Alba Escayo & Yeo Shih Yun
As I transcribe the conversation recorded at INSTINC studio at WCEGA Tower, from one of the last few days of Alba Escayo and Yeo Shih Yun’s art collaboration in Singapore, my cheeks are aching from smiling too much. I can’t help it. I am struck by the memory of the easy camaraderie between the two artists, and the humour and goodwill underlying the conversation.
From the congeniality between Spanish artist Alba Escayo and Singaporean artist Yeo Shih Yun, one would imagine that the two have known each other their whole lives, or are really old friends. Yet the fact is, prior to Alba’s first visit to this sunny island Singapore, Alba and Shih Yun first became fast friends, together with some other artists, from participating in a ten-day artists’ colony in Lendava, Slovenia four years ago. That brief initial encounter sparked deep connections that have remained unhindered by both geographical and physical distance, as well as cultural and language differences.
What makes it seemingly more serendipitous is the fact that Alba and Shih Yun were not actually paired with each other during the LindArt Artists’ Colony, but with installation artist Richard Warren from the UK and Japanese artist Hirofumi Matsuzaki respectively. In addition to her main collaborative artworks with Hirofumi, the partner assigned to Shih Yun for the duration of the artists’ colony, Shih Yun initiated two other series of collaborative artworks, with Alba and with Magdalena Suranyi from Argentina.
“Actually I don’t know how it started. I was working with Hiro and she was working with another guy, but you have so much time so after dinner we just painted,” Shih Yun recounts.
“Because you don’t need to do anything,” explains Alba.
“Yeah you don’t need to do anything… Everything is taken care of, food is free… It’s a small town, there’s no entertainment, you don’t have TV… there’s nothing to do,” Shih Yun laughs.
“We had a lot of materials, free materials… paper…”
Shih Yun tries to recall the details. “We only collaborated for one hour,” she says. “Or maybe thirty minutes…”
“No…” Alba protests with a smile. “The other day we do more… we fix some, we did more… at the end we had a lot, we had a lot of good ones.”
And so, placed in a conducive environment with everything they needed, Shih Yun did three series of collaborative artworks with three different artists, all of which were exhibited “because it’s a castle, it’s a huge space”. Based on the premise of “co-operation”, the LindArt Artists’ Colony was a remarkable experience that proved to be a landmark for many of the participating artists, as well as in the development of INSTINC.
Four years later, Alba and Shih Yun finally meet again in person to continue and expand their collaboration at INSTINC studio, Singapore. Shih Yun still loves black and white, while Alba has fallen in love with colour. “We were fighting,” smiles Alba. “I wanted to put a lot of colour and she wanted to put no colour… [all laugh] … so we ended up middle term…”
The affinity between the two artists is almost palpable. Despite the persistent noise of drilling from the construction site next door, a positive energy fills the studio, in a way that is simply contagious and inspiring. While sitting in on their collaboration and watching the artists set up, I am even compelled to pick up a pen and start drawing, basking in the warmth from their working relationship.
With the radio playing at a moderate volume in the background, Alba and Shih Yun unroll a large bolt of watercolour paper, and set about measuring and cutting it into sheets of the desired size. Dressed comfortably, they move about the studio in a swift but unhurried pace, picking out drawing implements here, or selecting other non-standard mark-making tools from over there. One fills a basin of water, while the other gets ready a tray. They pause to discuss the (limit of) colours they intend to use, and mix their chosen palette of coloured inks or various mediums to satisfaction. As they gather items to place them within easy reach from the sheets of paper laid out on the ground, their actions are interspersed with pockets of dialogue that weave between the personal and professional.
Once the two artists begin their collaborative act of drawing however, speech is pretty much abandoned. With their attention focused completely on the pieces of paper, they move about wordlessly or with minimal verbal exchange, with eyes and minds fully intent on the marks being formed. The process is fascinating to watch, and it is easy to see why art collaborations like this can easily fit into the realm of performance art as well.
However, art collaborations can also yield results at the opposite end of the spectrum, when two artists with no natural affinity with each other are forced to work together. When the artists don’t “match”, as Alba and Shih Yun realised, “disaster” can happen.
And yet, the inexplicable reason for that is not necessarily because of different artistic styles or mediums. Shih Yun admits that when she was initially paired with Hirofumi Matsuzaki during the LindArt Artists’ Colony, she was a little afraid because she works spontaneously, whereas Hirofumi’s artworks, while also abstract in subject matter, tend to be very structured and precise. “So of course we had to discuss a way to work together,” says Shih Yun. “But that one is another story… long story… we kind of devised a method so it was okay.”
Even when an abstract painter such as Alba was paired with Richard Warren, an installation artist, their collaboration “was a lot of fun”, and a positive experience that resulted in artistic creations completely unlike their usual artworks. With Shih Yun and Magdalena Suranyi, abstract and figurative painting melded together so naturally that “it’s even easier”.
“It’s when you match with another you will discover new things, it’s interesting…” says Alba.
From experiencing the rapport between Alba and Shih Yun – two artists from two very different parts of the world, and seeing their collaboration and the spontaneous formation of their artworks that day, it seems that when there is a connection between artists, art collaboration can be something really special and invaluable.
Art and Life
L: A few years after meeting Shih Yun, you decided to use more colours…?
A: Yeah. I didn’t decide… it came...
L: It just happened naturally…?
