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"One has to be conscious of what one’s appropriating" — Tristan Lim

In this hypnotic looped video, clips from Singaporean television commercials are datamoshed together with 3D models to form a lone subject, oscillating between fragmented identities. The continuously transforming bodies—glitched and pixellated yet occasionally familiar—become hollow vessels for the viewer’s own associations, distorting our perception of the media we encounter everyday.

Such is the work of Tristan Lim, who created Hollowing (2018) to explore behaviours of consumers as a result of media desensitisation. Before displaying his work at the upcoming exhibition — Technology in Art — held at Singapore-based gallery Supernormal, we catch up with the artist who's also pursuing fine arts in college. 

by SAND Magazine

April 12, 2018

How did you find yourself in art?

I think anyone who goes into art does it because he or she likes something. I did art in secondary school and really loved drawing. Like every other Singaporean kid, a ‘practical’ future was a consideration so I went into design. I really liked it but I’ve always wanted something more. I was more interested in exploring concepts rather than satisfying what the client wants.
Graphic design really taught me about how things are represented in the world — that’s something that got me to doing art. There’s a bit more depth instead of just surface level work.
Your work introduces the desensitisation of the media climate. Was this an attempt to create more awareness in consumers?

I’ve seen glitch works for a very long time and noticed how it has been accessorised so much. We now have apps that adds glitch to our images, for example. But I've always felt that there’s more to glitch than just the aesthetics. It’s really about breaking the format, which I really like. I was playing around with glitch effects again and the product turned out very abject. The glitches kind of show a different side of how media is being represented and from there I realised that there was something I can use the effect for.
I think media desensitisation is always around us. We’re very aware of it even though we don’t really talk about it. I think it’s really just a by-product. I don’t see it as a bad thing. I see it as a neutral thing.
Yeah, we can get desensitised by media but what does it really entail in the end? I don’t think it really speaks about much but it’s really nice to bring this up to the forefront and have people talk about it.

Was there a conscious decision in picking which commercials to include as part of your work?
I really was just trawling through YouTube, finding commercials that I grew up watching. That’s a personal connection there. Because I don't watch TV now, I don’t think many do actually. But back in the early 2000s and late 90s, we watched a lot of TV. I picked commercials that I’m familiar with and somehow feel are a bit wacky.

Were you ever worried about the issue of originality in remixed works?
For the longest time in my life, I struggled with appropriation. I always thought that as artists, we have to be entirely original. I used to draw a lot because it felt like me. The final piece has my essence in it, whatever that means.

As time went by, I realised that a lot of the ideas and concepts I thought of cannot be explained through merely drawings or paintings. Back then, I picked a lot from the environment and things around me. I wanted to go back to the source, sort of. I feel like one has to be conscious of what one’s appropriating. You’re kind of just picking what’s already in the flow, using it and trying to germinate more ideas from there.


I feel like the artist’s process of making it is also the artist’s hand. Personally, I’m not settled with appropriation because I do want to create something that's entirely mine eventually. 
That said, we’re definitely going to see more appropriation of works in the future just because there are so many cultural materials around.

It also questions the consumers’ perceptions of technology and the messages that brands push. With the advancements of technology, I guess you could say the act of advertising is starting to get less transparent. How does that play into your relationship with everyday media?

I think that technology, especially after 2010, has evolved in such a way that we are no longer just consumers. We have become ‘prosumers’. We produce a lot and consume at the same time. When you use Facebook and Instagram, you’re creating content for these organisations. We are producing as much as we’re consuming so I think that’s the interesting part about media. In a very strange way, people have also become brands.

Take Off-White for example. They put quotation marks on everything and it becomes a brand already. Branding is all about image and perception, right? People don’t really care who you are as long as you give off a certain vibe or aesthetic. I find that fascinating, to be honest. We know it’s not real but we’re really moved by it.

Whether or not we like it.

Yeah, and you can question, am I being basic by liking this? Yet it is what it is in the end.
I think it boils down to late capitalism in a sense that we find ourselves being sucked back into a system. I think Off-White does it in a way that so transparent. People actually buy into the idea of being sucked into it. 
One may bring up social surveillance when consumers are being pushed towards buying into brands. I think Louis Vuitton recognises that Virgil Abloh can bring the crowd, which is why they want him there.

