Female artists across the world are forging new paths and winning critical acclaim in their chosen fields. We spotlight four such unique visionaries.
Jassy Husk, Music Artiste
Poised and armed with ready answers during our interview, soprano Jassy Husk projects the persona of a stage diva. After all, singing has dominated most of her life. When she was six, the Australian-born and Singapore-based soprano decided that she would be a professional singer and informed her parents, which were not musically trained, of her decision.
Unlike most young children, Jassy didn’t lose interest in her chosen path nor did she ever think about doing something else. Single-minded in her quest to hone her passion into a craft – the 37-year-old who went as far as to say she didn’t have any other interests when asked early in the interview – overcame challenges like temporary loss of hearing due to childhood tonsillitis. She blazed through singing classes and children’s choir in Tasmania where she grew up, the Conservatorium of Music at The University of Tasmania and later, the Royal College of Music in London. The final (academic) feather in her cap: a Masters from the Wales International Academy of Voice in 2016.
Jassy’s commitment paid off. The numerous accolades that she has received include the Bel Canto Award in Italy and the DJ Mazda Operatic Aria Award in Australia. She was a finalist in the McDonald’s Operatic Aria Award in 2015 and has also been placed in international competitions like the Thomas Hopkins Vocal Championships and the NYIOP International Opera Auditions.
Despite her classical training, Jassy stresses from the start that she is a “music artiste” rather than just an opera singer. “There is no need to pigeonhole me when I love all kinds of music – pop, jazz and even house and can perform them” says Jassy, referencing her cross-genre collaborations. One of them was with British DJ Pete Tong MBE on his Ibiza Classics in 2017. The album shot to the top of UK charts. Jassy had also lent her voice to the movie soundtracks of The Hobbit, as well as Snow White and the Huntsman.
In 2017, Jassy moved to Singapore with her husband. It was in Asia that Jassy took up free diving. When the subject of diving is brought up, the performer’s eyes light up. Free diving is something that Jassy took to instantly – like a fish to water. “It is about breath control, something which I am very familiar with,” adds Jassy, drawing on her training as a singer. Fascinated by the myriad of colours and life forms underwater, she began learning about how marine life communicates. “It’s like a huge city where different species co-exist.”
A year ago, she hit upon the idea of making a “seascape symphony” where sounds of marine life will be merged with music and singing, and the proceeds of all related productions will go towards marine conservation. “When I read about the damage in the Great Barrier Reef, I tried to imagine how I would feel if the city I was living in was destroyed,” explains Jassy of her desire to protect the underwater world.
But how does one make music with sounds from marine life? Do fishes make sound? “They do make nuanced sounds that the human ear doesn’t pick up that well especially when someone has all that scuba diving equipment,” she adds with a laugh. She goes on to share that the potato grouper, for example, makes a low growling sound. In the symphony, the grouper’s deep sounds are represented by a double bass.
For this project, she formed the REEF chorus (reefchorus.com) with three other like-minded women. One of them is Charlotte Harding, an award-winning British composer. “We merge live sound recordings from coral reefs with tones used by scientists to encourage reef growth that our technicians weave seamlessly into the musical composition, which is then manipulated electronically,” explains Jassy of the process in which marine scientists are also roped in.
In slightly over a year and over numerous trips to the UK where Jassy worked with the team, a 45-minute symphony is coming together nicely. Jassy can’t wait to showcase it in June 2021 in conjunction with World Reef Day. First up though is the release of Jassy’s single from REEF, called Neon City, which will soon be featured on her website jassyhusk.net.
The year 2020 should have been a busy one for Jassy. She was scheduled to perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in March, and hold a solo fund-raising performance for The Substation at their premises, where she would give a preview performance of Neon City. They were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “It seems that my recent public performances are mainly for philanthropic causes,” she says with a smile.
Right now, she keeps herself busy teaching part-time at the Yale-NUS College, but looks forward to performing at the music festival Sark Fest 2020 and several private engagements in the UK later this year. For us, we will certainly be counting down the months to take the plunge into Jassy’s world of marine musical magic.
Carol Bove, Sculptor
New York-based artist Carol Bove uses words like tender, light and soft to describe her sculptures, although she makes them using heavy stainless steel tubes and unwieldy industrial-scale machinery. Almost in defiance of the very nature of metal, her vividly coloured works evoke crumpled fabric, clay or even paper. Intensely tactile, they teeter between cerebral assemblages, sensual sculpture and sleek design.