S: Because she was in love…
A: Yes, yes. [Laughs] It’s the reason I think, yes.
L: So your personal relationship kind of influenced your work…?
A: Yes, of course... [knowingly]
A: You don’t really know when you finish faculty, how is a painter’s life… I was like a rebel with no cause living what we think is [an] "artist’s life" with no concentration in "the paintings"… but now I see it’s not that way. And afterwards [I changed a lot]… I start to go to residencies and colonies… in colonies you see that everyone is doing different things, and it’s okay for everybody…
Especially I start to go a lot to the Balkans, to Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, and there, there are a lot of Naïve painters who paint like children… they don’t know how to draw really well, and they are innocent, in a way… Their paintings have innocence, like a child… Usually they did not study painting, they just want a lot, to paint. They really want to paint, and [the] most famous painters are grandmothers… They were working in the village, [then] they became famous and [now] their paintings cost a lot. Most of the paintings in that part of Europe are from grandmothers… [It’s] really crazy…
And I don’t want to paint like them, but I like the spirit… They like to do beautiful things, and I like that point, to do just beautiful things. I start to work on that and realise that I don’t need to do tragic things… to be [a] good artist. [Laughs]
And it’s also that thing in Asia, [in] paintings, to do beautiful things – birds, trees, flowers... why not?
I can be satisfied with myself doing nice things.
Between Abstract and Representational
A: Depends with whom I’m talking to, I explain, or not. Because sometimes people like to see just abstract, but some people like to know the story.
L: Yourself? You’re okay... if they like, you’ll tell, if not, it’s alright.
A: Yes it’s alright, of course, why not? For me, I need to have something, because I like the stories, I do it for myself…
L: But not everyone…
Applying for LindArt Artists’ Colony
S: I don’t know why I applied… I was at the stage where, whatever things I find interesting I just apply – I didn’t really read where it is.
A: Me too, at the time. Applying there…
S: So I applied, and I didn’t care where [it was in]…
L: It was like, “Ok, if I get it then let’s go and find out.”
S: If I get it I can still decide whether I accept or reject… They will give you one week or two weeks to reply, so then I got accepted and I did some research. Like where… is this?
A: [Researched] a little bit… [laughs]
S: A little bit… [It seemed] quite nice, like it’s a very interesting town… with vineyards, quiet, has castles… very different from Singapore… I was actually… [nearby in] another residency for two months in Brussels… so what I did was I emailed [the organizer for] the Brussels residency and asked if I could take ten days off to go to another one…
A: The important thing is we know each other personally, and also in a professional way – how do you think, how do you think about the lines of the composition, about…. I don’t know… we talk a lot. Not [like] this kind [of conversation that] we are having [now], but I am so surprised because when I see Shih Yun doing some lines, I would like to do those lines. I thought [of] that [same thing].
L: You are thinking of it but she did it for you…
A: Yeah… Or if I say, “What do you think if we put [a mark] here?” And she would say, “Yeah, I agree.” We don’t have problems, [we] always agree… and also when she said, “I do something and I throw to Magdalena”, I think that’s also good… in abstract, you do something and after [that] the other person takes it… And when I take her spot or line or whatever, it’s exciting because I must think how to fix, what to do… When I do something, I throw to her… so… it’s fun… It’s more cheerful, than when you are alone.
Drawing rather than Painting
L: Will you try something with a coloured background, like something with a base colour?
A & S: [simultaneously] No.
L: You don’t want to try other possibilities?
A: Because I think we like a lot a lot of drawing… When you use white it reminds us of drawing, still. We draw, we don’t paint; we draw.
L: So what is [the difference between drawing and] painting for you?
A: I was confused also when I was younger – because of my education – “you can’t have lines”, “you can’t have lines”, “you can’t have lines”… A lot of “you can’t”… [laughs] and you must do everything like so [demonstrates] … And I need lines, I love lines and I love water-based inks, like ink, aquarelle… and I like to draw, I like drawings, I like lines… I think it’s like, you can follow the rhythm in a painting…
S: Drawing is always more fresh…
A: Depends on the drawing, there are also terrible drawings…! [I had a professor who described realistic paintings as] …paintings drawn with your ass, because you sit… for a lot of hours and you do it…
L: Whereas this one is more “action”, it’s very fast, in and out…
A: It’s fast, the moment when you take [and use] the brush, but …[the drawing process] lasts a lot [longer]… we are walking, thinking, most of your time you are thinking… then you do a line… It’s the essence [of drawing, rather than the medium being used]…
S: Usually we won’t do everything, because we might just do the first layer, then let it dry, and then come back… because usually it could be quite wet.
A: It is good to work in a few [layers]… if you have [only] one [layer] you will ruin it…
S: … Overwork…
L: So [you] always have to pull yourself back…
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Alba Escayo completed her Fine Arts Degree in Madrid, Complutense University, and she continued her art education in the Academy of Bologna and Faculty of Belgrade. Today she lives and works between Belgrade and Madrid. Since 2005 she has participated in different art residencies, exhibitions and international projects. To travel and to know new places is a fundamental point for her motivation and inspiration. She works principally on painting and she often exhibits. Her work is present in public and private collections as well as in some museums. In addition to painting, she also does experimental photography which has been published in magazines, as well as illustrations for books or the press.
Artist-in-Residence at INSTINC 12 June – 3 July 2012
Collaborations between Alba & Shih Yun in Lendava Lindart 2008 , Slovenia