Interview: Grace Tan

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First published on 4 Feb 2013. Updated on 4 Feb 2013.

How was the piece conceived, and what were you inspired by?
Refuge was conceived as a symbolic gesture/form of my artistic practice and identity. it revisits my training as a fashion designer and the starting point and progression of my practice (how it all came about and where it will lead to). It is a challenge that I set myself with - to work beyond my comfort zone and to see/get to know myself. It also questions my methodology and nature of my working process that juxtaposes logic and intuition.

Nature has always played a role in my work although they tend to be more obscure. I couldn't help but think of imageries in nature - of flowers in bloom, dense foliage and clouds as I started work on the project. I was also looking at the amazing webs found in nature.
Why were plastic price tags chosen as your form of medium? Did you consider any other materials?
I wanted to set a challenge for myself for this commission. I have always worked with fabric, paper, and more recently, metal, but I was inspired to look beyond my comfort zone for a new material. I knew I needed something that could be connected to form a large interlocking structure. Somehow, repetition and working with a singular unit/component have always been in my work and it was natural that I looked for something that could come together to form some sort of a form.

Where did you find the plastic price tags?
I saw the polypropylene loop pin in a stationery store and its design caught my attention. Somehow, it reminded me of the stamen of flowers. It looked organic to me. It also works as a single unit that could be linked to form a structure. I bought some and started playing with it and in no time, I found a language to connect them. It resembles a knitted structure and with the multiplicity of loops, it creates a beautiful and organic 3D form when hung.
What will the final piece look like?
The loops are linked and connected to form cloud-like clusters suspended from the ceiling. It is not possible to tell how the work/installation will look like at this moment as it is a work-in-progress (this is usually how I work). I have some diagrams as a guide for the composition but I will only know when I start installing the clusters on site. As I am working with a physical 3D space, the composition and intention of the work will only reveal itself when it is in the space.
What I know is that it will form a landscape of some sort and it will envelop and wrap the visitors as they walk up / down the staircase in the gallery.
What is the message that you’re trying to get across with this work?
This work is personal to me as it questions my identity and practice as an artist and what my work means to me. I hope the people who have participated in this work (people involved in the assembly, production, installation as well as the museum, curators and visitors) will make their own connections and meanings with the work. 
What was the most valuable thing you feel that you gained from the mentorship? Did it go the way you expected it to?
The dialogues and insights. Personally, this nomination came at a critical juncture of my artistic practice. I've been questioning my methodology and identity as an art practitioner and the conversations reiterates some of the questions, uncertainties and views I have been pondering. I find the mentorship to be a meaningful process. The conversations also made me think deeper about my work and it is a part of my artistic growth and development. 

Grace Tan's Refuge is on display at SAM until 15 Sep as part of President's Young Talents.

By Gwen Pew
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