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Choo Meng Foo’s Tiong Bahru Sketches

Yvonne Xu catches up with artist Choo Meng Foo on his latest work-in-progress that “unravels the genius loci of Tiong Bahru”.

Choo Meng Foo’s Tiong Bahru Sketches


March 20th, 2013

The last time we spoke was on the occasion of The Art Spectacles, an exhibition that showcased his painted études of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. Today, a year later, architecture-trained photographer and artist Choo Meng Foo is in the midst of a new artistic exercise. This time, taking Singapore’s Tiong Bahru estate as a starting subject, he explores the process of art through sketching, photography and digital manipulation, as well as through collaboration with other artists. We talk to Choo about the new series.

Choo Meng Foo

Tell us about Tiong Bahru Sketches.

I have been doing the series titled “Portraits of History”, if you recall, which I exhibited last year at Galeri Utama. It is a series that explores different subject matter and processes of art creation. This year, [the work is a response] to an invitation and a suggestion to refocus Tiong Bahru’s sense of place, to define Tiong Bahru’s identity vis à vis the current influx of creative community, both local and foreign. With digital technology and a Sailor fountain pen, I construe ink sketches to document the multifaceted aspects of Tiong Bahru, which are not just limited to its architecture conservation merits, but its food, the people, the details indicating the trace of practices, and perhaps unravelling the ’signs’ which would arouse the collective memory of the residents or of Singaporeans at large. I hope to be able to unravel the ’genius loci’ of Tiong Bahru, a term borrowed from Christian Norberg-Schulz.

Choo Meng Foo

Your art can be about a process as much as it is about the final work. What is the process like this time?

I use the digital camera to capture and create a series of photographs, combine them into a singular piece, then re-frame and sketch them out in ink. I am intrigued by the notion of the digital that captures and freezes the moment, yet the output is also redrawn in ink and scanned and adjusted digitally, and then recoloured using various media, be it markers, acrylic, watercolour or digitally. Expanding the idea further is the collaboration with other artists – they add their mark onto the printed pieces. This whole process is to prepare a series of ink sketches within a period of two months and also complete the publishing of it in a book form.

Choo Meng Foo

There are many ideas embedded there. First, why two months?

As with all process-focussed methodologies, it demands that the artist has to be focussed and disciplined in getting his work done. [Having a short time limit] also debunks the fact that most people view artists as ill-disciplined, flamboyant, irrational, and insensitive to punctuality.

Choo Meng Foo

The process of combining photography, hand drawing, digital adjustment and recolouring, and eventually collaboration with other artists explore notions of originality, authorship, authenticity, and reproduction of art.

Yes, the hand and pen retrace the photograph but not in all its exactness, and so a little confusion is introduced here. Thereafter, the ink sketch is scanned and printed out for artists to add their colour or mark – a form of originality is introduced here as they complete the final artwork. However, this final work has also incorporated the scanned image. In another process, the scanned copy is coloured through digital applications such as Photoshop and the final form is printed from the digital file – [now the reproduced] printed copies are in a sense original works.

Choo Meng Foo

So the question is – does copy or original matter in art? Or it is just a figment of the mind one is buying? Does the idea of copy and original enjoy the same privilege? It also pushes the buyer to evaluate the importance of originality and authenticity in artwork.


What is your take on the issue?

I tend to blur the boundary between the original and the copies. In this case, by incorporating the copy in the original, I diffuse the mark of authenticity and establish the copy as having the legitimacy of the authentic, the value and significance equal to its original.

Choo Meng Foo

Tiong Bahru Sketches will be exhibited at The Orange Thimble.
Preview – 23 April; exhibition – 24 April onwards.

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