Q&A with the Local Artists and Designers Behind the 9 Lives Design Show for Cats

Using art and design to solve problems and to spread the message of animal empathy and welfare

By STYLEGUIDE

April 10 2019

Held in mid-march as part of Singapore Design Week, the 9 Lives Show featured 9 local artists who banded together as a non-profit group of individuals to spread the message of animal empathy and welfare to the unaware community through art and design. 

This year's theme seeks to explore the impact of urbanisation on community cats in our neighbourhoods, with each artist creating a unique art and design piece that reflects their perspectives and creative expressions.

In case you've missed the event, here is an overview of the 9 art installations together with insights from the artists themselves on their work and creative process: 

1. Michelle Lim - Ceramics Artist

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you

As a professional ceramicist, nature and truth are my inspiration. My desire to make and create is driven by this urgency to share my discoveries from my environment and observations that is molded using my medium - clay. 

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show?

'Morals of an Alley Cat' was created based on the observations of cats constrasting humans. The irony is that these phrases like 'copy cat', 'scardy cat', 'barber's cat, 'moral of an alley cat', etc, describe human behavior. So the ceramic wall pieces painted in cobalt and gold are visual interpretations of these phrases that exposes some human traits, juxtaposing them are these plain ceramic bowls sitting on cardboard boxes that represent the simple wants and needs of cats - water, food, shelter and love. 

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why?

Empathy and honesty, so that we will put ourselves in the shoes of others before we act.

2. Koh Hong Teng - Illustrator, Comic Artist

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you  

I'm a full-time comic artist and illustrator, and have been creating comics/graphic novels for more than ten years now.  Concept development, thumbnails, storyboarding, penciling and inking forms the basic process in my work. I'm often inspired by objects and events happening around me, where there are interesting stories to tell. 

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show? 

It is a short graphic story about the death of a community cat. One of the most affectionate cat among the 30 something strays in the neighborhood. It came to my family and bonded with us. Two years ago, I suddenly found her lying motionless at the door step, with blood streaming out of her nose and mouth. Since then, I have discovered that a number of cats in the neighborhood had dwindled. That raised my suspicion that they might have been poisoned.

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why? 

That society can take time to tear themselves away from their daily grind. To take time to listen and observe what is happening around them. Life can be rediscovered and made more fruitful just by doing that.

3. Royston Phang - Product Designer, Maker

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you  

I'm a product designer who enjoys tinkering with materials. My current favourite quote is "curiouser and curiouser" from Alice in Wonderland. I find that my inspiration often arrive midway through my design process after understanding the constraints of the materials and how theya re able to fulfill the intent of the project. 

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show? 

Chapel of Discard is based on an observation of how one man's trash is another man's treasure. The audience are invited to adopt a resin cat where some are in perfect condition while others come with amputated parts. Through this act I hope the audience will question their thoughts as to "why this cat but not the other cats".

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why? 

Responsible pet ownership, and that, we as a society would have more self awareness , that the choices we make have consequences. 

4. Diana Rahim - Writer, Photographer

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you  

My main creative outlets are writing and photography and I derive a lot of inspiration from those two mediums. I get inspired a lot by paying attention, and I do think that both writing and photography are mediums that demand an attentiveness to the world, even to the most banal things. 

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show? 

I intended for my work to be something that generates a lot of thought to the viewer about how language has a direct impact on reality. How we talk about things is not something benign, and we could perhaps begin the change we want to see by changing the way we talk about the issue at hand. 

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why? 

I know sensitivity is often seen as something impractical and excessive, but I do want to see more sensitivity and care in our society.

5. Adeline Loo - Fiber Artist

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you 

I'm a walking cliche actually. Im a science-fiction aficionado, I knit and do domestic fibre arts, I own a rocking chair and I have an unhealthy penchant for cats.  

I love stories and obviously the textural nature of fibres and textiles so I always try to share these stories through this medium. Usually an idea begins as a quote, a tale or experience someone has shared with me. I then try to translate that into a tangible object that others can experience. 

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show? 

When I first thought about the theme (Impact of Urbanization), I thought about how people perceive space as 'property' and why this thought may lead them to feel justified in their actions to call for removal of any perceived 'trespassing' by animals. I thought perhaps if they knew the consequences of their actions, that if they realized removal by AVA meant death, then they'd be more tolerant to these animals sharing our space. 

My work deals with exploring translations of the 900 lives culled by AVA in a year due to complaints they received from the public raising 'concerns'. I hope that seeing these 900 lives as tangible objects would let people clearly grasp the magnitude of this number of lives so casually lost. 

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why? 

