Archive for March 2011
A parallel event of Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
An earlier review of the P-M appeared on this blog here.
March to May 2011
A series of programmes for the Singapore Biennale period.
OPEN *HOME – OPEN *home offers a cozy and affordable crashpad for artists and other cultural workers who are coming to Singapore to visit the Singapore Biennale (and other cultural events) in March. We have a large air-conditioned room which can house up to 8 persons per night (bring your own sleeping bag!). Participation is based on a pay-it-forward system plus contribution of 1 artwork per night stayed.
OPEN *MEAL – OPEN *meal kicks off with OPEN *meal: Arts Community, held every Thu 7-9pm during March, in Food #03. A volunteer from the arts comm will sit in, listen to and give advice to anyone from the arts comm who wants to talk about any problems or ideas.
OPEN *SHOW – Open call for works and proposals from artists and cultural workers (both local and foreign) doing interesting and meaningful work which we will put together into several exhibitions/projects during the period of the Singapore Biennale.
OPEN *MOVIE – A series of Wed nights when friends share their favourite feature-length films.
OPEN *SWOP – A swop party where everything can be swopped! Bring your pre-loved books, cds, clothes, etc. or offer your services to be swopped. Every item of reasonable condition will be awarded a coupon and you can then select the number of ‘new’ items/services based on the number of coupons you have. There is no limit to the number of items you can swop and you are welcome to stay for the whole duration of the swop party. A fun eco-friendly way to get stuff and meet people, and the small entry fee of $5 goes to the Post-Museum Fund, so it’s a win-win situation for everyone!
OPEN *REVIEW – Open call for articles and criticisms related to the Singapore Biennale for our online publication.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
Recently received from the SAM: notice of free admission to all Biennale events on upcoming Sundays and public holidays.
See below for details.
I wonder if it has anything to do with falling visitor numbers. Over the last couple of weeks I made four separate trips to the old Kallang Airport site, and it was clear to me that the number of attendees was rapidly dwindling. In fact, on the last two visits, staffers/volunteers were lounging about at the entrance of the main building, looking like an orange-clad street gang, eyeballing all who went in and came out … And the ones who were actually on duty at the various displays were either busy reading or perfectly happy ignoring the visitors. AND at the front desk, where I went to inquire about purchasing the catalogue, a bunch of girls were openly enjoying a fast food luncheon and chatting away in between mouthfuls of fries and sips of Coke.
To paraphrase our boys in blue: few visitors doesn’t mean no visitors.
If this is best face forward for us, I wonder how we’re coming across to the rest of the world.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The Merlion Hotel is just brilliant.
The brainchild of Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, it transforms one of Singapore’s best known national symbols into a luxury hotel room – available for the duration of the Biennale at the rate of 150 SGD per night. (All booked up though, sorry.)
Is it Art ? Commerce ? An “uncanny encounter with a public monument in the intimacy of a hotel room” ? A re-imagining of the connections between citizen and symbol ? A grandiose declaration of Swingin’ Singapore’s new-found fame as a playground for the rich and ritzy ? All of the above ? None of the above ? Who knows ?
Which is why I love it. A stroke of genius on Nishi’s part.
First, a brief history of the Merlion, taken from an article on Singapore Infopedia:
The Merlion logo had been designed by Fraser Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and the curator of Van Kleef Aquarium. It became the emblem of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) on 26 March 1964 and its registration as a trademark was finalised two years later on 20 July 1966. Although by 1997, STB had acquired a new corporate logo, the Merlion is still protected under the STB Act and the use of the Merlion symbol requires permission from STB. ……
The Merlion is an imaginary creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. This half-lion, half-fish sculpture rests on undulating waves. The lion head alludes to the legend of Singapore’s founding by Sang Nila Utama, a Palembang Prince who, on his arrival on the island, saw what he thought to be a lion and thereafter renamed Temasek, Singapura or “Lion City”. The fish-tail represents Singapore’s links to the ancient sea-bound island which was Temasek and its long and successful association with the sea, reflecting how our forefathers traversed the oceans to come to Singapore and our subsequent dependence upon it as a port.
Image from the Biennale site.
And that’s the story of our country’s most visible icon – it started life as a tourist logo. Isn’t it fitting then that it’s commercial origins are in a sense being recuperated and paid tribute to here ?
