Kari Cholnoky

End of INSTINC artist-in-residence exhibition: “Vaguely Familiar” 


What is the main idea for your exhibition “Vaguely Familiar”? 


“Vaguely Familiar” was, fundamentally, reaction-based, or place-based, work. What struck me about Singapore was the intense hybridization of culture, and the often mistranslation of not only literal words, but also ideas from western or English phenomena into Malaysian/Singaporean. Being an English speaking American citizen, this led to many instances where something Singaporean mimicked Western culture or language to an extent that it reminded me of a source, leaving me with a feeling of vague familiarity, even in a place I had never visited before. Modern, recently constructed buildings looking like ancient buildings of Europe, mock brands with the look and graphics of popular luxury brands, and sentences mistranslated all left me feeling like I was in a western state with something unknown amiss. I spent my time in Singapore investigating the space where development, culture, environment and colonial legacy met through painting and photography. 



What is the process of your art-making? 


My time in Singapore was the first time I deliberately made place-based work. Every other day I set out on excursions to explore different areas of Singapore ranging from urban centers like Orchard Road to more rural environments like MacRitchie Reservoir and obscure destinations like Haw Par Villa. I would take notes and photographs and the following day I would work in the studio to make paintings on objects and materials harvested from my surroundings based off of my experiences outside of the studio. My normal studio practice is quite different from this, but my studio practice in Singapore was unique and driven in this way.



What draws you to make artworks in your particular style? Or what inspires your aesthetic and vivid choice of colours? 


My source material is wide and varied, but some of my influences come from contemporary designer vinyl toy production, music, 2D design and contemporary furniture design, fashion and construction material. In terms of my affinity for colour, that is something that has been in me from the start. It changes my work everywhere I go!



In one of your works you drew a white outline on a red plastic bag, with two circles like eyes… The shape of the outline with the two pointy ears somehow reminds me a little of the character Totoro. Was that intentional? 


The connection to Totoro was not intentional, but doesn't bother me at all. I develop characters over time, and a character that developed while I was in Singapore was the "Shopping Bag Head", whose ears were formed from the handles of the bag. I think he's a mix of Ray Johnson's bunny and a Hayao Miyazaki creation. The power of consumerism in Singapore is so strong it began to become anthropomorphized to me while I was there. 



There’s also a humanoid character that seems to appear in a number of your works… would you like to tell us more about him? 


This is a character I've been working with for about four years. I use him as a sort of universal human – he/she represents both me and everyone else around me. He's generally worried or anxious, with large eyes and long fingers. In Singapore I came to understand the power that the pupil in the eye holds in Asian culture in terms of feminine beauty modification, and so I added pupils to him for the first time. 



Was it your first time in Singapore? What was the most striking or memorable part of your experience here?


It was my first time in Singapore. I had previously visited China for 8 days a number of years earlier, so it was my first real extended stay in Asia and my first visit entirely to Malaysia. Almost everything about my visit was striking and memorable. The food absolutely blew me away – I would return to Singapore only to eat! I was not prepared for the heat (coming from a place where it snows five months of the year). I had amazing experiences in the rainforest at MacRitchie and in the Botanical Gardens, moments of discovery at Sungei Thieves’ Market and Bukit Brown Cemetary, and glee at finding calculator watches in Mustafa Centre. It never ended. I think my proudest moment was my final night in Singapore eating dinner with Shih Yun across the street at a local favourite dining spot when an older man eating next to me told Shih Yun that I "knew how to eat". 



How has being in Singapore shaped or informed the artworks that you made during the residency?


Singapore provided all of the inspiration for the works I completed during the residency. From the subject matter and conceptual ideas behind the works to the literal material I was working with and on – the fabrics I painted on came from Chinatown and Arab Street, and the house paint and spray paint I used came from the hardware store near the studio. I painted on old vinyl record covers that I purchased at Sungei Thieves’ Market, and on shopping bags from the grocery store/7-11/lunch etc. I used literally everything around me to help build my voice while in Singapore. 



Any insights discovered from this residency? 


Though I consider myself to be a hardworking individual, the residency taught me that you can't push the work – it comes on its own. I needed to give my work time early on so that I could really get a feel for my environment. My world view was opened immensely, and I learned that I can find material to paint with in the strangest places. 



From your perspective, what are the similarities or differences between the art scene in New York and in Singapore? 


It's hard to compare the two because they have such starkly different histories in the art world. What struck me about the art scene in Singapore was two things: 1. Singapore's art world is tremendously young – Singaporeans are reacting to a government that is imposing a different set of restrictions on its artists, one that reflects a much older mindset in New York; a mindset that the NYC scene has moved past, but which is still relevant in Singapore. This is complicated. 


And 2. Singapore's art world has the advantage of being small. It didn't seem to me that artists in Singapore are truly taking advantage of this opportunity – the opportunity to unite and create powerful movements of expression and voice and support, but they should! Working in such close proximity to one another, people should be more proactive about organizing grass-roots events and exhibiting their work for as many of their peers to see as possible so that they might make either aesthetic or conceptual connections with one another. The most powerful thing in my life as an artist is my peers and I wish the same sense of community to young Singaporean artists. Both art scenes have lots of energy and excite me in different ways. I can't wait to see where the artists of Singapore take things!





Fast Facts 




Kari Cholnoky is a Brooklyn, New York based painter who is currently doing a Masters in Fine Arts in Painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Produced in a stream-of-consciousness, Cholnoky’s paintings reflect the psychologies of contemporary youth. By tapping in to automatic mental associations, she seeks to avoid rationalization of her surroundings. Her paintings, which range widely in size, pervade both personal physical space and mental space to challenge viewers to re-examine their relationships to identity, anxiety, and consumption of visual information.  



Artist-in-Residence at INSTINC July 2012 

Exhibition period 27 – 29 July 2012



During her month-long residency at INSTINC, Kari Cholnoky investigates contemporary Singaporean psychology and the influence of the urban island environment. Her multi-dimensional works invade both physical and mental personal space and play with the way in which information is dispensed. In the exhibition “Vaguely Familiar”, Cholnoky's works examine a Singaporean culture of mistranslation, shopping malls, and compact spaces. The paintings featured will be on locally sourced materials and found objects.