It’s very important for me to be able to consistently express myself and that doesn’t only come in the form of acting. Currently, I use a lot of paint but many of the pieces shown at the Unhomed Belongings exhibition [which runs from 12 January–24 February at the National Museum of Singapore] are with ink and I’ve done a lot of sewn objects too.
Any form of expression is art. I don’t think I would ever say no to any particular medium, including performance art. There’s also so much that can be done with computers nowadays. I find it to be something I’m curious about as well. There’s really no limit to what one can work with to express oneself.
It’s important to share these artworks. It’s the same for why I act, or why I do what I do. It wasn’t because of fame or money. It was really about sharing.
Lost And Found was not meant to be seen. The project [an ongoing series of found objects placed in books] was discovered by Singaporean Ryan Su [of The Ryan Foundation] in my studio in New York and he felt strongly that the series should be shown in Singapore so I acquiesced in the end, because it’s important to let go of things and to sometimes show things when they’re not quite ready. I want to be able to relinquish that control.
I find it fairly abhorrent to pollute and to waste things. And this is something that I grew up with, because my family had very little money. I felt sorry for things that were thrown on the ground. It just broke my heart. And I made a point of picking these things up. Then I started to put them into books, which became like sculptures within white frames. They seemed very pleased and happy to have a place of safety. And I think as a child, I wanted that safety. And I wanted that feeling of being in a home or feeling that a home is a safe place to go to.
As an artist, I used my Chinese name initially as a form of protection. In Taoism, there’s the idea of un-naming names, which allows you to remove all preconceived thoughts about an object. What’s left is an open mind. I didn’t want people to say, “She was the person who did Charlie’s Angels; she was in Kill Bill.” But we all have judgment; we all have thoughts, and those are not going to change. I’ve learnt that you really have to just trust the audience.
You get to know somebody through their art and it’s so scary to think somebody’s going to see me a little bit more. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? When you’re acting, you’re playing a character: You want people to see that person in any way you format that person to be: It’s exposure. But when you’re showing your own artwork, it is very intimate, and terrifying. But ultimately, what you want is someone to feel the emotions for themselves, of safety, of connection, when they look at your work.
Playing [one of Charlie’s Angels] was an important moment [for me]. When I was given the opportunity, I had to seek David Kelley’s permission to take time-off from Ally McBeal to do this popcorn movie. I said, “Listen, this is not Shakespeare, or anything even close to that, but it’s going to be important for America as I’ll be [playing a role] that’s commonly cast as Caucasian.” Have things changed since? Very slowly, but it’s going in the right direction.
Art is part of education and it is going to help clear the way for a much better political system. But the availability of art now is so limited, because there’s so many school budget cuts. Yet, studies show that kids who engage in art have a better way of balancing and actually physically developing their brains. So, we really need art for our future. And kids need art for their futures.
SEE ALSO: James McAvoy: “You can only ever… be as good as the people you work with”