The BAZAAR team is assembled at a massive industrial space in the far eastern corner of the island and it’s a momentous occasion. We’re here to shoot the cover of our 20th anniversary issue with Stefanie Sun, one of Singapore’s biggest and most influential musical exports, who is reprising her role as cover girl 16 years after she last fronted our 2005 issue. The 43-year-old singer is decked out in the latest finery from the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu, dripping in Cartier jewels, and she is relishing the opportunity to play dress up. “In my day-to-day life, I like to be as fuss-free as possible, so I have a uniform—I’m pretty much always in a t-shirt. When I was younger, I thought fashion was this empowering, exciting, thrilling thing. I still feel the same, but now, I don’t feel the need to own it. That’s why I like doing fashion shoots; it’s a chance to indulge in the fantasy side of fashion,” says Sun of her relationship with fashion today.
The shoot is special not just because we’re shooting Sun—who has mastered the art of being mega famous even while she remains elusive—but also because it marks an unprecedented collaboration with three young Singaporean artists who have made craft a central part of their artistic expression. On set with us are Kelly Limerick, who explores the idea of the domestic space through the mediums of crochet and knit; Ashley Yeo, whose intricate, delicate paper-cutting made her the first Singaporean to be shortlisted for the LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize (2018); and Tiffany Loy, who brings a new dimension to soft sculpture with her textile and woven works.
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At the shoot, Sun takes a clear interest in all of their works and engages them in deep conversation about their practices. “When I heard that we were going to work with artists, I was quite excited—a fashion shoot is usually about clothes, so I thought this added a really nice dimension. They’re all extremely talented,” she stresses. “Tiffany works with this medium that I think has a lot of potential—it’s almost like she created this new medium; by experimenting with threads, she changed the tensility. And I got to talk to Kelly, and we were sharing our experiences being an artist [and an artiste] in Singapore, and our frustrations—it felt like we connected, and it’s nice to connect to people in similar fields and with similar experiences.”
Despite starting her own creative journey more than 20 years ago, Sun sees parallels in their experiences. “Talking to Kelly, our general view is that there seems to be this conception that it’s too comfortable in Singapore,” she says. “As an artiste, you can’t show how much you struggle; you can’t say this is what I’m fighting against. Because what are you fighting against when you are so comfortable? But choosing to be here, choosing to make this our base, that is an active choice. Still, it’s hard to find ways to break out of certain moulds, I feel.”
It is why Sun feels that her time spent outside the country in the beginning of her career helped her grow as an artiste—even if she wasn’t conscious of it at first. “Early on, it wasn’t by choice,” she lets on. “It was contractual that I had to be based in Taiwan. A lot of things were done a certain way, which I didn’t understand at first, but I followed through anyway. And in the end, I understood it had to be done that way because that’s what they know. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of doing things, it was just a geographic or economic matter—they were the leading Chinese pop management, so they knew better what worked.”
Now, after more than two decades in the industry, Sun can confidently say that she has matured into someone who knows her own mind. “I feel like I’ve grown into my own person—and I don’t always feel like I could have said that. Throughout the past 20 years, there were times I felt like I didn’t really know myself,” she discloses. “Now, I’m able to make sense of things that are happening to me, or around me, and I’m able to say, you know what, it’s okay—I don’t have to feel beholden to or guilty about certain things. I can just let things flow in a natural way.”
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One major way in which this newly discovered sense of self has manifested is that Sun believes more than ever in her own instincts. What she doesn’t believe in is rushing the creative process. In a culture that demands a constant churn of content, Sun stands by quality over quantity. Apart from a few singles here and there, the last full album she released was in 2017.
She knows her fans are clamouring for new material, but it will have to happen on her own terms. “I get the pressure, of course—very much! But at the same time, if it’s not done, it’s not done, you know? I feel like in the past few years, I’ve been building a scaffolding, but I don’t know yet what is underneath that. I love the process of doing an album, but it’s a constant work in progress that you keep revisiting and you think, okay, maybe I can do this differently or that better. Perhaps earlier in my career, the process was quicker because I had a lot of help. It’s not that I can’t find help now, but I guess at this stage of my life, I’m more picky about the experience itself. It’s a journey—who do I want to take this journey with?” Sun ruminates.
She insists that the destination of that journey is not perfection; instead, it is something driven by emotion and vision. “When I work on something, in my mind, I already know what it looks like or what it sounds like. So it’s more about pursuing that right thing, instead of a perfect thing. What is perfection? I don’t think it exists. A very well-mixed track might be perfect, as in, you can hear that everything is perfect, but that’s not what I want,” she elaborates.
