The debate about whether socially-driven art plays a more important role than its autotelic counterpart is art’s ancient equivalent of Laurel VS Yanny. While we aren’t here to flog the argument with more sticks, multidisciplinary artist  Jean Low, aka Ferry, might just dampen our l’art pour l’art tendencies with her musings — for the better.  Fresh from a successful run at SIFA 2018, Ferry talks about Sky Kave, what ifs, social responsibility, and arts for all.

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Who is Ferry in a nutshell?

Ferry is a designer/musician/artist/producer – a slashie – as I’ve come to find out this new term. So these days I just say “I do many things”. 

At first, Ferry started off as just my solo music project which has since evolved into simply my artist moniker, where I collaborate with and execute projects and ideas that take on different forms or mediums, either by other artists or my own works. 

In the process of figuring out my craft after leaving the commercial world of design, and after talking to a friend of mine who also does many things, she said that at the end of the day it’s just whatever best serves the idea. And I found that extremely empowering and freeing from having to define what I do. 

You have to remove yourself as the focus as much as possible from what you are doing, that what you create has to serve the community. That art is for others to learn and grow along with you.

My ideas center around creating new and immersive experiences for audiences whilst incorporating a social angle where I can, as I feel that art is at its most powerful when used as an educative tool, to connect and engage. 

So perhaps, idea executor? 

How did Sky Kave come about?

I was at a Cigarettes After Sex concert in Capitol Theatre and due to the construction of the floor, the bass and drum frequencies just reverberated through and at that moment I suddenly became ultra sensitive to them – it just felt so good. 

So I lay down on the floor at the back, feeling the vibrations all over my body. I thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to lie down during a concert? And the ceiling is so uninspiring, what if the visuals were up on ceiling instead whilst feeling the vibrations?” 

My initial idea was about trying to see how I could take a live music show and turn it 90 degrees because we are always used to watching things standing up or sitting down in a public setting. The act of even lying down for some is allowing themselves to be vulnerable which could add to the experience as well. 

…wouldn’t it be great to lie down during a concert? …what if the visuals were up on ceiling instead whilst feeling the vibrations?

But in itself, I felt that something was missing. Sure, it might make for an overall nice experience but what good would that do? What would people take away from that? The idea was incomplete and lacking purpose. 

The missing piece came when I read a really good article on Buzzfeed about how the deaf in the US attend live concerts. They would stand right in front of the speaker to feel the vibrations and also hold empty water bottles to feel the vibrations on their hands. This provided the catalyst that would push Sky Kave to what it is today – not only a platform and piece of work that other people could use for new ideas, but we hoped to create awareness, understanding, new perspectives and spark conversations within and between the deaf and hearing centric communities. 

What was the process like and how did the collaboration flow between the different artists involved? 

Based on the initial idea and direction we built the first prototype which was a flat platform, the size of a queen size bed, accommodating up to two people. The inner vertical bracings underneath divided the platform into three parts with one tactile transducer being placed on the left and the other on the right.

Various people from all walks of life were invited to demo the platform. From seasoned musicians to people from the deaf community, an ASD family, yoga practitioners, film-makers, etc. This provided valuable feedback and ideas into what we were creating. The most notable was from the deaf community, where they asked how it would feel like if the different frequencies could be separated. There were also comments passed, asking if one could feel through their hands and feet more.

The Sky Kave team agreed that after a while, the initial flat platform became very one-dimensional and a majority of the vibrations that could be felt were concentrated on the mids and lows and were uniform throughout the body. The effect isn’t any different to being at a live concert. What would push the project further would be to separate the frequencies as well as to feel the higher frequencies in a more apparent way.

The second prototype was then developed into a lounge chair for one person, with the audio being split into 4 channels instead of 1 and each chair has 5 speakers instead of 2.

This prototype was based on prior research conducted by a team at NUS which created a similar haptic chair using an Ikea Poang chair. We adapted what they had done into the second prototype based on tactile modality – where the different parts of the body naturally resonate with different ranges of frequencies. This proved to be a significant step in terms of being able to differentiate and feeling sound more effectively. 

The performance aspect was always centered around a collaboration between two artists. Rong Zhao pushed the idea further, saying that the only way the collaboration would make sense with the intent and development of the project would be to have a deaf artist and a hearing-centric artist collaborate. 

I was fortunate to have met Isabelle Lim, a deaf photographer at the Arts & Disability International Conference 2018. Our meeting was totally unplanned and happenstance that somehow makes me feel meeting her was meant to be. As I got talking to her I knew that she was the person who would push Sky Kave in the right direction with her unique perspectives of sound and she has such a wealth of brilliant ideas.

I roped in Evan Low (Evanturetime) for the collaboration and he took the lead from Isabelle, based on her short film Silent Shadows. We wanted her to take the lead because it only made sense that her perspective and story take the forefront. Evan helped in mixing and crafting the sounds that brought her ideas and perspectives to life. It was an amazing collaboration and both artists showed each other respect in their craft and views. 

Did working on Sky Kave redefine your craft in any way?

Definitely. Being a new work and my first attempt, I realize that generating ideas like this is something that engages me as a creator as it’s multi-faceted and allows me to explore multiple angles, collaborate with others and more importantly, provide opportunities for others to use the artwork or the idea for their own exploration. It was definitely a step in a direction I never expected to take, but when the idea and opportunity came, we just went for it and realized and this is something that we really enjoy doing. 

Through various engagements organized by SIFA, I had the chance to educate and talk to students and young artists about the process in hopes that they start to view their work not simply as an extension of themselves but a powerful tool to incite change and connect. Even as I am learning myself, I find it fulfilling to share and grow ideas together with other artists and share the process in hopes that they can take their own ideas or even take Sky Kave and run with it in a new direction. 

Dream projects?

I’ve always liked sculptures that sit in a space for years and years and allow the public to interact with it and tell a story. Hopefully, I will have a chance to do that. 

Overall, my dream is to grow a steady portfolio of works that involve the community and maybe get to showcase them overseas which will include working with the local community there as involving other cultures would move the ideas and installations into a new direction and gives the city ownership of the artwork. This provides longevity for the artwork which is what I bear in mind, as much as possible. 

Any parting words for our readers?

What I’ve learned thus far is to always question “why”. Why are you doing this? What is it for? You have to remove yourself from the focus as much as possible from what you are doing, that what you create has to serve the community. That art is for others to learn and grow along with you. Yes, there is always a time for self-expression and experimentation but in the bigger picture, what are you working towards? 

A lot of times we get bogged down by this and that theory, or the form, the medium, the definitions. But at the core, it always starts with a good idea. They are the what if’s that you keep floating around in your mind. 

Always write down your ideas in case you forget. Ideas can take years to come to fruition, so patience and waiting are pertinent. A lot of time we want to be the first, the original one but art isn’t like that most of the time, and sometimes it’s all about the right timing. 

Lastly, I believe as artists, we are just the facilitator, educator, and server, through what we create, through the idea. Otherwise, art will always be a luxury, a non-necessity. It is our job to make the arts accessible to those who do not have the chance to enjoy it. It is our job to create opportunities for others who don’t have the chance to explore the arts. That is the only way that I feel the arts has a purpose and value in people’s lives. 

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photos courtesy of Singapore International Festival of Arts