The work, which has been constructed with scaffolding partly on land and partly in the water to accommodate the Merlion, instantly conjures a series of binaries and hybrid identities: land/water, lion/fish, art/economics, private space/public symbol, fleetingness/permanence, contemporaneity/myth. Somewhere at the nexus of these competing ontologies is the Merlion Hotel, a makeshift structure literally erected around the statue and incorporating its top half into the opulence of the room itself, open to art-gawkers by day and closed for hotel occupants by night, extant for a mere two months during the Biennale and accessible thereafter only in photographs and other forms of documentation. These ambivalences of purpose, which render the significance of Nishi’s piece inherently unstable, suspended in the flux of so many divergent semantic strands, also speak less directly perhaps to Singapore’s status as a perpetual anomaly: an English-speaking, Chinese-majority sovereign nation outside China (discounting Taiwan, of course), a tiny island stuck in an Islamic sea, with Malaysia to the north and the massive Indonesian archipelago to the south. In the words of former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, the man who is generally credited as having transformed post-Independence Singapore into the first world player it is today:
We faced a bleak future. Singapore and Malaya, joined by a causeway across the Straits of Johor, had always been governed as one territory by the British. Malaya was Singapore’s hinterland, as were the territories of Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah. They were all part of the British Empire in Southeast Asia, which had Singapore as its administrative and commercial hub. Now we were on our own, and the Malaysian government was out to teach us a lesson for being difficult, and for not complying with their norms and practices and fitting into their set-up. …… Indeed, how were we to survive ? Even our water came from the neighbouring Malaysian state of Johor. ……
We had never sought independence. In a referendum less than three years ago, we had persuaded 70 percent of the electorate to vote in favour of merger with Malaya. Since then, Singapore’s need to be part and parcel of the Federation in one political, economic, and social polity had not changed. Nothing had changed – except that we were out. We had said that an independent Singapore was simply not viable. Now it was our unenviable task to make it work. How were we to create a nation out of a polyglot collection of migrants from China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and several other parts of Asia ?
Singapore was a small island of 214 square miles at low tide. It had thrived because it was the heart of the British Empire in Southeast Asia; with separation, it became a heart without a body. Seventy-five percent of our population of two million were Chinese, a tiny minority in an archipelago of 30,000 islands inhabited by more than 100 million Malay or Indonesian Muslims. We were a Chinese island in a Malay sea. How could we survive in such a hostile environment ?
(From Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew [Singapore: Times Editions, 1998], pp. 21-3.)
Dark days indeed. Both the Merlion symbol and the Merlion Hotel, in their hybrid configurations, gesture at the exigencies which gave rise to the heterogeneous contours of modern Singapore – racially diverse, linguistically complex, geographically and historically cut adrift from its age-old moorings. As has been pointed out – on numerous occasions – the template for a national narrative has traditionally been constructed around a core of hybridized identity or “bi-culturalism.” Local historian Derek Heng, for one, echoing LKY’s sentiments, has pointed out that
It is not difficult to extend this model [hybridization] to the post-independence period of Singapore, and to draw similarities between the localized Chinese of Temasik and the Chinese population of the nation-state of Singapore, and between the Chinese traders of old and the present sojourning population of migrant workers in Singapore. Hybridization is therefore a useful approach in understanding and explaining the construction of coherent city-state nations that are open to regional and international forces and groups.
Indeed, hybridization was not ignored in the early political rhetoric in the immediate period before and after 1965. The concept of Malayanism encompassed the acceptance of the localization of immigrant groups in Malaya, and the indigenization of the people of Malaya by adhering to certain shared values that were drawn from the various social groups and the artificial construction of shared socialist values. David Marshall, Singapore’s first Chief Minister, in the 1950s argued for the creation of a coherent social group of Singaporeans that was based on the assimilation of the key charcateristics of the dominant social group in Singapore by the various ethnic groups represented in Singapore, even though it was not apparent which ethnic groups were being referred to … Similarly, in the early post-independence years, Singapore’s political leaders attempted to construct a society based on the eventual combination of various cultural aspects of the social groups represented in Singapore.
(Derek Heng Soon Thiam, “From Political Rhetoric to National Narrative: Bi-Culturalism in the Construction of Singapore’s National History” in Reframing Singapore: Memory – Identity – Trans-Regionalism [Amsterdam University Press, 2009].)
