“Beating a rainbow to death”: Singaporean artist Jeremy Sharma – in conversation

Art Radar sits down with Singapore-based multidisciplinary artist Jeremy Sharma.

Sharma recently presented a new body of video, sound and light installations for his solo exhibition “Spectrum Version 2.2” at Sullivan+Strumpf, Singapore. Art Radar talks to the artist to find out more about his practice and his recent work.

Jeremy Sharma, 'Spectrum Version 2.2', 2017, 12-channel lightbox system with custom programme (134 mins) with acrylic lens cover, metal rack, plywood, power data supply, mini-PC, network switch, cables, horn speakers, amplifier, selected books from artist’s collection, dimensions variable, installation view. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the artist. Photo: Ng Wu Gang.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Spectrum Version 2.2’, 2017, 12-channel lightbox system with custom programme (134 mins) with acrylic lens cover, metal rack, plywood, power data supply, mini-PC, network switch, cables, horn speakers, amplifier, selected books from artist’s collection, dimensions variable, installation view. Photo: Ng Wu Gang. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the artist.

The glass windows and doors to Sullivan+Strumpf were covered with tinted grey film. Seemingly impenetrable from the outside, Jeremy Sharma’s exhibition “Spectrum Version 2.2” thrusted viewers into a sensuous visual and aural space that was disorienting and comforting upon entry. Square monitors radiated coloured lights that flickered and glowed in the dark room; horn speakers blared a muffled voice reading out fragmented sentences that led nowhere but back into the feedback of LED panels.

Jeremy Sharma is no stranger to the Singapore art scene. Trained as a painter at LASALLE College of the Arts Singapore, Sharma is one of those rare artists who have moved seamlessly from painting to sculpture and to video and light installation. Woven into his practice is a consistently rigorous inquiry into what constitutes an art object. Sharma has exhibited widely over the years at national institutions such as Grey Projects, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum, as well as regionally and globally.

Art Radar spoke to Jeremy Sharma about his recent exhibition at Sullivan+Strumpf and the direction of his artistic practice.

You have had such a long practice as a painter; it was interesting to see you work with video, sound and light installations for “Spectrum Version 2.2”. Is there a reason you wanted to work in these media?

I’ve always wanted to work with several disciplines at once. I used to play a lot [of music] and now I am trying to incorporate my experiences as a musician into my practice. I’m trying to create work that’s more sensorial, one that engages more of your body, not just the sight. I never saw myself as a media artist or a data artist. I’m just using different technologies to create something. Digital media is such a fabric of our lives – working with interfaces and data – it’s part of our everyday. It is part of my practice to incorporate those experiences.

Jeremy Sharma, "Spectrum Version 2.2", 2017, installation view. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the artist. Photo: Ruey Loon.

Jeremy Sharma, “Spectrum Version 2.2”, 2017, installation view. Photo: Ruey Loon. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the artist.

You referenced several writers in a sound work you created for the installation Spectrum (Mahi Mahi). Are you interested in incorporating narratives into your work?

I was interested in working with fiction and thinking about how reading can be part of the multi-sensorial experience of an artwork. Language is part of our lives and you can’t ignore it or, at least, I can’t ignore it.

In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, one of the main characters, Mrs. Ramsay, describes philosophy as something vaguely about “subject and object and the nature of reality”. I thought that aptly described what I’m trying to do in my work. Furthermore, Woolf’s technique of using multiple focalisations resonated with what I planned to make. I imagined an anachronistic scenario of inter-textual relationships where Virginia Woolf and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein have monologues but, at some point, it becomes a conversation. Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Color is about color as a phenomenological problem. It focuses on the different kinds of qualia as opposed to the atmospheric stream-of-consciousness that is characteristic of Woolf’s prose. [The final sound work] is also intermixed with writing by Haruki Murakami, Marie Darrieussecq, Donna Haraway, Ernest Hemingway, Yann Martel, and even prayer books.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Spectrum (Mahi Mahi)’ (detail), 2017, 12-channel lightbox system with custom programme (134 mins) with acrylic lens cover, metal rack, plywood, power data supply, mini-PC, network switch, cables, horn speakers, amplifier, selected books from artist’s collection, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the artist. Photo: Ruey Loon.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Spectrum (Mahi Mahi)’ (detail), 2017, 12-channel lightbox system with custom programme (134 mins) with acrylic lens cover, metal rack, plywood, power data supply, mini-PC, network switch, cables, horn speakers, amplifier, selected books from artist’s collection, dimensions variable. Photo: Ruey Loon. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the artist.

Your interest in the tension between qualia and stream-of-consciousness is particularly evident in Spectrum (Mahi Mahi). It was based on a fishing trip that you took recently, is that correct?