I think what my video does is show how people become a vessel for others to implant their ideas on and look up to. It’s a bit like Kanye West or anyone who’s a cultural figure. You really see them as an image in the end.
When it comes to art, people can go, they are not really doing anything realistic. They don't realise that a lot of our reality is already artificial when we’re so consumed by images. Even the model of 5Cs in Singapore is an example.
We think we have this perception but it's really just an image. I think that’s what so fascinating about technology. It allows you to create images but at the same time, if you read long enough into it, you’ll realise that you can twist or distort the image.

It has been said that we’re moving into a Post-Text World. What does this mean for people like you?

My brother does literature so we have been talking about it. A lot of literary scholars have been lamenting that literature is very visual now. It’s kind of scary how writers visualise an image before they write, and that’s not the case in the 18th to 19th century when you don’t really have images to get the ball rolling.

If we really break it down, text is just a simplifier. Signs use text to further reinforce the message or meaning, which plays back into semiotics. It’s cool that everything is imagery now but text is still important. My videos deal a lot with subtitles and without it, my images lose so much meaning.
Text provides a certain poetic direction. It has this authoritative and translative ability that images do not necessarily have.
Do you think art or design is a product of ideologies we have been brought up with or exposed to whether or not we’re aware of it?

I think technology aids in observing these things. While my work does touch on socio-political observations, I’m not really trying to create political art. I think what I was trying to do was pick out behaviours in consumers. Because technology is very ubiquitous to us, it definitely does seep into the art somehow or another. It's also the way we use it.
There are artists or creatives who feel as if art is a vestige against technology — there’s nothing wrong with that definitely but in my own observation, I find it increasingly more difficult to produce purely ‘natural’ things because so much of technology is already seeped into art.
We don’t want to do things artificially for the sake of not being ‘real’. But sometimes the ‘artificial’ can be of a higher quality or look more real than anything else. It’s an illusionary thing. We all have this perception of what’s natural, especially in Singapore and growing up with the whole garden city branding – but it's really just an illusion.

It’s almost like a manufactured product.

It is a manufactured narrative. I’m not speaking against people who are into nature. Some people mistake technology as something that’s going to destroy everything. They often have this apocalyptic view of it. It’s really how you use it and I feel that people don’t give it a chance.

In terms of bridging the gaps between technology and art, do you feel like consumers have to be more discerning? Whenever something goes wrong, the responsibility lies on solely the makers – Facebook is a very good example. Do you think it's a shared responsibility?

It definitely is. The Internet has so much information and so you could be a very smart consumer if you want to. I’ve noticed that some people actually do want to get sucked into the region.

Bringing back Off-White, you know that they are selling really overpriced products but just because it has that logo on it, you still really want to cope it. These subscribers are willing parties and so it's a conscious decision.

Some people avoid thinking about all these logical things because it makes their lives harder. I find no wrong in that. We all just want to live by our own sense. However, I definitely believe that consumers need to be more aware. We often feel like we can't do anything about it because the power doesn't lie on our side.

The question is, can we really not do anything about it?
It’s really just about observing.
Where do you see art going as disseminator of information?

The artwork is not always at the forefront of things. It really is the back-pedal, sometimes. One thing that’s good about art is that you can use an archived technology and still make it look relevant or present. Someone once said that everything in this world is just part of a situation. It’s part of a flow. Museums are just really this place where time stops a bit. So in that way, art is really just part of the flow.

When it comes to dissemination, you see all these big key control figures. If they’re into art, then art will somehow seep into the culture. Let’s say, Takashi Murakami with Pharrell. It takes a key control figure to disseminate information back into the art world.

I was reading Mark Fisher on the slow cancellation of the future with Franco Berardi. So what they’re really talking about is our conception of futures, how, say modern songs probably wouldn’t sound out of place if you were to take them back to the 60s. We’re all caught up in this flow and technology seems to help perpetuate this flow.
Art provides an outlet where you can escape this flow for a bit. Eventually it will seep back into time.
It’s just a matter of how long you can get out there to disseminate more ideas. That’s the fun part – how art is really just germinating small little ideas.

Tristan Lim is a multidisciplinary Singaporean artist whose interest lies in uncovering semiotic relationships between disparate things, questioning ideas of significance and representation by generating distortions within cultural forms and their appearances.
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