As one of Singapore’s biggest contemporary artists, Dawn Ng has become more selective about the projects she takes on. Under her belt, the 40-year-old has a long list of commissions from museums and luxury brands, as does she exhibitions at numerous prestigious art venues in France, Shanghai, New York and around the globe.
Her carefulness before starting work now is guided both by the standard set by her own CV and the fleeting commodity that continues to shape her practice–time. “I never set out with a specific finale,” Ng shares. “It just doesn’t work that way for me. I find it limiting to know the end of the story even before I begin.”
On the precipice of her first solo show in London—a milestone she cherishes not for the success it signifies but rather, the creative minds it has allowed her to collaborate with—Ng is delving even deeper into her relationship with time. “’Into Air’ began as an exploration of holding on to time. It came from a desire to give time form, texture and colour.” Ultimately, this lended itself to a study of the material disintegration of ice—a literal, visually-arresting depiction of her subject matter.
The show itself is mixed-medium (featuring photography, paintings and even video installation), held within the walls of a uniquely historic location—St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone. “Each medium I used is a chapter, and I think of ‘Into Air’ as an immersive love story about our desire to hang on to what can’t stay,” Ng says. As she begins to welcome visitors into a winding and complex exploration of all that she is presently meditating on, she hopes that when they leave, one thought will linger on in their minds: “All we have is now.”
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What guided your choice of mediums for 'Into Air'?
‘Into Air’ is led by an intuitive desire to tell a story about time and our relationship with it. Each of the mediums in the show attempt to hold time a little longer, to hold on to a residue and a memory.
With a camera, you are freeze-framing a second; with film you are bending time, pulling it forward and backward, trying to stay in the now; with paintings, the paper canvas acts like a sieve, trapping time as the pigments transform from liquid to air.
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What sets 'Into Air' apart from work you have done in the past?
The relinquishing of control. Working with a material that won’t stay or obey means that I can study, strategise and orchestrate all I want, but there is an element of chance—or fate if you call it—that wove itself into all of the works.
With this show, what I am most excited about are the stellar people and talent that I have come to know over the past year. Jenn Ellis, the curator, is perhaps at the top of that list.
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What significance does the church location of 'Into Air’ hold for you?
I think there is a strong synergy between what ‘Into Air’ tries to express and what the space inherently possesses. The Bible holds some of the most fundamental concepts about time—the Alpha and Omega, the start and the end.
Even the Greek term “Chronos” speaks of chronological time, while “Kairos” is what mystics would call deep time, or Christians would call God’s time—time not measured in numbers, but in seasons and moments.
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Do you have any travel rituals? Is there an artist's uniform you are drawn to?
I am travelling with my five-year-old. I definitely obsess more about what to bring for her now. This time I’ll be working out of a studio in London’s Gasworks residency for a month, so there are some studio materials I need. Regardless, an essential for me is always an empty book.
I am largely a monochromatic dresser. My husband laughs that I probably own every shade of white.
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How do you envision the rest of 2022?
‘Into Air’ is running in London from now till 23 July 2022. Find out more about the exhibition at dawn-ng.com