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Ivan Ong: On Slowing Down To Appreciate Everyday Things In Singapore

To paraphrase George Orwell, if there's hope for the future, it probably lies with the next generation. Cynics may dismiss this as the rosy idealism of youth but hey, that can invigorate the imagination like nothing else. We spotlight seven up-and-coming Singapore students from different artistic disciplines whose works make us dream once more.

Here, we talk to Ivan Ong, a 26-year-old artist currently majoring in Fine Arts at Lasalle College of The Arts.

Who or what inspires and informs your work?

“I would say whatever catches my eye and I am especially conscious of the world that I live in. If you are talking about photographers, they are Nguan and Chen Wei. Their photography has this layer of imagination yet it always speaks about the reality of the society that they live in. I also think what inspires me are everyday scenes. My daily commute and the things I see are very important. I feel that when I am alone, I am more sensitive to what’s around me.”

What would you like people to know about your work?

I think for me, I am just another person that tells another side of the Singapore story/ narrative. Just like a simmering stew, what I touch on in this series is really about Singapore’s idea of development. What progression really means to Singapore. Progression in our nation is always good news but on the flip side, this progression can look like a slow decay/erasure in our own lives. And it’s very obvious because in Singapore, we move so fast, so we feel like the everyday things always get neglected in our lives until we stop and take a look at what’s around us.

Bike, a photograph from Ong’s Tabula Rasa (which means starting from a clean slate) series, encompasses personal memories and stories. It references Singapore’s penchant for interminable progress – but also posits that progress might hold different meanings for its citizens.

Favourite work to date:

I think Block 555 because it’s a nod to my everyday life and a revelation that I have been living in my estate for over 20 years, yet know nothing about it or my nation. It also reminds me of how I started and brings me back to how photography has been a stress-reliever and therapeutic for me.

What materials, mediums and techniques are typically used in your works?

Myself and my cameras! When I go out with myself and my camera, to capture, I don’t really think much about it. I wouldn’t say how long it takes, because sometimes, it just takes a moment! So, I would say the amount of time and observation it takes, to find tension and clarity to create a piece.

What is the biggest challenge facing your field?

Expressing myself and finding my angle of topic through photography is difficult to excel in.

Also, having discipline and focus are two very important values that I struggle with. I think this field has caused me to think bigger in the sense where now I am some sort of a “business” myself and it’s something that is new to me, so I am still figuring it out. One thing that I realised is that, you cannot start (only after) you graduate but you must start when you know you want to be in this field (of art) and you’re serious and most importantly, having fun with it!!

How do you think you can contribute to your field?

I think, by telling my story, I guess? And I hope people are interested to see the world that I see!

Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

I am currently in my final semester of school, so please stay tuned for the graduation showcase with my classmates that is happening between mid April till mid June!

If you’d like to see my body of work you can go follow me at @thirdcylinder or ivanongjiawei.com.

This article first appeared in the March 2020 print issue of FEMALE.