End of INSTINC artist-in-residence exhibition: “Constructing the City”
As Mexican artist Natalia Ludmila explains, “the idea behind this project – it’s the city, basically, it’s about putting a stranger in the city… putting yourself in a situation where you don’t know anything, you don’t know what’s going on, but then you start to explore the city and let it tell you what it is.” So upon arriving in Singapore for the first time, she set about exploring the foreign city on foot, where over a period of one month and armed with a camera, she would just “go out on the street and walk, with no direct intention, and walk and walk and walk”.
The result of her exploratory wanderings about the city is a handful of relatively detailed sketches done on site, as well as photographic documentation amounting to about five hundred photos, which were culled down and developed into her final artworks. Comprising twelve artworks in watercolour or in a combination of watercolour and archival marker, and one inkjet print, the pieces in the series are selected works highlighting points of interest of Natalia’s experience in Singapore.
Some of the artworks are more direct representations – such as “Some…”, which is a watercolour painting of an interesting sign that caught Natalia’s eye as she explored the city, while “Boat in the Sky” (Marina Bay Sands) and “Duplicity (People’s Park Complex” depict landmarks or iconic architecture in the local landscape.
Among other things, there is a mysterious arrangement of items “Found in Singapore”, placed on a windowsill like an altar of sorts; “The Lane” which at first glance seems to be a secret pathway overgrown with shrubs and greenery, until you notice the sign Haji Lane situated discreetly in the background; “Mirror Cities” where the real city becomes indistinguishable from its reflection; and a “Port and Flower Building” built from a juxtaposition of the docklands with an image of the ArtScience Museum repeated and rotated four times to form another flower.
Places and buildings unique to Singapore aside, “Movement on Orchard Road” captures an old man who has been performing as a busker at the same corner of Orchard Road for years, swinging an enormous three metre long chain of beads around his body. Drawn to this sight, Natalia also recorded the sound of the beads moving across the busker’s body. The audio recording was then fed to computer software that she had previously programmed, which generated the almost elliptical red lines on her final printed artwork, a translation of sound into image as well as a surprisingly accurate visual echo of the movement of the beads.
In a similar vein, Natalia was struck by the sight of two men walking down the street, one of whom was dressed in a “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” rich saffron yellow Sikh tunic and a very rich blue turban. “So I took a photo of the two men walking towards me and then I thought he saw me taking a photo of him and I thought he was going to look away… but then he just looked at the camera, [and he] basically let me take a photo of him.”
“…so here is just a random street in the city and everyone’s going about their own business, but then you see this and it’s totally unusual and it’s just there… so for me, you have to grab it, it’s just an instant.”
In viewing Natalia’s works “Clothes Make the Man” and “Movement on Orchard Road”, this writer is shown sights that I have not seen even as a local resident who has lived here for twenty-seven years, and it almost seems as though I have become the stranger in the foreign city instead. The lines that demarcate outsider from local resident become not that relevant, really – as the scenes that appeal to Natalia (a Mexican) as being unusual, have the same appeal to this writer (a local) as being unusual. What becomes more apparent is simply the artist and viewer, who is shown how this fair city-state looks like through the artist’s eyes and works.
Scenes that are more familiar for this writer, instead take on a more unfamiliar or fantastical hue, as other artworks by Natalia brim with opportunities for unexpected narratives – from a hidden city underground (the MRT), to (mechanical) giraffes on the docklands, to a burst of colour (or explosion?) on the Flyer… Her documentations of sights and scenes discovered in Singapore, real or otherwise infused with imaginary or abstract elements, are often underscored with a sense of humour and stem largely from an interest in capturing the unusual in the everyday.
And yet, while on one hand Natalia is ostensibly looking out for the unusual in the everyday and things uniquely Singapore, on the other hand it seems as though she is also drawn to scenes that are familiar regardless of geographical location. “Beating the Rush” is a work which appears to be a simple drawing of a man rushing for a bus, but which is actually based on two photographs taken from the same spot on the same day, with a few minutes’ difference. While the presentation and choice of medium for this piece easily fits in with most of the rest of the artworks, the subject matter stands somewhat apart because “it’s like an ordinary city scene, it could be anywhere, it could be Singapore, it could be somewhere else, Mexico City or London, during rush hour trying to get home…”
In some sense, the exploratory aura of Natalia’s artworks, from the simple way they are presented, is a befitting echo of her physical and conceptual exploration of this new city. The thirteen pieces are both linked and set apart from each other through the mediums used, thematic concerns and stylistic representation. They are sometimes marked by the contrasts between, or the assimilation of digital image-making and drawing by hand, or the sensitive precision of clean and detailed marker lines and the vibrant splashes or fleeting feelings and emotive washes of watercolour.
