SUMMER EDITION Pt 1: Singapore Round 1: family, food and the 4th Biennale of Singapore

This Summer, I traded the Sydney heat for the chilly weather of Europe and the humidity of Singapore.  I adored the eye-opening experiences of both locales, documenting as much as I could when I wasn’t busy stuffing my face with food, trekking through countless art galleries, or celebrating Chinese New Year. It’s going to take a while to catch up, but here is the first part of the Monday Issue Summer Edition! First stop: Singapore.

Sydney ✈ Singapore: Scoot seemed to have all my midnight-snack cravings – 2 minute noodles, cheese and pringles! 

Mei mei Kylie unwrapping gifts from Australia. She has gotten so big since my last visit!

Durians for sale at Bugis st

Ee ee and Cookie at Malaysia Boleh in Jurong Point (a great selection of shops and dishes – delicious!)

I visited the Singapore Biennale at the Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q. Themed ‘If the World Changed,’ the exhibitions included an impressive variety of artworks that commented on cultural concerns of today, some of which envisioned alternative futures and possibilities of art and society. This theme gave a useful perspective for accessing the works – many of which effectively used creative ways of articulating humorous, melancholic, or contemplative perspectives of change. Overall, the span of the practices on display made for a visually interesting and thought-provoking exhibition, with a good balance of Relational Aesthetics (artworks that rely on audience interaction) and White Cube displays (do-not-touch works on plinths).

Tran Tuan (Vietnam), Forefinger (2013), set of 4, dimensions variable

Tuan’s tactile sculptures were provocative pieces to be placed around the entrance of the museum. Their presence reminded me of the function of the pointed finger in many religious and allegorical paintings, in which figures are portrayed literally pointing to the ‘action’ (for example, in The Transfiguration by Raphael (1519) we see a triangle of pointed fingers amongst the people. These direct the eyes to move around the canvas and act as signposts towards the main subject). The thoughtful placement of Tuan’s Forefinger (2013) appeared to me as a playful and interactive work to engage gallery visitors however, on another level, also as a intertextual reference to the forefinger in art history. It is as if Tuan’s Forefinger is pointing to the action – pointing to the entrance of the gallery and the beginning of the exhibition – and motioning us to move forward.

Urich Lau (Malaysia), The End of Art Report (2013), 3 multi-channel videos, duration 1:30 mins each 

Lau’s fictional news reports give a glimpse into a future in which three Singapore museums are closing down (*gasp*). The videos raise questions as to how the media moderates between art institutions and the public, especially regarding how art is perceived. Lau’s videos made me recall two particular works that dealt with similar questions, Kunstmarkt TV (2008) by Christian Jankowski and Currency (2011) by Denis Beaubois, both of which were featured at the Financial Report exhibition held at Artspace last year.

Ahmad Abu Bakar (Malaysia), Telok Blangah (2013), installation with paint, varnish, glass bottles, decals, traditional wooden boat, 300 x 450 cm

Baker’s Telok Blangah (2013) was a highlight of the exhibition for me, and also gave an interesting interpretation on the understanding of social and cultural change. The artwork’s installation included a boat with 1,000 glass bottles (see image below), each with a message from an inmate at Changi Prison. The messages were about aspirations and dreams, some of which were also framed along the wall (see image above). This intimate work was quite provocative, and it felt almost voyeuristic to have access to such personal thoughts – many wrote of dreams of getting married, of becoming chefs, and of owning cars. But others also wrote warning messages to the anticipated viewer about not repeating their mistakes. The installation has an overall desire for change in the future, mostly personal change. It was typified by a table in the corner which had pieces of paper and pens, and an invitation to personally respond to the letters, each of which had a unique code printed on them. For me, this completed the artwork’s notion of change as a process, and the thought of an inmate one day getting my message that ‘all the best and I really hope you become a chef, too!’ makes me hope that I have, in a very small way, contributed to this process.

Ahmad Abu Bakar (Malaysia), Telok Blangah (2013), installation with paint, varnish, glass bottles, decals, traditional wooden boat, 300 x 450 cm

Ahmad Abu Bakar (Malaysia), Telok Blangah (2013), installation with paint, varnish, glass bottles, decals, traditional wooden boat, 300 x 450 cm

Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho (South Korea), El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World) (2012), 2-channel HD video installation, duration 13:35 mins

This dual-screen film, featuring the daily lives of two fictitious characters, was a creative envisioning of the possible futures of art and aesthetics. Executed to a T, the videos follow an isolated assemblage/found-object artist who seems to be the only human left on earth, and a woman from the future who catalogues artefacts from a world past. The film questions the location of aesthetics within the value structure of society, particularly in a Post-Modern culture, and potentially in a Post-Earth culture. A fascinating watch, this work was a standout piece in the exhibition.

