"I think the foremost theme of most of my work are the role fantasies and desires play in modern life, as well as how they complicate intersectional identities – especially with regards to race and gender."
I’m doing alright. Bit of covid blues but at the same time, it has been a very sobering experience. I have to count myself lucky to be in a relatively favourable position during a global pandemic.
Hey Bart, how are you?
What are you up to now?
I am in my final year at the London College of Communication, doing a degree on
Photography. But I think it’s only recently that I really gained some clarity on the medium
itself, and with that, a renewed faith in working with photography.
I first experimented with photography during my National Service, that’s like 4 years ago
now. I was a film student previously and although cinema is really still my biggest passion, it was a medium that is really difficult to make work in mainly because of the scale and money required. For me, photography started as a temporary solution for expressing myself creatively during an oppressive and lifeless period of time.
Fashion, fine arts, masculinity and the human body seems to play a big role/theme in your photographic practices.
I think the foremost theme of most of my work is the role fantasies and desires play in modern life, as well as how they complicate intersectional identities – especially with regards to race and gender.
Masculinity is definitely a big interest of mine, especially with all its disowned/disavowed possibilities that we have historically excluded from ‘being a man’. And then, there’s the racialized expectations and injunctions Asian men are obliged to fulfil, which to me is also an obligation to subvert. So really, there’s nothing stable about masculinity as we know it now, and I think there’s as much to be afraid of as there is a tremendous freedom gained as a result.
It is precisely that sort of inherent tension that my body of work relies heavily on, which is just as universal in any other parts of being. Eg. the body vs the lack of a body, weight vs lightness, truth vs lies, mirth vs dread, individuals vs communities. But for me, tension is also the indication that there is a complex world (or more accurately, worlds) out there, in us and around us, and that it is able to breed meanings that were previously absent. Even though I am often drawn to and reproducing tension, violence and melancholy, I like to think that my works are basically affectionate poetry for an alternative world that is already existing right under our noses.
What are you influenced by?
A big portion of my cultural consumption and influence is cinema. I am very drawn to films that are challenging, as in hard to swallow readily, and that requires faith and sensitivity on the audience’s part. This could mean being morally challenging or formally challenging – essentially something that breaks the tyranny of monotony, and affects meaningful provocations. I am especially sensitive to unusual and iniquitous things or events; they always seem to set off in me new ideas. Sometimes it’s a STOMP article, or an obscure but funny Instagram post, or kooky experiences witnessed in my periphery. It’s not just that these things are visceral in a perverse or idiosyncratic manner, but they also evoke in me a sense of profound empathy for the so-called ‘freaks’ that had fallen through the cracks of an increasingly homogeneous society. Or perhaps this empathy is just the result of an awareness of seeing myself reflected in these characters.
Along with your personal works, you also work on commission projects for various magazine publications, what’s your creative process like when conceptualizing a certain project?
I am lucky to have worked for a few publications but these come by very rarely.
I have always found the experience enjoyable, mostly because of the electric energy to be found in collaborating with others.
My process starts with identifying the intended emotion of the project, then working from that starting point, I generate image mood boards, atmospheric
mood boards, half narratives and characters to guide the conceptualisation.
Your photos have this almost surreal feeling and mysticism to it,
almost feel as if I’m delving into a secret world of closed door desire.
I think the most striking element that has been regularly rehashed in my recent photographs is the latex-clad figure. It fascinates me on so many levels. It has unmistakable powers as a sexual icon, yet it also effaces the identity of the body it envelopes upon, rendering the body into a servile object but with dangerous possibilities with its sexual capital and mercurial ‘identities’.
It is certainly a part of queer mythology but its future seems boundless to me.
The arena of kink and BDSM is where a lot of my characters stage their narratives and lay out their stakes. BDSM, after all, relies greatly on an intersubjective consent and awareness towards a performativity of difficult lived social mores for the goal of sexual pleasure - which makes it an exciting and affective space for viewers to confront atypical perspectives. I am also interested in the way ideologies are proliferated in our bodies and the medium we produce in and digest from. For example, in ‘BARE NECESSITIES’, a satirical shopping catalogue that I created, the complex layers of political relationships between advertisement models, their intersectional identities, the medium of advertising, the liberal progressive target audience and the corporate institutions that decide on the tide of social change for economic gains, felt as suffocating as it is helplessly comical.
"Some people had asked me what the !atex-clad person was listening to during the shoot. I don’t even know the answer to that to be honest, nor would I want to ask the model what they were listening to. But isn’t that the poetry of photography – to be able to re-narrate on our own terms an impressionable moment that offers us very little hints about its wider reality."
" An image from my last project, Filling in the Hole. This was a collaboration with my friend Becca (@mascpeach) during the Covid lockdown. I asked for her to perform a solo erotic fantasy reserved for an absent partner that she can only reached from across the internet. The internet is a beautiful thing, it can now substantiate our libido in ways unthought-of before, but we are after all human beings so really the question here was, how do we navigate this gap of non-synchronicity in our internet-mediated libido?"
"Even though this composition was hardly staged, I felt like in the days before we actually made this photo I already had a very strong desire to explore the photographic
punctum (re: Roland Barthes), and this particular photograph somehow encapsulated that for me. Of course the punctum of any photograph is a personal instinct but mine would be the tiny lamp, everything else seems to sink into its humble warmth."
Bart Seng's latest zine titled Somewhere Else,
A Dog is Crooning.
Printed in London in editions of 75
" I was following my instincts a lot during the process of creating this book. I felt that the thematic structures were born quite organically from our relationship, and that there’s something beautiful but in an unusual way when we are together. It’s all really mushy but we had a really fun time making these photographs. From the start I knew the book should have indistinct chapters and that they will guide the edit of the images. After I have finished making all the images needed for the book, I experimented with different versions of outlining the chapters in a sketchbook and filled in images into these different sequences, to try and find an overarching structure that works best sequentially. To be honest, It was all good nerdy fun for me."
"I think the photographs in the book exists in between real-life and fabrication, but me and my partner would maintain that the fabrications are just as real. There are a few thematic structures I attempted to include in the book, like marking the passing of time with photographs of a wilting tree outside my flat, or a long sequence of pages of us just crossdressing in each other’s clothes. Honestly, I have to admit that the book is a bit schizophrenic. It kinda jumps back and forth between being a diaristic curation of cute/gross snapshots and something like a photographic novella with an alternative perspective on gendered relationships."
[L] "A friend coined the term ‘boymachine’ when
unpacking this image, which I thought was perfect.
The image came about as an outtake from a fashion shoot actually – the washing machine and the handcuffs were
both coincidentally on the set and it just struck me how funny it would be to imagine a version of an outdated domestic fantasy. Although I’m curious if we can
accurately call a body without a head, and without showing any gender-signifying features, a ‘boy’.
Nowadays I think a lot about the films of Ruben Östlund, Lee Chang Dong, Jafar Panahi, Tsai Ming Liang and Edward Yang, in relations to my own work. I have a lot of love for David Bowie, who really opened up the world for me as a teenager and who I still look up to. Rest in peace, Starman! In terms of photographic artists, I am a huge fan of Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Masahisa Fukase and Lieko Shiga. My favourite band is Radiohead, which unfortunately my partner had insisted as a sign that I am a soft boy.
Who are your biggest influences?
Trying to come up with something substantive for my Final Major Project in university. Also, trying to make a pair of photographs in Singapore based on an incident that had happened to me 7 years ago. I think I am finally ready to approach this event photographically with an openness to all the various motivations that had agitated the people involved towards that particular finality all these years ago.
What are you up to these days?