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The public call out for the inaugural CIRCA x Dazed Class of 2021 initiative asked audiences to submit a 2.5 minute film in response to the theme ‘Communion’ set by interdisciplinary artist and lecturer, Angel Rose. After receiving 2,000 applications, we are proud to present the 30 finalists who will each receive access to the Dazed Space and have their work exhibited as part of the CIRCA programme, appearing across public screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul this September.

Expanding on their commitment to help support the talent of tomorrow, CIRCA and Dazed appointed a community of jurors including Cauleen Smith, Frank Lebon, Hugo Comte, Simone Rocha, Dexter Navy, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michele Lamy to select their top 5 submissions. From this, one lucky finalist will be selected by world renowned performance artist Marina Abramović to receive the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000.

With public art spaces diminishing, investment in arts education being cut and artist communities at risk, this joint initiative aims to empower the next generation of artists working in moving-image by platforming new voices and points of view from local communities on a global level, giving them unrivalled media exposure and the tools to help kick start their careers.

BART SENG WEN LONG, LONELY PRAYER FOR AN ORNAMENT, 2021

My name is Bart, born and bred in Singapore, I am now based in London. Working with moving images, photography, performance and literary nonfiction – my practice affectionately insists on the uneasy tensions found within the intersections of fetishism, queerness, contemporary appearance, (post-)racial politics and the comforting smother of neoliberalism. I am currently working on putting on a number of exhibitions that are both irl and digital, some I am co-curating and some I am just showing in.

The title of my film is ‘Lonely Prayer for an Ornament’. The voiceover track is a recitation of Chen Yi-Wen’s poem ‘Like A Larva Holding on for Transformation’ by Taiwan’s Digital Minister Audrey Tang (thanks to her conviction of radical transparency and artistic free use). The visuals draw inspirations from Maggie Cheung’s titular role in Irma Vep; and beyond that surface similarity, my work is an oblique, conceptual continuation of the film’s exploration of a fetishised Asian woman negotiating her own multivalent identity and capacity for affective labour. In my film which is partly a form of self-portraiture, the protagonist’s position atop a spinning pedestal recalls Lazy Susans typically found in Chinese restaurants and thus teases it being consumable, but it also references the privileging of ideal sculptural forms in art canon. The gaze is short-circuited here, being both object and subject, it finds itself in an ambiguous space of contemplation and lyricism. It is in this space, Chen’s poetry plays like a prayer, a communion for wisdom, growth, affirmation and healing. Those are the central themes and aspirations that are meditated on; while the ornamental and assembled body of the lonely protagonist provides a canvas for the imagining of a new way of feeling, being and relating.

How did you become an artist and what was your route to your current practice?

BART SENG WEN LONG : I grew up obsessed with fictions, mythologies, otherworldly characters, freaks, geeks and losers. I realised at 14 (after watching Goodfellas) that I am in love with the cinematic medium, and that I want to make films because I love telling stories and I am excited by the deeply affective possibilities of the filmic form.

But making films in Singapore is a bit of a Sisyphean torture, and so I decided to put that in the backseat while I explored a different but similar, yet slightly more accessible medium in photography. I love photography but the world of images has since outgrown any one traditional medium. Organic and colloquial strains of imageries can now come much closer to the truth than what puritanical photography can do. Thus, my aim now is to synthesise and subvert the schizophrenic sensibilities and multi-media aesthetics of our contemporary times to make works that speak to and speak for – albeit in a mangled and strange dialect – the metropolitan people of my generation.

Some things don’t change though. At the core of my practice, it has always been about an affectionate, almost stubborn insistence on uneasy tensions and conflicts between concepts, fantasies, thematics and reality. Aside from that, the beating heart and soul of my work will always be the consummate outsiders, the low-resolution losers and the minor genres.

What inspires you to make your work?

BART SENG WEN LONG : I sometimes try to process my works’ origin through their conceptual underpinnings or social urgencies, but really I think it always just starts from a feeling. And usually it’s a feeling of contradiction and tension – maybe it’d be a feeling I get from chancing upon a grotesque cursed image, or from a particularly brutal meme, or from a traumatic experience in an unexpected place, or from the incongruity between distressing news reports and my immediate environment. I think reality is already full of inspirations, but it is often super confusing and too raw and too abrasive. It demands a certain kind of perspective and openness and poetry and perhaps even a little perversion to render its chaotic, multivalent triggers into art.

My inspiration to make work is maybe just a hope to reconcile the gulf between my sense of self in all its intersections of identities and the rest of this world that no longer resembles what I was led to believe it would be as a child. It is also the desire to imagine a different kind of world that has always been hidden within the current regime, a world that intimately considers pluralistic realities, that gives space for alternative modes of being.

Can you identify any elements of your community or collaborators that have had a strong influence?

BART SENG WEN LONG : I am inspired daily by the flow of interactions that happens within the social media villages of communities I find myself a part of. This includes the exchange of memes, discourse, anger and celebration. There are so much to unpack even in these minute social exchanges, and how every group (be it the Asian diaspora, the queer community, the kink community, or any intersection of all of them) ultimately is related to wider realities or thematics. It is in these moments of interactions between individuals within groups within a polity, that somehow always manage to spark some new idea or new image in my thought process that I pick and choose to work through.

As for my collaborators, I can unequivocally say that they are some of the most talented and most empathetic range of people that I know. Oftentimes it is a difference in opinion or a disagreement in aesthetics that would push me to consider blind spots and alternative ideas. If anything, I believe it is the diversity of the people who I work with that keeps me open-minded and challenges stagnant clichés I might unconsciously lean back on.

Would you consider your practice to have a positive social impact, and if so in what way?

