On rebelling to keep an art practice during National Service
Raigo Law, artist, interviewed by Johann Yamin, 20 March 2021
This is a two-part interview. You can access the second part of this interview, On collaboration and mixing work styles, here.

Johann Yamin: How has work been for you in the past year?
Raigo Law:
When National Service (NS) started, I definitely had to put a pause on my practice. For me, it's four months of Basic Military Training (BMT). I was obviously upset that I had to shut out everyone, from my peers to my close friends from the arts. I thought, “since I can't practice anymore, what's the point?” I didn’t want people to think of me just as this person going through National Service and so he's practically useless in the art scene. There are instances of people actually thinking that way. So I just shut down entirely. I mean, it was really a bad move.

But I was lucky to be posted to an Air Force unit where the culture is very different. Things that I do inside of camp are relatively relevant, and I get a shit-ton of offs and leaves to use.

The first show by PURE EVER was done during my BMT. I felt bad because most of the time, I couldn’t be there to fully help with the coordination. For the curation, I was always online, on the phone, telling them things like “Please don't put this artwork here, it doesn’t make sense, there's no balance to it.” I was in charge of managing and talking to the artists, on how they wanted to transport the works, and what they needed in terms of handling, especially for media works. But most of the exchanges were on Telegram, I couldn't even be there. It felt like there was no point to it, but my group members were supportive, saying it was fine and that they would help.
I purposely arranged for the opening on a weekend, so I could book out and go for the opening. It was nice, there was a good turnout, and the people that came knew I was in NS, and I was in BMT, and they were really supportive about it. So me shutting people out didn't make sense.

JY: I’m interested in what you said, that it felt like you couldn't be in NS and still have an art practice. Was that what you felt, that it was something you couldn't juggle at the same time?
RL: Before I enlisted, people were telling me that when I went into NS, everything would change, that I definitely wouldn’t have time for an art practice, and that I had to take a break from it. There were people saying “army boys will always be army boys, you can never do anything else.” During those few months I reflected on what they said, and I thought it wasn’t fair, I still can make art when I'm in camp. So I did it. I did a digital artwork on my iPhone for the Winston Oh exhibition, and I had people print it for me and everything, it was super simple. Yeah, I make progress, and I try to rebel a bit also. I just don't like what they say and just really want to fight this idea.

JY: Do you picture yourself rebelling more in the context of the arts or in the military?
RL: I think both. When I got posted to the Air Force unit, it got more leps—like, lepak, and really relaxed. I was really grateful that Syaheedah and Kay Wee approached us for State of Motion then. As a young collective, being in such a huge show is really amazing. That’s when I had more time to plan on when I could take my offs so that I could film Sunset X while going back to camp at the same time. Yeah, it's quite fucked up, but I do that. A lot of things have changed.

JY: Does it get tiring at times, having to work around your schedule? Or is it just a different way of working?
Yeah, definitely, it's hard to have a five day work week in camp, and the weekends are the only time that you can make work. I don't complain, that’s one thing, because if I have the time to do whatever I want to do, I just do it. My room is practically my studio. I designed it to look like a studio. The kind of energy I created in that room just makes me want to do more work. It has a shit-ton of LED lights, silicon, plaster, and everything.

JY: Yes, it seems that people tend to develop ways to cope when placed in these situations, and you’ve found a system that works for yourself.

Read the second part of the interview here.