Thoughts on Creation/Destruction

I want you to know that I am hiding something from you
Mixed media
254 x 84 cm each

The textures of peeling paint, with its simultaneous accumulation and decomposition of layers, speak to the underlying tension between creating and destroying. Each painstaking process in the making of this work is the visual exploration of this complex fragility. The relationships of the elements precariously balance that which is absent with that which is present.

Note: This work is best viewed in the day.

Someone said to me yesterday that my work is perfect for writing a thesis paper. Obviously, it’s too early in my undergraduate life to start working on that, but I think I discovered a lot of things about myself and what kind of art I would like to create through this piece. It really is the first artwork of this scale that I’ve created and been happy with in my life. In the case that I do end up developing an art practice along these lines, I thought it would be best to note down all the different viewpoints that I have developed – and that others have raised – so that I do have something to go back to in a few years.

I will post more installation shots of my work once the exhibition is over. But in my opinion, the images pale in comparison to the actual piece. It’s just one of those artworks that is very much about the first-hand experiences and emotions of the viewer, that requires a physical, mental and emotional investment (it is an installation after all).

P L A C E will still be on until next Sunday (31st July 2011), so if you’re in Singapore and you haven’t come down to check out this work and all the others on display, please come down to 16 Marshall Road!


  • Creation as a direct result of destructive emotions – turning negative, painful feelings into positive forms of expression (e.g. writing a poem based on heartbreak)
  • Creation as a direct result of destructive actions – putting oneself through painful or even torturous procedures in order to create a beautiful object (e.g. endlessly repetitive piercing and ensuing aches/cramps/minor injuries)
  • Destruction as an indirect result of creation – peeling paint on walls/pillars and the textures of decomposition inadvertently occurring on a surface that was built by man
  • Simultaneous creation and destruction – Piercing the paper damages the material, but yet the systematic and deliberate process creates an image


  • The absence of the paper in the form of the holes allows for the presence of an image, however slight, to be formed
  • The ethereal and fragile nature of the tracing paper, enhanced by the processes applied to the material and the placement of the work in a white room lit by soft natural light
  • Interlocking negative and positive space using different textures
  • Stiffness of the tracing paper “freezes” the form of the needle as it pierces through the paper, creating a memory of each mark


  • Imagery based on photographs taken around the exhibition space
  • Two scrolls measured and cut specifically for the two identical windows on the second floor
  • Relying on the natural light diffused by the frosted glass windows to light the works; changing intensity and colour of the natural light directly affects how the viewer sees the work (hence, it does not possess the same ethereal qualities when lit by artificial yellow light after sunset)
  • Suspending the work from the ceiling, away from the windows, allowing the viewer to walk around the work and experience the diversity of the textures and their changing effects from all angles


The selection of a phrase from A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes, in relation to the idea of absence and presence, placing my own personal emotional attachment to the book in tandem with the artwork, but yet because of its obscurity, does not reference any literary oeuvre. Chapter entitled Dark Glasses – cacher / to hide: “Yet to hide a passion totally (or even to hide, more simply, its excess) is inconceivable: not because the human subject is too weak, but because passion is in essence made to be seen: the hiding must be seen: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you, that is the active paradox I must resolve: at one and the same time it must be known and not known: I want you to know that I don’t show my feelings: that is the message I address to the other.” [emphasis mine]


  • Asian influences – other than the fundamental peeling paint imagery which was based on the surrounding Marshall Road area in Singapore, the scroll format, the monochromatic aesthetic and even the leaving of blank space (留白) recall traditional Chinese painting. It was not a deliberate attempt at infusing Orientalism, but I was inspired by a work by Tomoko Shioyasu, and I do find that I’m subconsciously interested in modernising the traditional Asian aesthetic.
  • Interpretations relating to nature – Responses from the viewers that I have talked to, especially those who are not trained in art, often reflect their innate need to reference realistic imagery in looking at my piece, e.g. clouds, trees, maps, corals. Perhaps this at least reflects some desire to engage with my piece on whatever level they are capable of doing that, and to find meaning, however vague.
  • Femininity – the inherent domestic qualities of using a needle. One could probably make a case out of that equation of a stereotypically female action/object with pain, but that was not my intention. I do, however, think that it probably adds to the delicacy and fragility of the work.


