TESS PANG, 26, Multidisciplinary Artist
Bib, Casey Gan; earrings, Tess’s own.
The vivacious, multi-dimensional Tess Pang is all about the arts… and defying categorisation. The multidisciplinary artist has dabbled in performance arts, dance, theatre, writing, and multimedia and lives for the “in-between”, where according to her, the interesting stuff happens. The biggest thing she’s learned this year? To put yourself out there: “Your job as an artist, as a human being, is to be honest and genuine about whatever it is you produce,” she says.
Can you tell us a little bit about the different kinds of art forms you dabble in?
It’s really hard to pin down what I do exactly because I’m still figuring it out, but I can explain it best in terms of what I’ve done! For the last three years I worked in Singapore at a fine art gallery, where I was consulting for clients and managing several international artists. I learned a lot from my time there but knew that I wanted to return to pursuing my own creative work. My interests lie in the intersections between performance art, dance, theatre, installation, multimedia work, and writing. Most of my performing experience is on stage, but I have also created work for music videos, short films, and an exhibition opening. Lately I’ve been working with more photographers and videographers, so that’s an area I’d like to expand into as well.
What inspired you to take this passion and turn it into a career?
I think I’ve only very recently been able to comfortably say that this is my career, because to any outsider it may seem like my career has just been a series of disconnected avenues. That’s sort of the beauty of it though, at least that’s what I’ve come to love about what I do—to me it’s all intertwined! Career-wise, I never saw myself following in the footsteps of anyone I looked up to, instead I felt like I could only admire their accomplishments from afar. Perhaps I knew on some level that I would have to carve out my own path and define success for myself.
When I was younger, I trained in wushu, ballet, contemporary dance and theatre so I guess I always had a multidimensional approach to performance. When I worked in the gallery and started reading about painters, sculptors, and all these other kinds of artists, I was introduced to a completely different kind of fluency and approach to art-making. The idea that any experience can be translated in an infinite number of ways, based on the individual artist’s perception, is fascinating to me. It’s made me broaden my own perspectives and ideas on what is possible. I tend to defy categorisation and it’s partly intentional, and partly just who I am. I like to live in the in-between, in the unknown space. That’s where the interesting stuff lies.
Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with and Why?
I’d love to work with Robert Wilson! He’s a multidisciplinary artist that produces work across theatre, opera, visual arts, performance, video, photography, design…everything. I’ve only ever seen excerpts and stills from his productions but they are magnificent, and unlike anything else. It’s as if the world bends and expands in the spaces he creates, allowing an alternate reality to pour through. Working with him would be a mind-blowing experience.
I’m actually very inspired by musicians, and in what they communicate through their work. My relationship to dance definitely started with a love for music. I’d have to say Pink Floyd was my biggest inspiration growing up, much to the dismay of my teachers. Some of the female artists of today that I really like are FKA Twigs, Janelle Monae, and Solange. They don’t stick to any one medium, and they produce work that weaves though lyricism, music, dance, visual art, video, installation and any other genre that seems to interest them.
— Tess on the artists who have inspired her and artists who are her current obsession.
Which of your performances has left a lasting mark on you and Why?
A couple years ago I was approached to create a performance for the opening of an art exhibition by a Singapore collective. I was lucky to work with a team that gave me full creative freedom, and I created what was essentially a 20-minute high intensity movement performance. The room was packed out with a live audience, most of whom I’d never met before. It was my first time delving into performance art, and I was so scared of how it would be received, but it gave me such a rush. There was a kind of freedom there that I hadn’t experienced before, and I loved every second of it.
What is something that keeps you strong when things get difficult?
I have a collection of quotes I’ve gathered and written down into a notebook I carry with me everywhere. When things get hard, when I start to feel anxious, lost or lonely, I read through those quotes and remember their significance to me. Sometimes it’ll be something I read on the internet, or in a book, or something someone says to me in conversation—for whatever reason those words will resonate with me in that moment, and re-reading them later on helps me keep grounded in a kind of collected wisdom.
What is the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
It’s not exactly a new discovery since everyone will tell you this repeatedly, but put yourself out there! Whether that means taking classes in something you’ve always wanted to try, or putting up your paintings, or—whatever it is, do it. You are not in control of what other people think of you and your work. Your job as an artist, as a human being, is to be honest and genuine about whatever it is you produce, and leave the judgement to others.
The habits you apply to keep you creative every day?
Morning pages! I have a another notebook that I keep next to my bed and every morning when I wake up, before I check my phone or do anything else, I write three full pages of free flow rambling. Sometimes it’s useless stuff like “I’m so sleepy why am I awake?” and sometimes I actually process things by writing out my thoughts. It’s a really great way to declutter the mind and get ready to start the day. I got this practice from a book called The Artist’s Way, which I highly recommend for anyone looking to connect with their inner artist.
what’s the one thing you think women should do?
I think everyone, regardless of gender, should take the time to get to know themselves. It’s one of those maxims that’s repeated so often it barely has any meaning, but it’s incredibly important. The ideas, images, and cultures we consume play into and sometimes drown out our ability to see ourselves as we are. I think a good question to ask yourself is who you are when no one is watching you, when no one is asking you to do something, or be something for them.
In your opinion, what is one of the biggest troubles our country or society faces?
I think one of the most amazing things about this “new Malaysia”, is the sense of optimism that seems to be floating everywhere. When I first moved here 8 years ago, the general response to any conversation about change would yield pretty cynical, dark sentiments—now I think we have a real chance to change things for the better. There are a lot of things that need fixing and a lot of patience required in the coming years, so one thing we can work on individually is practicing more empathy in our daily lives. Our ability to listen to, understand, and trust each other is key to rebuilding communities, neighbourhoods, cities, and the country as a whole.