In a nutshell, there is no one particular way to look at Natalia’s thirteen artworks for “Constructing the City”. They express numerous ideas and capture a variety of sights – some of which not only speak of Natalia’s first experience of Singapore and her attempt to create “a narrative and guiding thread for the vast sensory experience that is living in this city”, but also follow the trajectory of other ongoing projects by the artist. Like an inexplicable paradox, the pieces in the series are at once disparate and fragmented individual artworks in their own right, yet also inextricably intertwined as facets of a greater whole.
Quotes / Notes / Captions
“Visually he’s really amazing because he’s really, really frail and skinny but he can swing this stuff which is obviously pretty heavy; it’s amazing.” – Natalia Ludmila, on “Movement on Orchard Road”
“He was just… captivating…” – Natalia Ludmila, on “Clothes Make the Man”
“I guess if you’re talking about the city it’s something you can’t not talk about – it governs the whole sky – almost everywhere you stand you can see it.” – Natalia Ludmila, on “Boat in the Sky”
“For me it’s very direct, I mean it’s just a splash of colour onto a paper… that’s not part of the landscape but that’s what I like – you’re kind of showing people this direct landscape but then there’s, wait a minute, what’s that? …I really love that interpretation part because everybody has a different story – was it a crash, was it like a fire, what happened?” – Natalia Ludmila, on the addition of abstract or imaginary elements into her works
“I actually have a project only based on signs that I see all around the world – funny or unusual signs that you will see around – I take a photo of it and that’s part of another project, so this is part of the city and it’s part of that project – it’s pretty amazing, you’ll be totally amazed at the type of signs you find.” – Natalia Ludmila, on “Some…”
“[laughs] everybody thinks that… but it’s like I’ve never seen an incineration tower in Singapore next to the museum.” – Natalia Ludmila, on “Panic in Heights”
“I wasn’t looking to have one piece that was computer generated and the rest be handmade… It just grew that way – I wasn’t controlling it and I wasn’t counting on that, that’s just how it happened.” – Natalia Ludmila, on the formation of her solo exhibition “Constructing the City”
“I look for different things that grab me; if you don’t take the time to point them out, you would just walk by and not see them.” – Natalia Ludmila, on capturing the unusual in the everyday
“A lot of people think that computers are not a personal medium, but once you start coding, everybody codes in a different way. Even though you’re using the same language, you are putting your personality into that piece… I mean… I don’t know, maybe I’m going too far in saying so, but once you code with a creative purpose, then the code itself becomes the art piece.” – Natalia Ludmila, on programming
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Natalia Ludmila was born in Mexico City and raised in Canada. She holds a BFA in which she specialised in painting by the National School of Art (Mexico) and a Masters in Digital Design by the University of Canberra (Australia). Her work has been exhibited in several solo and group shows in Mexico, Brazil, Spain and Australia, among other countries. She was the Second Prize recipient in the XVIII Ibiza Biennale -Ibizagrafic'- with the project dfm e.p. curated by Nilo Casares (Spain). The art critic Lelia Driben has written about her work. Natalia Ludmila has had work exhibited and commissioned by the Anahucalli Museum (Mexico City). She currently lives and works in Australia.
Artist-in-Residence at INSTINC February – April 2012
Exhibition period 20 – 24 April 2012
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
What happens if you bring an artist to a foreign city for a three month period? This is the idea driving Natalia Ludmila's first solo exhibition of drawings ...in Singapore. Through her work Ludmila creates a narrative and guiding thread for the vast sensory experience that is living in this city. Her desire is for the metropolis to inform her work as much as possible, so as to attempt at describing it, its people and their customs. Natalia Ludmila acknowledges that this description of the city will always be done through the eyes of an outsider, yet she believes that this will imprint the work with a unique edge. Hence the title of the exhibition -Constructing the City- because the body of work that comprises this exhibition is a subjective construction of this fair city-state.
This project is funded by FONCA (National Fund for Culture & Arts).