interview#23: Koh Wei Ling

Wei Ling chose Photography as her medium of expression.
Photography is intriguing for her as it allows observations of the subject matter in different ways and perspectives, evoking different thoughts, interpretations and feelings.

She believes that all photographs are accurate but none are truthful. Hence, her explorations deal with the distortions of truth. Her ideas and inspirations also stem from her relationships with people.

RAP spoke to her after her graduation show and check out here portfolio here. And it’s just nice too that the suspended Abercombie&Fitch advertisement was published very recently, Koh’s work is also a response towards brasserie’s advertisements.

Question (Q): Tell us more about your latest series of work, F(.)(.)D

Koh Wei Ling: (Koh): It is basically inspired by how all the food adverts are constantly using sex to sell their products and I have always been very interested in brassieres advertisements (the sexual attention, the models, the whole video of it, etc etc). The use of sexual elements for brassieres advertisements seems to be “appropriate” to a certain extent, but for food advertisement? The decision to use brassiere to replace bra is my attempt to make people/viewers stop and ponder the usage of sexuality behind image construction.

Also, growing up in a traditional Chinese culture family, it is consider a social taboo and immodesty for females to not wear their bras in public. This is very ironic to the method of employing sexuality to sell products, especially brassieres. This made me question the sort of images viewers are consuming from the media, if aesthetics had caused viewers to be blinded from a content that would be frowned upon in reality.

Q: Your interest in using bra as material seems to be a prominent quality of your works, like Brascape. Why such?

Koh: It started because of all the brassieres advertisements/posters that I have seen on tv, on the interne that women are still subjected to the sexual gaze. However, the link between sexual gaze and brassieres is rather understandable because it is after all lingerie’s but when it is seen in other types of advertisements, it seems a little odd that consumers are not very aware of such thing going on. So Brascape was created to mimic landscapes, to play with the idea of gaze. After which, it was further developed to mimic food.

Q: On the other hand, your works, The Sensuality seems to be an opposite of F(.)(.)D. Tell us more about this series.

Koh: This series is my very first piece of work when I was exposed to the history of photography as I was really inspired by Edward Weston’s series of capsicums. I wanted to also mimic the sensual quality of the female body with capsicums and with color, it reminds viewer that it is only a vegetable. I have extended this series where I photographed from the inside of the capsicum (they are not on the site yet) to explore new aesthetics that the capsicum can give. I have always been fond of the idea of exploring and discovering new visual aesthetics.

Q: Back to the use of under garment, how do see its function today, looking at how fashion has gone into what is beneath the shirt and its injected exaggeration?

Koh: Yes, I definitely agree with you how fashion has gone into what is beneath the shirt and its injected exaggeration. I have this question with me that is still not answered, what is the function of undergarment? Some female friends of mine find brassieres uncomfortable but are all wearing it because it would seem to be wrong to be not wearing it in the public and at home if there should be males around in the house. However, with all the mass media portraying brassieres alongside with fashion, it is almost impossible to see these 2 items as separate entity. Take for example, the term “granny underwear”, “granny panties” to describe undergarments that are not sexy and not in fashion. And during valentines, certain types of lingerie’s (thongs, lacy underwear, see-through) would be on sale or suggested as gift ideas to promote sexy time with each other.

Q: You mention that your works suggest a certain degree of humour, how do you place your works within the general contemporary art scene in Singapore, particularly with the use of comedy while many photographers tend to capture solemn pictures?

Koh: The humour is subtle and comes only when the audience realizes that the food is made up of brassieres. (During ADM grad exhibition, I have observed most viewers looking at the photos and 5 minutes after they go, “OH, THESE ARE BRAS!”) Photography is very much still thought as capturing the moment, sometimes serious, solemn moments. Otherwise, it is to capture the moment to be remembered; hence, it has to be solemn because they are for memories, keepsake purposes, unless the subject of the image requires a form of respect or sympathy.

I would hope that my works are able to let people forget about what they think photography is about and actually think about the content of the image and the process behind the image making, which is the most important part.

Q: I can’t help to compare your works with Jing Quek’s foodporn series. Zoomed-in pictures of food or ‘food’, hinting a sense of erotica, almost to the extent of lust. What do you think of this random comparison?

Koh: Haha, I understand your comparison, and I think its not random at all. I am aware of his Foodporn series because it was also part of my research while my F(.)(.)D series was developing. I enjoyed his Foodporn series but I was also aware that I didn’t want my series to evoke a very strong sense of lust or aggressiveness that was quite ‘in your face’. (I don’t quite know how to explain this properly. Haha. But I hope you understand what I am trying to say.)

It made me really clear about what kind of feelings it evoke when it comes to my works. There might or might not be a sense of lust when you look at F(.)(.)D because I have received comments from people who think that comparing bras and ice cream can also evoke elements of lust. And I am okay with that as long as it is not so straightforward or “aggressive” like Jing Qwek’s Foodporn.

Q: Your works too seem to be reflection of feminism, do you see it this way?

Koh: I don’t know if I see if that way because feminism is a very big idea and I don’t think I am advocating women’s rights or equality. I think it’s a problem because when ever a subject matter, like brassieres, relates to feminine themes, it is considered a feminist work.

Q: Considerably a gender specific piece, do you think the feminine community will react more or less compared to the masculine?

Koh: This is a really good question. 😀

I hope in general people agree with how I perceive this usage of sexuality behind image construction in the media. Ultimately, I hope people are more aware of the process of image making and the content of the image. Gender specifically, I hope the masculine community is aware of how their perception of females has helped shaped the idea of  “beauty”.

Q: Are you exploring this theme and/or material further? Will it ever cross the boundary of pornography, maybe with the use of human flesh instead of bra?

Koh: If I can, I would definitely explore this further. That would probably happen after a few years when I have my own equipments and the financial ability to further develop this. What I would most likely do is to perhaps extend the series a little further in order to help myself explore this theme and material further.

Q: What are your future plans in the local art or creative scene?

Koh: Before I graduated from NTU, I found a job with a local company that does mainly food photography. I have been interested in food styling ever since my internship with Pix Asia Pte Ltd and would love to grow in this area. Since work has started, I find it really really hard to have my own personal time to develop a series of work because working hours are so long and I usually spend my weekends enjoying time alone or with friends. I am only working now to gain experience (which is really important) and to clear my bank loan for my tuition fee during my university years. I guess I have to find a balance between work and life before I can get myself to really develop or continue art and image making.

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