We catch up with Yale-NUS alum and full-time artist Jevon Chandra, who is working on his project The History of Utopian Aspirations (Dreaming in the City). It explores the projection of dreams onto places in Singapore in the past, and a "contestation of dreams" in the present.
Tell us about yourself. What are some of your experiences as a creator so far, and what are you up to now?
I graduated from Yale-NUS College just a few months ago! I would consider myself an artist right now, though I am also at a stage of simultaneously trying to shape what the word means, or can mean, for myself and others.
I began considering the arts in earnest one year before entering college. I started by playing the piano and doing music. From music, I branched out into doing sound, and then to other digital mediums. Around this time, I was also fortunate enough to be part of collaborations, during which I was forced to situate my own creating tendencies and perspectives amidst that of others, and to merge my ideas (or not!) with them. These explorations were incredibly helpful in giving me a sense of how vast the “arts” – or even my initial starting point of music/sound, and not to mention what all those terms mean to other creators as well – can be. Recently, I had the chance to reflect and revisit my past projects, in an attempt to reflect and also identify a latent trajectory or motivation across my works, should one exist. It seems that I am drawn to people, place, and play. Following up on that, I am now entertaining an instinct to morph my practice – indeed also along the lines of people, place, and play – into more
conscious forms of social engagement. I am in the midst of a short artist residency in Japan right now, which I definitely have to thank for helping crystallise these thoughts!
The year ahead feels quite pivotal for me as I am trying to become a full-time artist. I have several projects to tend to when I get back to Singapore, some of which allow me to, as mentioned above, also work with people and communities. These are opportunities I am really glad to have. But this The Future of Our Pasts project is definitely one of my bigger projects, and I look forward to spending more time on it the coming months.
"What is no secret is that Singapore has been the site of rapid, intentional, top-down urban planning for a long time. One effect that has is in inducing a kind of learned apathy in citizens, and an inability to imagine futures beyond the visions, desires, and vocabularies decided by the state."
What is your project about? Why are you drawn to this subject?
At its core, my project is about a kind of dreaming about places: about how dreams were projected (and sometimes achieved) onto places in the past, and how we can (or cannot) do the same in the present. What is no secret is that Singapore has been the site of rapid, intentional, top-down urban planning for a long time. One effect that has is in inducing a kind of learned apathy in citizens, and an inability to imagine futures beyond the visions, desires, and vocabularies decided by the state. So, instead of “land contestation”, I am perhaps interested in “dream contestation” – a crowding out of alternative, personal, mental envisioning of what a place can be, not just in the future but also in the immediate present.
I am drawn to this subject because, well, I am perhaps at a stage where I too am dreaming about my own future.
We hear your project for The Future of Our Pasts may have been inspired by a previous work of yours, tell us about that.
Yes, it is! Not so much in terms of content but format. I’m building off what I learnt from a previous work, in which I did an audio-facilitated journey roughly around the Singapore River area. Generally speaking, the impulse then was to experiment, to see how gently and generously audio can facilitate exploration. I found the project tricky. Because on one hand, when you compose a piece for a moving person, you do want the beats and moments to be super precise and site-specific, to be physically in sync with where the person in the real world. It is a bit like how a film score ebbs and flows with visuals on a screen. But on the other hand, I did not wish to bind listeners to predetermined paths – so it was a certain method of permitting control and flexibility that I was searching for.
My project for The Future of Our Pasts will, most likely, be a expansion of that format – we’ll see what happens!
"My project is about a kind of dreaming about places: about how dreams were projected (and sometimes achieved) onto places in the past, and how we can (or cannot) do the same in the present."
What do you think sets your narrative apart? How would you like the public to relate to your project?
Hmm! I find it hard to answer this right now, because I’m still figuring out the project myself. But I think I can safely say that the work is more about a mental landscape, a kind of imagination or enchantment, as opposed to a physical one. I also mentioned earlier that one of my core interests is “play”, and I believe it will be a part of the message and experience of the work as well. Right now, making all these somewhat amorphous thoughts coherent for myself during the creation process, yet tactile in the final presentation, are my challenges.
Generally speaking, I think most of our projects either cast light on a new thing, or cast new perspectives on an old thing. So, for the visiting public, a potentially alienating or destabilising encounter with something new is to be expected. As such, I hope people can simply encounter the work for what it is, on their own terms, so as to not double-guess their own feelings or thoughts too much. If there was one thing to ask from the audience, it would only be for their brief attention – as creators, I think that’s as much as we can ask for! The rest is up to the work.
What can we look forward to from your project come 2019?
There will be some audio involved. Some walking and exploring to do, maybe to different places for different people, or to similar places but via different routes, and so on. Some elements of live, open-ended interactions, not just with the space but between participants as well…once again, we’ll see what happens!
"Good art is honest. Honest in its intentions, in its desires to and manners of looking at a certain topic; honest is in its explication, in the way it speaks about truths or speculations about said topic; and honest in its provocation, even if it weaves a fiction or a lie to get a point across."
Any writers, artists, or creators you’re inspired by?
Janet Cardiff for her graciousness in weaving narratives past and present, real and imagined, into her audio works. Ant Hampton for his participatory projects which, beyond folding audiences into the work, also make critical points about the nature of participation. Bani Haykal, for the sheer force and effectiveness of his musical ideas and live performances.
…I’m squeezing in one more! Curtis Tamm, an artist whom I got to know of just recently, for the production level and polish evident in his works.
What does it mean, for you personally, to make good art?
Oh dear, this is such a heavy question! I really don’t know. Given that the definitions, interpretations, and applications of the words art/artist have really exploded, I’m not sure there is currently a criteria which I am willing to formalise even for myself.
For now, provisionally, let’s just say that good art is honest. Honest in its intentions, in its desires to and manners of looking at a certain topic; honest is in its explication, in the way it speaks about truths or speculations about said topic; and honest in its provocation, even if it weaves a fiction or a lie to get a point across.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Nothing from me, but I’d really like to hear from others! After all, this issue of dreams/dreaming and feeling a sense of belonging or ownership over a place is so personal for so many people. I have a portfolio website, www.jevonchandra.org, which you can reach me through. Or just over Facebook if you’re able to find me; my profile picture is of me when I was, perhaps, 3. If anything you’ve read here strikes a chord with or deeply irritates you, or if you feel something in between, I’d be interested to know. And thank you for reading this interview!
All images courtesy of Jevon Chandra