Melbourne-based filmmaker Ling Ang is pushing the boundaries of the physical and digital realms through her visionary art project, Souvenirs of Sleep. Hive Life sat down with the bold creator and dove deep into her surreal depictions of dreams, the technology behind her immersive installations, and more on her prolific work as an Asian woman director.
Singapore-born, Melbourne-based Ling Ang is an independent filmmaker, and the creative director behind the immersive studio Souvenirs of Sleep. The visual artist is well known in the local and international art scenes for her ability to weave complex narratives into beautiful motion pictures. Ling began journaling her dreams years ago, and later went on to publish an account of her visions in her photo book, Souvenirs of Sleep, in 2021.
With over 10 years of experience in the film industry, Ling has worked on many global-scale productions, including her exceptional directorial work, Palomo, which won two Film Festival awards in 2018. The artist’s creative projects are deeply rooted in experimenting with culturally and socially diverse issues.
Ling shares more on her journey expanding her creative expression beyond filmmaking, and how she is now pushing the boundaries of modern art with Extended Reality (XR) and other immersive technologies.
Can you tell us more about how you started out in the creative space?
I am Singaporean, but I grew up in Gold Coast, Australia. Growing up, I did not have any future creative avenues for myself, as my family was quite business-oriented- it only [arose] as an opportunity when our family moved to Melbourne.
I have an older sister, who is a documentary fine art photographer. She helped me in exploring my creative potential. She often took me to art galleries and museums, and I also would assist her.
[At the age of] 19, I decided to go to film school, and did shoots every weekend to exercise my skills. My [passion has since] grown from making multimedia presentations, to building art installations.
Now, I go between working on art that sits on a screen, to building more tangible worlds, in which the audiences can [be immersed in].
How has your artistic journey transformed throughout your extensive experiences in the visual arts and film space?
When I first went to film school in 2009, we did not see much [Asian representation] in commercial media. I wanted to purely work as a filmmaker, but would often come across certain producers or directors who would say we need to work with “our niches.” As a teenage filmmaker, I was fighting against that.
But as time grew on, I felt that it was important to stand up as an Asian woman, and so my work has evolved in that sense. I shot one of my first feature-length documentaries with Mind-Blowing Films– they run the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, and are one of the biggest Bollywood distributors here.
We went to India to shoot a documentary on seven sisters working in the spice market [The Spice Girls of India] with a focus on the new wave of feminism in the region. I happened to be drawn to these kinds of stories, and the projects grew in scale.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
[Lately,] I have been quite [intrigued] by artists who [integrate] emerging technologies in ways that are not meant to be used. Currently, I am obsessed with Taiwanese artists who are exploring the Extended Reality (XR) [realm], Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR). [They are using] motion capture technologies to [create] live performances, and feed into their online avatars. I find that rather inspiring.
Where do you normally go for inspiration?
In the open world, I would go to local events, trying to see from the grassroots up, to what people are practising, how they [express their creative side]. With lockdown, I would normally scroll through independent artists on Instagram.
What are some of the major thematic focuses that best represent your visual arts and filmmaking?
My direction is [constantly] evolving with [new] emerging technologies, and how we can bring the digital into the physical world. As most criticise the [tech realm] for lacking humanity, I am particularly interested in [bridging that] and [showing] people how they can interact and [be immersed in a space].
Growing up, I was in love with filmmaking, especially classic films. When I entered the film world, it was the digital age and it was a little clumsy at first, as many were still trying to find their voices, and the grandmasters of the industry were transitioning as well.
It is quite alluring to be part of the new wave of digital media, creators, and storytellers.
Do you have any advice for how artists can better manage their schedule and creative flow?
It is all about your time management. I organise my calendar quite well, as I get involved with many things that can weave with each other.
As [for myself], I [tend] to work backwards where I have the main goal, and would build on my skills accordingly, for instance, studying and understanding the different aspects of filmmaking, [from] writing, set design, to cinematography. I would self-practise [to improve on that].
What is your creative process like?
