The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. This week features Shin Ling, a multidisciplinary artist and co-founder of Collective 4891.
Can you share a little about yourself and your background in the creative field?
My name is Shin Ling and I’m a multidisciplinary artist. I’m half Malaysian Chinese and half Japanese, and biraciality is a core part of my identity. I (mostly) grew up in hot, humid Malaysia, and moved to Tiohtià:ke/Montreal in 2016. I spend a lot of my time cooking, eating, and thinking, but not enough time listening to music, watching movies, and allowing myself to play (working on it!). I always work towards diversifying my artistry; it helps that I’m naturally curious and drawn to new things. I still wonder if one day I’ll find the medium that I feel most comfortable in or if I’ll just continuously explore new mediums as I grow. As a child, I was given opportunities to explore my creativity through singing, drawing, and taking photos/videos. Around the age of 15, I started obsessively watching spoken word poetry videos on YouTube from channels like Button Poetry and started writing my own poetry. Giving words to my thoughts was a really challenging but rewarding process, and I had my first spoken word poetry performance when I was 17. I currently am working in the Communication field, sort of doing graphic design, video editing, and writing here and there, while I complete my degree.
How has the pandemic and social distancing measures affected your work?
To be honest, the pandemic has been really difficult on me mentally, so I haven’t been practicing my art technically. However, I fully believe that being an artist doesn’t mean you need to produce every day, month, or even year. The art-making process consists of so many things other than the creation itself. If my art had seasons, now is the time I hibernate or shed my leaves, so that I can bloom again in the future. I try to think of the larger process. I am, of course, still learning to be okay with the fact that I am struggling and feel like I’m not reaching my potential. I do work part-time in the creative field though, so I have the chance to flex my creative brain now and then, which is the perfect amount of work my brain can handle right now.
What are you up to right now (can be work, personal, self-care, creative, home life, anything)?
I am putting in a lot of my effort on maintaining important relationships in my life. I have been feeling very internal during quarantine, but I am learning that human connections are vital, but can take a lot of conscious effort. I try to check up on people as much as I can, as much as I check in with myself. I have been reaching out to people I had never had deep connections with, family members, acquaintances from school etc, and have had brief but meaningful conversations with them. It feels like a process of reconnecting with my younger self from a better mental space. I have also been cooking with new recipes and treating myself to takeout when I can because I realised how much joy it brings me to explore new foods! I’m mostly trying new Japanese and Korean recipes right now because it’s something within reach, but I really want to branch out and make foods from other cultures as well.
Tell me about your projects.
I’m currently leading a zine project with a collective I co-founded called Collective 4891. The zine is themed around community care and we are featuring 20 artists, most of them located here in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. The zine will not be sold but exchanged with a donation receipt to any BLM-/anti-racism-related organisation or movement. I would also like to give a shoutout to Léa, Anayis, Aaliyah, Jas, Melissa, and Hannah for working on this project! I am also cooking up a podcast with my good friend Maha, one that is about QTBIPOC past, present, and future. It’s still in the research and searching-for-funding stage but we are determined to realise this project and are very excited about it!
Share a fact about your recent work and its inspiration for your artistic practice, lessons learned, goals etc.
With my last two projects, I have been learning the value of working with other people and communities. Collaboration is so important because it teaches us that there is knowledge, expertise, and beauty beyond our own world. As an introvert, I’ve always valued my own ideas and thoughts, which served me a lot because I think I know what I like or care about very intuitively. However, I have been collaborating with people since I started doing art more seriously and it has really made me grow both as an individual and an artist. My goal right now is to connect and work with more people, be more confident in my own knowledge and craft while doing so, and see where the collaboration goes from there.
How do you envision the future of in-person events such as live music shows and art exhibitions given physical distancing. Is the future digital?
I might be answering optimistically when I say that it would be a mix of digital and live works. The digital world is already a big part of the public consciousness, which would probably translate to more and more artwork exploring this realm. I would really like to see the accessibility element of digital exhibitions, concerts, and events continue beyond the pandemic (and that we further explore how we can make art more accessible to everyone) while getting back to more intimate events that connect us to the people around us.
What do you think companies and collective organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts sector?
I think it’s important to think of the motive of working on racial inequalities. Are you working on it to prove that you/your company is not bad/unethical? Or are you working on it to genuinely try to make the company somewhere BIPOC feel comfortable being their whole selves? These two mentalities lead to very different outcomes because you often see companies with the former mentality promote their companies as “diverse and inclusive,” have ads with a lot of BIPOC in them, yet the management and authority are all white men. I think we need to remember that no one knows everything and having a company with a variety of experiences and life stories will always enrich us. In that sense, “diversity” is not an end goal but a continuous process.
Any tidbits on what impact you want to make as an artist and advice you would give to a younger you?
I don’t really like to think too much about my impact as an artist (unless it’s an impact that harms or hurts) when it comes to art because I think focusing too much on the product will take away from the process. My advice to my younger self would probably be: You don’t need to share every single thing with everyone, and your comfort is necessary when it comes to sharing. Sharing my art is such a rewarding feeling; it feels so good to see people being touched by my work. However, when I was performing spoken word, I felt like the general expectation was that you share every trauma, every emotion, and that was the craft. I realised that really burned me out and felt powerless in writing my own narrative. Now, I am learning to share my art when I want and can, to people that I feel comfortable with (which changes based on the project), and that is as valid as an artist who feels comfortable with sharing it all.