Is trust (still) getting in the way of supporting local?

“Whatever TeamLab can do, I also can do.”

It’s a bold statement to make, but 31-year-old Eugene Soh is confident in his abilities measured against a certain Japanese powerhouse creative studio. An in-depth knowledge of the Xbox Kinect helps, but specifically, it’s the augmented reality (AR) technology of mapping motion-sensor movements onto drawings or static images that he’s so clued in on.

“I know exactly how they do it man,” said Soh, referencing an ongoing exhibit at the refreshed FutureWorld exhibition in the ArtScience Museum. While the exhibit allows visitors to draw their own characters, scan them, and have them projected onto a wall to “react” to motion sensors, Soh too successfully mapped drawings of characters onto moving figures—purportedly even before the museum exhibit caught on. He took it one step further by having the figures dance in tandem with the person controlling, to the soundtrack of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”.

Still, Soh’s derision has less to do with bitterness and more with a genuine questioning of how local art is perceived here. The full-time artist is one of seven Singaporeans who were selected to represent Singapore on an art and augmented reality showcase, Atypical Singapore, abroad. The initiative launched by the Singapore Tourism Board recently returned from its first overseas show in Russia in September, and will be heading off to fly the flag again in Myanmar this November.

Curated by Khairuddin Hori of Chan+Hori Contemporary, the line-up comprises Soh alongside Daniel Yu, Gerald Leow, Speak Cryptic (Farizwan Fajari), Amanda Tan, anGie seah, and Muhammad Izdi. Each artist was tasked to engage in a specialization ranging from performance art to sculpture to gif animation, using Singaporean elements and icons as a springboard for inspiration.

Soh’s own pieces parody iconic works of art, re-situating them in Singapore for tongue-in-cheek commentary. There’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Singapore, a parody of French post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte—shot at Upper Peirce Reservoir. Or peruse Food for Thought, which replaces the hurried humans of Italian artist Raphael’s School of Athens with busy Singaporeans at Lau Pa Sat. In both works, Soh individually photographed each person over the course of six months, before digitally modelling them in layers over a clean backdrop. When viewed with AR technology, the figures move where they're standing.

Soh's Food for Thought, which comes to life when viewed here:

The local artist, who graduated doing Interactive Media at NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media, previously had aspirations to become a game programmer, but ended up on his current path when an early work of his (The Last Supper) went viral on Facebook in 2011. He started receiving invitations to showcase at galleries, and ended up doing three solo shows at Chan+Hori Contemporary. Since then, said Soh, his art has carried a two-pronged approach on his technology and photography.

And yet, the STB showcase is the first time he’s had the opportunity to formally merge the two mediums. When asked whether he’s ever tried pitching projects to larger institutions like the ArtScience Museum, given their fondness for collaborating with TeamLab, Soh admitted that the likelihood was low due to “trust issues” about working with smaller local artists—something curator Hori too raised at a media briefing for the showcase.

“I have exhibited (at ArtScience Museum) before so they definitely know about me,” said Soh. “But I totally agree with Khai—it’s the trust issue, like ‘he hasn’t proven himself yet’, so they don’t want to risk $100k on this one guy’s studio.”

And what would it take to prove himself? “I’ll keep doing bigger works lah,” he mused, adding that his “big break” has yet to arrive. “(You) just have to keep outdoing yourself.”

Until then, he'll have to get by on little victories like representing your country on a global stage. You can also find him on his portfolio site—or teaching a couple of AR and photography courses at his alma mater NTU. And who knows; one day you might just see his name pegged to the very Japanese collaborative he once scorned.