“The process of art-making is a vulnerable one,” says Berny Tan, a 31-year-old curator who’s been practicing in various capacities before going independent in 2019. And getting an artist to divulge about it calls for great sensitivity.
“As a curator, it is my responsibility to listen to and learn from the artists; to be gentle with this vulnerability that they have entrusted to me; and to return their generosity with my own.”
Being a practising artist herself (her tactile works interweave embroidery, textiles and elements of language) helps her to better understand both sides of the artist-curator relationship. It’s also allowed Tan to craft a curatorial practice based on empathy, awareness and active collaboration.
Maybe We Read Too Much Into Things – held last January as part of Singapore Art Week – for example, was a widely covered group show that saw six artists reinterpret everyday objects (think a clothes peg, a piece of biscuit, a sponge). Spanning sculptures to painting to animation, the exhibition was at once thought-provoking and delightful for art fiends and novices alike.
Tan’s own artworks are known to be tactile pieces that interweave embroidery, textiles and elements of language – here, a 2021 work titled Talismans for Disentanglement.
“I work best not only when artists’ practices surprise and excite me, but also when I can connect with artists on a personal level and feel like I can develop alongside them,” says Tan.
“I’m just fascinated by how other artists work differently from me, and I use this to guide the exhibitions that I devise and how I engage with artists and their works.”
This month, she reveals Bad Imitation at Tanjong Pagar Distripark as part of Singapore Art Week – a show she co-curated with fellow artist and curator Daniel Chong. Its tantalising premise: seven artists coming together to engage in acts of “deliberately imprecise imitation”, promising surprises aplenty as they play on what constitutes original work and a copy.
“In the realm of contemporary art today, there is perhaps more space for different kinds of curators beyond the traditionally academic curator that you would find in a museum,” says Tan. “There is a growing diversity of artists, mediums, approaches, exhibition spaces and even understanding of what art can be and how it can be experienced.”
Below, Tan shares with us her curation process and the emerging artists she recommends.