Arts & Culture

Eugene Soh: Technology is Art

Does technology count as an art form?
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Atypical Singapore is a part of the Singapore Tourism Board's Passion Made Possible global campaign. The exhibition features art from seven contemporary artists picked by Chan + Hori Contemporary's curatorial director and partner, Khairuddin Hori. How did he make the selection of artists for this particular travelling exhibition?

With Atypical Singapore, we wanted to feature a glimpse of what goes on in the underbelly of the contemporary art circles of our nation-state. We also wanted to provide access and share the continuous passion and work by emerging artists who are primarily out of the market, possibly perceived as being a little too edgy. As an example, three of the artists presented—Gerald Leow, Muhammad Izdi and Daniel Yu—are self-taught and have never gone through systematic education in art colleges. These are artists whom I believe have various values to share and will strive further in their artistic practice regardless of fame or fortune.

One of the chosen artists, Eugene Soh, might strike us as familiar especially since his series called Renaissance City went viral recently. The series parodies contemporary life in Singapore while taking on compositions of famous works.

Our personal selves are only one of what makes society tick, and we tend to take the unique characters around us for granted. Eugene Soh has a knack for interpreting and reflecting the obvious amongst us. In Atypical Singapore, Eugene extended the originally frozen tableaus from his Renaissance City series featuring many recognisable everyday local characters composed within Singaporean landscapes into moving augmented reality (AR) pieces. His work can also be seen as homage to publicly recognisable masterpieces by legendary artists, from Michelangelo to Georges Seurat.

B-Side asks Eugene himself about how he chanced upon art and what are his plans after Atypical Singapore. Let's meet the man behind the works.


Creation of Ah Dam (2015)

How did you first discover art?

Probably from watching Art Attack when I was a kid. If you asked that kid back then to guess what he’d be when he grew up, he'd probably say an astronaut or a Ninja Turtle.

The Last Kopitiam (2010)

What made you want to pursue the career of an artist? Has there been a particular work you have done that is a turning point in your career?

It was an accident! I was actually planning on being a game developer (which I still kind of am). As for the work that marked the turning point of my career: it was the Last Kopitiam piece that I made in 2010.

It was published, put on Facebook, and suddenly went viral in 2012. Maybe Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm changed and gave it a boost. After that, some galleries started contacting me to see more photos - little did they know that the Last Kopitiam was my only photo piece at that time.

Sunday Afternoon on The Island of Singapore (2014)

Share with us how the concept of the work Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Singapore came about.

Sunday Afternoon came about when Chan+Hori Gallery offered me my second solo exhibition in 2015. It gave me enough pressure and motivation to continue my Renaissance City series - a series of Singaporeanized famous paintings. I was going for a relaxing, approachable image you could keep going back to and notice more details like a kite in a tree or a plane in the sky. There is also a contemplative sadness in the work that can be explained in subtle hints like the number of people on mobile devices.

Food For Thought (2014)

In your opinion, what about technology value adds the art?

To me, technology doesn’t add to art; it IS the art! The medium is the message. The choice of technology and medium is a huge part of the process of self-expression for me. If I choose to build a VR game or, in the case of Atypical Singapore, to bring my photos to life in augmented reality, they have all been purposeful creative decisions.

Having been through art school, I’ve witnessed many people’s ideas go unrealised because they don’t know the tech. Being a coder and technologist, I don’t have that problem, because I will find how to do it and build it. The AR for this show is a prime example of something I just learnt! With many thanks to Khai and STB for introducing the wonderful new world of Spark AR to me.

When Khai first asked me about AR for this show, I was still thinking of the old method that I’ve done where I built an app from scratch and had to get people to download the app to see the augmented reality animations - a terrible workflow. Then Khai mentioned this Facebook AR which I then went home to google and found that Facebook has made AR ridiculously simple and accessible! My mind was blown. I see myself playing with Spark AR for quite a while thanks to this project by STB.

After Atypical Singapore, what other concepts/projects would you love to explore or work on?

Atypical Singapore isn’t over! I will be presenting my art and augmented reality experiences at the next installment of Atypical at the end of November. I’m also teaching AR classes at NTU to show them how easy it is and how they can learn via online tutorials without a formal teacher like me.

In September 2018, my team and I participated in a 3-day hackathon, Startup Weekend Singapore, and emerged grand champions with our project Mind Palace - a virtual reality experience aiming to help dementia patients remember by visiting familiar places in Singapore in VR. This isn't the first time I’ve made VR for the elderly. We plan to build Singaporean environments that resonate with our local elderly, like a kampong or a void deck in Ang Mo Kio or the Old National Stadium or a favourite Kopitiam depending on our interactions with our first dementia patients. These environments will be stocked full of Singapore flavour and culture, and could be re-purposed to make Singaporean VR experiences that everyone can enjoy. We don’t see many 3D games and 3D environments set in Singapore, so we will build them ourselves and we are going to need all the help we can get!

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