Yes, Spectrum (Mahi Mahi) revolves around an approximately 24-hour endeavour I undertook to find this mahi mahi fish. I got the idea from Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. In the novel, the protagonist beat a fish to death in order to survive. The colour of the fish changed as it died, and the protagonist described the experience as “beating a rainbow to death”. It was such a striking phrase. [I originally intended to] create paintings that change colours, but that divagated into many things; life is never quite a straight path or a single conceptual undertaking. Still, I wanted to look for a fish that exists in our tropical waters, so I arranged a fishing trip to Kuala Rompin, Malaysia. The whole expedition was a revelation to my senses, one that I had not observed in my life of routine on stable land. [I recorded the entire experience], edited the video down to two hours before translating the video data into lights. What you see is over 200 scenes of light that feed into the gallery space.

I think about this body of work in contrast to your foam paintings from 2013; they were inspired by waveforms of dying stars. You were thinking about time and space on such a grand scale. However, your works in “Spectrum Version 2.2” are very personal, with most of them originating from videos you shot at home or on your travels. How did you move from thinking about temporality on a universal scale to zooming in and becoming more introspective? I guess, you can think about time and space at both ends of the spectrum.

It’s nice that you use the word spectrum [laughs]. It’s the magnitudes of space that really interests me. It is abstract to think about it in a big way, but also in a very personal, lived way. I think this project relates to the conditions of personal time and space. It’s biographical but it’s also abstract. You don’t sense [the anecdotal aspect] until you find out more about the work. I like to relate it to Virginia Woolf and what she was writing: very personal but abstract prose. There are some tangents in this project that I want to bring forward to another project. I’m currently interested in things that could be perceived as objects, things like the human voice and atmosphere.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Curtain’ (detail), 2017, six alternate strips of light nodes, custom programme (3.03 mins), power data supply, cables, iPlayer, humidifier, wireless speaker, dimensions variable, installation view. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the Artist. Photo: Ruey Loon.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Curtain’ (detail), 2017, six alternate strips of light nodes, custom programme (3.03 mins), power data supply, cables, iPlayer, humidifier, wireless speaker, dimensions variable, installation view. Photo: Ruey Loon. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the Artist.

I think you have already started teasing that out in “Spectrum Version 2.2”. I am curious to know what you think about the translation of non-tactile forms – such as voice and atmosphere – to object.

I think a lot about translation, and I think sometimes the translation changes the form. Actually, I think in both terms: translations and displacements. When you translate something, you displace the original form and that creates something that is alienating or estranged. Curtain is a domestic scene from my home translated into naked LED strips. I wanted to capture the colour temperature, the warmth and dampness of that scene, and store an intimate memory in a form that would remain privy only to me. I was also thinking of ways to embed intimacy in technology, materiality, space and sound.

Do you think the translation of an intimate scene into LED lights might come across cold to the viewer? This would contradict and, perhaps, negate the intimacy of a domestic scene.

I think the work creates a strange reality so it’s not familiar or warm. I am also interested in science fiction. Susan Sontag once said, “Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art.” That’s something that has always resonated with me – thinking about a kind of ending and place of limbo where you aren’t sure where you are. Science fiction creates that element of estrangement where you feel [that the scene is] strangely familiar but uncanny.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Curtain’, 2017, six alternate strips of light nodes, custom programme (3.03 mins), power data supply, cables, iPlayer, humidifier, wireless speaker, dimensions variable, installation view. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the Artist. Photo credit: Ng Wu Gang.

Jeremy Sharma, ‘Curtain’, 2017, six alternate strips of light nodes, custom programme (3.03 mins), power data supply, cables, iPlayer, humidifier, wireless speaker, dimensions variable, installation view. Photo: Ng Wu Gang. Image courtesy Sullivan+Strumpf and the Artist.

What is it about disaster that appeals to you?

A lot of it is about death. I think it is used allegorically and metaphorically in my work. I’m seeing a world that is changing and thinking about how that relates to my own personal life. I think it’s a start of something new for me. I like what’s happening now and I think it’s triggering a lot of good ideas. Working with digital work, working with people, working with sound, I realised these are things that I really enjoy doing and I like seeing them come together. I like that struggle of not knowing exactly what I think but, maybe, you learn more in hindsight. I’m not obsessed with finding a meaning to what I’m doing. Jonathan Flatley once wrote that the extinction of human meaning restores to things the ability to speak in their own language. [For me], it’s a kind of trigger, a sensation, an impulse, desire; and then you put them all together. In that sense, it’s a lot like painting.

Jean Wong

1854

Related topics: Singaporean artists, environment, conceptual, installation, gallery shows, events in Singapore

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