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We present Zul Mahmod – the Singaporean sound and installation artist

Can you tell us a bit about you?

I am an artist focusing on sound art and installation. Formerly, I am trained as a sculptor. I have been a practicing artist for 18 years now.

Why do you make art? And how did you come to be an artist?

I make art because I enjoyed it since my childhood days. It gives me a sense of purpose in life. I hope to make a difference in someone’s life and besides that, to inspire the younger generation that we can achieve our dream to be a sustainable artist just like other profession. It is about self-will, vision and direction. Always push the boundaries even within the limitations and at the same time enjoy the process and journey.

Both my parents are good with craft works. I grew up in a traditional Kampong (village) in Singapore during the 70s till mid 80s, I was exposed to my parents’ crafts and creativity in the house and surroundings. And as a child, either my parents or me would be making my own toys too. Somehow, all those had influenced my practice as an artist. Eventually, after high school, I went to an art college, LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore. I wanted to be a graphic designer but had no clue what it was all about. During my first foundation year in college, students were exposed to fine arts and design and that’s when I discovered sculpture was fascinating. Because we can sculpt using anything, from any forms of materials. Another reason in choosing sculpture as my major was because of economical reason.

Live Sound performance, Singapore

Live Sound performance, Singapore

What is your art about? Does your work engage with current events and contemporary society (if so, how?)?

My art explores in what is happening in Singapore but also applies to other developing countries. In a way, it is timeless. Singapore is a developing country and is moving rapidly likewise with other cities. Somehow, with this growing urbanization, some people and community will be left behind. Therefore, my sound work will ignite one of their senses, that is listening. My exploration has always been in sonic angles with a twist of sculpture work.

You work as an multi-disciplinary sound-media artist. How do you work exactly and what do you enjoy most about your work?

My process has always been the same when I was doing sculpture. Firstly, the ideas then followed by sketches on my sketch book. Then small drawings and testing of prototypes. The final step will be presenting the artworks. I enjoy the process and discoveries about my work. Sometimes, it’s the unknown results during the process that makes it interesting and derive to more possibilities.

Which instruments and techniques do you use most for your works?

In the last 5 years, I have been using automation to trigger physical objects and materials to create sound, making sound as more experiential and not just visual. Most of my work, I use a computer for the programming part. I still continue to explore other techniques, objects and instruments during my own research and development in my studio. Currently, I am working on electromagnetic field in abandoned spaces right down to DVDs/CDs retrieving analog data sounds and cymatics experiments with different forms of objects and elements such as ferrofluids for my exploration process that I could infuse in my artworks.

Raising Spirits, Restoring Souls, 2015

Raising Spirits, Restoring Souls, 2015

Could you tell us a bit about your performances and installations?

I always enjoyed performing in nonconventional spaces like churches, dungeon, tunnel spaces, underground and recently, within a whirlpool, called Rain Oculus, inside an acrylic bowl. These spaces have their own aural architecture and there will always be dialog or conversation with these spaces during the performances likewise with my installations. Usually, I use 5 to 6 speakers with subwoofers as I like to give the audience an immersive experience when they watch the performances. During my performances, mostly are accidental sounds and improvisation from the objects, my artwork, surroundings or from my field recordings archives. I don’t set the sounds or rather mixed those sounds prior to the performances. I usually manipulate those accidental sounds during my performances.

As for installation, it depends on the spaces given. I will still have dialog with the spaces. It can be in terms of acoustic or historical approached. From the space given, I will then marry my creative thoughts and materials that can enhance and engage the dialog within the space. I am always on a look-out to work on spaces base on my choice during my own research & development time where I can have more artistic freedom, aurally, to explore outside of galleries and museum for my installation work. Henceforth, will lead to my solo exhibition in my particular choice of space.

Spaces are very important in most of my work.

Live Sound performance, Denmark

Live Sound performance, Denmark

When working on a new project, what are the first steps you take?

The first step will be exploring the ideas and possibilities over kopi c siew dai (coffee) at my favorite regular coffeeshop.

How would you describe the development of the artistic scene in Singapore?

I feel that the artistic scene in Singapore is going forward at a comfortable pace and more opportunities are opening up for arts and creatives. People and society are more receptive too. A lot is changing and happening in the scene from institutions, galleries and independent spaces. It is very positive.

Sonic Conversation, 2017

Sonic Conversation, 2017

What have been the highlights of your artistic career?

Inaugural Soichiro Fukutake Prize 2017
52ND Venice Biennale 2007
Ogaki Biennale 2006
Trophy Design for Singtel Singapore Night Race Grand Prix

SONIC DOME, Venice Biennale, 2007

SONIC DOME, Venice Biennale, 2007

Do you have a vision of what your artistic future might look like?

Sound art installation to be accepted and be easily commissioned in commercial spaces and business operated spaces. Not just in galleries, museums or art events. Allow it to be more available for public to experience and listen to art, not just only by looking at art. This will also educate public that there are other forms of art. And that can be appreciated in public spaces and sound art installation, is it.

What do you think, are those questions going in the direction you imagined?

Yes indeed, slowly but surely. I have always set my visions at the start of my career journey as an artist therefore, I continue to make my vision to happen and move beyond. It can’t just stop there just because sound art is still quite niche. That doesn’t stop me to achieve even within the limitations. I did have my artwork commissioned in commercial spaces in these recent years, with that, I know it is going into the direction.

Live Sound Performance, Japan

Live Sound Performance, Japan

Thank you very much, Zul, for taking your time and the interview with us!

The artist’s website and Social Media pages:

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