Dr Kai Syng Tan FRSA SFHEA is an interdisciplinary artist-researcher, shapeshifter and sightseer. Through installation, performance, drawing, critical text and curatorial practice, her practice-led research investigates the body and mind in motion (and commotion) as a motif/method/metaphor to articulate/reimagine/impact the world that is in motion (and commotion) around us. She activates everyday mobilities such as running (since 2009), mind wandering (current), swimming / islandhopping / crawling / hula-hooping / drowning as critical/creative modes of interrogation/intervention. Kai’s works are (in)formed by the collaging/collision of a range of philosophies and practices from disparate disciplines/genres/cultures, and characterised by layering, wordplay, a day-glo palette and an unapologetically un-objective/un-heroic/un-macho/non-neurotypical perspective (given her ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia). This vision and approach has been punched into shape by her training/work/life/lives in the ‘wild west’ and ‘far east’ (PhD, Slade School of Fine Art; MA Distinction, Excellence Award, Musashino Art University; BA Fine Art first class honours Slade; School of Art Institute of Chicago). A core site of intervention is the academy, and Kai uses art and interdisciplinary collaboration to activate spaces of ‘productive antagonisms’ (Latham and Tan 2016). Collaborators have included Professor of Psychiatry Philip Asherson (King’s College London), geographer Dr Alan Latham (UCL), Dumb Type choreographer and dancer Takao Kawaguchi (Tokyo) and composers Professor Christophe Charles (Tokyo) and Philip Tan (Singapore).
Known for her ‘eclectic style and cheeky attitude’ (Sydney Morning Herald), ‘radical interdisciplinarity’ (Dr Alan Latham, UCL), she has been described as ‘not only a talented artist but also a great scholar’ (Cinema South Festival) with a ‘sardonic humour but also a sharp intelligence which makes her a self-reflexive, incisive artist of South East Asia’ (Singapore International Festival of Arts Director Keng Sen Ong). Kai’s installation, film, text and performances have appeared in 400 shows including Documenta, Royal Geographical Society, Biennale of Sydney, MOMA, ZKM/Centre for Art and Media, Institute of Contemporary Arts and Moscow International Performing Arts Centre. Recognition includes San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award, Artangle Open 100 and the Young Artist Award (given by the President of Singapore). Collections include the Museum of London and Fukuoka Art Museum. Publications include Sport in Society (Routledge), Cultural Geographies (Sage), Live Arts Developmental Agency Study Guide and Royal Society of the Arts blog. Of her RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale, the Guardian urges academics to ‘take a leaf out of its book’ (2014), and she was heard on BBC Radio 3 talking about on running as an artistic discourse (Free Thinking January 2017). Co-created with disabled colleagues, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 8th ASEAN Para Games (for which Kai was Visual Director) was applauded by the Singapore Prime Minister as ‘spectacular’. She has taught in the practice, history and theory of fine art, media art, film and art education in higher institutions in Australia, Singapore, Tokyo and London.
Kai is currently Artist in Residence and Visiting Researcher at SGDP, working on an Unlimited/Arts Council England main commission. She is also Fellow at Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University, Visiting Fellow at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, Director of RUN! RUN! RUN! International Body for Research and RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale, and Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College member.
Above: Living Life On the Run. Digital print, size variable. 2014. Based on a Chinese ink drawing Kai made at 17.
ABOUT KAI: IN A (BRAZIL) NUT SHELL
If you’re looking for a restless sightseer/artist/visual director/researcher/consultant/curator/lecturer/mover/(salt-)shaker/(shape-)shifter with a 20-year international portfolio, who has lived a life on the run in both the wild wild west and exotic far east, and who activates everyday movements including running / island-hopping / walking / swimming / drowning / crawling / hula-hooping / twisting / turning as critical / creative modes of interrogation/intervention in the forms of multimedia artworks and writing that are characterised by a day-glo palette, wordplay, compulsive layering and an unheroic / non-male / non-neurotypical perspective collaged from a disparate range of philosophies and practices (with the added kicks of ADHD+dyspraxia+dyslexia) and which have been shown in more than 400 exhibitions / conferences / publications and 50 cities, Dr Kai Syng Tan FRSA SFHEA is the one. Kai has been described as ‘not only a talented artist but also a great scholar’ (Dr Erez Pery 2008), ‘one of Singapore’s foremost video artists’ (Dr Eugene Tan 2007) and ‘a media artist to look out for’ (Johan Pijnappel 2005) who is ‘known for her eclectic style and cheeky attitude to the art world’ (Tracey Clement 2006) with a ‘sardonic humour but also a sharp intelligence which makes her a self-reflexive, incisive artist of South East Asia now’ (Keng Sen Ong 2009). Critics have described her work as possessing an ‘unusual mix of critical engagement, intellectual references and not to forget a very, very special way of engaging humour’ (Johan Pijnappel 2006); and that it bears a ‘trademark use of irony and humour and love of language’ (Jasmin Stephens, 2012). One reviewer describes her work as ‘most potent and engaging’, and revealing ‘an artistic mastery’ (Iola Lenzi 2003). Another calls Kai a ‘wholly engrossed’ ‘humorous cynic, the attentive listener’ (Susanne Messmer 2005).
