Visual artist Ling Ang’s latest project is Souvenirs of Sleep, a multiform exploration of her dreams expressed in digitally altered photographic re-enactments published in an art book. The uncanny, surreal photographic plates are covered with transparent paper on which poetic written accounts are printed, sometimes in shaped and undulating prose.
This work is a response to a project at Le Space in Collingwood, Melbourne, a “multiconscious dream space” for which Ang created a childlike bedroom with walls decorated with written dreams. Ang also recently held an “immersive 3D experience” at the Alex Theatre in St Kilda, Melbourne.
Born and sometimes resident in Singapore, raised in Australia and currently working in Melbourne, Ang has worked in film as a producer, cinematographer, film editor and director. She won Best Documentary Short Film at the London Independent Film Festival in 2018 and is involved in cultural awareness and diversity programs.
I’m tempted to begin with Souvenirs of Sleep, but tell me about this recent event at Alex Theatre, a guided walk through an installation?
It was part of National Gallery of Victoria’s Design Week and Melbourne Art Book Fair. I did a talk at the Centre for Contemporary Photography, and I was also building this immersive installation that explores 3D environments – what we call “virtual production”. Three-dimensional modelling has been around for quite a bit, but I guess a lot of us creatives have been pushed into that direction even more so because of the current climate. We’re all in this lockdown, looking at different ways to tell stories.
I’ve been learning the term “XR” – extended reality – which includes augmented reality, virtual reality … It’s so interesting when our creative world in real life thinks it’s reached its limits. Now we’re trading in cryptocurrency, buying up real estate online, so we can fill museums, also online.
It’s been very exciting, because I’ve had to start in that world from the very bottom, and I’m seeing how it’s everywhere around us, from the KFC billboards to The Mandalorian. I thought it would be an interesting way to interpret my dreams: the first time visualising it in this way.
How do you apprentice yourself in this really technical medium? Is it in any way related to the filmmaking you’d done before?
It started with a short film competition, and looking at who the sponsor was I realised, this name is at the beginning of every video game that I’ve been playing! Of course, they put some of the best 3D graphics onto however many millions of consoles around the world. And a lot of the film grants that I was applying for were all directed towards gaming and this kind of platform.
I started asking the only 3D artists I knew, “What are your communities like, where are they hiding?” I’m sure it’s quite underground. It opened up such an incredible world. I just started researching who was designing it, and some of the companies that are behind it. Then through all that research you can start to see the infrastructure and start to parallel that to the “real world”.
I guess that’s how I explain it to people like my parents, how the virtual world can work: it’s the same kind of infrastructure, you know. Say, if we’re building a forest, if you use a forest template then the trees are just scattered everywhere.
So when you’re in the studio and first looking at the experience you think, these trees are too close, or we need a bit of space for the camera to move … where does the sun shine, where would shadows have to be directed? It’s very scientific!
And intuitive, I guess. I get the impression you enjoy problem-solving.
I love process. I think all the challenges that I can face along the way, even in say my film-producing work, I turn that into art itself [laughs]. I also like to share it with my wider community, because they might also be trying to figure out how to navigate the new world. So sharing our knowledge together is quite special. It feels historic: we’re all in the same thing for the first time.
And your recent preoccupation with Souvenirs of Sleep is with the unconscious, things you know without knowing, and journeys down secret and mysterious passageways. Maybe you’re an explorer?
In the 3D environments I decided to take some of the symbolism from some of the dreams: sharks swimming through murky neon-blue waters. I guess that’s a direct symbol of what fear could look like.
I wanted to see what the community might feel, whether they could relate to that. It’s not so much shock therapy but also to make people feel that okay, there are dark things happening behind my mind too; it’s okay for us to admit and share that.
So I hope it’s also encouraging for other people to explore their subconscious in this way too.
How do you fit such reverie and exploration into your daily work practice?
As soon as I wake up from a dream I write it down on my phone. I’m so trained in this, I can wake up at two in the morning, write it down and go straight back to sleep. I write it down, have a look over it, and make myself aware of what I’ve explored in my subconscious that evening; how I might have felt about a certain person or situation; understand that it’s still my perception of that, then try to strip my emotions away so hopefully I don’t fear that terrible person throughout my day.
Ever since I started doing all this, I’ve never felt so centred. I’ve also started treating people so much better. I’ve become more conscious and figured out what is the truth behind my actions.
Then do you sit down for an eight-hour work day? Or concentrate in bursts?
Sure, for things like the book there were deadlines. If I’m the boss of my own time line it can go up and down, here and there. I try to keep good working hours, Monday to Friday, so I can still have nice weekends, be present and enjoy life.
Encountering other people’s art is often part of practice. Is that true for you?
Being so deep in the scene and wanting to be on the ground as well, not to compare myself but be inspired: there are so many cool people out there doing all kinds of things.
You get to learn about so many new tools, technologies, hear about new things and see the way in which we are evolving.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 24, 2021 as "Ling Ang".
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