While this point is valid, it may seem too much like beating a dead horse – “art pushing the boundaries of art”, “drawing pushing the boundaries of drawing”, etc. It is not the point of my work to make any sort of commentary on drawing, even though I am expanding on what I have previously known to be image-making. There are a number of artists that have already used holes in paper to create works, including the aforementioned Tomoko Shioyasu. Can I be said to be pushing boundaries of drawing specifically when others have accomplished the same?

Nevertheless, I feel that the next step of art-making, in an age preceded by the complete un-definition of art, is to invent and create unique methods of art-making that are in line with the intentions and interests of the artist. “Form follows function” should play out on a level beyond what has been seen; I want to push my own boundaries (the limitations of myself, my skills, my resources, my knowledge) to find the best way to represent a particular concept or image, rather than the best way within a certain medium. I want to be able to use accidents that I personally experience, or connections between ideas that I have personally made, and expand on them to devise these new techniques.

Somehow, I feel the profound need for everything I make to be exclusively mine from start to finish, so that I can say that no one else has done this in the entire world in the history of time, like an impossible monopoly on creativity. I try to be original, even though originality does not exist.


Each process of physically creating the work (although the mental processes are equally taxing) involved some degree of pain, even from cutting and measuring the tracing paper. Some of this pain can be attributed to size of this work, the relatively small space that I had to work in, and the fact that I had invented all these processes on my own, therefore I was not familiar with how I could most efficiently and comfortably accomplish my objectives.

However, the three major processes (1. Ink transfer, 2. Paper-cutting detailed stencils for silkscreening, 3. Piercing thousands of holes with two different-sized needles) were deliberately masochistic in nature. It was not necessarily therapeutic, though it was repetitive. But there is something in pain that makes creation a lot more seductive, a lot more intense, which is what I discovered when I first did my stippling portrait. It puts more of me into my work somehow, and encourages more emotional attachment between artist/artwork and the viewer.

Pain is usually associated with punishment – I’m punishing myself for creating? – perhaps I feel like I need to put myself through something in order to create the best work that I can.


In pursuing the creation of a work that is aesthetically pleasing, will my work suffer from the decorative elements overwhelming the emotional elements? Is the average viewer able to look past trying to find an image and appreciate the visuality and tactility at its most fundamental? Is creating a piece that is beautiful and that requires a lot of physical work something inherently cowardly – that is, am I effectively creating barriers to defend my work from criticism? At least they cannot say that my piece is “not pleasing”, “too easy”, etc. How do I know if I am doing for the sake of the effects of the technique, or for the sake of being “safe”?

What a twisted idea of being “safe” – I put myself through pain in order to protect myself from being hurt.


I’m not sure how I’m going to move on based on what I have discovered in this work. I do feel like I have grown a lot through making this, and I feel like I know what I value in making art now. I’m also aware of how every experience in my life, in Singapore/RJC, in New York/SVA, has contributed to each aspect of this work.

Someone suggested to me that I could separate out the textures, or move even further away from image making, or even isolate the holes from everything else and pierce the paper to the point of collapse. I’ll probably need to build some kind of structure to make it easier for me to make such works. Or perhaps, I’ll go in the direction of just trying to make artworks that are able to replicate strong emotions in the viewer – how do I make people understand something like “guilt”, or “insecurity”, things that I feel intensely, through visual or physical creations?

But I feel like things are resolved for now, in the short term, and I need to wait for something else to hit me (anything from an assignment to another heartbreak) before I can dive back into being lost. At the very least, I know I’ll have something to go on (this, for example) for my senior thesis.


  1. Hi Berny! This was really interesting to read, especially after viewing your piece (though I’m not really trained in art).

    Thanks for showing me around the exhibition! 🙂

    • Thanks Aditi! I wrote this with the knowledge that most people would be thrown off by the sheer length or just assume that i’m over-thinking my work, so I’m glad it gave you some insight.

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