SCHOLARSHIP, RESEARCH INTERESTS
Trained in London (BA in Fine Art, 1st class Honours, Slade School of Fine Art, as the first Shell-National Arts Council arts scholar), Tokyo (MA in Imaging Science and Arts, Excellence Award, Distinctions, Musashino Art University, as a JCCI scholar) and Chicago (School of Art Institute). She attained her practice-related PhD in Fine Art in 2014 from the Slade (as a University College London scholar and National Arts Council scholar). Kai’s current and past research interests include:
– the investigation of the physical and poetic processes of the popular exercise of running as a creative, social and intellectual toolkit (including the correlation between the runner’s high and creativity)
– risk-taking, stim-seeking, playfulness and absurdity as ’gentle anarchism’ and the ideological position of being an ‘old child’ (after Lao Zi)
– the body as sight/site of performance and protest; body as world, world as body
– the city as gallery and centerstage; the city as protagonist
– the hybrid genres of the performance- lecture and cine-essay as powerful
– collage, juxtaposition and collisions (of practice with writing and research; of text with image; of western and non-western concepts and practices; of fact with fiction; of the personal/autobiographical/micro with the meta/macro/big-picture; inter- or cross-disciplinary collaboration) to generate surprising and productive processes and outcomes
– neurobiological diversity; (dis-)ability (of/by self/society); visual-thinking; the processes of the creation of artworks as examples of difference as well as creative and critical ways to un-pack such labels.
Kai’s cine-essays, performances and multi-media installations seen in: dOCUMENTA, Transmediale, MAAP, Guangzhou Triennale, Biennale of Sydney, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Tokyo Designers Week, Wellington Arts Festival, Singapore Arts Festival, Parthenon Tama Asian Documentary Festival. Venues she has exhibited include ICA London, House of World Cultures in Berlin, MOMA, ZKM, Seoul Museum of Art and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Centre Georges Pompidou, Museum of London, Kunsthalle Faust, Tokyo Wonder Site, Box Higashi Nakano cinema, San Francisco’s Kabuki Theatre, Empire Leicester Square, Zendai Museum of Modern Art, and Poznan National Museum. Her ‘live’ performances have graced various sites (performance-lecture at the Royal College of Arts in a series that featured Iain Sinclair and Will Self; ‘laptop-performance’ with computer music greats Christophe Charles and Carl Stone; on stage in front of world leaders at the Moscow’s Dom Muzyki in 2008). Artists she has been billed with include Yayoi Kusama, Teri Reub, Jeremy Wood, Song Dong, and Chen Chieh-Jen. People she has collaborated with include curators (Lanfranco Aceti; Christiane Paul; Dr Charles Merewether; Rirkrit Tiravanija; Jeremy Hight; Kwok Kian Chow; Keng Sen Ong), dancers (Butoh expert Matsubara Toyo; SOKA Singapore), directors (Philip Tan; Ivan Heng), musicians (Adachi Tomomi), media artists (Videoart Centre Tokyo, Takano Satoru), fashion designers (Tok Gim Choo), data specialists (Centre for the Advanced Spatial Analysis researcher Dr Fabian Neuhaus) and urban planners (Chuthatip Achavasmit). Her large-scale public permanent video installation, which has been named by a Singapore newspaper (Today 2011) as a top artwork, can be enjoyed at a subway Station in the heart of the Civic and Arts and Heritage Districts in Singapore. Kai’s curatorial work includes multi-media extravaganzas (with Dumb Type dancer-choreographer Takao Kawaguchi at the Tokyo Wonder Site) and film festivals (a South East Asian Film programme at Cinema South Festival next to the Gaza Strip, and the Delhi International Film Festival; featuring the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Liz Rideal).
