As part of the TRACE Series featuring Singapore image-makers, DECK presents AESTHETICITY, an exhibition by Kevin WY Lee, from 8th June to 1st July 2018. AESTHETICITY presents two bodies of work (2014–2018) exhibited for the first time: Tapestry of Tents and Suddenly The Grass Became Greener.


Tapestry of Tents explores the tapestry and temporality of tarpaulin tented spaces in our land-scarce city state. White tents are ubiquitous to life and landscape in Singapore.


An excerpt from Suddenly The Grass Became Greener (2016), a  made in Singapore during her 50th year as a nation, and the coincidental death of her gardener. 

Aestheticity : In Conversation with Gwen Lee

Gwen Lee: As a creative director, how did you encounter photography? When did photography become part of your life? 

Kevin WY Lee: I have been working in the creative field for over twenty years, in which my first encounter was as an art director working with photographers on commercial shoots for clients. I decided mid-way to practice as well, but more towards personal projects. Photography is now a very big part of my life, not just as a practitioner. I participate beyond my own endeavours, as an enthusiast, curator, and mentor to younger photographers across the region. For example, beyond this solo exhibition of mine, I’m currently producing an Asia-wide photography award and mentored Thuma Collective, a Myanmar women’s artist collective in Myanmar which just opened their first group exhibition in Yangon.

GL: In our current times of technology-enabled visuals (VR, drone, etc), how would you describe your photography?  

KL: I am interested in new technology and media and I am aware of current trends by photographers to become artists, mixing their mediums beyond the still image, but for this exhibition I wanted to show good old fashioned frozen frames, still images on a wall and the experience one has with them. My photography may not be to everyone’s taste with it’s mundanity and lack of spectacle, but I think there is still a place and time for these little moments of one’s own sense of being and environment.

GL: With the different approaches to photography and the rampant production of images across social media platforms, do you think the more traditional street and documentary style of photography can still offer new insights? 

KL: Social media is rampant and rapid, and renders everything associated with it a spectacle, including the photography made specific to be shared through them. I was born in the last years just before the internet age so I remain sentimental and optimistic. Youtube hasn’t stopped people from quoting 19th century poetry or prose. I believe well authored work, whether old fashioned or trendy, stands the test of time and tide.

GL: In the process of photographing these works over the last 3 years, are there any new personal discoveries or insights as you go about planning this solo exhibition? 

KL: I’m at a point of my life where half of it was spent in Singapore and half of it abroad. I was born in Fiji. My childhood memories are very different to a Singaporean born and bred here his/her entire life. I have 2 glasses half-filled so to speak, and when mixed together, allows me to speculate on life, home and memory with nuances of that concoction.

GL: Singapore is widely touted as a Garden City, does Aestheticity speak something of Singapore or perhaps something beyond that? 

KL: Aestheticity is my reconciling of Singapore as home with the aforementioned concoction. Singapore is a middle-class city and that sculpts the way we aestheticise our lives and our environment. Aesthetics is our way of coping, controlling and defending.

Suddenly The Grass Became Greener, the exhibition (Gallery 2) and the book (in more detail), speaks in awe of the power and influence of one man, the gardener, over his people.

I also often hear people say Singapore is boring and that they find it unphotographable, I wanted to prove them right.

GL: It seems like Singapore is being organized towards a direction of a well-pruned garden, but this also leads to a field of vision that is easily predictable. Recently, ‘boring’ has become an accepted admittance, as suggested in Singapore Tourism Board’s campaign. Do you think this is here to stay? Is this the ‘aesthetic’ that Singaporeans can acknowledge and relate to? Or there is a need to shift? 

KL: I am interested in whether there is such a thing as a Singapore aesthetic, given that this is a young migrant city that imports everything.

The lack of competition in mass media, a necessary ingredient to driving the arts and visual culture, doesn’t help. So I don’t know if something is “here to stay”, I can only attempt to interrogate what’s present. But nothing lasts forever, not even empires.

GL: The work on tent and tarpaulin speaks of temporal functional space. How is space represented in your work?

Singapore is a very small city state. We are haunted by our size and threats to our sanctuary by external elements. This haunting manifests itself in a very aggressive manner. The city is forever changing, reshaping itself, discarding, building. Everything is leased, temporary. 

We don’t have vast landscapes in Singapore like in other countries, where our poets can escape to and muse. The HDBs are our mountains and the void decks our rivers. These white tents are nomadic caravans, temporal symbols ubiquitous to our mountains and rivers.

GL: Both works are presented based on the nature of the space. For instance, the white tents and the incredibly long strip of printed image. Would you like to share more on idea behind the presentation of your works? 

Photographers these days are faced with a demand to articulate and exhibit their work beyond one medium. Still, flat images on a wall seem to be out of flavour. I recall hearing about a famous photography gallerist in Hong Kong asking ‘why is no one doing photography work anymore?’ The urge and urgency to mix your mediums is real. Having said that though, I resisted the urge for this exhibition and wanted a simple presentation of photography, prints on a wall. 

The work in Gallery one simply presents sequentially an imagined tapestry. The work in Gallery 2 depicts the death of the gardener in 2015 and the phenomenal queue performed during his wake. This is presented in one long continuous scroll that winds and wraps the room, as the queue did wind and wrap the civil district.

AESTHETICITY is kindly supported by AVS Printing Pte Ltd, and exhibits from 8th June to 1st July 2018 at DECK, 120A Princep Street, Singapore 187937.

AESTHETICITY exhibition booklet, designed by Vanessa Ban.

Using Format