Arts & Culture

Dawn Ng: “Jack of All Trades” is a Mastery

Art that spans several disciplines.

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Featured photograph credit: Dawn Ng

Have a drink, lose your inhibitions, sit across a stranger and lend your voice to someone else’s words.

Conversations can be seen as daily rituals that mostly go unnoticed, but 11 by artist Dawn Ng amplifies this experience in isolated sound booths. Voices echo in the room, hands touch and seats shift. Then it starts all over again. No conversation will ever be the same, even though the scripts are written by Dawn herself, since it is reliant on how individuals choose to interpret those words and offer them to their partner.

Like a tango of words.

This exploration of incorporating audience, text and voice takes her previous work Perfect Stranger — a distilled collection of 61 texts that came about from a Q&A project between the artist herself and a stranger — a step further. Known for her well-loved works such as Walter and Everything You Ever Wanted Is Right Here, this development in her art practice can be seen as new territory.

Art is commonly associated with colours, textures and their various forms of visual representation. How about what is spoken?

Succinct and to-the-point, Dawn gives us a glimpse into her thoughts on art-making.

Credit: Dawn Ng & Alex Lam

What does art mean to you?

Art always has to do with some form of truth.

Share with us your art practice. It is intriguing that you do not seem to settle for any particular medium.

I have never stuck with one medium, format or style for the reason that I believe each idea informs the manner in which it comes to life, not the other way round. Personally, I get a real kick out of starting at ground zero. I find it an intensely creative process to navigate a new way of working, or push a material past our understanding of its use.

Credit: Dawn Ng & Alex Lam

Delving into performance, 11 directly involves the audience. Was your process of developing this work any different from other works that are more standalone, such as WINDOWSHOP and WALTER?

An interesting thing I had to study for this work is the way people interact with each other.

For example, what is the ideal physical distance between two people sitting opposite each other, such that they feel that magnetic sense of intimacy that does not cross into claustrophobia?

Or what kinds of injected situations foster an immediate connection and trust between people who have never met? Every work I have ever done demands its own way of working. There is no plug and play formula or script with the development process, at least in my practice. I would be bored to death if it were so.

In your opinion, do you think art should always be made for the everyday person?

I think good work is driven out of compulsion, not led by a particular audience.

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” Do you agree?

I am not sure I do, but over time I definitely have learnt that being a “jack of all trades” is a mastery, or rather, sorcery in itself.

Photographs of Dawn’s previous works are taken from her website.

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