Rest assured, Sun never stopped working—even throughout the pandemic. “In the past two years, I definitely wrote more—I just haven’t been able to put out more work,” she says. “A lot of it had to do with the simple reason that there are so many changes going on. But in terms of writing, I didn’t set myself any boundaries. I observed a lot and I wrote a lot of what I was feeling in certain moments—sometimes, it was a fleeting thing that I quickly just wrote down. It was quite a fruitful time for me—it’s just that I haven’t been able to put these fruits out. But I also believe that there’s a time for everything, so I’m fine with that.”
A lot of that openness comes from having to face the uncertainties brought about by the pandemic. “We were all put into this situation that we had no control over and I think the biggest takeaway for me,” she shares, “was that whatever we thought we knew can be relearned and re-evaluated; that we can actually be fluid about a lot of things.” Asked about what specifically led her to that shift in mindset, Sun says: “I feel like for the longest time, there seems to be a checklist for how we approach things; now we’re going to do a show, next we’re putting out an album—like there’s a plan for everything. The past two years have made it apparent to me that sometimes, you can’t make plans; sometimes, there are no words to describe how you feel—and that’s okay. Things can be fluid, things can evolve. That was a very big thing for me as an artiste—that sense of just going with the flow.”
As with much of the world, going with the flow in pandemic times brought Sun into the digital realm. She was supposed to celebrate 20 years in the industry with a big concert in 2020. When it was clear that a physical event wouldn’t happen, she pivoted to a virtual one. Held this September, the milestone event was viewed by more than 12 million people on Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) and accumulated 580 million likes. “I’m so proud of my team. They’re not experienced [when it comes to] doing a show of this scale in this format, so it was mind-blowingly tough, but we set a goal and we achieved it. It felt right because these are unprecedented times and our industry has really taken a battering. It was a chance to prove that we could do something like this here in Singapore and we just went for it,” she states.
That fearlessness applies to how Sun approaches her creative process as well. “I’m excited about the industry today because there has been this big evolution where the power has shifted from the traditional gatekeepers to anybody who wants to sing or put things out there. But at the same time, I feel that there’s this formula sometimes—like, hey, young people want to hear this. I find that a bit tiresome,” she admits. “Sometimes, when I want to do something, my team will tell me that other artistes are not doing that and I’m like, that’s not a point of reference. You can’t say that because other people are not doing it, therefore you shouldn’t do it. When other artistes put out their work, I admire what they do, but I’m also very aware that everyone has a different musical path. For me, when it comes to writing, there are a lot of leaps of faith—what you envision sometimes becomes something else completely. It’s a very instinctive thing and I think creation is a lot about that—you just need to trust your instincts and go for it, and see where it takes you.”
And where does Sun envision her path taking her? “Sometimes, I think about my role as an artiste; sometimes, it holds a lot of meaning, but other times, it feels very frivolous—I’m basically just doing what I love. I don’t hope for everyone to embrace my work the way I do—everyone has their own struggles and I might not be able to relate to them, or maybe, more accurately, they might not be able to relate to me anymore,” she says. “And I think that’s very real and it’s very humbling—it shows that even though you’re 43, maybe you don’t know that much. But what I do know is that most of the time, it’s about a feeling—that you’re being true to yourself and you’re putting it out there and saying, take it if you want it, don’t take it if you don’t. It’s a process—if there is a chance for the work to take on another life, then you’re extremely blessed. If not, then it’s fine too—it’s just a different sort of ending.”
Meet the three young Singaporean creatives bringing a new dimension to art with their focus on craft. In the mediums of textile and paper, their work sits at the intersection of fashion, print and artistry, and brought a rich tactility to our cover shoot with Stefanie Sun.
A self-taught artist who has been crocheting and knitting since she was a child, Kelly Limerick applies her skills to a range of works spanning sculptures, assemblage, hangings and installations—all connected through their rich tactility and Limerick’s almost-psychedelic approach to colour. Interested in the idea of destruction and deconstruction as a way of subverting her chosen medium of crochet and questioning the concept of “value”, Limerick is also increasingly working more and more with waste products—shining a spotlight on the issue of overconsumption.
She says of her approach to art: “I’m currently in the stage of exploring and finding out what defines ‘art’ and ‘craft’ for me—especially with a medium like crochet, which can be considered domestic. What’s the relevance of such a slow craft in this age of fast fashion and overconsumption? I find that there’s a duality to textile—people can often take it for granted because it’s all around us, yet, it holds certain sentiments and intimacies that other mediums, like clay for example, might not be able to offer. It’s this quality that I enjoy—making people question what they think they understand about this medium.”
