An interview with artist-photographer Alecia Neo: on reorienting oneself through memories, movement and sound in Recipes for Wayfinding
What is ‘wayfinding’?
Traditionally known as the process where one finds their way from place to place, wayfinding makes use of spatial and environmental cues to help identify one’s position and navigate through urban or natural landscapes.
In her latest workshop, Recipes for Wayfinding, artist-photographer Alecia Neo takes the process inwards – inviting participants to reorient and reencounter themselves through memories movement, and sound in the face of a volatile new world. “Having the tools to re-encounter ourselves can allow us to see our entrenched habits with fresh eyes and we can begin restoring our muted capacity to connect with others,” Neo says.
Co-facilitated by Neo and anthropologist Jill J. Tan, the workshop offers a series of creative prompts to explore different pathways of navigating boundaries and infrastructures needed to receive care. Through this,they hope that the process encourages the capacity to embody a different perspective, identify new possibilities and allies, and repair lost connections.
The workshop will run on 4 Sep at the Esplanade Rehearsal Studio. It is accompanied by an installation of the same title, presently on display at the Esplanade Rooftop Terrace until 24 Sep.
The installation and workshop are produced under the line-up of programmes by the Care Index, a digital art platform for care practices, workshops, and public installations. The initiative was formed by Neo and emerged from an earlier collaboration with artists Sharda Harrison, Ajunta Anwari, and a group of caregivers in Singapore.
The A List spoke to Neo about her journey into the arts, the inspiration behind Recipes for Wayfinding, as well as the story behind the Care Index.
To start, what brought you into the arts?
I loved art as a child and found joy in making small projects. The first art exhibition I attended as a teenager was by my art teacher, painter Boo Sze Yang, who invited his students to his solo show. Pursuing photography at the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) gave me the opportunity to immerse myself amongst peers and artists who have become my guides on this journey.
A lot of your earlier work, such as Home Visits and Public Conversations, was centred on photography. What prompted the shift from static images to dynamic, interactive exhibits?
Villa Alicia, site installation at Binjai Park, 2011
One of the catalysts was working on my first site-specific project, Villa Alicia, in 2011, which paid tribute to the act of remembering and to the home of the late Dr Nalla Tan, a prominent feminist and physician, who lived with Alzheimer’s. [The project] was a collaboration with music composer Clarence Chung, and was carried out a few days before the entire 1950s-style house was demolished.
Over the six-day show, the private family home was temporarily transformed into a publicly-accessible gallery. What became the most significant and humbling part of the work for us, was being at the site itself – witnessing a rejuvenation of the space through the physical presence and flow of visitors, new and old, and their participation in dialogue about our histories through reconnecting with Dr Nalla Tan’s important work. That project opened up new ways of working for me, and when I participated in a few art residences later on, they exposed me to different forms of participation, which deeply influenced me. However, photography has always remained an integral part of my creative process.
What was the inspiration behind Recipes for Wayfinding?
Recipes for Wayfinding evolved from a series of open-ended workshops hosted under the Care Index project with a group of artists and designers, including Sharda Harrison, Lim Tingli, Celine Tan, and Hironori Kawaguchi, over a few months beginning in late 2021. Given our different disciplines and experiences spanning theatre, visual arts, film, sound, design, and social practice, we began experimenting with different modes of creating scores.
With the backdrop of the prolonged pandemic, intensifying global conflicts, and the ongoing climate crisis, some questions that interested us when we first began the process were: What brings us safety and connection when we’re utterly exhausted? When we are lost, how do we find our way home? These questions led us to consider our personal circumstances and very diverse contexts, such as interfaith dialogue, parenthood and caregiving, where this process of collective wayfinding could potentially be meaningfully applied. The title Recipes for Wayfinding was inspired by one of the creative exercises from our workshopping process.
How does the Recipes for Wayfinding workshop complement your on-site installation?
Both the installation and workshop attend to the complexities and infrastructures of care through embodied exploration.
The fabric installation at Esplanade’s roof terrace explores wayfinding via a patchwork simulacra of human skins. Some of these photographed skins bear marks of injury, stress, and labour, symbolising different bodies that navigate the world. They interact with a variety of textures, structures, and materials – present on the roof terrace and situated on reclaimed land – which represent care infrastructures that enable and disable these bodies in their attempts to reclaim themselves. The site is exposed to environmental conditions which alter the work over time. I hope the installation will be a space that people can return to more than once, with their experiences differing each time.
You are welcome to walk on the grass as you interact with the fabric installation by moving through and around it – notice the different positions and postures you adopt as you do so. Take time to reflect on the different skins you may wear and how you may shapeshift in different contexts, under different circumstances. I’d love for audiences to share images, videos, and their own stories of wayfinding via our open call.
The installation also offers a series of self-directed creative prompts via a QR code on-site, which invites a deeper dive into wayfinding – from tracing stories of where we came from, to mapping our emotional terrains. Some of these prompts are accompanied by sound scores you can listen to while trying out the prompts.
What do you hope for your participants to walk away with from the workshop?
Participants will explore, through working with movement and different materials, some of the following: how they make their way in the world as beings who require care, and beings who care for others, exploring the complexities and weight of these positions; and how they relate to infrastructures and institutions used to enact care, which can both enable and belabour the process. They will consider how to navigate boundaries or requirements needed to enact care practices; they will examine areas in which they wish to receive care, as well as instances where they find themselves vulnerable, lost, or stuck.
We hope that this workshop will be a co-learning process, which provokes new pathways for our participants in their diverse domains.
What is the story behind Care Index?
Care Index currently manifests as a digital archive of care practices and embodied scores, workshops, and public installations. The longer-term aspiration of the project is to develop a shared praxis for care, which evolves with the contributions of different collaborators and communities over time. Some of our public workshops involve contributors developing movement scores which are taught to workshop participants, who engage in visual, aural, and tactile modes of experiencing these scores.
This process of developing a framework for exchanging gestures of care is an attempt at moving away from the commodification of care work, to reconsider what we might find of value.
Who can contribute to this Index?
Anyone can participate by submitting a video recording of their care practices. You are invited to express stories and experiences of care through gestures and movements. I like to think of each contribution as slices of time that have been offered to this collective portal. One that allows others to dwell in, and spend time with too. While each video contribution is a world of its own, the process of inviting each contributor to index their movements with keywords unveils a tightly interconnected web that binds everyone’s experiences together.
Book tickets to the Recipes for Wayfinding Workshop here.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
(Photos: Alecia Neo)
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