Therese, Best Comment winner, Programmes and Production. Top from Hanes, thrifted jacket, shoes from Converse, hat from Outdoor.
Therese walked in for a post-work, early-night shoot with infectious energy that could fill up every nook and cranny—and brought along a treasure trove of colourful stickers, knick-knacks, pamphlets and washi tapes lovingly collected from all around the globe. With a personal style that’s a mix of androgynous workwear, Japanese street-style, and vintage eclecticism, you’d be forgiven for thinking her music tastes reflect her aesthetic preferences. 10 or 15 minutes into the shoot, Therese requests, “Can we put on some Enter Shikari?” and just like that, the whole studio is awash in metalcore. Her personality is as vivacious as her choice of music, and it shines through in the simplest of actions, whether she’s methodically cutting confetti for a cardboard birthday cake, or taking a moment to sing along to her favourite song. There’s an unwavering curiosity to learn more about people as well, something she’s taken away from her job, working with children. Therese’s boundless excitement kept the energy up during the shoot, and we’re sure you’ll enjoy reading about her thoughts and stories as much as we did listening to them.
What’s something silly or untrue that you used to believe as a child?
I was horrendously scared of wayang, specifically Teochew opera. Instead of telling me the police would catch me if I was naughty, my mom always said, “If you’re naughty, the wayang will come catch you at night.” I’m very scared of their black shoes for some reason, and even now, I can’t look at them. I also have a phobia of tissues—people used to call me the ‘Tissue Issue Girl’, and my brother used to eat tissue in front of me just to mock and scare me. I still believe paper phobia is a legit issue—it just hasn’t been recognised yet!
Did you have a dream job growing up? What drew you to it, and is it still something you’d like to try now?
I grew up wanting to be a pilot—my dad had always wanted to be a pilot, so he’d bring me along to the airport every Saturday. By the time I was four, I was able to memorise airlines—my dad would point at the screen and ask me to name the airline, and I could answer straight away. Besides the influence from my dad, part of wanting to be a pilot was also because I always wanted to be free and to travel. I also have very fond memories of the Swensen’s at Terminal 1, especially the lime sorbet.
How old are you in the photos you’ve brought along with you? What were you doing then? Can you share with us about a memory you have from that time?
This was on Christmas morning one year, at the home of my favourite person of all time—my popo (grandma)! Look at me all wide-eyed and ready to smile for the camera. (laughs) The ancient television behind me is still well kept in a little cupboard in her home, and I think that chair is too. Going to my grandma’s is always an adventure because she has so many stories to share, and I lap it all up. She’s really the funniest person on earth and my best friend, and whatever good I have in my bones, I get it all from her.
The other photo was taken on the morning of my fourth birthday—my parents got me a Little Tykes easel, which I used a lot for my many impromptu art exhibitions that I put up for my family. My parents have always been supportive and given me plenty of avenues to unleash my personality and energy into creative play. Who I am today is because I had so much free rein to become this feisty firecracker—or a confetti bomb—of a person!
If you could meet your younger self, what would you tell her?
It sounds quite dark, but I’d tell her that the chaos in your life will never get to you. Things might be overwhelming sometimes, but you’ll be okay, because the manic is always weaker than you think.
What are you nostalgic about?
I was just thinking about this recently—I used to play a lot at the Questzone at Suntec City. My dad would take me there, and I’d make friends with people and play with them, and come up with our own adventures. Being there helped to develop my extroverted nature. I also remember that my parents gave me free rein to be expressive and creative. I used to have a lot of wall space at home, and whatever drawings and paintings I made, my mom would put it all up and joke that “Oh, Therese is having an exhibition today!”
You work with children—share with us the most interesting or memorable encounter you’ve had with kids:
Once, a school group came to my workplace and one child stood out to me. Children actually build up their boundaries and circle of friends from a very young age, and it was obvious that this kid was very much alone. I always keep my eyes out for those who are left behind, and as he played with some pipes we laid out in the space, I noticed that he didn’t seem to understand the concept of pipe connectors. We encourage children to make sense of their own play environment instead of intervening, so I simply rolled some connectors over to him. He built a house, and it was really great to see him get excited when he finally figured it out. His teacher was surprised too, and that’s what I like about my work—it’s about giving children the power and limitless possibility to make sense of their surroundings and the kind of future that they want to contribute to.
What, to you, is the biggest difference in the way children think and imagine as compared to adults?
Children don’t have limitations or boundaries; it’s adults who set them. I believe children have enough sense to solve conflict and collaborate creatively, which is something we don’t give them enough credit for. I have seen for myself that when you have intergenerational learning, there’s hardly any conflict—they’re able to set their own boundaries and come to terms with each other.
If you could describe yourself as a colour, material, or shape, what would it be, and why?
I’ll likely be silver—it’s always been my colour. I’ve always used it as a hint or accent, and I believe that my world is my galaxy so silver is representative of that. As for materials, it’d either be tulle or a pompom because these are materials that I usually work with, so it’s definitely something paper-based.
Do you have any favourite artists? What do you like about their works?
I like Misaki Kawai—she works with a lot of different materials, and I like the childlike attitude that she embodies. I don’t necessarily have a favourite artist because I believe everyone has a different way of expression, but I definitely like travelling around the world to see art, especially Japan—I feel that the way Japanese people curate art creates a whole different experience.
Tell us about a memorable travel experience you’ve had:
I went to Niigata in Japan last year to see the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, and there was one artwork by Ma Yansong that was situated inside this dam. It was a very long journey to reach the artwork, and when I finally got there, I just cried when I saw it. We were part of a big group that was a mix of all ages, and the feeling of everyone sharing this journey and walking together to see this piece of art was very beautiful. No one was selfish and everybody respected each other’s right to enjoy the artwork, whether it was an adult taking pictures, or a kid running around in the space.
What’s somewhere you’ve never been to, but would like to visit?
Copenhagen, South Korea, and Christchurch in New Zealand—I mainly want to travel to these places for the art. Something else I like to do when I travel is to collect knick-knacks; I have a lot of stationery and things from zakka stores in Japan and other places. I haven’t been to New York, but I already know it’ll be insane—I don’t think I’m ready for it. My itinerary for New York is crazy—there are museums, bookstores, lifestyle shops, and an endless list of cafes. (laughs) I think travel’s the only time in life where I get to breathe. I see the world, and I don’t feel so heavy.
You have a distinctive personal style—what’s the biggest fashion risk you’ve taken? Are there any outfits you’ve regretted?
I don’t think anything’s too ridiculous for me to regret! But I actually was a mascot once—when I was 15, I dressed up as an insect and surprised children at the American Club at midnight for a New Year’s Eve event. That was probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve worn; I was sweating buckets throughout that one hour. But style-wise, there’s nothing I regret, except maybe the time back in Secondary One when I was wearing Mambo board shorts and tops from 37 Degrees. (laughs)
If you had to dress yourself in the same outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I’d probably wear full-body overalls, or vintage pants made from deadstock material, with comfy grey oversized t-shirts, and just for flamboyance, I’d wear a tinsel jacket by Rachel Burke—there’s nothing like walking around in an explosion of color and sparkle. I really like vintage clothing and going thrift shopping because everything and everyone has a story, which is why I talk to everybody wherever I go, because I want to learn about them.