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Visual Arts

Insights: Fiona Seow

Artist Fiona Seow shares her practice and how it explores notions of time, existence and ephemerality.


Published: 30 Dec 2020

Time taken : >15mins

Fiona Seow adopts a considered, precise and methodical approach to artmaking. Her drawings, sculptures and installations are the outcomes of processes driven by order and repetition, exploring notions of time, existence, labour and impermanence. Seow shares why geometry plays such a central role in her practice and how her experience of time and artmaking evolved over the span of an atypical year.

Installation view of In Order

Are there any philosophies, schools of thought or ideas that you are especially drawn to or influenced by?

My visual language is driven by my interest in geometry and patterns, obsession with repetition, precision and an innate inclination to pursue perfection. I am drawn to the concept of the rhizome as posited by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. The ideas of the rhizome are interesting: from the interconnectedness between all beings to how there are no beginnings and endings, only multiple points for entry and exit. This relates to the way I perceive our existence—we exist only in a single frame out of an infinite timeline. Adopting the idea of various entry and exit points from the rhizome, there is usually no specific beginning or end in my works. They are never fully complete and can be broken and continued at any point.

The concept of geometry has a significant presence in your practice. How does this branch of thinking and understanding the world influence your work?

As someone who is often searching for consistency in an unpredictable environment, there is a degree of certainty I find in mathematics. With geometry, we are able to put an abstract concept—space—into perspective.  With a fixed set of formulas, I am able to calculate angles, scale, volume, surface area and so on. I can apply this cut-and-paste technique to my work, making the process rather straightforward and extremely comfortable and assuring.

Work-in-progress detail view of In Order

You often use a geometrical form or shape as a building block to create larger systems or structures. Could you share more on your methodology or conceptualisation process?

Tessellation and repetition play a big part in my practice. My background is in Interior Design and creating modular systems was one of the foundational techniques I picked up in school. To create a module, I will select a geometric form that relates most to the theme of the work and modify the form to give it more character. Thereafter, this module is multiplied to eventually form a structure. Nature is a source of inspiration as well. I am drawn to the structure of wasp nests and how they are built out of paper-like hexagonal cells created by a mixture of wasp saliva and wood pulp. The idea of infinity is central to my practice and constructing works using modules allows me to leave the meaning of my works open-ended.

The motif of the trapezium is central to the exhibition 'In Order' and it has also been featured in other bodies of work. What draws you to this motif?

The trapezium is a variation of a triangle. It is essentially an incomplete triangle without its tip. I regard the trapezium as an imperfect shape. Recently, I have been exploring the idea of accepting imperfection in an attempt to stop the tiring chase for absolute precision.

Work-in-progress detail view of In Order

Could you share more on the types of materials that you work with?

I prefer materials that I can work on with minimal tools and machines as this satisfies my need for total control over the finishing of my artworks. For In Order, I used plywood, paper and ink as they gave me the opportunity me to work whether I was in my studio, at home or on the go.

Paper has always been interesting to work with. It is a material that can last a lifetime with proper care while still possessing an ephemeral quality. For the paper installation, I used thermal rolls obtained from various sources, most of which were given to me for free. Thermal paper is usually used to print receipts. I am drawn to how underappreciated this material is. It can serve as a measure of time and value as they are often thrown away after they have served their purpose.

The plywood installation was assembled out of 1,400 machine-cut plywood pieces which were then sanded by hand. The process was both laborious and therapeutic. The experience working with ink on paper was equally meditative as I could predict the outcome of the works, thereby allowing me to immerse myself in the process.

Work-in-progress detail view of In Order

'In Order' comprises different series of works exploring facets of the passing of time. How do they speak to each other and why did you envision different expressions of these concepts?

The four series of works explore two main concepts of time: cyclical and linear. Central to the four series of works is the use of the trapezium motif and the act of repetition. The exploration of cyclical time is relayed through fifty drawings made over nine months as well as a spiraling installation of sculptures made of thermal paper. Both series are a result of a ritualistic process with a definite level of predictability. The paper sculptures also hint at the idea of impermanence, fragility and the fleeting quality of time.

The concept of linear time is reflected in a series of wood sculptures and an on-site freehand drawing. The uncertainty of the future makes me anxious. This feeling of anxiety is shown through the sculptural installation inspired by the drawing of a never-ending staircase by the graphic artist M. C. Escher. The on-site drawing is another manifestation of my exploration of linear time. I do not have a concrete visualisation of what the drawing would eventually look like and will just let it take form over the course of the exhibition.

Time and labour are concepts which are explored in your practice. How have these evolved or been shaped by the events that have taken place this year?

The year has been surreal. With the pandemic upon us, it appeared that the world had ground to a halt but at the same time it felt like my days were flying by. My perception of time became severely warped. Working patterns have definitely changed as well. It is true that you always want what you cannot have. When projects were pushed back, I had a stronger urge to work and ended up spending more time on art compared to pre-COVID times. Making more durational pieces like creating a drawing each day during the lockdown helped me stay on track. I was able to cope better with the strange passing of time by setting up routines and sticking to them.

Check out Seow’s exhibition In Order at the Esplanade Community Wall from 18 Dec 2020 to 4 Apr 2021.

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