14 Jan 2017

Dawn Ng:
Everyday Things


Dawn Ng’s work delves into the themes of memories and space. She has a particular focus on things that might usually go unnoticed, making use of various mediums to recreate ordinary experiences and objects in a different context. Her work Walter is now a part of the Singapore Art Museum permanent collection, and she recently opened a solo show at the Art Paris Art Fair at the Grand Palais, as well as completed a commission from the Fondation d’enterprise Hermes to inaugurate their Singapore flagship’s permanent gallery space.

Dawn Ng’s series A Thing Of Beauty may remind older viewers of childhood days spent playing with household items, reimagining bowls as helmets and spatulas as swords. A similar sense of humor and playfulness permeates her photographed installations, which display small, locally sourced objects in a diorama-like context. “[It’s] an anthropological documentary of things we collectively own in this day and age. I think people grow accustomed to what is in front of them, day in and day out. Over time, that kind of dull familiarity forms a myopia to the beauty and singularity of individual objects around us.”

Ng freshens viewers’ eyes to the charm of these objects, with each installation formed around a single color. Ng carefully chose items that would lend meaning to each Other and the installation as a whole. “It’s stripping the functionality of an object away from what it is, using it almost like Lego pieces and just having fun with shape, form, and color, and having that relationship where they play with each other.”

The final installations all share the same wittiness and sense of joy. In Pink, there are hints of a tropical paradise with sponges, containers, and doorstops standing in for summery objects like the Sun or a diving board.

“l am telling a story about the things people keep, the feelings and memories they store inside or project upon something as plebian as a ping pong ball or paper cup.” The lightness of her installations belies the painstaking process behind it. Ng explains, “For example, Red is a choreographed formation of 20 items but in order to work with 20, I needed to collect over 100 items in that very palette to figure out which object related to which in a way that provided an interesting narrative or relationship.”

Ng found the process “both absolutely frustrating and absolutely fun, which I think is the best tension to work off in any project.” She didn’t plan any of the sets with sketches, which meant she had to create multiple versions as she worked before she was satisfied. “l am too impatient. I want something in my head to be translated and tested in reality from the get-go.”

Ng scoured 138 mom and pop shops throughout Singapore’s residential heartlands like Marine Parade, the first housing estate to be built on reclaimed land in the 1970s, Tiong Bahru, one of the Oldest residential areas in Singapore now a trendy area full of cafes and quirky shops, and Tanglin Halt, one Of Ng’s favorite HDB estates. According to Ng,

“the area possesses an old neighborhood charm, rhythm, and texture in its tapestry of shops, bakeries, and worn coffee stands, which are somewhat missing in newer satellite towns.”

Tanglin Halt was also known for their chup lau chu (“10-story flats” in Hokkien). These neat, iconic rectangular blocks of public housing flats with diagonal staircases flanking each end were quintessentially Singaporean in form during the 1960s, however by 2014, most of them were torn down for redevelopment.”

Ng spent day after day visiting shops that she’d known since childhood, as well as others that were new discoveries. “You meet all sorts of characters. I think the store owners were the ones who found me peculiar, getting excited over the most mundane objects like a door stopper or nail clipper, and buying hoards of items in specific colour palettes.”

Ng chose objects for their “simple elegance and curiosity in their form, shape and colour.”

I think there is infinite beauty to be found in the most common things. We instinctively understand that when we are young but it gets harder to hold on to that purity and innocence as you get older – the things that we become conditioned to see as beautiful become more elaborate, ornate, or pegged to its value.”

And yet, despite the childlike joy in her work, there is no sentimentality or nostalgia. Ng admits with a laugh that “I personally am not a sentimental person. To my mom’s greatest horror, I throw things away with no feelings… Instead, I see [these objects] in an abstract way, breaking down their forms and structures and looking at them as what they are.”

She pauses and says, “It’s not longing for the past. Rather than being nostalgic, it’s about being a child and approaching the world with a sense of wonder and fascination.”