‘Tan Kai Syng is one of the most prolific young artists of Singapore. Well versed in video, sound and electronic media, she has created wide ranging works bordering between discourse and personal reflection. Her works often reveal her sardonic humour but also a sharp intelligence which makes her a self reflexive, incisive artist of South East Asia now. […] Being a versatile straddler between academician and practising artist demonstrates her agility in moving between different fields of knowledge as well as diverse disciplines. She has a wryness which stands her in good stead […] she is a very talented interdisciplinary artist in search of a medium. She moves restlessly from one medium to another which is art of the joy of her work. She has proven herself to be immensely attractive to students who follow her classes with avid involvement, she can be an amazing source of inspiration’. Singapore Theatre Doyen Keng Sen Ong, 2009.
Named ‘one of Singapore’s foremost video artists’ (Dr Eugene Tan 2007) and ‘a new media artist to look out for’ (Johan Pijnappel 2005), Kai Syng Tan is an interdisciplinary artist, curator, consultant, researcher and educator. Kai is obsessed with ‘reality’ in all its shapes: actual, virtual, digital, imagined, invented, manipulated, on screen and off. She performs and explores it from a fiercely personal and playful, position, with a generous pinch of salty irony.
Her cine-essays and multi-media installations have been shown in about 400 shows in 50 cities (dOCUMENTA, Transmediale, MAAP, Guangzhou Triennale, Biennale of Sydney, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival). Venues she has exhibited include ICA London, House of World Cultures in Berlin, MOMA, ZKM, Seoul Museum of Art and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and artists she has been billed with include Yayoi Kusama and Song Dong. She has collaborated with a range of creative people and professionals including curators (Lanfranco Aceti; Christiane Paul; Dr Charles Merewether; Rirkrit Tiravanija; Jeremy Hight; Kwok Kian Chow; Keng Sen Ong), dancers (Butoh expert Matsubara Toyo; SOKA Singapore), directors (Philip Tan; Ivan Heng), musicians (composer and laptop performance expert Professor Christophe Charles; Adachi Tomomi; Tamaru; Lindsay Vickery), video artists (Videoart Centre Tokyo's Taki Kentaro and Masayuki Kawai), new media artists (Takano Satoru), fashion designers (Tok Gim Choo), geographers (UCL's Senior Lecturer Dr Alan Latham), data specialists (Centre for the Advanced Spatial Analysis researcher Dr Fabian Neuhaus) and urban planners (Chuthatip Achavasmit). Her curatorial work includes multi-media extravaganzas (with a Dumb Type dancer-choreographer at the Tokyo Wonder Site; with musicians and artists at the Singapore Art Museum); film festivals (a South East Asian Film programme at Cinema South Festival next to the Gaza Strip, and the Delhi International Film Festival; featuring the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Liz Rideal). Her ‘live’ performances have graced various sites (performance-lecture at the Royal College of Arts in a series that featured Iain Sinclair and Will Self; ‘laptop-performance’ with computer music greats Christophe Charles and Carl Stone, and playing as a ‘Nondon Ambassador’ during the 2012 ‘Nondon’ Olympics). She even sang and danced in front of world leaders (at the Moscow’s Dom Musiki in 2008). When not making a fool of herself on the international stage, Kai works slavishly behind the scenes as an advisor (Media Development Authority of Singapore), and for nearly a decade lectured in fine art, media art and film, and led a video art degree programme in art universities and film schools in Singapore. She has spoken in various conferences and contexts including addressing, as keynote speaker, 1000 teachers and principals about art education in Singapore, and evangelising about new forms of the ‘documentary’ in Cinema Nakano in Tokyo. She has also waxed lyrical about running at DRHA Digital Resources in the Humanities and Arts at Brunel University and Sao Paolo’s Soft Borders Conference, and pondered about the state of video art at the Polar Art Museum in Tokyo. Additionally, Kai has published and been written about in Bijutsu Tetcho in Japan, Cinema South Festival catalogue, and a peer-reviewed journal of the University of Minnesota Press. Since 2010, her large-scale public permanent video installation has been on display at a subway Station in the heart of the Civic and Arts and Heritage Districts in Singapore, and has been named by a Singapore newspaper as the top artwork of all subway stations. Recently she was Visual Director of the Singapore performance at the South East Asian Games 2013 held in Myanmar, which was helmed by Creative Director Philip Tan and commissioned by the Singapore Sports Council.
Kai has won several awards (San Francisco International Film Festival Merit Award for Experimental Video, The Young Artist Award, The Most Promising Young Artist Award), grants (3 full scholarships, 2 bursaries, 10 travel and project grants), and residencies (5, including NIFCA for Helsinki in Finland; Japan Foundation for Beppu in Japan; Winterthur in Switzerland). She was nominated for the Sovereign Art Prize 2012 and the 2009 Life! Theatre Awards for Multimedia Design of a theatrical production Vagina Monologues. Critics say that her work possess an ‘unusual mix of critical engagement, intellectual references and not to forget a very, very special way of engaging humour’ (Johan Pijnappel 2006); and that it bears a ‘trademark use of irony and humour and love of language’ (Jasmin Stephens, 2012). One reviewer describes her work as ‘most potent and engaging’, and revealing ‘an artistic mastery’ (Iola Lenzi 2003). Another calls Kai a ‘wholly engrossed’ ‘humorous cynic, the attentive listener’ (Susanne Messmer 2005).
Kai was trained in London (BA in Fine Art, 1st class Honours, Slade School of Fine Art, top student), Tokyo (MA in Imaging Science and Arts, Excellence Award, Distinctions, Musashino Art University) and Chicago (School of Art Institute). She has just passed her PhD in Fine Art (practice-related) at the Slade as a scholar of UCL (Graduate Overseas Scholarship; Graduate Research Scholarship) and National Arts Council (Singapore). Her practice-related research explores the physical and poetic processes of running as a playful means to transform our internet-mediated world, as well as the way we think. Her large body of studio practice includes a blog which had, over the 4-year-period, generated more than 1.3 million unique visitors. For the purpose of her research, Kai picked up running as a sport and durational performance, and has completed 9 races (including the 2011 Virgin London marathon) and raised money for charities. Throughout the years her tutors and supervisors include Professor Susan Collins, Dr Sharon Morris, Mr Jon Thomson, Professor Stuart Brisley, Professor Christophe Charles and Mrs Teo Yong Hong.
Every now and then she fantasises about capitalising on her 11-year classical music training and becoming a female Glenn Gould. Or to mutate into a wandering cat and make cameo appearances in one of Chris Marker's films.