Exploring Singapore, a conversation with Eugene Soh

by Donatella Taranto
January 4, 2016
Donatella Taranto
Soh Eugene

It was a pleasure for me to interview Eugene Soh, initially I was taken by his works and intrigued by him as an artist, after our conversation I discovered a  genuine and nice person who gave us his insights in order to explore properly Singapore.

Donatella Taranto: Could you tell us about your process of creation and where you get your inspiration?

Eugene Soh: I just gave a TEDx talk about it. I’ve transcribed it on my blog

My renaissance series works best when the viewer recognises the work I’m spoofing. The process involves short listing the most famous works of art by running them by my family and friends. After the recognisability of a piece has been verified, I think of how to Singaporeanize it. I guess growing up in Singapore with heavy western influence is my inspiration for my Renaissance City series.

I’ll have random discussions about possible ideas and locations with my friends. The more brains thinking about it the better! Then I would scout those locations to look for one suitable location. Once chosen, I number positions where characters should go then get my friends to come down and pose for me over the span of a few months. My models are all shot on location at around the same time of day to get matching sunlight.

I will upload the image as a private image on facebook and tag a few of my trusted friends to get opinion before sending them to print. These friends would usually give me very constructive feedback. Yes, my friends and family are very important to the entire process, so important those works can be said to be made by “Eugene Soh & Friends”

DT: To comment the contemporary life in Singapore you used old masterpieces that describe moment of social life. How do these works apply to nowadays Singapore?

ES: The use of those works is symbolic of the external influence we have in Singapore, it shows how aware we are. The main theme across the series is the ‘Singapore look’. What would make an image look Singaporean?

I found out that the look was achieved with Chinese people with a slight mix of races; the venue and clothes are a bonus, but the right racial mix is crucial.
I did attempt at equal representation of the ‘four major races’ but the image began to look like a National Education propaganda image. I’m doing something a little different with my new Second Coming series. This new series is about religion. The Bible I grew up reading says that Jesus will return ‘soon’ after his death by the Romans – We were told neither when, nor where.

My new series explores possible scenarios that follow should he choose to return in Singapore. Would people notice him descending from the sky? Would there be a loud bang to announce his arrival? Would he be interviewed on TV? Would he eat at our Kopitiams? Would he let Kong Hee out of jail? Chances of him choosing Singapore is pretty slim but one can dream.

His appearance would also mean that his dad will be scorching the world soon-ish (Armageddon). This piece depicts a moment at his final birthday on earth when he confirms the destruction of the world and that it is The Last Christmas

DT: You were born, educated and still live in Singapore, what is your relationship with the city?

ES: I like it here! I like that the art and creativity is very slowly finding a more prominent place here. I love that we are a secular country, making us a step more progressive (in that aspect) compared to countries with religion based governments… Like the US or our neighbours. I used to want to get out of Singapore and live in the mountains but my attitude has changed. I no longer think of greener pastures elsewhere; It was either I appreciate the grass where I am standing or I make it greener my way.

I’ve made being Singaporean part of my identity.

DT: Could you tell us 5 places in Singapore you would suggest to someone who loves art?

ES:  1. Chan Hampe Galleries (Obviously)

2. Singapore Art Museum

3. National Gallery

4. Gillman Barracks

5. Helutrans

6. My House! (seriously, give me a call. I’ll give you a house tour)

DT: Could you tell us some of the places you love to go in your city?

Art openings, a chill bar or a good club to dance the night away. Anywhere with beer, I don’t have favourites though I usually drink at home and have friends over, it’s way cheaper.

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