An interview with Chu Hao Pei and Yip Kai Chun: artists honing their craft through Singapore Art Museum’s residency programme

An interview with Chu Hao Pei and Yip Kai Chun: artists honing their craft through Singapore Art Museum’s residency programme

Active dialogue, discovery, and collaboration.

These are the three key elements that form the foundation of the residency programme at Singapore Art Museum (SAM). SAM Residencies is a fully-funded, studio-based programme designed to be both an incubator and a platform for exploring artistic and curatorial practices in contemporary art. The emphasis is not on a final product, but more on the dialogue created between contemporary artists, curators, researchers, and collectives.

The programme also widens our local art bubble by inviting narratives from international artists and engaging with the public through talks, workshops, and interactive exhibits. 

During its infancy, SAM Residencies was a by-invite-only programme that featured three Singapore-based artists. One such artist was Chu Hao Pei, a visual artist who investigated how seed sovereignty and agricultural amnesia were shaped by political and socioeconomic factors. Hao Pei has also taken on a role as a ‘Resident Agent’, where he provides guidance to incoming residents. Resident Agents in the programme help facilitate continuous engagement with other residents, well beyond the formal completion of the residency.  

Chu Hao Pei, a resident of the programme’s pilot batch, collaborated with The Little Rice Company in a 2-day workshop on rice production and consumption in a non-agrarian society.
Chu Hao Pei, a resident of the programme’s pilot batch, collaborated with The Little Rice Company in a 2-day workshop on rice production and consumption in a non-agrarian society.

After its initial success, the residency (Cycle 2021/2022) was then opened up to applicants from all around the world with a focus on “notions of intimacy, infrastructure, and the impact of technology on contemporary life”. It features artists from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Denmark, South Africa, Argentina, and more.

Yip Kai Chun, a Hong Kong-based artist-curator who explores neglected languages through sound, text, video, and found objects was one of the residents in this cycle. He uses Hakkanese to examine the topics of the generation gap, family, intimacy, and community.

During his residency, he developed a project titled SingHAKKApura which serves as a constantly changing collaborative space for the local Hakka community.

SingHAKKApura by Cycle 2021/2022 resident Yip Kai Chun, is a community space in SAM that houses various Hakka-related activities for the public to explore and interact with.
SingHAKKApura by Cycle 2021/2022 resident Yip Kai Chun, is a community space in SAM that houses various Hakka-related activities for the public to explore and interact with.

In keeping its rhythm, the new residency cycle is currently open for applications to regional and international artists, curators, researchers, and collectives. This 2022/2023 cycle will focus on notions of post-industrialism, critical alliances, and/or the possibilities of a transformed future.

The A List spoke to Pilot and Cycle 2021/2022 residents Chu Hao Pei and Yip Kai Chun, respectively, about their residency projects and the programme’s impact on their careers and personal journeys.

What’s the inspiration behind your SAM residency project?

Chu:
The form of Seeding Sovereignty was inspired by my lived experiences with a youth farming collective in Yogyakarta, Sekolah Tani Muda, and the workshops I co-conducted with The Little Rice Company which was supported by SAM during my residency period.

Coupled with my expansive survey on anecdotal knowledge accumulated over time through literature, articles, online and other sources, Seeding Sovereignty is an amalgamation of different layers – charged struggles by farmers, embracing of everyday materials, knowledge sharing, seed exchange – developed in my overlapping practice and encounters. The site (library) is an important factor in the conceiving of Seeding Sovereignty where it mirrors the library as a space for knowledge sharing. Hence, (the project) takes on the iteration of a seed library where native rice seeds are shared with growing instructions, together with the anecdotal rice knowledge in each drawer of the cabinets, as an outlet for knowledge sharing.

Chu Hao Pei’s Seeding Sovereignty is part of SAM's multi-site exhibition Lonely Vectors.
Chu Hao Pei’s Seeding Sovereignty is part of SAM’s multi-site exhibition Lonely Vectors.

Yip: I see SingHAKKApura as a direct response to what I learned and felt from the Hakkas in Singapore. Many Hakkas think that language and identity are important, but they seem to lack the environment and circumstance to pass them on.

Singapore’s Hakka community has various origins in China, and the internal differences among the dialects of Hakka (as a language) can be so large that communication is difficult. One story that I found fascinating was that several Hakka clan associations in Singapore once wanted to organise a Hakka language class, but had to give up the collaboration because they couldn’t agree on which Hakka to teach!As the Hakka identity cannot be manifested by appearance and is hence largely hidden, I wanted to reimagine a Hakka association that could encompass the different Hakkas to reveal and nurture a Hakka culture in Singapore.

Why did you apply for the SAM Residencies programme, and what were you hoping to get out of it?