Changing people's perceptions of community cats as an 'urban problem'. I feel that this was a direct result of our government's public-health regime and urban renewal projects in its attempts to fashion Singapore for international tastes. We caused these cats to lose their living spaces and I hope people understand that it is also our collective responsibility to maintain a shared living space for them. Perhaps more people would practice greater tolerance and compassion if they could see things from this perspective.

Another important change that needs to happen is education and access to resources and information. People need to know exactly what happens to our community animals when they are 'dealt with' by the various agencies. Most people have only vague ideas about it. Perhaps if the actions taken by the various agencies were more visible and transparent, people would not be so quick to take negative action. 

6. Chan Wai Lim - Industrial & Product Designer

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you

I'm a industrial designer constantly striving for fresh, clever and creative elements in my design process that can trigger emotional connections between the user and objects. I believe in craftsmanship and having a good story behind every design. My inspiration is mainly drawn from modern contemporary art, street art and toy and character design.

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show?

Besides the functional aspect of a modular and DIY cat pod, the “Finding Nemo” installation was inspired by a cat called Nemo. “Nemo” was a stray cat who was impacted by urbanization. When she was seeking shelter one day, she dashed across the highway and was hit by a passing truck. Fidgeting and lying helplessly in the middle of the road, a kind samaritan rescued Nemo and nursed her back to health with great care and attention over a period of 7 years. 

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why?

I hope that our current system can consider more about the animal eco-system during urban development or planning.

7. Simon Ng - Fine Artist

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you  

I took up painting after working as designer for about a decade and now I’m practising full time as an artist and part-time art lecturer. My creative process involves a lot of discipline, which means making work even when I may not have any ideas or inspirations.  I am inspired by everything around me, especially music and fashion, it is always changing and evolving. 

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show? 

This work is inspired by my neighbourhood in Neptune Courts - after I moved here six years ago I noticed that are many community cats hanging around the blocks. I got to know some of the residents who were care-givers to these cats and learned that these cats are well-liked and pleasant additions to the community. This inspired me to play up the ideas of these well-loved cats as giant guardians watching over us.

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why? 

Be a responsible cat feeder! I find that most people don’t really mind the idea of community cats in their neighbourhood but they do mind irresponsible cat feeders who leave a mess of litter that lead to pests. So I hope more cat feeders can clean up the leftovers. Kindness to animals and consideration to neighbours go hand in hand. 

8. Ho Hui May - Photographer

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you  

I’m trained as a photographer and am currently working as the Dean of Academic Affairs at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts where I’m also a senior lecturer. I’m inspired by my 13 year old rabbit who is super zen about life (hence the longevity perhaps). He calmly stays out of the way when his kitty-cat siblings fight and he always has a great appetite for food! 

I’m also inspired by people who are committed to making a difference in the lives of others. I don’t have a fixed creative process, as it has evolved over time as the patterns of my life changed. Sometimes I would first come up with some ideas and do some desktop or library research on these ideas. Then I would go and recce the site and observe if the place makes sense photographically.  

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show? 

I explored the Changi Village area to observe how the community cats are living among the residents and visitors to the area. I became curious when I first heard about the group of community cats living there and met Ben Ben, the iconic Changi Village cat when he was being cared for in his last days in one of the caregivers’ home. On the whole, I found an easy co-existence amongst the cats and the people living in the community which is rather heartwarming. 

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why? 

In general, I would like to see less apathy and cynicism, and more people engaging in agentic action and to think that we can make choices to create positive change. That’s one of the reasons I work in an arts institution and I hope that students feel a sense of possibility in creating what matters to them and to care for one another in the process.

9. Joe Peter - Interactive Artist

Tell us more about yourself, your creative process and what inspires you 

Having been in the Film and TV industry for 22 years, there's little else I know (or am good at). Work has taken me to the far reaches of the world, from celestial Varanasi, the centre of Hinduism, to the searing heat of the Nevada Desert. 

I've been fortunate enough to have written, produced, and directed a myriad of productions. These range from documentaries such as National Geographic's 'Monster Fish', to spoof video games like 'Owe Money Pay Money'.

There's no one thing that inspires my creative process. I'm influenced by many forms of art and media.

Can you share your thoughts behind your work for the 9 Lives Show?

"A Tale of Two Kitties" is a unique audio-visual polemic which explores the themes of rapid urbanisation and its impact on community cats. 

Inspired by a series of personal experiences, this mixed-media installation recounts the turbulent journey of a group of community cats, left for dead, as their habitat is razed to the ground. While not an uncommon occurrence, it is one that is oftentimes swept under the rug or dealt with poorly and to the detriment of our feline friends.

This is an especially intimate piece for me too. While some precious lives were lost in this particular tale, two kittens made it out alive, and are now very much a part of my family.

What’s one change that you wish to make/see in our current society and why?

In short, a better understanding of community cats, and how they are intrinsically linked to a better society. 

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