? Drag me out alive?
Save me from myself, don’t let me drown.

Excerpt from Drown by Bring Me The Horizon

these lines inspired me to use water in this piece. i drenched my paper in water and splayed diluted ink over it to create a feathered print.

my first layer resulted in a light greyish splatter print that watermarked over the paper. i decided to go over it with concentrated ink to create aggressive splotches that feather out slightly at the edges. the print looks almost painful to touch. the splatters are raw, but connote a certain fragility and rawness.

paper — bible
ink — block printing ink
tool — fingers drenched in diluted ink

fear is the day i stopped going to church. to those who bullied me and those who i bullied, the pastor read this scripture:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. . . . This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.

Deuteronomy 20:10-17

the verse, on destroying other people, frightened me. it was the first time i questioned the beliefs that i had based my life on. the divine power that i thought was there to protect me had turned into my biggest punisher. all of a sudden i realised i had been sinning my entire life.

this inspired me to create splattered lines that depict a speedy movement. the strokes are fast, sharp and haphazard. yet you can notice a muted tone in at the broader end of the line. i wanted to create a line that embodied the feeling as fear hits in riptides that stun and confuse with the influx of realisation. fear is unexpected and random, it will jar. the haphazard axes of the lines resemble this phenomenon. sub-note: though unintended, the thorny nature of the marks also connote the crown of jesus.

paper — 1984 article on the graduate mothers’ scheme
ink — block printing ink
tool — scrubbing sponge

i wanted to dedicate a piece to my mother, a woman who had guided my emotions to places. my mother recommended this article of the 1984 graduate mothers’ scheme of which she had archived. she played a part in many of the rallies that stood up against this policy. the article is the first among many to oppose against the scheme; an article that projected many to follow in a national outcry. a symbol of the nations anger and rebellion towards the government of that time.

i used an old scrubbing sponge to create heavy and swift marks that coagulate to show an anger that emits and spreads. the sponge is also a symbol of the hands of women in that masochistic era, fighting for an equal environment for themselves and the children.

paper — my gce ‘o’ level certificate
ink — block printing ink
tool — sponge cut into circle

surprise is a feeling that catches you off guard. there are many kinds of surprising feelings, but they all give off the same kind of tingly, whirly sensation. when i received my gce ‘o’ level results, i was surprised with both high and low-spirited feelings. coming from a lower end neighbourhood school, i never thought i would qualify for a decent junior college — but i did. it was a sudden abundance of choice, and i did not know which was better, a junior college or a polytechnic. i eventually opted for a junior college, but left after a year to pursue more creative endeavours.

i wanted to create a spontaneous and whirly pattern with the round cut sponge. i used the dry sponge on concentrated ink to create the porous effect that resembles a sort of celebratory firework. i then flipped to the back to the sponge to create swirls that connote the whirly feeling that hit me at the back of my head.

paper — ‘fault lines’ by cheryl julia lee
ink — block printing ink
tool — hand

perhaps the most simplistic and minimalistic of the series. this piece embodies the feeling of melancholy i get when reading my favourite poem — fault lines by cheryl julia lee. it speaks about a story much like my grandmother’s, coming from a patriarchal peranakan family, who used to be abused by my grandfather.

Grandma was too small to move a mountain
so they made her wash dishes instead. Her hands
cracked for the first time underwater,
again when she brushed a stray strand of hair
from her face, again when her touch
made baby cry. But Grandma is good
at doing what she has to do. She rubs
her cries into splintered hands, wipes the broken
syllable from her lips, and keeps on scrubbing.
Even later when they made her carry
the laundry on a bamboo pole, the wood
rubbing away at her skin, she bore it like a proud
flag bearer. These earthquakes tearing up fault lines
on her palms are too small, too local
and no one notices that she strokes with knuckles,
that she sits always with folded hands,
that the fortune teller cannot tell her future.

Fault Lines by Cheryl Julia Lee

I wanted to create a sense of desolation and drop-to-the-ground sadness by isolating the concentrated handprints in one single spot. the stroke is slow and graduated, much like the muted sadness as one basks in melancholy. the faded ends of the handprint also represent a certain sense of loss and lack of energy. the initial palm print is heavy as if an abrupt puff of despair.

Intro to Mark-making–not-my-life-pen-drawings.jpg

Our first mark-making assignment is an open-ended expression of 6 emotions.

The assignment allows us to explore different media to create unique marks of organic form. At this preliminary stage, we are trying out different tools and mediums to find a mark that we can call our own. Today, we created marks with basic stationery like pencils, pens and markers — blindly scribbling shapes and patterns with no premonition. Perchance, we’d find our mark.