I was looking to visualise that transition and incorporate the idea of time and space into the work itself. – Grace
Dedicated to both her teaching and Art practice, Ong Xi Wei Grace is a busy woman, putting her all into both sides of her life. Caught up in her stream of responsibilities, she has no time to thoroughly answer our email, but calls up STAR with a flurry of apologies and an insistence on following through with this interview over the phone instead. Filled with genuine warmth and enthusiasm along with frank replies to our questions, it is easy to picture her completely at home in her Art studio or lost in her own work, surrounded by eager students ready to listen and learn.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
STAR: Why did you choose to use videos rather than static images?
Grace: To be honest, I was very okay with showing just the images of the two studios – which incidentally are side by side. They are direct reflections of identical spaces which have been used by different students. I had actually drawn finished pieces of both and was intending to showcase them. Both were sketches of each studio, but only showed the final product rather than the process.
To me, the essential idea of transition was not conveyed well through static images. I didn’t want the only impression others have of these drawings to be “these are nice drawings and pretty urban sketches”, because then people don’t delve as much into the ‘why’s and ‘how’s. I was looking to visualise that transition and incorporate the idea of time and space into the work itself.
STAR: Why was your first instinct to reject filming?
G: Well, I’ve always done film. I’ve been exhibiting almost every year in aedge. Most of it is all film. I wanted to go back to something that feels authentic to sit and immerse myself in that space and draw that location. I changed my mind because I wanted to ensure the time and process was also documented. And I think – well, I hope – I managed to do that.
These places were charged with that idea of education, in more ways than one. – Grace
STAR: What made you decide to use these spaces to represent the passage and progress of time?
G: I think it was just a very natural inclination to these two spaces. These are my workspaces, this is where I taught and teach my students, this is where learning and teaching takes place. These places were charged with that idea of education, in more ways than one.
The college side had started to become more and more unfamiliar, having things I wasn’t familiar with: why is this trolley there, what are these things written on the board? The students became unfamiliar; the space itself became unfamiliar because of the amount of time I didn’t spend there. The high school studio had been unfamiliar to me previously, but the amount of time I spent there ensured I started to become part of it.
STAR: How was the process like?
G: [Laughs] Painful. Why is it painful? Good question. I have two versions of each sketch. I have the version I drew fully, with no truncated process, taking a photograph every thirty seconds. These sketches I feel are charged with vibrancy. I was in the moment, drawing with momentum without having to stop, whereas the ones I am exhibiting are less so.
Quick statistic: Drawing one of the full sketches took two hours, while the truncated version took six to eight hours. Sometimes I would get disconnected because I would see something I needed to fix or forget where I had left off.
The exhibiting sketches look more pained. [She laughs again.] It doesn’t feel like one drawing. It feels like two hundred, three hundred sessions of looking and re-calibrating over and over again.
STAR: Could you share on how your art-making experience informs your teaching practice? Is there anything you have brought from your own practice to educate them with?
G: Students are exposed to quite a lot of things in the curriculum. One of the things I think is quite cool is that I’m introducing my students to a filmmaking module in Secondary Two. They have to go through the whole process. Of course, they aren’t doing sketching like this, but they have to do scripts and storyboards and shoot, and most likely get rejected by me, and there will also have a lot of recalibration, which I think is really part of the process.
You can view Grace’s final work at the SOTA Art Gallery from 6 March – 15 March 2019.
Want to see Ong’s final work? Come down to SOTA Art Gallery from 6-15 March for aedge 2019. See you there!
Interested in more ICT-based artwork? Check out our interview with Matthew Lim here.