“We think stainless steel is hard and strong, and I’m wondering if this is really the case. Can it be tricked into showing a different side?” the artist mused recently in an interview with art historian Johanna Burton. “Under what conditions is it soft and supple? I never force the material to do something it doesn’t want to do. I let it lead me as much as I lead it.”
Almost like a pas de deux, she performs a delicate dance, allowing her materials to steer the outcome of her works. Her latest experiments were on view at the David Zwirner gallery in Hong Kong late last year in a show titled Ten Hours. Spread across the two-floor space was a series of vividly coloured works composed of steel tubing, scrap metal and highly polished steel disks. The lyrical sculptures draw subtly from astrological, cosmological and art-historical influences.
While her work may be relatively new to the general public in Asia, audiences across the United States and Europe are very familiar with her oeuvre. Bove’s seductive sculptures have appeared everywhere from galleries and museums to outdoor parks and biennales. Since graduating from New York University in 2000, the California native quickly made a name for herself in the art world. She first became known for sculptures in the form of shelving units with a sparse display of books, magazines and random objects such as peacock feathers and crystals. By mixing images and texts ranging from a Playboy centrefold to philosophical and mystical treatises, the works conjured the spirit of the bohemianism of the 1960s and ’70s.
Many of her sculptures and installations resulted from scavenger hunts near her studio in Brooklyn’s industrial Red Hook neighbourhood. In 2011, for instance, when she first exhibited at the 54th Venice Biennale, she showed an installation titled The Foamy Saliva of a Horse that consisted of a theatrical array of objects and materials she found on the Hudson River shore, including shells, a rusted oil drum and driftwood placed in a bronze frame. Over time she began to shift away from flotsam and jetsam, and ventured into large-scale industrial works in the realm of 20th- century giants like John Chamberlain, Tony Smith and Anthony Caro.
In 2013, Bove created six sprawling sculptures for The High Line park in New York, including a slick white noodle-like tube of looped steel suggesting a Slinky. At the Swiss Pavilion of the 2017 Venice Biennale (Bove was born in Switzerland to American parents), she exhibited seven figure-sized metal forms entitled Women of Venice. She also showed some “collage sculptures”, which she began creating in 2016 from square steel tubing which she combined with pieces of scrap metal, painted in striking colours. Bove had expanded on this series of collage sculptures at the Hong Kong show, albeit on a more intimate scale.
Explaining the process of creation, she says: “We use a hydraulic press to start bending and massaging the tubes, and then we pull the bends closed using a chain-hoist system. Through this process, the geometry of the steel becomes very complex, making the tube seem more like fabric or something with a softer texture. It takes some patience.”
Her improvisational process often involves picking up metal pieces and suspending them with a crane and finding the perfect moment for them to swing together. Many works are punctuated with highly polished steel discs. The sculptures are coated in urethane paint in colours ranging from a vibrant orange-red to muted pastel pinks to jarring greens. “My intention is to approximate a palette that would make sense in a digital context, on a screen. At the same time, I choose colours that remind me of outdated print technology, and I play with combining colours that interfere with one another in the same way colour-separation printing can fail and cause frictions between areas of applied colour,” wrote Bove in the exhibition catalogue.
One work, named Proof (2019) is a jagged-edged, torn-and-twisted piece of found steel that seems to collapse onto a crumpled piece of steel painted in vivid orangish red. The two pieces of metal appear to be entangled in a strange embrace. Another piece titled Hinge (2019) is a tall yellow tube of steel that’s been folded over, like an elongated person bending over at the waist. Other works are much more abstract and simply resemble crumbled non-figurative tactile forms.
As art critic Adrian Searle once said: “Her primary focus, as well as an abiding feel for form and placement, seems to be display: how things are presented to us, as offerings, gifts, rituals of animal attraction. Looking at art, we often forget that we are animals too.”
Kotchakorn Voraakhom, Landscape Architect
The ever-evolving role of green space in the urban environment is a subject that has been defining Voraakhom’s career since she returned from living and working in the USA almost a decade ago. Born and raised in Bangkok, Voraakhom studied landscape architecture first at Chulalongkorn University and then at Harvard, where she was a student from 2004 to 2006. After finishing her studies she worked on a variety of intriguing projects, including a casino in Las Vegas and the winter home in Aspen of a Saudi Prince. It was certainly great experience, but as a designer she began to think more in terms of ecology and less about making things “to look nice only”.
