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Visual Arts

Insights: Chok Si Xuan

Exploring the idea of connection and flow through cylinder forms, systems and cybernetic systems.


Published: 5 Sep 2023

Time taken : ~10mins

Interested in cybernetics and feedback systems between humans, living organisms and machines, Chok Si Xuan shares her development process for cycles in this interview. 

Installation view of <i>cycles</i>, Chok Si Xuan, 2023.

A core part of your practice revolves around the exploration of cybernetic systems and our relationships with these man-made systems and machines. Could you elaborate on your interest in investigating these fields of study?

My interest in cybernetic systems came about during the earlier stages of my practice, when I learnt about how our lives have changed in the ways we approach things and interact with our environment. I realised how prevalent machines and systems are and how they affect our lives on varying scales directly and indirectly. Through learning and working with rudimentary versions of such systems in my installations, I slowly began to understand the physical, social and technical implications of changing the way we live.

One such example is the use of smartphones. Everyone is expected to have one to perform daily tasks, like taking public transport, purchasing items and communication. It changes the way we approach living and our exchanges are mediated by such devices. For me, I felt that such mediation creates additional distance with one another, both metaphorically and physically, and with ourselves and our environment. Through my practice, I hope to use the very devices and systems that emerge out of such technologisation, to represent the connectedness that we share.

The installations in this exhibition visually express ideas of connection and flow which are central to living organisms and how cybernetic systems operate. Could you walk us through the concept of this exhibition and what qualities or aspects of these systems of flow that you are seeking to convey?

Detail of <i>cycles</i>, Chok Si Xuan, 2023.

cycles is my attempt at consolidating different techniques and areas of my practice to explore the ideas of time and interconnection in life and the world around us. Materials like the cables of the extension cords, threads of fabrics and polyurethane tubes are fundamentally constructed out of the same cylindrical form in varying scales. The form of the malleable cylinder becomes representative of the channels and passageways that connect one point to another. Observing this in our everyday surroundings, from tree branches and cables, to tunnels and highways, I am reminded of how we are all intertwined and the physical similarities in how we move.

I was interested in how tasks that are performed follow a certain cycle which unfolds over a duration, and the ways this inadvertently creates a rhythm. The works in this exhibition are how I sought to express movements and systems inspired by our bodily systems. Movement is incorporated into the work through power extension cables connected to motors pulsating underneath a sheet of fabric. In another set of works, droplets of water travel along tubes in a circuit. The moments of activation also demonstrate the materials’ physicality, highlighting the pathways taken to provide electricity, or as a passageway for moving water.


Installation view of <i>cycles</i>, Chok Si Xuan, 2023.

Your installations feature the use of found materials like power extension cords, polyurethane tubes and electric motors. Could you share on what drew you to these materials and how your engagement with them has evolved in this exhibition?

My initial interest in found materials was a product of convenience and accessibility, as I enjoy exploring e-commerce platforms, and that slowly allowed me to collect a range of objects, textures and systems. At some point in time, I realised that I was drawn to such materials because I had some understanding of the intentions or purposes of these machines and objects.

I was drawn to these materials as they are familiar and commonly found. I was interested in re-situating the forms themselves, while highlighting the functions that they have. For this exhibition, I played with an array of fabrics, forms and structures, which allowed me to discover different permutations. For example, when combining tulle fabric with black jersey, it highlighted the lattice of the tulle and new patterns emerged.

Your installations are created on-site, with the materials and works responding to the space and surrounding environments. Could you elaborate on how this process was like for 'cycles'?

The process of producing installations is the most exciting part for me. I often prepare my artworks with a particular plan for installing them in mind, but usually the works end up revealing many qualities of the spaces that I had not noticed earlier. Through that, it becomes a series of largely improvisational decisions of moving and adjusting, based on lighting, space, interaction and colours. At different times of the day, the space feels largely different too!

Having a fixed set of materials to play around with and leaving the configuration to respond to the space is a manner of working that challenges my perceptions of the environment.

The amount of time that I was given to install also played a large part in how the installations emerged, some parts of the wall were resolved almost immediately, while other parts took more time. If I had lesser or more time, my works might have been resolved differently. With the help of Esplanade’s team and art handlers, I was able to get insightful feedback on the technical and formal experiences of my work in relation to the space.

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