In fact, the Merlion logo, as its very inception, was intended to convey Singapore’s cross-cultural ties, its “links to the ancient sea-bound island which was Temasek … reflecting how our forefathers traversed the oceans to come to Singapore and our subsequent dependence upon it as a port”, which probably accounts for the mutation of Sang Nila Utama’s lion into a bizarre looking feline-fish. Nishi’s stroke of genius consists in his amplification of the fundamental instability at the heart of our national symbol, into the hybrid entity that is the Merlion Hotel – which looks and behaves like neither one thing nor another, partaking of a miscellany of roles, functions and effects.
However, at its most immediate and intelligible, the Merlion Hotel probably serves best as a symptom of the new Singapore. And just what is this new Singapore ? Flush (the world’s fastest growing economy as of 2010), fancy (now boasting two fabulously glitzy resorts with the country’s first casinos), and demographically and sociologically evolving at light speed, the population on the whole growing from some 3 million to 5 in the last two decades –a jump of 66.6% in 20 years – but with the number of resident aliens positively ballooning from 0.3 million in 1990 to 1.3 million in 2010. (See here for figures.) In other words, a playground for the wealthy, both local and foreign. In fact, the iconic Marina Bay Sands resort, located just across the bay, is prominently featured both on the wallpaper – along with the Merlion logo and founding father Sir Stamford Raffles – and as part of the panoramic view from the bathtub. The triple towers, exemplar par excellence of the new, moneyed, swingin’ Singapore, thus become enshrined in the country’s repertoire of emblems, their signalling of new economic trajectories taking its place alongside our most cherished historical images in a gesture of symbolic suturing.
The one sour note ? – Nishi emblazoning his name across the bathroom floor, which I can only imagine remains unavoidably visible the whole time you’re relaxing in the tub or on the can, doing stuff one does in the privacy of one’s own toilet.
The front page of The Straits Times on 22 March, and 29 March:
Both stories feature the new crop of politicians that the ruling PAP (People’s Action Party) is fielding in this year’s General Elections – rumoured to be taking place sometime in May, or even as soon as late April.
Notice the difference ?
The picture of Desmond Choo, Ong Ye Kung and Janil Puthucheary (top) has them up close, smiling, relaxed. In other words, looking for all the world like their victory is assured, a troika supremely confident of their qualifications for, and chances of, leading the country. PAP men indeed.
The one of Tin Pei Ling (bottom), however, in a rare departure, presents a view of her back instead. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone’s back on the front page of ST. Not only is her visage occluded – which is unusual for a politician in the news, especially up-and-coming ones gracing the front page – the photograph actually shows her being grilled by a bunch of reporters, their mics literally shoved into her (unseen) face. It looks less like a meet and greet, and more a press conference to announce some scandal or disaster or other.
Actually, ‘scandal’ wouldn’t be a bad way to put it. Ms. Tin, all of 27 years old, has been on the receiving end of much flak – for her youth, her perceived inexperience, her juvenile deportment and, most damning of all apparently, being married to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s private secretary.
Is The Straits Times‘ er, rearview image of her to be understood as visual commentary then ? How crafty.
Shoutouts to ?? and XY for the links.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The third Singapore Biennale kicked off a couple of weeks ago. The whole event runs for about two months, from 13th March to 15th May, 2011. That’s probably sufficient to cover the four primary venues, 161 works of art by some 63 artists, and scores of smaller tie-ins on show at other galleries and museums throughout the island.
Why the Open House theme ? (Not to be confused with another similarly titled event earlier this year.) Here’s the official account, extended version:
‘Open House’ is presented across four exhibition venues, each with their own particular character, that draw upon emblematic spaces in Singapore: Housing Development Board flats (Singapore Art Museum and 8Q), shopping centres and night markets (National Museum of Singapore), and international air and sea ports (Old Kallang Airport). Major art works at Marina Bay will amplify individual experience in the city.
In Singapore, at Hari Raya, Deepavali and Chinese New Year, people open their homes to others, inviting them to visit, eat and talk. This is not only a gesture of hospitality and good will but also an opportunity to reflect, negotiate and exchange. The threshold between the private and the public is made permeable, if only for a moment, relaxing boundaries between individuals and barriers between groups.
Contemporary art often emerges out of a need to communicate across such thresholds of difference that may be experiential, psychological, or grounded in social and political hierarchies. As such, artists’ practices are not simply about something in the world, they are real attempts to exchange information, translate experiences and even trade places. Borders may be guarded with force, yet artists find ways to embed themselves within such systems of control, turning unspoken desires toward unexpected ends. Sometimes artists displace or exchange objects, materials and information from one context to another, revealing unexpected connections between culturally divergent situations. The labour of constructing or deconstructing common objects and materials highlight the creative potential in seemingly mundane situations, suggesting fresh ways of seeing the world.
