Artist explores
on Taipei residency

Social Practice Artist Tiffany Singh was the 2017 New Generation Award recipient. Her acclaimed interactive works explore the engagement between arts and cultural and community well-being. Tiffany recently returned from a three-month residency at Taipei Artist Village where she utilised traditional medicinal practices paired with Buddhist and Shinto practices to create a collective work. She chats with Lynda Chanwai-Earle.
Woman stands holding daughter on her hip on the streets of taipei

Tiffany Singh with daughter Sequoia on a Taipei street in Taiwan

Can you tell us about your residency in Taipei and what social art practice means to you?

Social art practice for me means the inclusion of community. [It’s] about looking at different situations and assessing the needs and ethics of the community then representing these needs in different ways.

Taipei is so vibrant. From a philosophical background there’s a blend of tradition and belief systems: the Chinese and Japanese influence, Zen Buddhism. It was interesting to come from my Indian background. It made Taipei very specific – I could reach out to the community in a very direct way around the healing and spiritual relationship to wellbeing and education.

One of the things the Taiwanese government is [assessing] is ‘ethnography’ – looking at plant and traditional herbal medicine and how to rejuvenate that for a younger generation. 

The intent behind [my] work was to look at a traditional model that’s not thought of in a visual art way and looking at the five elements (associated with Chinese Traditional Medicine; wood, earth, fire, water, metal) and their colours.

I worked with traditional herbalists. Communication was difficult but I had the support of a translator. The work is innately revolved around well-being and spirituality. We were able to form a relationship and connection without language because of the holistic bridges between us. It was a very conducive space, a larger holistic framework that’s not bound by language or nationality.

Why was it important having your partner James and daughter Sequioa (3) with you on the residency? 

There’s not a lot of opportunities as contemporary female artists in the world. It comes from a traditional place where [most] artists have been male.

It’s now a contemporary world with a lot of female artists who shouldn’t have to make a choice [between motherhood and being an artist]. There’s limited spaces to explore those two things simultaneously. It’s a critical learning experience for children. Watching Sequoia thrive – being exposed to different cultures – was super valuable. My two worlds became one.

That’s where the title ‘The Interconnectedness of everything comes from, because there was no separation, it was a very inclusive working space.

A woman prays in front of the bowls

Tiffany Singh describes the installation; "...there were five bowls, one for each element [floated on stems]. They were placed on a ring of salt, symbolic of purification of the ground. The bowls themselves were made out of woks, symbolic; ‘offering bowls from the land.’..."

Can you describe the installation?

At the head of the ‘alter’ was a ‘Medicine Buddha’ print. Then out of that were five bowls, one for each element [floated on stems]. They were placed on a ring of salt, symbolic of purification of the ground. The bowls themselves were made out of woks, symbolic ‘offering bowls from the land.’ 

Everything [family included] became woven together. When my family came into that, it became ‘more’ of the interconnectedness of everything. James and Sequoia became part of the work.

So did your family influence your art work?

Definitely. It became a working family residency. The temple had amazing turtle and fish ponds, it was their favourite place to visit. We went to the temple every day and James and I worked together [on the installation].

James did a data visualisation in a projected work looking at the [Chinese zodiac] animals relating to the five elements. It was about taking the information that exists in a formalised, traditional way and reapplying that in a contemporary, visual way.

Why are these residencies so important?

Residencies are vital; they enable you a space and focused time, especially as a parent. Three months is a decent period of time for an enquiry. It enables you space to grow and hone your craft and develop where it is you want to go next. There’s a gem that comes out of the last enquiry that seeds the new enquiry, so there’s that evolution of practice.

The Taipei Artist’s Village is inclusive of families, incredibly organised and well run. There are artists’ talks, open days, workshops, panel discussions and opportunities to meet other contemporary Asian artists. My next step as an artist is to get a foothold into Asia, so residencies are crucial.

Watch a slideshow of images from Tiffany's residency and hear her describe aspects of her experience

Coming up:

Tiffany has been awarded the prestigious Creative Migration Bangkok 1899 residency in 2019. This residency will look at the challenges female artists face, and how social expectations, family and being minorities within the art world influence arts practice.