FEATURE: MARCUS YEE
Today we're with artist and art-writer Marcus Yee (Visual Arts '14). He has shown work locally and abroad in Shanghai, and Zürich, and has written for a variety of publications such as Arts Equator and ArtAsiaPacific; in 2017 winning the Arts Equator + AICA Best Essay by an Emerging Writer Competition. In this interview, we talk about his practice, process, and influences, and the themes in his recent solo show "Altars for Four Silly Planets".
Freshly Pressed: Hello Marcus! Who are you and what do you do?
Marcus Yee: I'm currently an artist and art writer. As I am writing this, I'm preparing for an artist-residency at Cemeti, Jogjakarta, which I would be participating together with soft/WALL/studs.
FP: How did you come to the decision to keep practicing first, before continuing your studies immediately?
MY: It wasn't an easy process since nothing was guaranteed. It was around same time that I started interrogating the university and its place in narratives of 'a good life'. Then again, I was never drawn to prescribed narratives of comfort and in retrospect, the time outside of institutional structure became formative in articulating my own thoughts and ideas.
FP: Your writing itself seems to be an outlet for your ideas as well, beyond the journalistic aspect of the industry. Has your writing and art-making informed each other in your practice?
MY: I don't see my art writing as separate from my art practice. I'm interested in the possibility of an art writing proper than mere writing about art. I tend to avoid reportage, as you said. The process of writing is similar as per art-making: tons of research, to the extent that criticality is taken to the edge of play. So I've written weird responses such as an exhibition from the point of view of a millipede or a to-do list for an apocalypse in response to the Singapore Biennale. Interpretation is neither convenient nor easy. Pace Susan Sontag, there shouldn't be interpretation at all.
FP: What has been a seminal experience in your creative journey so far?
MY: While it's hard to name any particularly epiphanic moments, there have been a few milestones in 2017, such as the opportunity to visit the Venice Biennale, Documenta and Skulptur Projekte; a curating workshop and conference at Para Site, Hong Kong; more writing commissions and my first solo show. I would like to think of these milestones as the result of an accumulative slow-cooking of researching, thinking and making, as opposed to a series of explosive life-changing events.
FP: Did 17 year old (SOTA) Marcus foresee that you’d be up to so many things at this point?
MY: 17 year old Marcus was myopic since he was eight and would continue to wear glasses for the rest of his life.
A Manifesto Residency, a collaboration with Lai Yu Tong (Visual Arts 2014). Photos courtesy of the Substation.
FP: Your solo show, Altars for Four Silly Planets at soft/WALL/studs was a real sight to visit in person, after having heard of your plans earlier in the year. Can you tell us more about it?
MY: I was interested in waste since my time in SOTA, when my friends and I would dérive around the city. In the name of art, or more specifically, psychogeography, we would climb into abandoned estates and construction sites. During these trips, trash appeared to be a constitutive element of the city that was unaddressed. Spurned by a number of fortuitous impetuses, I began intensive work and research for Altars for Four Silly Planets last August. The exhibition was important for me because waste became less of an abstract category than things that were sensible, that had their own weight and peculiarities. To summarise my ambitions for Altars, I was trying to merge speculative fiction, cultures of mourning and waste-cultures into a monstrous swamp of an installation, so as to stage an encounter with waste in suspension.
Altars for Four Silly Planets at soft/WALL/studs.
FP: What was the process for you when you manifested the idea into a physical form?
MY: It was a logistical and organisational nightmare, involving a lot driving to collect trash from people and dumpster diving. Nevertheless trash and the reactions it draws always surprises, bad or good. Everyone has a story of trash. Making the work also changed the way I experienced the urban landscape, trash beckons to me more.
FP: Who are some artists or creators you take to, or are inspired by?
MY: I have been following the works of Phyllida Barlow, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Eva Hesse and Isa Genzken among others. Interestingly, they tend to be woman artists. Although I would say I draw more inspiration from a promiscuous reading list of anthropology (Anna Tsing, Eduardo Kohn), cultural theory and philosophy (Walter Benjamin, Jose Esteban Muñoz, Jane Bennett, Donna Haraway, Timothy Morton) and literature (Ursula K. Le Guin, H.P. Lovecraft, Virginia Woolf). The list could go on and on.
FP: What are you reading now, and would you recommend anything to us?
MY: I tend to be reading many things at once. At the moment, it's some papers and re-readings for writing a proposal, as well as Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz for leisure. I have too many recommendations and can't choose one.
FP: Alright, on the topic of trash… is there any part of pop culture or a hobby that is your guilty pleasure?
MY: No hobbies because all of them would turn into art, eventually. Nothing especially interesting on terra pop culture: Lady Gaga (I've been a fan since 13 years old and have been to all her concerts in Singapore) or Youtube videos of Katya.
FP: Thanks for talking to us! Any closing comments?
MY: Thanks for having me!