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Visual Arts

Insights: Wyn-Lyn Tan

On abstraction and our natural environments


Published: 7 Nov 2023

Time taken : ~10mins

Comprising soil paintings on large transparent sheets, abstract compositions on shaped wood and video works, Land-scape expands on Wyn-Lyn Tan’s continued fascination with the natural world, her desire to connect with the surrounding environment, time and her continued experimentation with materials as extensions of her painting practice. 

Installation view of <em>Land-scape</em>, Wyn-Lyn Tan, 2023.

The works that unfold across the Esplanade Tunnel take various forms but run consistent in Tan’s plays of light and shadow, which she casts on rock formations, panoramic landscapes, mountain peaks and water expanses. Culminating from Tan's explorations in forests, old quarries and shorelines of Singapore during periods of lockdown and movement restriction during the Covid-19 pandemic, the works surface her observations on the ephemeral quality of nature that changes according to weather conditions and vantage points. Here, Tan's ruminations on her surroundings materialise in shifting conditions of tropical landscapes and outlines of mountainous ridges from the Riau Archipelago.  

Installation view of <em>Land-scape</em>, Wyn-Lyn Tan, 2023.

These everchanging nature of our environment and states of natural light also comes to the fore in this series of works through Tan's exploration with video that capture these ever-evolving atmospheres. The moving-image works on view in the Esplanade Tunnel culminate from Tan's experimentation with machine learning technology that extends upon her painting practice, with several works also merging the photographic image and her painterly forms. Working with Artificial Intelligence (AI) computing processes, Tan's embrace of the incidental in the generated output mirrors and articulates her affinities towards the unpredictability of nature and natural lighting conditions. 

Installation view of <em>Land-scape</em>, Wyn-Lyn Tan, 2023.

Tan's interest in her surroundings pivots to the unnoticed and miniscule in her soil paintings on large acrylic panels. In this work of ten transparent sheets, rock forms are painted using the earth excavated from construction sites. Achieving the optimal consistency of this natural medium on the glossy painted surface is result of the artist's experimentations with varying amounts of water. The painted rocks are magnified views of stones that Tan gathered during her walks and explorations in her surroundings.

Morphing and unfolding between representation and abstraction and the macro and micro, Land-scape evokes the familiar and unfamiliar through a play of perspective, framing and an embrace of the incidental.

You have been making generative art videos for the last one-and-a-half years. Could you share your process of integrating your painting processes with machine learning technology in earlier works as well as the works presented in Land-scape? Also, how did you get started working with generative art videos?

In my artistic practice, I am continuously driven to discover space, light and new dimensions in painting. I am interested in extending the language of painting beyond the two-dimensional plane. Over the years, this has led me to work with a variety of media, from metal, wood, plexiglass, and most recently, in the digital realm. The earlier generative videos resulted from using machine learning technology to train a dataset of over 1,000 images of my own physical paintings made in the past decade. With the works presented in Land-scape, I also combined site photographs taken of various nature scenes in Singapore.  

Installation view of <em>Land-scape</em>, Wyn-Lyn Tan, 2023.

Generative art is a dance between serendipity and trained parameters. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) computing processes, one can generate an infinite number of unpredictable results. By feeding the machine learning tool a curated image set of my own original paintings, I allow it to generate new imagery based on what it has learned of my visual language.

I liken the elements of chance and randomness in generative art to the spontaneous mark-making process of my abstract paintings. It becomes a tool to reimagine what I may not have thought of, and yet the basis of this reimagination comes from my own original paintings.  

By integrating my own paintings in computing processes, I wanted to explore the crossing of physical and digital entities; the relationship between man and machine. I see this generative AI process as a collaboration between me (the artist) and the machine. I was curious to see what the machine would interpret and represent.  

My paintings come from an intuitive, emotive place. Likewise, as I collaborate with machine learning technology, I seek to preserve the painterly and the emotional in my AI-generated work. 

In the exhibition, there are two series of videos: two circular videos that are distilled from photographic images, as well as another work that unfolds across painted wooden forms bringing together your paintings, moving image and photography. Could you elaborate more on these two works and what you were delving to explore?

With the circular videos (or portals as I see them) I drew from ideologies of Chinese landscape paintings and Romanticism where subtle qualities of light and shadow play out over panoramic views. The videos merge photographic images of seemingly ordinary nature spots around Singapore, from pockets of “hidden” greenery to shorelines at different times of day, at sunset to sunrise. While unremarkable, these places were generated through the machine learning tool, and reimagined into an alternative, more romantic version of nature in Singapore. 

Detail of <em>Land-scape</em>, Wyn-Lyn Tan, 2023.

In the shaped wood works that bring together my paintings with the moving image, the generative videos collage my abstract paintings with photographs of nature in Singapore. In these videos, I wished to preserve the fluidity and painterly aspect of my painting visual language, while creating a virtual universe where two realities coexist. The resulting shape-shifting abstract landscape orbits between the painted and the digital; between representation and abstraction, evoking the real and the surreal. The meditative rhythm of the videos draws an awareness to the passage of time, inviting commuters to slow down.    

The outline of the shaped wood is traced from the mountainous forms of the Riau Archipelago skyline as viewed from coastlines of Singapore. The abstracted landscape created is again imbued in reality and imagination.  

Detail of <em>Land-scape</em>, Wyn-Lyn Tan, 2023.

One section of the works in the exhibition consists of these soil paintings on transparent plexiglass sheets. Could you elaborate on your process of experimentation working with the soil, and why you decided to work with this medium?

The ephemeral nature of the soil pigment reflects nature itself, where nothing remains constant. By using soil dug up from the earth and turning it into paint pigment, it is also a way of archiving the fast-changing Singapore landscape—a literal imprint of our land. The land where I had dug up the soil, for instance, is now a construction site for new development.  

The “rock” formations on the plexiglass sheets take its shape from pebbles I picked up from my nature walks around Singapore. By magnifying and tracing out their enlarged forms, they take on the suggestion of mountains just by this shift in perspective. Hanging as vertical “scrolls,” these rock formations painted with soil from the earth also evoke Chinese ink landscapes. The play of light and shadow creates a layered illusion, alluding to the ephemeral quality of nature. 

Much of your practice delves into your long-term fascination with natural landscapes. Could you share where this interest stems from?

My artistic practice centres on my observations of the natural world and phenomena. Intrigued by the invisible forces of nature that affect us, I often approach painting as the art of metamorphosis, often letting chance and time drive the work. Much of my work is informed by my time spent in the Arctic. Here, I saw parallels between the romantic sublime of the Northern Hemisphere with the philosophy of qi, in which emptiness is a field of infinite potential.

I used to think there was no natural beauty in Singapore. In my longing for distant lands, I began seeking pockets of “hidden” spaces and solitude in nature. Perhaps it was my hope to escape, but I started to see how even the most ordinary of places could take on a romantic aura. Seemingly unremarkable spaces became my own personal utopia, providing havens for the imagination to roam. It was after all, a matter of shifting one’s perspective.  

The working title Land-scape alludes to “landscape” and “escape.” Combining my long-standing fascination with the natural world and desire to connect with the environment, the transient tunnel becomes an invitation to journey through a layered meditation of space and place. 

Land-scape by Wyn-Lyn Tan was on view at Esplanade Tunnel from 13 Jan – 14 May 2023. 

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