Singaporean artist Yi Lin Juliana Ong on how a residency in Shanghai led her to reinterpet ancient artefacts from China in her modern, graphic way.
Inspired by mingqi from the Han Dynasty, Ong says: “I wanted to make a project more specific to where I am.”
They say you make your own luck, and Yi Lin Juliana Ong did just that when she pushed herself to send yet another sample to the fabric printer. Inspired by the Chinese work ethic and the slick studio space that complemented it, Ong focused on producing as many works as possible during her six-month long residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Little did she know that the work she was compelled to create would end up catching the eye of Swatch Creative Director Carlo Giordanetti. The result? The watch that launched in Singapore marked the first time the Swatch Art Peace Hotel Special was created by an artist from the Swiss watchmaker’s artist-inresidence programme.
Ong’s Shanghai journey saw her taking her well-honed blackand- white pencil drawings and pushing herself further by turning them into screen prints, followed by fabric works, and even ready-to-wear garments. The former Royal College of Art student says, “I kept asking myself questions like, ‘What can I do with it now?’ ‘Patterns?’ ‘Let’s digitise this…. ’ ‘What can I do when I do this?’” In fact, Ong jokes that she might have made one too many pieces: “Do I regret printing so many things? Yes, I do [laughs]. Now that I’m back in Singapore, I have nowhere to store them.” Ong initially planned to produce sketches of Shanghai architecture during her residency. But once she embarked upon her research on Chinese art history and started to comb through art books at the National Library in Singapore, she immediately fell for mingqi artefacts—burial figurines popular in the Han dynasty. “I thought they looked really crazy,” says Ong. Inspired, she chose to make more figurative pieces. “I wanted to get out of the same things I have been doing, to make a project more specific to where I am,” says Ong. “I usually create pieces using abstract marks, but with this project, I wanted people to immediately make a connection.”
Since arriving back in Singapore, Ong has continued to push herself and experiment with how she can take a 2D work and create 3D pieces from it. During her most recent residency at Grey Projects in Tiong Bahru, she created a black-and-white piece using doodles she had added to her sketchbook during her travels. With the help of set designer Tina Fung, she then turned this work into a 3D-installation for Zouk’s 25th Anniversary party. And, perhaps still inspired by the fabrics she created while in Shanghai, Ong is also looking at collaborating with local fashion label Sundays. Ong suggests that those who are thinking of taking on a residency should “live in the moment, be open, be crazy and then maybe you’ll find your true self.” Honesty in madness—carpe diem.
From top: Yi Lin Juliana Ong. Ong’s prints turned into outfits. The Swatch Art Peace Hotel Special designed by Ong. One of Ong’s designs