TEACHING AND OTHER GIGS
Since 1998, Kai has worked in various Higher Education institutions in fine art, media art, film and education. Her roles have included: External Assessor (London College of Communications; SIM University); Lecturer (Royal College of Art; Tama Art University; Musashino Art University; Australian National University; College of Fine Art; Puttnam Film School; Ngee Ann Polytechnic); Pathway Leader and Curriculum Designer (Video Art pathway, LASALLE College of Arts) and tutor (to PhD students at University College London; Open College of Arts; in classical piano). She has been invited to speak at various conferences, including addressing 1000 teachers and principals about art education in Singapore as keynote speaker, evangelising about new forms of the ‘documentary’ in Cinema Nakano in Tokyo, waxing lyrical about running at Helsinki University and Sao Paolo’s Soft Borders Conference, as well as pondered about the state of video art at the Polar Art Museum in Tokyo. Additionally, Kai has published and been written about in Bijutsu Tetcho in Japan, Cinema South Festival catalogue, and a peer-reviewed journal of the University of Minnesota Press. She has also been interviewed on live television in a morning show in Beppu Japan and a radio show in Winterthur Switzerland, as well as made other media appearances (Times Higher Education, The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao). For 5 years Kai was Expert Panel Member at Media Development Authority of Singapore, approving funding bids of up to £125,000. Additionally, she has worked as Digital Arts Consultant to School of the Arts, Chairperson of the nation’s first video competition for young people in Singapore in 1999 at Thomson Video Club and focus group member at Ministry of Education and National Arts Council.
Apart from the 3 full scholarships, Kai has, over the years, won several grants and awards. They include: San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award, the Young Artist Award from the President of Singapore, Japan Foundation artist-in-residency award, Excellence Award for her service as London Ambassador during the London Olympics, as well as nomination for the Life! Theatre Awards for Multimedia Design for Vagina Monologues. Kai’s artworks are in private and public collections including at the Museum of London, Fukuoka Art Museum, United Overseas Bank and Leeds College of Art.
Kai is currently Research Fellow at Leeds College of Art, Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a Peer Reviewer of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. With Dr Alan Latham, she runs the RUN! RUN! RUN! International Body for Research which investigates running as a creative, social and intellectual toolkit. This research is an extension of her PhD work, which has been shared at the Association of American Geographers Conference, Leonardo New Media Exhibition, Warsaw Contemporary Art Centre and Anti Festival in Finland. Kai’s innovative work in this field is exemplified by an event that she initiated, and co-curated with Dr Latham, called the RUN! RUN! RUN! International Festival of Running 1.0 #r3fest Praises came forward not just because of it was a pioneering event to scrutinise running, but also for its bold approach. The Guardian reported that ‘other conferences could take a leaf out of #r3fest’ s book’. Dr Derek McCormack (Oxford, Geography) called it a ‘really fun experience’, while meditation expert Devashishu Torpy concluded that he has ‘come away very inspired.’ Sarah Petts (SOAS) even ventured that this was ‘[p]ossibly the best conference ever’. The Festival has inspired events like the ESRC-funded interdisciplinary ‘Running Dialogues’, and the Arts Council-funded ‘Running Wild’, both organised by participants of the inaugural Festival. Having picked up running to work on this research, Kai has
competed in completed the London Virgin and Farnham Pilgrims Marathons.
Last December (2015), Kai was Visual Director and Communications Director of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 8th ASEAN Para Games, the Paralympics for South East Asia. Working with Creative Director Philip Tan, the effort was critically-acclaimed as something that has made an impact not just for sport and the arts, but disability and inclusivity. The shows have been described as ‘spectacular’ by the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and marking ‘a giant step towards an inclusive Singaporean society’ (Singapore Association for the Deaf Deputy Director Alvan Yap). Its 2-year creative process, which included collaboration with students and teachers at special education schools, have been praised as having being an ‘exceptional work in letting the status of our students with disabilities and let them soar to greater heights in an international platform’ (Anuwar Metta School Vice-Principal Abdul Wahab), ‘showcasing the talents of the special needs community in an all-inclusive way’ (Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School Vice-Principal Jeanie Morgan).
One day Kai will capitalise on her 11-year classical music training and becoming a female Glenn Gould (or to mutate into a wandering cat and make cameo appearances in a Chris Marker’s film).
