Interview by Chief Editor
October 2020 10 min read
Seow Beng Lan, based in Singapore, is an exhibition curator. Her creative career started as a design director at the Hyatt hotels in Macau, transitioning to becoming a corporate branding designer, eventually becoming a gallery curator for NGOs in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taipei. Seow is well immersed in the Chinese culture, and maintains its literature flavor and aesthetic thoughtfulness in her design practices, injecting the human touch in all her works. As a spotlight feature in our Eta Carinae interview series, we speak with Seow about her outlook on life in a design sense and explore an eastern philosophy inquiring about the evolution of a fast-paced world.
(VC) With so much is in flux today, what music are you streaming or listening to at the moment?
(SBL) I enjoy and appreciate a wide range of music genres. Often at work, I listen to piano jazz. Rhythm is music created as a result of an order of different sounds and beats. In any music, I listen and feel the emotional meaning behind what was presented. What we can hear is a mere expression in its art form but when we listen with our heart, our emotions align with the true meaning of the music. The most pleasing music is the one that fits my mood at that very transient moment in life. It changes according to how I feel due to changes to my environment.
(VC) You started your career as a design director for Hyatt hotels and have worked across several countries such as Taiwan and Singapore. Has there been a consistent factor you have noticed across all the regions?
(SBL) The consistent factor among all is the essence of design is always human-centered, whereby in some cases the trade-off between economics, practicalities, and aesthetics could impact the primitive idea, in such incidence, expectance and a sense of mission play a crucial part in safeguard the primary design objectives. Learning from my past working experiences in the design of hotels to shape a premium-quality life experience and the curation of thematic exhibitions, I found that feeling provoked from the inner senses has surpassed the materialistic visual pleasing to the eye, it connects with an individual’s very personal thoughts and consciousness. As soon as the eye focuses light onto the retina, our inner process allowed us to form our visual perception and triggered the deepest emotions, and affection gets people and objects to come into connection.
The comfort provided by exquisite superior quality materials may not be able to achieve overall satisfaction; in contrast, back to the basic fundamental human touch and returning to the simplest elements could activate and evoke the audience’s deep perception. Realising that one’s desire for a sense of beauty can be inspired and educated, the thought of how to activate people’s deeper inner sense makes me want to give myself a chance to move away from the tangible secular beauty and think about how to make use of my design skills to present the intangible beauty of human value.
To be prominent, there is no need to be overly loud. Consensus can be achieved through a thoughtful proposition. The increasing of serious conflicts in today’s world stem from the lack of empathy, lack of our ability and willingness to step back to think before we act, and our lack of mastery of self-restraint
(VC) A perfect world does not exist, but if one did, what core values would you make a staple in the immediate community and your sphere of influence?
(SBL) Everyone can be regarded as a self-created living exhibit. The way of our upbringing through nature, nurture, and cultivation is expressed through our external-self. To be prominent, there is no need to be overly loud. Consensus can be achieved through a thoughtful proposition. The increasing of serious conflicts in today’s world stem from the lack of empathy, lack of our ability and willingness to step back to think before we act, and our lack of mastery of self-restraint. Apart from family, work environment, and the community where we live, the smallest scope of a person is oneself. From physical oneself to a higher level, is personal consciousness and thinking and that is the mind. Where there is no dispute and contention, there is freedom and peace.
Everyone can be regarded as a reservoir of knowledge that can benefit and provide lessons to another. Altruism is the harmony and happiness between people and themselves, between people and society, between people and nature, and between nations and nations. Experts and professionals in any field are made up of people. Therefore, in our sphere of influence, we can collaborate on such inner values together. I always believe that the strength of influence will be far greater than the power of influence.
(VC) Does Chinese heritage play a significant part in your life? or you move across to the topics and issues of the times?
(SBL) Leaping from the 60s to 2020 is a time of change and a wonderful time. Thankfully, peaceful days allowed people to enjoy literature, art, and beauty. I am the second generation of Chinese descent, and I believe I have genes with Chinese traditional culture. My growing environment is in Southeast Asia, an environment where the diverse ethnic groups of the Eastern and Western cultures assemble.
Our education allows us to learn different languages and cultures, and that allows me to understand people who are different from me. There is no conflict between tradition and modernity. It is an evolution in response to the times. Both tangible and intangible things can be beautiful. In addition to visual sight, various other sense organs of the body are always collaborating to transform external information into heartfelt feelings.
The subtle beauty of philosophy can be found in Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism that I have come into contact with since childhood. Appreciating the rationality of Confucianism, the mysticism of Taoism, the emptiness of Buddhism, plus Western aesthetic theories, I found that while conforming to ethical norms, detached creativity can also be used to convey positive ideas. I often experience artistic conception from words and apply it to modern visual design work, with the hope to bring people to the realm of humanistic beauty.
