Introducing the up and coming student artist Hans Chew!!! Currently studying his final year in School Of The Arts, Singapore (SOTA).
Recently, he created a work called Not “Always $2”, 2015 which is now on display outside the SOTA gallery on level 2. What you will see is a vending machine carrying pieces and pieces of handmade, thrown ceramics works, painstakingly created and fired piece by piece. Make no mistake, though these pieces may look mass produced (which they were… BY HAND) they were made individually by Hans himself. The pieces all have an allocated slot and allotted price in the machine, and can be bought like any other drink or snack vending machine. But unlike some gallery pieces that are only for show and lack audience-artwork-artist interaction, you, as the audience can actually purchase the work. Do not worry, your pieces will not break because of the drop. In fact I believe it adds a risk and theatrical/performance factor to the entire piece.
This entire installation seeks to bring attention to the artistic making process, from conception to even selling a work. In his concept excerpt, Hans mentions that in our highly mechanized society, represented by the vending machine, the traditional aspect of handmade ceramics and pottery is being “largely compromised”. By doing so, there is not only the loss of interaction between the artist and his works, let alone the audience. Even though pieces are handmade and unique, he mentions that the transaction is between the “audience and machine” at the “convenience of the buyer who can choose to buy any number of works at a fixed price”. Bearing in mind the concept of price, Hans goes on to bring up the monetary value of handmade ceramics pieces, and how greater “scrutiny” and “reflection” is required in determining the monetary value of each piece, taking into consideration materials, firing, glazing, rental of the machine and the painstaking, time-consuming creation of each piece by the artist himself. By putting similar pieces at different prices, he forces the audience to become an integral part of the entire concept, as they have to “attribute to craft in relation to the price they are prepared to pay”.
Personally, this work speaks volumes of what art is today. Questions such “does the artist’s hands really matter in the process?”, “can mass produced ‘pieces’ reconsidered art?” and “if the work is manufactured by machines or collective body, does it still retain the individualistic, craftsmanship by the person who conceived it?” are coming up more and more in this art era. Works by artists such as Andy Warhol come to mind, and there always lies that age old question – “what makes an artwork, an artwork?” Today even well known artist are asking others to create their final display work. Whether these pieces are too big for one person to handle, or it is part of the concept, I do not know and do not want to judge. However, I believe that if there is a choice by the artist to make the work himself, no matter how massive, there are good reasons that value add to the concept of that work.
The concept of pricing is also a rather sensitive topic. Someone once told me “how expensive you decide to price your work depends on how much you cannot bear to part with it”, and I believe in that entirely. To artists, each work produced is their bread and butter, yet at the same time, they must also decide which carries more value – the integrity of the work or “surviving” off the piece. Similar to what Hans’ concept raises, people may not always accept high prices no matter how aesthetically pleasing it is to them and no matter how much they want to give to the artist. For all you know, an expensive piece may merely be the going at the cost price of its materials. Time IS priceless after all.
Considering Hans’ work, concept and process, two points come to mind:
The first point is targeted at audiences and buyers, which is the value of works. For those who do not dabble in the Visual Arts, or have little experience, let me say that each stroke and mark has a reason behind it. It is within the Visual Arts that the phrase “do not judge a book by its cover” plays a significant role. When a viewer judges a work, he must not only take into consideration what he perceives, but the entire process itself. The work may seem deceivingly simple, and the first thing that may come to the layman’s mind would be, “I can do that too”. But can you recreate the artist’s process? The process may have been deep and reflective on the part of the artist, time and money, even blood, sweat and tears could have literally been put in to push this idea he believes in out to the public, you. For those who support the arts through monetary means of purchasing pieces, the gravity of the matter is that you, as the buyer are not only participating in the work, like Not “Always $2”, but you are also supporting, believing and, ultimately, buying the concept in its entirety. So understand the piece, beyond the tangible and perceivable and reflect on the impact that a work can have on yourself.
The next point would be towards artists and students of the arts. (Keep in mind that this is just an opinion.) Works that you create must also have a reason behind them. The artwork, like your eyes, are windows to your mind and soul. Do not create works that you are half-hearted about, because people will eventually see through the facade. You, yourself will also realize on hindsight that there was little value in creating that work. Do not do it for the grade or the recognition, because your entire process from conception to realization has a value, monetary or verbally, that will not only be judged by audiences, but yourself as well.
Nevertheless, PLEASE, please support Hans in this endeavors and consider purchasing a piece before they all run out. Like all handmade pieces they are still unique in their own way. But before all that just stop… and consider all that I have said, particular the value of concept.
After all, how many can say they bought a unique handmade ceramic piece out of a vending machine.
Hans Chew’s Facebook
Photographs Courtesy of Hans Chew, Rebecca Lee and Timothy Ng