BiG Small Talk: Meet Anju Singh

BIG small talk is a chance to meet, introduce, and get to know artists that Harbour Collective encounters along the way. Sasha Kucas speaks with Anju Singh for an enlightening and heartfelt conversation of BIG small talk. 

This conscientious first-generation Canadian artist, philosopher and “positive tornado,”is a female version of Atlas that ponders the role of an artist. She craves meaningful dialogue always and loves the soothing sound of noise music that reminds her of the sounds she grew up with culturally and where her parents worked- the opposite of quiet suburban Canadian culture.

Our conversation organically strayed from the prescribed questions into uncharted topics that include but are not limited to capitalism and the monetization of art, art appropriation, and questioning the preciousness of art and whether it is possible to relinquish that hold. Andy Warhol surfaced in our conversation along with the phenomenal work of Ryoichi Kurokawa and Indian-inspired compositions of Alice Coltrane – I could go on and on.

What is crystal clear from speaking with Singh is that her roots in Vancouver and the VIVO Media Arts Centre, where her media arts training took its first steps, were the first of many more.

Tell me about your introduction to Harbour Collective.

Harbour Collective ensures diverse representation in its programming, but it is more than just diverse representation and showing up with our identities. Artists who are just not like all the other artists are creating impactful art; having these different ways of working together is incredible and is most interesting about Harbour Collective.

Harbour has many opportunities for artists – like the DIY filmmakers stuff for emerging filmmakers. Even though I have a degree in Philosophy with a minor in Fine Arts, I want to learn from the artist community around me. Harbour Collective offers opportunities for artists to connect in ways that feel more organic for artistic development and are responsive – art is supposed to respond to social conditions and the world around us and be process-based.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished an instrument-building research project with artists Roxanne Nesbitt and Lisa Simpson. We each built instruments. My contribution was a second version of a sewing machine sound installation I started in 2010, a big long-stringed instrument similar to a violin, and a noise box. I have returned to instrument building and sound sculpture – both of which seem new again.

As of late, I have started working as a film composer, am performing quite a bit, and am involved in a research collaboration with Sammy Chien on an A/V installation project called Breathe. We both had family members with lung conditions and wanted to create an interactive, immersive audio-visual installation that explores things that steal our breath.

What medium do you love to work with and why?

Sound and music are the most comfortable mediums to work with because those are the mediums I know the best. The literal side of words and images scares me because they feel finite. Music is interpretable. Without words or images, I can change my mind. I felt this way when I wrote it, and today, it could mean something different.  

Writing my first screenplay, I struggled to make the characters talk because the words felt too committed. I like images and working with video because there is something credible about how things look. I love doing design and getting ideas in the visual form. It is the reason why audio-visual work is so important to me. I can make space for interpretation by making the sound and image abstract. There is also something about reaching audiences where they show up for the experience. The audience experiences what they need and interprets it however they want. I like not having words, but I am exploring and training my writing practice actively. 

How do you approach your art practice?

Interestingly, I start from a story in my head or a visual when I compose music and sound. I think about how philosophical concepts are brought into a musical context and I am writing a 12-minute composition based on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” from the Republic. 

Can the story be told without a story? 

It will start with what Plato wrote. I expect the music will take us on a journey and end differently. I find creating from a place without expectations or boxes hard. I need to have more of a free flow in my art practice.

What inspires or motivates you?

I would say story and art motivate me. My inspiration comes from and builds on other people’s work. I properly acknowledge and respect my source of inspiration. As an artist, I believe I bring my unique lens into it. 

From what you have created, what is your most meaningful piece?

I would say the debut LP for my project The Nausea. A requiem and tribute to my grandmother, it is probably the most meaningful. I explore themes created to help her pass over safely and with support. I feel her presence every time I play or work on that album. It also allowed me to express more complex sounds, like beautiful violin stuff, harsh noise, industrial sounds, and otherworldly sounds that I hoped would express and represent that transition. It was meaningful in part because I was so afraid of death as a kid. 

I feel really at peace with how I live my life now. There was a strange moment before my grandmother passed while my partner was with her on the phone; without knowing a common language, they communicated. It was a special moment where the world had blurred across language and realm. Music attempts to do that. Death has become a place for connection because we can all leave bodies that make us different and enter a world where we can be the same and communicate regardless of worldly things like language. 

What is the worst smelling place you have ever been to?

I feel mean picking on small towns- let’s say Toronto.

What is your karaoke ‘go-to’ song?

Anything by Ozzy Osbourne; when singing a duet, Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford, Close My Eyes Forever.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I could live anywhere but would live here or in Berlin. I would like to be in the centre of an arts community, living life with other artists. I like Vancouver. It is home with its water, mountains, and forest. I wish I could travel more and connect to other artist communities and live in places like Berlin, Montreal, LA, New York, and other art centres.

What do you think about before you fall asleep?

Sometimes, I fall asleep thinking about a project and imagine myself working on it. I have been designing a costume and have fallen asleep imagining how it will look and what stitching to use.

You might find Anju Singh drinking martinis somewhere or eating beef patties at her favourite restaurant, Riddim and Spice. Regardless of location, what is certain is that Anju will be avoiding the things she dislikes to do. Instead, she will be focused unapologetically on her art form.

Anju Singh is a composer, multiinstrumentalist, media artist, and video artist based in Vancouver, BC whose practice is an exploration of texture and contrast through the use of extended/experimental techniques, electronics, musical and non-musical materials, and processing. Anju works with traditional instruments, electronics, found sounds, custom-built instruments, photography, video, serigraphy, and film to create works that explore tension and conflict. As a multidisciplinary artist, her works are often collaborative process-based works that bring contrasting themes and concepts together. A core process in her practice is using methods of deconstruction and reanimation to repurpose and contextualize materials in new compositional environments. Her portfolio includes traditional music composition,  performance, electronic music, sound sculptures, film, and audio-visual installation work, as well as custom instrument design and print making.

Anju’s work has been presented across Canada, in Europe, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States at festivals, galleries, and events in a variety of spaces including Fylkingen in Stockholm, Sweden; Send + Receive Festival in Winnipeg; Vancouver Jazz Festival, Polygon Gallery; and most recently in Copenhagen, Denmark. Anju will be presenting her work in Japan as part of a tour in April 2024.


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