LEAFLET (PDF) (2016 March)
IN A (PINE)NUT SHELL (2016 October)
In 300 words and in first person:
After I got tired of running about the art biennale and film festival circuits (Biennale of Sydney; transmediale; Artangle Open100, at MOMA and ZKM et al) and teaching (Singapore, Tokyo, Australia), I returned to the Slade School of Fine Art and completed my PhD as a UCL scholar.
There are two overlapping strands in my work: 1) in what ways could running be activated as a critical and creative toolkit to explore how we engage with ourselves, others, the city, technology and non-logocentric modes of thinking? I founded and direct the RUN! RUN! RUN! International Body for Research and RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale to explore this. The interdisciplinary and practice-related research activities are serious as they are bonkers, and have been enjoyed at Documenta (Germany), Centre for Contemporary Arts (Warsaw), Royal Geographical Society (UK) and Anti Festival (Kuopio, Finland), amongst others.
2) in what ways could art contribute to and complicate discourses on neurodiversity and disability? I was Visual Director and Communications Director of the 8th ASEAN Para Games ceremonies. Co-created with director Philip Tan (Philbeat) and a large team of abled and disabled professionals and students, the shows were praised as ‘spectacular’ (Singapore’s Prime Minister) and ‘most accessible’ (Singapore Association for the Deaf).
I am now an Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College Member, Fellow of the Royal Society of the Art, Visual and Communications Director of Philbeat (Singapore), Research Fellow at Leeds College of Art and External Examiner for Singapore Institute of Management University’s BA in Art Education programme. In 2017, I will serve as panel member for the International Commissions panel at Unlimited Arts, a £2 million, three-year programme that is a legacy of the 2012 London Cultural Olympiad. My works are collected by the Museum of London, Wellcome Trust and Fukuoka Art Museum.
Click here for a gallery of media coverage of Kai’s work. The gallery starts with PROFILES, followed by ACADEMIC CITATIONS, REVIEWS of Kai’s shows, and EXHIBITION CATALOGUES. It is in a range of citation styles, and are juxtaposed according to visual interest rather than chronological order. Several are screenshots of the excellent Asian Art Archive website, which houses much of the literature. *For media coverage related to Kai’s PhD research spanning the years 2009-2013, please click here to download a pdf – scroll down pages 40-6 9 .
Above: 2009: On live TV in Beppu, Japan, to talk (in my rusty Japanese) about my Japan Foundation-sponsored artist-in-residency.
ONLINE PROFILES, INTERVIEWS, EXHIBITIONS
GALLERIES: KAI AS ARTIST
Click here to view gallery of Kai’s artwork on Living In A Theme Park (Singapore 2005-2009).
Click here to view gallery of Kai’s artwork ISLANDHOPPING (Tokyo 2002-2005).
Click here to view gallery of Kai’s artwork (London 1994-1998).
Click here to view gallery of Kai’s angsty artwork (Singapore pre-1994)
Above: 2008: The splendid Maniam on tabla – juxtaposed against a video of post-industrial Spore. Still from Spotlight Singapore in Moscow, performance directed by Ivan Heng. Commissioned by The Arts House. Kai worked as ,multimedia Designer and performer (as Chekov’s Masha). Audiences included Senior Russian and Singaporean Ministers. Moscow International Performance Arts Centre, Dom Muzyki, Moscow, Russia.
GALLERY: KAI AS CURATOR
GALLERY: KAI AS LECTURER
Click here to view gallery of Kai’s past work as a lecturer.
Above: 2009 feature on Kai’s work as adjunct lecturer at the School of the Arts, Singapore.
GALLERY: KAI AS RESEARCHER
Click here to download Kai’s PhD thesis, The Physical and Poetic Processes of Running (2013).
Above: 2013. A map depicting a few theoretical contexts for Kai’s notion of running as a creative toolkit. From Kai’s PhD thesis, The Physical and Poetic Processes of Running: A Practice-Related Fine Art Discourse On A Playful Way To Transform Your World Today.
GALLERY: KAI AS ADVISOR & VOLUNTEER
Click here to view gallery of Kai’s past work as an advisor and volunteer.
Above: 2008. Kai as film mentor to young film curators. Asian Film Archive, Singapore.
Below: Still from Making a Living Of Sorts In (Y) Our Theme Park: Here/There/Where, a video installation at the Guangzhou Triennale 2008, China. Size: Variable. Videography by Michal Larsson.