Illustrator MessyMsxi Wants To Save The Earth – With 20,000 Pieces Of Plastic Waste

Even if you have never heard of Tan Zi Xi – or MessyMsxi, as she is known in the local art and creative circle – you must have seen her works. This home-grown artist and illustrator’s quirky, imaginative and provocative depictions of the everyday have made her one of the most prolific talents of her generation.

This Saturday, at Plastic Ocean – Illustration Workshop with Tan Zi Xi, she will be sharing with others her reflections on daily plastic consumption and wastage, and how it impacts environmental pollution. Participants also get to co-create a mural painting with her.

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Plastic Ocean

Plastic Ocean is inspired by An Effort Most Futile, which I completed in 2008 when I was studying in London. It captures my alarm and dismay after I learnt about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and how trash has been so carelessly dumped into the ocean,” says Zi Xi.

“We must make a collective effort to not be reckless about our plastic waste habits. And I wanted to convey this message through creating an artwork together with the participants.”

Plastic Ocean is an installation that Zi Xi did for Imaginarium: Over The Ocean, Under The Sea, a contemporary art showcase for kids organised by the Singapore Art Museum. It features more than 20,000 pieces of discarded plastic, from drinking straws to cling film – and aims to make visitors feel as if they are floating about among the debris.

Zi Xi, a Graphic Design (Illustration Major) honours alumnus from the prestigious Central Saint Martins, has chalked up acclaim for her works. In 2010, the year after she graduated, she was named New Talent of the Year at the London Creative International Competition. Just last year, her super-cute animation piece for Japanese fashion label Untitled dododo won Gold during the Singapore Creative Circle Awards

Have you always wanted to be an artist?
It was a naïve ambition because my dad was a Chinese painter. But it was during my time at Temasek Polytechnic, where I studied Visual Communication, that I discovered my love for illustration. But I thought it was much easier to get a full-time job so I worked as a graphic designer. I had no enthusiasm for it at all. So I quit my job, got a scholarship and spent three years at Central Saint Martins in London to study illustration. There, I learnt deeply about life, design and art. The experience opened my eyes and gave me motivation to create works that pushed the boundaries of decorative into narrative.

Art is a very tough profession, especially in Singapore. What challenges do you face?
One challenge is looking for suitable help when projects pile up. Illustration styles can be subjective. It requires a lot of practice so it is hard to teach. I am a perfectionist so I end up working longer hours to finish an assignment. I believe in putting my best foot forward for every project, so for me it’s creativity first, then profitability. I never thought of giving up, no matter how tough the going was, because I appreciate the many opportunities I’d been given.


Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque

You have been very busy of late! Your art has featured at the Newton MRT station (Downtown Line), in the ICU rooms at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, and on the caps of Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque, among others. How do you choose your assignments?
I enjoy a project that allows me to step out of my comfort zone, for example in terms of skills set or medium. It should also be of interest to my beliefs.

That’s why, for my second solo exhibition at The Substation last December, I did a sculpture titled Heavy Hands, Heavy Head. I admire artists like Yoshitomo Nara, who can so brilliantly translate their works from 2D into sculptures. I thought it was a great space for me to experiment and try something different.

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Heavy Hands, Heavy Head

It was 142 metres long. To symbolise the fear and mess in my cluttered mind, I had abstract patterns and textures, as well as texts and words from my own log book, sewn onto the beige fabric. Visitors were free to go close and slowly uncover the words, as if they were getting to know me. They could even rest on it while mulling over the artwork.

It was a successful experiment, then.
So when I was invited by the Singapore Art Museum to participate in Imaginarium, I had the idea of recreating my artwork An Effort Most Futile as an installation. For five months, we collected used plastics from friends, family, offices and schools. We also had to count, clean, sort and organised these items, so much effort went into logistics. I also had to make technical decisions on how the plastics should be installed, how high the installation should be, and more – any bad decision on my end would directly impact my team’s progress.

Plastic Ocean – Illustration Workshop with Tan Zi Xi happens July 30, 2pm-3.30pm, and August 9, 10.30am-12pm, SAM at 8Q, Imaginarium Workshop Space (Level 2). Tickets, at $35 each, are available at Sistic

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