Her return to Bangkok in early 2011 proved to be pivotal. When the city was hit with massive flooding later that year, she and her family – including her then 3-year-old daughter – were among those displaced. It was clear that Bangkok had to deal with its water issues and Voraakhom was determined to be part of the solution.
The following year a call went out for submissions to design a park to commemorate the centenary of her alma mater Chulalongkorn. Her firm LandProcess, working in conjunction with N7A Architects Co. Ltd., entered the competition and won. As lead designer she put forward an innovative and ecologically sustainable design that would trap rainwater by angling the park at a mere three degrees.
The 4.4-hectare park – the city’s first new public park in 30 years – was completed in March of 2017 and its innovative concept has since won the team many honours, including the Award of Excellence (Build-Large category) at the 2019 World Landscape Architecture Awards. Harnessing the power of gravity, the rainwater that falls upon the more elevated sections of the park trickles down towards the less elevated wetland area, where native plants filter and clean the runoff. The water eventually ends up in a retention pond that can hold 3.8 million litres and can be used to irrigate the park for almost three weeks.
“This place has a wet and a dry season,” Voraakhom explains, pointing out that climate change is also making each of these seasons more extreme and problematic. “In the old days we adapted our lives to the seasonal change. In Thailand, flooding has been with us for centuries. But when we have a city in the wrong place, like Bangkok, which is supposed to flood every year, we need to change our attitudes about floods being a disaster.We have to rethink the way we deal with flooding, and not just try our best to keep Bangkok from getting wet… which is impossible!”
She adds: “We use landscape architecture to solve this issue a bit. We need more places to store water when there’s too much rain, and reuse that water when there’s a drought. We have to build the city and the urban setting in a different way. We need green infrastructure not grey infrastructure.”
Another implementation of this green infrastructure idea is the creation of rooftop gardens. Over the years Voraakhom has created several significant rooftop green spaces, including one at Siam Square and one at Ramathibodi Hospital, which she refers to as a “healing garden for staff and patients”. However, her biggest achievement in this category so far is the spectacular rooftop garden at Thammasat University, which opened in December 2019. It’s officially the biggest rooftop garden in Asia and second biggest in the world.
It’s obvious as soon as you see the park that its design is influenced by what Voraakhom calls “the wisdom of the rice terraces”. Compared to a normal concrete roof, the water runoff here travels 20 times slower as it drips over the park’s gradated, terraced steps. The runoff, in turn, waters the plants that are grown as food for the campus canteens, and the food waste from the canteens goes back to the garden as fertiliser. In addition, retention ponds at the base of the park hold any excess water, while solar panels in the building generate the clean energy used to power the pump that irrigates the farm during the dry days. It’s an ingenious circular economy solution ensconced in a bold modern design.
“One of the most wasted spaces in the city is the rooftops,” she remarks. “They create so many problems in terms of energy consumption and increasing the urban heat island effect. I ask, ‘how could this space be of benefit to us, in terms of health, food, water, and so on?’ I’m lucky I’ve been able to convince clients to implement these solutions.”
LandProcess’s latest project is the Phra Pokklao Sky Park near Saphan Phut, which will be the first public park built across a river in the world. The 30-year-old existing infrastructure upon which the park now sits measured just eight metres wide and 230 meters long when Voraakhom and her team began the transformation. “It was originally slated to be a skytrain station, but that never happened,” she explains, adding that the construction of the park is almost finished.
In addition to running LandProcess she is also a visiting guest lecturer at Harvard and the founder and CEO of the Porous City Network, an organisation set up to the tackle problems faced by “sinking cities” due to climate change. But she has probably made her biggest international splash as a TED Fellow, and her TED Talk about CU Centenary Park from November 2018 ended in a standing ovation.
Tthe inherent beauty of these natural oases has won her many admirers too. In fact, the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) moved its outdoor Sunday afternoon concert series from Lumphini Park to Centenary Park not long after the latter opened.
“The orchestra used the park correctly, because the incline of the park is not just for collecting water, it also becomes an amphitheatre. The acoustics are great.”