In the first half of the decade, I was constantly hustling to work on projects and find people who would be interested in exploring cultural diversity, or even educating others in Australia. Now that people are pitching ideas to me, my process [has shifted to] whom I choose to work with. I want to [explore more opportunities] with the next generation, as I feel they need more guidance and understanding of the space.
Apart from that, I work with women and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Could you share more about your recent creative visual work?
I avoid falling into the trap of needing to put something out constantly, I use social media as a personal diary to document my work and perceptions. I still write my dreams down every day.
I am interested in exploring the different ways people are using artificial intelligence, especially how they are integrating it with their work.
How did you come up with the concept for Souvenirs of Sleep?
I had just shot my last short documentary Palomo, and had finished the film festival circuit. I decided to come up with something original, but was having a major mental block.
Around that time, I had already written about a hundred dreams, and most were quite lucid. I started experimenting [to see] how far I could travel within the world of lucid dreaming.
[With] around 400 dreams [collected], I decided that I wanted to see how it would look on walls, and that was how I brought my first installation for the project [to life]. I saw a [connection] between my imagery work and the text.
Based on that, I mixed my [dream writing] with my photography, most of which was shot on my phone. I wanted it to be reminiscent of some scenes from my dreams.
I later [decided to] launch a photo book collection, [and also] built a 3D [immersive] environment
What was it like exhibiting something so personal to you to the public?
It took [an immense amount] of preparation. I was worried about what my family and friends were going to think, and even the public.
At that point, it was more about my [willingness] to put it out there, and thinking it could help others see what normal dreams may look like for [different] people.
As soon as I put my passion project out there, I was reminded of why it is important to share [such narratives]. It personally was quite inspiring and offered me a [better] understanding [of myself].
What technology did you incorporate in your Souvenirs of Sleep exhibition?
We used many LED screens, with high pixel density, to build an [immersive] environment that [offers] a seamless experience. The [installations] moved around the space, and [created an illusion] almost as if people were walking inside it.
It was a big process working with the 3D artists, and trying to understand their language, the process, and the learning computer [terminology]. We had to be [extremely] concise with the decisions and changes we made.
How has technology evolved to become an important part of the art world?
This October, I went to the International VFX Computer Graphics Conference in Turin, Italy. [Big industrial names such as] Pixar, Industrialised Light & Magic, Disney, and Sony Pictures Animation, were all present, and [emphasised] one thing: how in the near future, “an artist is only as great as their computer power,” [which I believe is] completely true.
Did you experience any challenges exhibiting your work in more traditional art spaces?
Most were unaware of my [previous] work, and [assumed] that I came out of nowhere, and [upon] learning about my film background, many were baffled to see how I made the transition from shooting documentaries to creating 3D [immersive art].
It was a problem that many [industry] creatives faced. They were forced to seek [new] tools, as all of a sudden our work was made redundant with the lockdown.
What advice do you have for emerging digital artists looking to spread more awareness of their work?
It is about finding the right channels to spread [awareness], and [having a clear understanding] of who your audience is. In our [creative endeavours], we are always looking at the influence [of our projects], knowing what impact you wish to make could [definitely help].
Can you touch more on the concept behind your recent project, the TarraWarra Museum of Art Film?
The TarraWarra Museum of Art is located an hour away from Melbourne. I have been there a handful of times, and the [place is] a haven. I took two filmmakers to shoot with me.
For the first round, we filmed documentaries on our phones. We wanted to capture the [sunlight] gleaming down [the architecture] of the building, and played around with the lighting of the space. We decided to add an extra element, and went back to shoot the [entire landscape] with a drone.
Are there any new exhibitions or artworks you are working on at the moment?
I will be working with the Melbourne International Film Festival again in 2023. In 2022, I helped them build their in-person extended reality gallery for their anniversary. The next step would be to [bridge] the understanding of VR for the audiences delving into the technology for the first time.
Do you have any big plans for the new year?
Now that the world has re-opened, I am hoping to travel back to Asia more frequently, and connect with artists I have been admiring from afar. [Hopefully,] I will get to [explore more] opportunities to work with them.