BART SENG WEN LONG : I would like to hope so but I believe art is most effective in doing that only in indirect ways. It moves people when they least expect it, and that gradually filters into the way they relate to other folks in their everyday life.

With my works, I hope it fosters empathy and solidarity amongst people with apparent differences (be they cultural, sociological, political, and so on), to find commonality in our experiences but to also truly appreciate difference. It’s easier said than done, and we all know about the ‘uselessness’ of art within a techno-capitalist paradigm, but we must have faith and we must keep trying. Maybe a better wish in the interim is for people to keep making happy memories for their loved ones.

How is your project tied to the Circa x Dazed Class of 20:21 theme of ‘Communion’?

BART SENG WEN LONG : In my film Lonely Prayer for an Ornament, which is partly a form of self-portraiture, the protagonist’s position atop a spinning pedestal recalls Lazy Susans typically found in Chinese restaurants and thus teases it being consumable, but it also references the privileging of ideal sculptural forms in art canon. The gaze is short-circuited here, being both object and subject, the ornamental figure (borrowing from Anne Anlin Cheng’s theory of Ornamentalism) finds itself in an ambiguous space of contemplation and lyricism. Within this space, Chen Yi-Wen’s poetry (translated and read by Audrey Tang) plays like a prayer for one but also a prayer meant to be shared aloud, especially for the different communities of people that I hope the work relates to.

It is an intimate yet inclusive communion between a self in its very specific modes of being and the viewers who will form a society. The communion is for wisdom, growth, affirmation, healing and transformation. Those are the central themes and aspirations that are mediated on; while the ornamental and assembled body of the lonely protagonist provides a canvas for the imagining of a new way of feeling, being and relating.
In a more subtle way, it is also a private communion between me and Maggie Cheung’s titular role in Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep. My film is an oblique, conceptual continuation of his film’s exploration of a fetishised Asian woman negotiating her own multivalent identity and desires, and her capacity for affective labour. Not as a repudiation of Irma Vep, but I was wondering what it would be like if these themes and problems are approached by someone who’s closer to Cheung’s character, almost like her spiritual descendant in contemporary times and with more identical lived experiences.

Has your work been recognised by any public bodies or organisations in the past?

BART SENG WEN LONG : I was accepted through an open call by Queer Arts Project to show work for an online exhibition funded by Arts Council England.

How would the #CIRCAECONOMY prize of £30,000 impact your future practice?

BART SENG WEN LONG : It will certainly go a very long way in allowing me to experiment with new ideas and new technologies in radical ways. It’d also help build a sustainable art-making ecology around me and my collaborators.

Art-making in a capitalist system isn’t cheap, and it is really stressful balancing a good life and being able to make good work when money is a limitation. The prize money would afford me enormous freedom to make work and also to experiment extensively with ideas that I have had to put in the backseat due to feasibility issues. Furthermore, burgeoning technologies are more and more inaccessible to most young people without financial backing. The money from #CIRCAECONOMY will allow me to stay very close to these technologies and materials that are shaping our current world – not so that I can replicate them with technical precision and mastery, but so I can use them to more innovative, critical and conceptual ends.

Besides that, the talented people that I collaborate with remains unfairly underrated in their recognition or has a precarious relationship with their capacity to making work. As much as income isn’t a primary aim of my practice, I firmly believe in fair payment for the value of artists’ labour. This means that one of my biggest hope in the near future is to be able to fairly compensate collaborators, to work with more people who always bring something special to their expertise, and to foster an equitable and ethical collective of art-workers with similar ethical convictions who would then work together so as to go farther together. I think that commitment to collectivism and community has to be a key part of my future practice.

What would you do with the money?

BART SENG WEN LONG : Firstly, I need to procure proper work equipment for my digital visual works because I have been making works thus far with fairly old or extremely makeshift gears. I desperately need a serviceable desktop to explore new terrains of video making, digital processes and 3D rendering – all of which I have been interested in but could not accommodate at the minute due to hardware limitations. This also applies to the cost of acquiring the necessary softwares and assistance required.

Secondly, I would use the money to develop a new, expansive and experiential project. I would like to take my research onto a range of creative outcomes, giving the project a full multi-media expression. Additionally, I want to realise things physically, to render complex ideas tangible. I think having works that touch on the digital and the contemporary produced as a physical and tangible installation within a irl space would transform the experience and it also extends the art in a more affective way to a wider public. It is my attempt to follow the maxim of ‘imagining a better future, and to say it out as loudly and as clearly as possible’ – art that is affirming and that provokes the imagination of people should always be given space, as in real and physical space.

And as mentioned previously, I want to be able to pay people whose expertise I would like to employ for my work. It will also allow me to seek out more talented folks who are doing truly unique and special things with their crafts, and pay them accordingly for their labour. Lastly, I have been working with a friend on an independent curatorial practice that explores seemingly peripheral and minor themes within contemporary techno-capitalist society. I hope to create a platform for underrepresented artists with fresh, bold ideas to articulate and experiment freely with those ideas. The money will aid this project in really cool ways, and help us make truly unique artistic experiences for the 21st century.

If you are awarded the #CIRCAECONOMY prize, how might this affect your community?

BART SENG WEN LONG : I hope it will produce a relay of generative practices and opportunities. To have representation is to bring back capital and opportunities to the communities that one belongs to. With the prize, I could work on projects that energises and activates the talents of my communities through fruitful collaborations. It also gives more opportunities for them to be recognised in wider circles through collective creative works.

I would like to invest myself in projects that further the development of communities – collaborative efforts that can foster creativity and forge stronger support within communities. I see the prize as a potential to ‘exit to community’ – a radical alternative ambition to start-up culture where the eventual end goal of a successful start-up is not acquisition by a larger firm, but to distribute ownership of the start-up amongst its founders and workers.