You’ve travelled widely in pursuit of art—what’s been one of your most memorable travel experiences?
Yes, in fact, I often joke that it’s art that brings us places! When we went to Art Jog in Jogjakarta, we managed to climb the Borobudur temple before dawn to see the sunrise. It was unbelievable to watch the sun slowly come up, and the morning mist rising from the forest and the birds singing. It was otherworldly. We have since climbed it twice!
But it’s not the usual “Art World destinations” that inspire me. On my trips to Sri Lanka, Cuba and even Bangkok for the first Bangkok Art Biennale, I see how art comes to life in places not presently on the art map. I remember this trip down the river in a boat that got us all sunburnt to see art interventions in temples along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river. It was eye-opening.
Apart from art, you also collect a vast variety of flora and fauna. How did this interest start?
My partner and I had vast collections of tropical plants, then birds, and then collecting slowly made its way into art. Of course, when we do things, we do them seriously and go all out. I guess for us, the plants tied in with the idea of collecting and having a collection.
If you could dive into an artwork to explore the world inside, which one would it be?
Actually this is not a question of if, I have actually dived into artworks!
A lot of people know Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms, but they may not realise that the rooms exist in many variations. I’ve entered an Infinity Room that had water on the floor, with the lights being reflected on the water’s surface, aptly named Fireflies on Water. And another sci-fi like Infinity Room with suspended metal spheres named Let’s Survive Forever.
I have also participated in Marina Abramović’s Sleep Exercise, where I had to lock all my belongings, including my phone, in a locker, put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and sleep on a bed placed in public with no time limit. Let’s just say I had a lot of problems focusing and gave up quite quickly!
Tell us more about a dream exhibition you’d like to host in Singapore.
We love bringing international exhibitions to Singapore—it’s our way of sharing what we have seen on the international stage with different people in Singapore. The Ryan Foundation, which I’m a part of, is one of the only private organisations in Singapore that organises free exhibitions for the public, which means we can choose what is relevant to showcase and to react quickly.
Right now, we have some important loans coming our way for exhibitions that we’re excited about. But like everybody else in the arts, the pandemic has meant that everything has been put on hold, and that we have to make contingencies to socially distance. Let’s see how this goes—we indeed live in interesting times!
The world of art can be intimidating to many people—what advice would you give to those who’d like to be more knowledgable about art but aren’t sure where to start?
Just go out to see and ask questions. There’s no need to feel stupid. If people think you are stupid, then they’re not real art people. Don’t feel discouraged. Trust me, the most famous artists and figures in the art world will talk to you and if they don’t, they’ll soon be replaced or become obsolete—if you know what I mean. We’ve seen it happen here and abroad.
If you could share a piece of advice to your 20-year old self, what would it be and why?
I’ve been very fortunate in my life. My advice to my 20-year old self would be that the world is your oyster! Plus, I should have bought more art when I was younger.