NGO Gallery, Photo courtesy of Seow Beng Lan
(VC) As a female leader in your field, given the realities of a male-dominated region, what are the common challenges you have faced with gender equality?
(SBL) A society with gender inequality has been a deeply rooted tradition in oriental society. I was born into such a tradition and feel the inequality since young. However, I have learned to be more compassionate towards the less fortunate in a way. I felt that everyone should be equal and there should not be discrimination between genders. In real life, I do feel affected in an environment where there is inequality. But I strongly believed such tradition can be changed through an understanding of the true principles in life. In a fast-moving society seeking improvement, any government will also do their best to prevent gender inequality by ensuring a balance manpower source.
In the process of conceptualising a visual exhibit, many forces are involved to create the final result. Women are born with multiple roles, and because of this, their perceptual talent creates more delicate insight and imagination and can incorporate humanity and emotions in their creations. If men’s rationality and confidence are added to the work together, they can complement each other very well, with better results. I am very glad that in the several NGO curatorial work I have been responsible for, I have enjoyed the respect and mutual love between different forces, and I have also established a deep friendship with people of different backgrounds through my work.
Lack of self-awareness can easily be overwhelmed by too much compromising. It is the most precious thing to be able to use our utmost true thoughts in presenting our creativity. As a curator of a people-oriented NGO pavilion, I have a better chance to free from the constraints of economic profit gain and loss, by returning to the sense of mission and be loyal to the interests of the people, my job is to elevate the human element to the highest point
(VC) The media shapes society’s perceptions of awareness. What does self-awareness mean to you?
(SBL) The reality is highly complex. When people’s thinking ability is limited, they often rely on mass media for information. Are facts affecting public judgment? Or is the media creating reality and controlling people’s thinking? In the current era of information explosion, the mass media has a very important weight in influencing people’s cognition, attitude, and behavior. To bear witness to the times, there are but not many good media for reporting the truth. Strengthening self-awareness and thinking outside the secular framework have become things that need to be persisted.
Self-awareness is the understanding of the reasons for the development of self-personality, the ability to clarify the context of one’s thinking, and control the psychological activities of self-emotion and willpower. Why is my current self like this? Why do I think so about an issue and why this attitude at a critical moment? Lack of self-awareness can easily be overwhelmed by too much compromising. It is the most precious thing to be able to use our utmost true thoughts in presenting our creativity. As a curator of a people-oriented NGO pavilion, I have a better chance to free from the constraints of economic profit gain and loss, by returning to the sense of mission and be loyal to the interests of the people, my job is to elevate the human element to the highest point.
(VC) Does your current work in the creative industry align with any UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?
(SBL) Yes, my current work aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goals. The NGO I currently serve has a vision and a sustainable development goal advocacy which exactly corresponds to the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Issues of poverty and hunger, refugees, climate change, and environmental challenges the human mind is becoming increasingly complex. This organization is concerned about people, land, and the environment and set its focus on the practice of “purifying people’s hearts, harmonising society in order to achieve a world free of disasters”. My journey of transforming a 55-year old colonial heritage building into a humanistic art gallery without losing the essence of the original structure was truly an experience. I have chosen the human ‘Heart’ as the core of the gallery. Putting the ‘Heart’ and “People” together to bring about the message of ‘Love’ and sustainability. My challenge in creating the visuals is in making history speaks for itself and with that to arouse people’s awareness of sustainability. From common knowledge to consensus, and then to achieve the purpose of common action. To make the human nature of the world sustainable and to guide their positive emotions and convey sustainable values as the main goal.
(VC) Seow, thanks for joining us for this sitdown. Is there anything you would like to share with our international audience?
(SBL) What has happened between people, between people and animals, between people and nature? We are already into October of the year 2020, and people are still trying to move on with their daily lives under a new norm, practicing social distancing now with their masks on.
ECO Gallery, Photo courtesy of Seow Beng Lan
I believe the true essence of freedom is to manage ourselves well and live with others in harmony. Everything in this world is interconnected and all living things co-exist on this planet. The order of nature has been destroyed by human actions. Human intelligence is still unable to solve the mystery of the Universe. What can we do in this era in our field of expertise? When we need to pay a price for what we do or what a few people do, can we return to basic and find a way to turn this heavy price into vitality?
The distance between people is widened because of the need to observe social distancing, but no matter where we live on this planet earth, regardless of race, languages, or belief, the degree of a challenge ahead will be the same. Can we wake up with our empathy to re-bond the relationship between people, and extends to all beings on the earth, to ensure sustainability for this planet earth?