For this BAZAAR shoot, Limerick set up three distinct sets. The first was populated by modules she and a group of volunteers crocheted from upcycled plastic bags and the seals of bubble tea containers. “I’m not a ‘sustainability warrior’,” she insists, “but I feel like every small thing each person does is important, which was why I wanted to use waste instead of new material.” Her second set was repurposed from a 2018 installation, which featured the classic Chinese red-and-green tear-off calendars that she turned into paper yarn without any glue or extra materials. “Making these pieces felt like the very symbol of time passing with each stitch made,” she shares. The final set featured two vases from her “Time is a Commodity” series that were crocheted in nylon to mimic hard forms (a statement against the soft connotations of crochet) and then blow-torched as part of her exploration of destruction in the context of a medium traditionally viewed as additive. “By destroying that which is perfect, I hope people question what ‘value’ really means to them,” she says, “and how something is broken or not whole could possibly be worth more than one which is perfect.”
Trained in industrial design and textile weaving, Tiffany Loy has made a name for herself with her textile works, weaving and manipulating her chosen medium to create a new approach to sculpture. Driven by a fascination with and an exploration of colour and materiality, Loy carefully considers both the micro and the macro in her works—in her hands, the minute details take on equal weight as the larger spatial context in which they are placed. “Most of my work is about colour and materiality—how we interact with them, how we perceive them,” she explains. “My creative process involves a lot of observation and appreciation, and I’d like the viewing experience to be equally rewarding—it’s delightful to encounter something that draws you in, and makes you observe and discover with your own eyes.”
Alongside a curation of previous pieces, Loy created a selection of works exclusively for the BAZAAR shoot with Stefanie Sun. “Everything was created this year and they mark a significant shift in my approach to art,” she shares. “I’ve been creating woven work since 2015 and in the past year or so, I’ve been exploring the idea of applying my ‘weaverly’ way of working to non-woven pieces such as sculpture and embroidery.”
Expanding her horizons is one of the most fulfilling things Loy finds in her work. “I love gaining more intuition when I work with different materials—understanding how they behave, their varying characteristics,” she elaborates. “It’s a form of education for me.” She also senses a similar expansion in the local art scene—something that excites her. “I feel it broadening to include more varied forms and media,” she says. “I’d love to see more uncategorisable forms of work—it’s refreshing to encounter something that cannot be boxed in!”
Ashley Yeo puts the human hand front and centre of her practice. A glance at her painstakingly intricate paper-cut pieces reveals the care and craft that go into the making of such delicate work—an approach that earned her a spot on the global LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize shortlist in 2018. There is a meditative quality to her work that sits in firm and alluring opposition to the hyper speed of our instant gratification age. “My works revolve around concepts of slowness and lightness,” she states. “Taking the time to do something well, taking care of what I’m doing, treating things with care—these are things I imbue into the process of designing and making.”
On her preferred medium of paper, Yeo says: “I really enjoy the materiality and characteristic of a pristine surface. Cutting the work by hand became a craft that I can dedicate time to—it becomes a form of meditation.” For our cover shoot, Yeo created a couple of exclusive pieces that reinterpreted and paid tribute to some of the most iconic BAZAAR covers of decades past, the inspiration for which she looked to the natural world. “I draw a lot of references from flowers and their botanical symmetry,” she adds, “and I wanted to continue that thread in the new works I created for the shoot.” She also brought in existing pieces that were in dialogue with her new creations—the through line being the obvious care and deliberation that she has poured into their elaborate hand-cutting.
That sense of thoughtfulness and introspection is very much the core of Yeo’s artistic aim. “My work,” she mentions, “is driven by a pursuit for equanimity—to remain sensitive to our living conditions, but not to be overwhelmed by it.” She, too, is excited by how the Singapore art scene is growing. “It’s opening up and no longer limited to a white-cube space. My hope,” she expresses, “is for the industry to be more open and supportive— not just within the community, but for those who look to work with us as well. I wish that as a whole, we can learn to be more thoughtful and receptive to the visual and the tactile—not resorting to just packaging something nicely to be consumed or limiting it to just ‘content’.”
Makeup: Clarence Lee
Hair: Dexter Wong
Manicure: Krystal Leong
On-site producer: Vanessa Loo
Photographer’s assistants: Samsidi Baderi; Kelvin Keak; Loy Kok Wee
Assistant stylist: Gracia Phang
Additional assistance: Nadia Lim