Boonsri Tangtrongsin (Thailand), Superbarbara Saving the World (2012-2013), single channel video, 11 episodes, duration 18:10 mins

On another hand, Tangtrongsin’s short video series Superbarbara Saving the World, was a particularly entertaining work. The videos featuring Superbarbara, a charitable inflatable sex doll, are humorous in their absurdity but also have a warm belief in kindness and well-meaningness at their centre.

Nikki Luna (Philippines), Tiempos Muertos (Dead Season), sugar and resin, dimensions of diamonds: 7.8 x 7.8 x 7.8 each, installation dimensions variable

A poignant installation, Luna’s work features a thousand diamonds cast of sugar from Bacolod in the Philippines. The diamonds are arranged in mirrored glass cabinets, and glitter dramatically under spotlights that mimic a jewellery store. The sight of the plethora of jewels alludes to ideas of luxury, excess, and glamour. But upon closer inspection, we see that the weighty diamonds are brown and made of sugar. Without words, Luna presents a clear and bittersweet statement about the state of the sugar economy in Bacolod – where labourers make as little as SGD$1 a day, and the demand for sugar is in decline.

Sean Lee (Singapore), The Garden (2012-2013), set of 12 photographs, 45 x 35 cm each

Lee’s intimate portraits of his parents’ bodies, close-up and abstracted, were a subtle yet moving meditation on the process of ageing and the knowledge of mortality. His use of photography as a cathartic process is apparent through his creative reinterpretation of the body. His images are not of age, but read more like landscapes or abstract compositions of shape and balance.

Sean Lee (Singapore), The Garden (2012-2013), set of 12 photographs, 45 x 35 cm each

Sean Lee (Singapore), The Garden (2012-2013), set of 12 photographs, 45 x 35 cm each

Kumari Nahappan (Singapore), Anahata (2013), saga seeds and audio, dimensions variable 

Chris Chong Chan Fui (Malaysia), BOTANIC (2013), digital prints on paper, 8 pieces

Chong’s large scientific-style illustrations of plastic flowers is rather uncanny. Like specimens, the flowers are dissected and drawn with precision and accuracy. Yet the knowledge of their imposter nature makes the large works a humorous comment on the proliferation of these artificial commodities. They raise questions on the value of kitsch and aesthetics in daily life.

teamLab (Japan), Peace Can Be Realised Even Without Order (2012), interactive digital installation, dimensions variable, sound: Hideaki Takahashi, voice: Yutaka Fukuoka, Yumiko Tanaka

This was an incredibly immersive and stimulating installation – after entering the darkened area, there appeared an indefinite field of holographic figures (not entirely human) dancing, moving, and making music. Mirrors surrounding the installation made it impossible to perceive its depth and fear of the unknown struck genuine fear in this viewer. Walking through the aisles, the stylised figures would react to your presence, adding to the uncanniness of the experience. Recalling primitive Japanese dances and indigenous festivals, teamLab successfully displayed a hi-tech vision of both change and tradition.

A useful and commendable detail on the curatorship of the exhibition, were the bundles of thought-provoking words that related to the theme ‘If the World Changed.’ This detail aided in continuing the visual theme and branding of the 4th Biennale throughout the locations, as well as offering access-points for viewers to engage with artworks. They also helped to liven up some of the blank walls around the galleries.

Boo Junfeng (Singapore), Happy and Free (2013), video installation, duration 5:00 mins

Boo’s dramatically lit hall of fictitious memorial posters and large ‘Celebrating 50 Years of Merger’ sign create a powerful installation that responds directly to the Biennale’s theme of change. In reality, the merger of Singapore and Malaysia lasted only for two years (1963-1965). In the year that would have marked the 50th anniversary, Boo questions how the country would see itself and its national identity differently, had the merger been sustained.

Boo Junfeng (Singapore), Happy and Free (2013), video installation, duration 5:00 mins

SAM at 8Q

Bye bye Singapore! A last image of HDB flats in Singapore before I left on the plane for Italia!

(A few years ago I used to draw doodles of my little alter ego Margot! Keep your eye out for her return in the Summer Edition series!)