Most children would grow up receiving toys as gifts. This Singapore artist however, remembers fondly how she would “create toys using junk” with her siblings. As a child, she would create toys of her own, with paper, biscuits boxes, matchsticks and even “pens that run out of ink.”
“My father used to be a carpenter,” shares Joo Choon Lin. “(He) encouraged me to make my own toys (by) drawing, cutting and pasting.”
Now, such a “hands-on” approach becomes this artist’s way of making art and grappling with our tech-obsessed lives.
With her latest exhibition Resolution of Reality at Hermès Third Floor, Joo makes old gadgets take on a new life as almost organic matter; in one installation, these devices are filmed in the process of “melting away”.
Vaporised by Sunrise by Joo Choon Lin
Modelled after old television sets, cameras and other gadgets, these styrofoam objects gradually disintegrate in the stop-motion video, like organic matter as it sizzles and dissolves in acetone, in an almost eerie way.
“I decided on using styrofoam,” explains the artist, “instead of using the actual objects because I found the foam very similar to the human flesh.”
“When the foam is melted using the solvent, the process is very organic, much like an acid-burn to the skin or meat being cooked on a hot-plate. It’s as if the (old) objects are a part of us dissolving away.”
It’s an appeal to take a closer look at the gadgets that we’ve become so reliant on. These may be devices that most of us have used; yet these remain as objects that we take for granted, until the moment that it breaks down.
Joo shares an analogy: “For example, when you wear shoes, you seldom think about them. In fact, you only begin to pay attention to your shoes when they stop working properly; when they pinch your foot or when the sole comes off.”
“But technology is quite different from shoes,” muses the artist. “Technology overwhelms and can even dictate our way of lives; it becomes a necessity to keep pace with it.”
It’s easily something that most of us can relate to; like that almost irrational need to get the newest smartphone or tablet device out in the market.
The artist herself avoids such an obsession by relying on just “a cheap touch-screen phone” that costs only about “15 quids” (just about S$29).
Still, she can’t deny its usefulness: “I am still trying to install Google Maps, which is the most essential app for me,” admits the artist.
She’s currently based in Glasgow, zipping between countries for different art projects and exhibitions. Joo does appreciate the ability to travel — she feels that the change in environment keeps her at her feet by working with new “materials and limitations” each time.
Once in Japan, when heavy snow prevented her from venturing out, Joo started working with just what she had in her studio.
She began to experiment with an old inkjet printer, which unexpectedly became an art object; she started noticing the peculiar sounds it produced and the movements it made when “spewing out paper”.
This led to Multi-Tiered Falls (on the right): an old dot matrix printer hangs upside down, with a stream of paper cascading from it, almost like falling water.
Joo hastens to add that she is “not rejecting the present” nor is she “being nostalgic”. It is curiosity that drives this preoccupation with old gadgets; she likens it to wanting to find out more about how “pyramids were built”.
“I hope we can all become more than just passive consumers, having more knowledge and control over the things we buy,” Joo opines, as she explains about her work.
“I want to encourage people to make things with their hands. And I hope that people will learn to appreciate the process about how things come about, rather than just (buying them) from the shops.”
Joo Choon Lin’s Resolution of Reality is held from now to December 16, 2012 at Hermès Third Floor, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers, opening hours: 10.30am to 7.30pm. Admission is free.