Artist Ye Shufang bids adieu to agar-agar art

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 15, 2013

Artist Ye Shufang's solo exhibition may be titled The Loss Index, but it has given her reasons to be happy.

For one thing, the exhibition at The Private Museum is a final salute to her popular agar-agar installations. The 42-year-old Singaporean has been making works of art with the gelatinous substance since 1997.

She says: "I want to do something else and I needed to tell myself to stop with the agar-agar installations."

She jokingly adds: "It is also quite possible that I have had enough of the cooking."

Her agar-agar installations grew out of an artistic question that she posed herself as a master of fine arts student at Australia's RMIT University, where she graduated in 1998.

"I was among painters and sculptors and their works made me question why something has to be permanent to have artistic value," says Ye, who is married with a daughter in Primary 1.

She then took to making perishable art through cooking because she wanted to challenge herself to "make art without learning new skills, just by drawing, cooking and playing".

The show bids adieu to her agar-agar installations with three seminal pieces.

Experiments For A Very Perishable Very Impermanent Artwork recreates her earliest agar-agar experiments. Rectangles of blue-green agar-agar are tied and hung from long strips of rubber.

Other Miscellaneous Uses Of Agar-Agar III, first made in 2004, was her version of a colour-field, modernist painting using neatly lined hemispheres of agar-agar that form a rainbow palette.

Other Miscellaneous Uses Of Agar-Agar IV, on the other hand, presents the jelly as precious, gem-coloured artefacts. It was first made in 2007.

Ye is happy with her latest show, which also includes drawings, because it reflects her progress as an artist. The new works push beyond the drawings in her last solo exhibition, The Happiness Index. The 2011 show at The Private Museum had clean-cut drawings that explored how people think about happiness and measure it.

In the current show, her drawings examine loss borne of impermanent experiences and fleeting memories, and tries to calibrate it.

The works include hand-drawn reproductions of illustrations from old primary school textbooks and circus posters, pictures that trigger fond childhood memories for her. These images are then overlaid with grids of circles and french curves.

Cookie-cutters are used as ready-made templates to trace graphs of basic patterned units that coalesce as intricate kaleidoscopic images.

She says: "It looks orderly and organised, but you cannot make memories linear or categorise them neatly. This is a known-to-fail attempt and there is a sense of self-mocking here."

But she views the "futile attempt" in her art positively.

She says: "This is a more complex set of drawings and I am happy that I have complicated it visually. It gives me artistic problems to solve in the future."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 15, 2013

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