‘Open House’ examines these artistic processes and their links to the daily transactions that take place between people. From trading objects to swapping stories, from sharing food to dressing up, we are constantly making exchanges, as individuals, groups, cities and nations. In the world’s busiest port, a multicultural city built on trade, ‘Open House’ brings together artworks that offer multiple perspectives and myriad creative approaches to questions of how we move across borders, see other points of view, and form connections with others.
It remains to be seen if the event as a whole lives up to that conceptual ambition (although it certainly sounds broad enough to be all-encompassing). The old Kallang airport site was my first stop, a good third of which MY and I left unexplored on our first visit. After two straight hours of trying to concentrate on the art in stifling conditions – i.e. sans air-conditioning – we gave up. Or rather, I gave up, perspiring, sticky and highly uncomfortable, and suggested we retire to a makeshift Toast Box outlet set up on the premises to refresh and regroup. It took a couple of subsequent trips, joined by MP and SY, to finally finish seeing everything.
Biennales are hard work for all involved.
In any case, the theme of materiality, as the medium of exchange and encounter and generated by the dislocation of “common objects and materials”, was certainly evident in many of the displays. While this sort of border fetishism is hardly new – William Pietz identified the historical fetish as a literal fixing of, and fixation on, hybrid configurations of desire, belief and narrativizing that remain embedded in the object’s material and social specificities, a “totalized series of its particular usages” brought to light by cross-cultural and cross-border movement (see here) – it was really the era of the Readymade that marked the rise of the liminal, ontologically unstable object so prevalent in 20th century art, which took pride in transgressing traditional demarcations and provoking metaphysical speculation. Duchamp’s Fountain, of course, leaps immediately to mind, as do the work of the Surrealists or, later, Rauschenberg’s Combines. Earlier concerns with narrowing the gap between art and life seems, at the dawn of the new millennium, to have been superseded by a new paradigm of social engagement and moral awareness. The attempt to “communicate across … thresholds of difference” has resulted in pieces which not only articulate those margins of disparity, but, in a couple of instances, actually operate at the edges of physical and national boundaries, featuring what Arjun Appadurai famously called “things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context.”
Taryn Simon’s Contraband series, for one (below), a photographic project “documenting confiscated items seized from airline passengers and [the] US Postal Service at New York’s JFK Airport,” represents “an anthropological portrait illustrating the desires of those entering the United States”, and “explores how privilege and power operate in a world divided between those who have access and those who are denied.” The stuff she shot covered the usual gamut: foodstuffs, cigarettes, designer knockoffs, medical supplies. (Sadly, health insurance is not a fact of life for all in America.) While the work was .. interesting, I’m not sure if patterns of privilege and power as such were actually being exposed. If anything, the pictures seemed like a selection of completely anonymous items, begging the questions of who, where from, and why – issues which go much further towards articulating the configurations of desire and profit that inform international trafficking activities. The cartons of Marlboros, for instance, must be a pretty common sight at customs checkpoints everywhere in the world, and their appearance in this context hardly speaks to more than the usual desire to bypass tariff duties; an impoverished foreign student could have been responsible, as could a well-heeled Wall Street type or someone intending to sell the stuff on the streets. In a world where Winona Ryder is capable of shoplifting, one can’t automatically claim that theft indicates poverty or want … What really puzzled me though were the clear plexiglass boxes which encased the photographs. They seemed like a conscious artistic choice, yet what were they supposed to convey ? It was as if the articles constituting this otherwise random mass of contraband were being elevated to the level of individual, auratic works of art, which didn’t quite square with the impersonal, collective presentation of the pictures or the claims being made for them.
Contraband (2010), Taryn Simon.
In an adjoining gallery was Singaporean Charles Lim’s fascinating All Lines Flow Out. Comprised of a video piece and two er, drainage socks stuffed full of dried leaves and random garbage (below), the composite work well, worked. From the wall text:
All Lines Flow Out features a migrant worker navigating the hidden waterways of Singapore’s underground drainage system. As with many of Charles Lim’s works, water carries personal and symbolic significance. A competitive sailor, Lim sees water as representing movement and flux, and of course it is highly significant to Singapore, an island where the supply of water is a fundamental concern. The city’s drains are unfamiliar and unruly, at odds with its image of cleanliness and order, and lead in unexpected directions. His process reveals an often unseen part of Singapore.