Chu:
I was nominated for the pilot SAM Residencies programme. I was developing some ideas from the isolation during the pandemic and I thought the residency was the perfect time and space for me to lay the foundations of a long-term project. I was hoping to build conversations with fellow artists-in-residence, curators, and others for unexpected outcomes and inspiration(s).

Yip:
I had researched the Hakka language as an entry point to contemplate the history and identity for myself, my family, and my country, and created two works: voice from the root, reclaiming and Hakkaoke. But I realised that migration and loss of culture do not only take place in Hong Kong, but in many parts of the world.

When I visited Singapore in 2014, I learned that it too has a Hakka population whose language is also in decline. I had hoped to return to learn more about the situation and hopefully draw parallels. When I saw the open call for the SAM Residencies programme, I decided to apply right away with this idea in mind. I feel incredibly lucky to have been chosen as the open call was very competitive!Although I did have a few broad directions I wanted to explore, I kept things open. That’s the spirit of a residency to me: to detour and be surprised by the unexpected.

Chu Hao Pei’s residency in the Community & Education category spanned five months – from 1 Jan to 31 May 2021.
Chu Hao Pei’s residency in the Community & Education category spanned five months – from 1 Jan to 31 May 2021.

How has the programme helped you so far, and what were your greatest takeaways from the experience?

Chu:
The experimentations I attempted during the sharing and workshops pushed my practice into new directions and modes of presentation. It gave me the space and possibility to explore an area which was completely new for me – brewing rice tea – in my presentation.

And of course, the connections I made with fellow artists-in-residence and curators are perhaps the best takeaways throughout this journey.

Yip:
The programme provided me with the time – a solid 3 months – and space to be in Singapore and in the field, which is precious. My greatest takeaway is the connections I made during the residency. From the beginning, SingHAKKApura had a WhatsApp group for exchange, which has grown beyond the project. My other takeaway is the knowledge about Singapore as a society and city. In the beginning, I thought Hong Kong and Singapore were pretty similar. After the residency, I got more fascinated by the intricate entanglements of the different cultures in Singapore. Should I return to Singapore, this would be something I’d want to look into further.

Yip Kai Chun’s residency in the Community & Education category spanned three months – from Feb to Apr 2022.
Yip Kai Chun’s residency in the Community & Education category spanned three months – from Feb to Apr 2022.

Have you collaborated with any local artists, companies or other SAM residents on a project?

Chu:
I collaborated with The Little Rice Company for a workshop titled Do seeds control us or we control seeds in Sprouts Hub during my SAM residency period. The workshop dives into the history of the introduction of non-native rice seeds from the ‘60s until today and the ripple effects that followed in our rice economy through a series of explorations of rice varieties in the form of taste, touch, and sight, as well as, the exchange of personal stories with the common grain.

Yip:
In the first half of the residency, I looked for Hakkas in Singapore to learn more about the complex language and cultural dynamics in the city. I was slowly referred to more Hakkas – some of whom became collaborators or frequent participants of my project. It felt wonderful how all these connections fell into place so nicely!
Although I did not collaborate with other residents on a project, I really enjoyed the dialogues and exchanges with them and the alumni. As my project at SAM has a community focus, I benefitted particularly from the conversations and suggestions by my fellow Community and Education residents.


How do you feel your practice has developed after your time as a SAM resident?

Chu:
My practice has expanded into realms which I never would have imagined myself doing prior to the residency. Never did I imagine myself cooking and preparing during the residency presentation, Present Realms.

The conversations, reflections, and workshops over the residency challenged my practice and thoughts. Those processes seeded my long-term project which will be manifested into various chapters in time to come.

Yip:
The programme has definitely expanded my artistic research on Hakka geographically, and has provided me with leads to explore the community in Malaysia. Although SingHAKKApura is thematic, I was also thinking about artistic practice and the formation, transformation, and destruction of a community. How can or should a socially-engaged practice foster a community? What are the important factors in fostering a community? How do we sustain the newly-formed community without the artist?

These are some questions I’d like to investigate in the future, and not limited to the Hakka community.

Would you recommend this residency to emerging artists?

Chu:
I will recommend it to all artists, not just emerging artists! It is a good incubation platform which offers dialogues and space to sow and refine ideas. It is a learning process where ideas are in-flux.

Yip:
Absolutely! The resources the residency offered were just amazing – the studio space, the technical and research support, the spot-on connections, the supportive, aspiring and inspiring fellow residents, and the SAM residency team and community, which are so important to artists. 

Above all, I really felt the trust in the artist and that the artistic process is open-ended.

The deadline to apply for the Artist; Community & Education; and Curatorial and Research residencies in the 2022/2023 cycle is 15 Aug. Learn more about the different residencies available here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

(Photos: Singapore Art Museum)


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