I am at the Chelsea College of Arts. In the midst of the lunch hour buzz, I cannot help but notice the student demographic of the college – do artists look a particular way? Perhaps this is erroneous to suggest but there is an acute sense of taste expressed in what seems like an accidental understanding of a dress code. Maybe this is the artistic elan leaking through: most of them carry some kind of object in one form or another – paintings, frames, parts of an installation – I can only get glimpses of this fleeting art as they pass by. The atmosphere is one of creative productivity but they pass me by in very brief glimpses.
For a moment I find myself intensely curious to what each person was working on but they come and go even before I can get a hint of what their art is about. This idea of what art is, its momentariness, and the responsibility of the artist, is to be the focal point of my conversation later with the person I am meeting – Yasmin Jaidin.
We exchange greetings and Yasmin casually leads me through the rabbit warren of stairs and fire doors towards her studio space. The studio is divided into 3 rooms and she shares the biggest room with 5 other students. I look around taking in the bright white walls with miscellaneous objects hung around each ‘private’ space. They seem like fragments of previous projects and a line to future thoughts.
Our interview looms in the background and Yasmin immediately captures it, pointing at an installation on a makeshift pedestal, “This is what I’m working on, the mould is made of sugar and golden syrup and as you can see I filled it with white acrylic paint”. She notices that I’m looking at her work on the wall above her workspace, “these are from my introductory exhibition in my first week, they are based on the idea of skin lesions”, and added, “I’ve never used so much colour before; this is the first time I’ve done it”. My attention goes back to the sugar mould with white acrylic paint oozing out into tiny pools of melted sugar and I ask her to tell me more about it.
She says in her latest work ‘Painting 002’ she is trying to explore the concept of a painting in which the object is a subversive symbol of a conventional painting. The geometric shapes of the sugar mould form the frame which contains the paint like the basic constituents of a painting – an image in a frame. “This”, she says, “is a painting”. She explains further that she intended on having the sugar mould melt into the paint because she wants her ‘painting’ to be completely free of any form of ‘canvas’ or ‘frame’. “With the sugar melting into the acrylic paint, its function as a ‘frame’ turns into a medium that involves itself in creating the ‘form’ of the painting, kind of like adding colour to the ‘image’ of the painting”. Not only is the conventional painting called into question but its form is challenged symbolically as frame, paint and canvas melt into one perplexing image. In a sense, ‘Painting 002’ is Yasmin’s preoccupation with artistic expression in general but in particular as her response to her recent experiences in Brunei.
After completing a degree in Goldsmiths in 2010, Yasmin spent the next 3 years in Brunei immersed in art activity where she taught art at a sixth form college. She says she has been preoccupied with the relationship between art norms, gallery space and general perception of art in Brunei. She ventures to explain that, in Brunei, it is common to have exhibition space strongly related to conventional paintings and it is very rare to have someone willing to invest in a space for other forms of art, for instance installations and other unconventional and experimental art. The tone of her voice suggests that this is a frustrating reality but a challenging source of productivity and creative expression. “When we think of art it is almost paintings which come to mind, but what is a painting? Is it the materials – canvas, paint, frames?”.
‘Painting 002’ challenges these commonly held view of what art should be and it is particular to that of the dominance of the painting. Yasmin is deliberately provoking the established norms with this latest work but in a move towards seeing beyond the painting, I catch glimpses of an underlying theme in her work which is more compelling than the subversion of the conventional painting.
I ask her about the material choice of her work. Her signature is the usage of organic materials in a minimalistic way as possible – without adding too much to them. She recalls one of her previous pieces from Goldsmiths, ‘Untitled 28:17’ (a title in which its meaning has always been a secret), in which she uses flour and with the right pressure she was able to make a mould in the shape of a mattress. This installation was exhibited alongside a photograph. In ‘Untitled 28:17’, Yasmin explains that the two objects created a contrast between a moment which has been developed to last forever and a moment which can never be captured or kept. Jokingly, Yasmin admits that it is partly an expression of a bad habit of hers to never document her work properly, and the creation of the mattress made of flour is her embracing this predicament that her art then could not be physically documented.
There is a hint of an eventual destiny in her artwork and most likely a momentary object that can only linger as memory. From the moment Yasmin puts the last touches, her art leaves her to assume its own narrative and form, just like her current work ‘Painting 002’. What is art as memory as opposed to timeless pieces that are forever there? Both tell their own stories in different ways and each narration is so personal in whatever form art reveals itself. Only in memory, it is outside of anyone’s grasp and the only justice to this art is of acknowledgement and forgetting.
To Yasmin, her mode of expression and form of art is like therapy she reconciles; at the suggestion of that it perhaps is the art of letting go, we both smile and nod to our separate thoughts.