Voraakhom is currently focused on canal restoration. “It’s part of the water system in Bangkok, and it’s actually the natural infrastructure that comes with the place. But we treat it like a sewer system,” she laments. “It’s public land but it’s being neglected. I’m also working with and helping people in the canal communities because they are most vulnerable when it comes to floods.”
Gina Soden, Photographer
See huge sweeping arches, rich Rococo detailing, domed canopies and cracked windows, all heavy with dust and the weight of history. Ornate frescoed villas, palaces and theatres, their colours once bright, now faded, and interiors dilapidated over years. Each is lit with gentle sunlight breaking through, shadows cast over the stories and dramas lived under grand chandeliers and heavy curtains in spaces once filled with life.
“I want to evoke a sense of narrative and the life of the building, and try to avoid a documentary look,” says the award-winning British photographer and artist Gina Soden. “I love bright colours, patterns and that ‘wow’ e ect. I also love a bit of mystery, so try not to give too much away. I want to leave the viewer with more questions than answers.”
She creates emotive images of beautiful buildings and interiors in states of decay, with nature sometimes invading abandoned human construction. And she’s staked her claim in the art world with this niche, recently taking commissions from The Hoxton hotels (for its new Paris property) and Soho House (to produce new works for the Barcelona, New York, London and Amsterdam houses and its London hotel The Ned). Her work packs a powerful punch, in 2018 winning her UK Artist of the Year and Photographer of the Year at the Rise Art Prize (the biggest open art competition in the UK) with Klinik, a photograph of an abandoned sanatorium.
These forgotten buildings are given regal presentation with Soden’s stunning knack for photographic composition, symmetry and Renaissance-esque perspective. Viewers are usually soothed when looking at the works, but some reactions have been more extreme. “Someone cried once at an art fair, as they were so moved,” Soden recalls. “That was surprising!” Perhaps it’s due to the elegant classicism, beauty in the midst of desolation and collapse, or how colours sometimes drench a piece, overwhelming the gaze with emeralds, turquoises, dusty pinks, powder blues and sunlight hues ranging from soft amber to hot terracotta. Or maybe it’s the poignant reminder of time, death and decay.
“A few of my pieces really illustrate the passing of time,” explains the artist, distinguished by her ever-changing, rainbow-ranged locks, as she shows me her spacious new studio in Reading, Southeast England, via Facetime, “Thermale is an abandoned spa complex and looks so ancient and grand. Ivy is from an abandoned asylum and the ivy creeping along the oor was just beautiful. And Tree in Room – this was photographed in a summer camp and on the second floor a tree was growing through the oor, and during my second visit it had already grown massively! Some buildings seem to decay more than others … it depends on the country and location, though, and how well-known or well-guarded it is.”
From her new studio in Reading, Southeast England, she introduces her work via Facetime: Thermale is an abandoned spa complex and looks so ancient and grand. Ivy is from an abandoned asylum and the ivy creeping along the floor was just beautiful. And Tree in Room – this was photographed in a summer camp and on the second floor a tree was growing through the floor, and during my second visit it had already grown massively! Some buildings seem to decay more than others …”
Most recently, Soden exhibited at The Other Art Fair and Archaeologies, a 2019 group show at the Charlie Smith Gallery, curated by Zavier Ellis. Her work has shown at New York’s Pulse Art Fair, London’s Art15, the London Art Fair, te Photo Art Fair and Photo London, held at Somerset House.
She blends different exposures together to capture all those details in a single image, creating that very painterly look. She’s deviated from realism with a kaleidoscopic series, an abstract departure that plays with geometries, and has developed a process of hand-printing her images on to found antique “mirrors, marble and metals, treated and corroded with industrial tools and materials”, culminating in the Corrodium series – a current self-professed career highlight. The Ingresso series also holds a special place in her heart, but she tells me that the most meaningful would be Retrogression.
Soden’s process is so much more than just taking the picture. It involves months of research, often through dense forests and meadows, abandoned complexes and locked-up buildings deemed unsafe for the public. She could be hiding or being chased by security guards around closed-down schools, asylums, villas or power plants.
No doubt these rollercoaster pursuits have paid off handsomely, landing her in CNN Style and in the pages of top newspapers and lifestyle titles. Unusually for modern photographers, Soden prefers to use natural light occasionally — but rarely — adding a torch. Ideally, she visits locations in the morning “with diffused light creating soft shadows and picking out the highlight details”, or else, she explains, “it’s golden hour for obvious reasons” if logistics allow.