The video in particular was engrossing, especially when the camera tracks slowly down the length of various canals and rivers at the level of the water’s surface (below). The effect is compelling and creepy all at once, providing an alien, bottom-up perspective on the island’s urban landscape, literally capturing a worm’s eye view of everyday terrain most people are otherwise unaccustomed to, while at the same time approximating the POV of the monster, a cinematic device commonly utilized in giant creature movies (think Anaconda or Lake Placid) – the silent stalker in the water oh-so-slowly moving in on its prey … It’s as if the usual tourist boat jaunts from Clarke Quay down into Marina Bay (think the Duck and Hippo) has been substituted with a riverine tour of Singapore by some subaquatic leviathan. The process of defamiliarization was echoed in the two installations nearby, which hung from the ceiling like a couple of supersized beehives, left there by mutant insects as a testament to their existence. To raise again the spectre of the Uncanny – making an appearance on the pages of this blog for the umpteenth time, sorry – it relates to “what is familiar and comfortable … [and conversely] what is concealed and kept hidden”; in other words, the uncanny connotes not just what is otherwise obscured from view, but that which was meant to remain veiled and has instead been brought to light. The primary mechanism of the phenomenon is the gesture of returning: “… this uncanny element is nothing new or strange, but something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.” The act of repression and return, then, may be located in Lim’s excavation of “often unseen part[s] of Singapore”: the uninhabited waterways, canals and storm drains of our city-state, rendered from a distinctly unsettling perspective, the slowly gliding camera seeming closer to the experience of some form of marine species, rather than the thrashing movements of a human being in the water; the stuffed drainage socks suspended in the middle of a gallery space, an item of utility that most people may be unfamiliar with, and taking on an even more eerie aspect for their mode of display.
All Lines Flow Out (2011), Charles Lim.
All Lines Flow Out (2011), Charles Lim.
A sense of uncanniness also seemed to hover around Michael Lin’s What a Difference a Day Made (below). I don’t get the namechecking of Dinah Washington’s hit, but the piece spoke to me, and in a very powerful way.
What a Difference a Day Made began when the artist purchased the entire contents of a local hardware store. The store is recreated in the exhibition space along with the crates in which the work has been shipped to Singapore. In each of the crates, samples of each type of product are displayed as a makeshift archive of different object categories contained in the store. Finally Lin also asked a performer to juggle each of the various items purchased, suggesting unexpected and playful potential in objects more commonly associated with work and domestic chores.
What’s striking about the Lin’s work are the type of objects on display: the sort of everyday household articles that are either little utilized these days, or tend to be viewed as ‘nostalgic.’ I mean, I saw carpet beaters, chamber pots and scrubbing boards. Chamber pots and scrubbing boards. I’ve never had to use the first, and haven’t seen the second around in a while. The litany of bric-a-brac otherwise consisted in the main of plasticware, crockery with ye olde designs, rusting pans, brooms, metal tools, antique rice cookers, raffia string … the whole set-up looked like something out of the ‘70s, which it probably was before the artist transplanted it hook, line and carpet beater.
The act of recontextualization is key. No longer part of a functional retail operation, the goods and merchandise of yesteryear are here ossified into inaccessible nostalgia, a consumerist spectacle reframed into auratic ‘art’ displays. The dialectical oscillation between the past and the present, reified here in the shape of the nostalgic commodity – or the cultural detritus of a bygone epoch, the now obsolete odds and ends of another age reiterated as reminiscence – calls to mind the glass-covered walkways, or arcades, of 19th-century Paris that Walter Benjamin so suggestively evoked in The Arcades Project. The urban passages that were created when Haussmann razed the medieval city to rebuild one worthy of the Second Empire, arcades that were spaces of leisured consumption for the emergent moneyed classes, where all sorts of luxury goods beckoned from behind glass windows, fascinated Benjamin precisely because they, by the time of his writing in the 1920s, had become mere shadows of their former selves. What had once been “glass-roofed, marble-paneled corridors … [housing] the most elegant shops, so that the passage is a city, a world in miniature” (W. Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trs. Eiland and McLaughlin [Harvard U. Press, 2002], p. 15) now existed as a world of dusty objects, where “out-of-date advertisements hang on within these interior spaces, and the displayed wares are of no significance, or of many significances” (qtd. in Max Pensky, “Tactics of Remembrance” in Walter Benjamin and the Demands of History, p. 166). The many significances that Benjamin read into the text of these forgotten, occluded objects constituted for him the “dialectical fairy-scene” of capitalism and the 19th century, but here it is his understanding of this realm of commodities as an enchanted historical eloquence that is apropos:
In the flickering light of the arcade, outmoded commodities transform themselves, as if through enchantment. Space-time comprehends both the spatial and temporal juxtapositions that occur when many different, many useless things are jammed together in a small space … things in the old passage begin to wink and mutter, become phantasmagoric in the other sense, not as sensation but as sensing, magically half-endowed with the ability to communicate. (Pensky, pp. 166-7)
The language used to characterize Benjamin’s vision of a world of articulate, communicative materiality – enchantment, phantasmagoric, magical – smacks of the otherworldly. What Benjamin’s fragmentary musings foreground is the intersection of history, memory, commodity, and the phantasmal, or – again – the Uncanny. The idea of objects that speak is of course uncanny on the most visceral level, but, in the case of Lin’s installation, the commodity-as-history exemplifies the Freudian Uncanny to the extent that it embodies a return of the once-familiar, a panoply of otherwise forgotten objects almost seeming, in the silence of an uninhabited gallery space converted from a disused airport, to become enchanted not just in a supernatural sense, like ghosts from the past, literally, but also to take on a new (after)life as aesthetic spectacle. What seemed to drive the point home even more were the video pieces showing a Chinese juggler fooling around with the stuff (see the clip below): the perceived human body, set at one experiential remove from the viewer’s own embodied presence through recording technology – itself a form of ghostliness – renders the immediate reality of Lin’s objects even more preternaturally alive, beginning to “wink and mutter”, nostalgic objects caught in the slippage between the supernatural, the material, and the historical.
What a Difference a Day Made (2008), Michael Lin.
A walkthrough of Lin’s What a Difference a Day Made.
[TO BE CONTINUED IN A LATER POST.]
It’s going on right now at local indie record store Straits Records, now gracing the Kampong Glam neighbourhood.
Singapura Biarlain 2011: Rumah Terbuka – or, Let there be an alternative Singapore 2011: Open House – brands itself as “an event-based exhibition”, which aims to “develop the space [Straits Records] into a facility that advocates knowledge and ‘encompassing art’.” By the organizers’ own admission, the Biarlain is also a “fundraising initiative by Straits Records and its Supporters to open up an ‘open-call’ calling for participants and potential collaborators for its open space …… self-funded by Straits Records and interdependent between its Supporters.”
The event features community-based activities like music performances, talks and workshops, such as Upaint dan Ipaint (You paint and I paint), mural painting classes, and Mistery Jam 12 (Midnight Mystery), an all-night yak session on ghosts and the supernatural.
Singapura Biarlain 2011 runs from 19 March to 16 April.
19 March, 7.30pm: Assalamualaikum (Peace be upon you), a performance by Siti Zuraida & Friends.
25 March, 8pm: Sajak Tak? (Ok or not?), an open microphone poetry session.
25 March, 12am till morning: Mistery Jam 12 (The Midnight Mystery), a midnight-till-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning-sharing session on supernatural and paranormal experiences.
26 March, 4.30pm: Cakap Sini, Habis Sini. Tak Habis Habis … (Talk here, Finished Here, Not Again…), a talk on the biting reality Straits Records and an artist went through by founder of Straits Records, Ridhwan and supporter, Zaki Razak.
27 March, 3 & 10 April (Sundays), 2pm: Upaint dan Ipaint (You paint and I paint), ongoing mural painting sessions to be conducted on weekends by ARTVSTS & Friends.
2 April, 3pm: Biar Betik (You Sure?), a workshop by Siti Salihah Omar.
3 & 10 April (Sundays), 2pm: Cetak Rompak (Print Plagiarism), a silkscreen printing workshop and sale of Singapura Biarlain 2011; Rumah Terbuka T-shirts.
Postscript: My comments (below) in reply to several remarks seems to have ruffled some feathers, the upshot of which I thought perhaps putting a password on this particular post will avoid further hurt feelings. As everyone knows, racial sensitivities can be tricky terrain to negotiate hereabouts. However, it has since come to my attention that the debate seems to have been publicized on a certain Facebook account – without either permission, or, worse, my latest replies, where I took pains to refute the charges lobbied at me. Bearing that in mind, the post is now made public once again.
IN ORDER TO PREVENT FURTHER TROLLING HOWEVER, the comments function has been disabled. If anyone feels the desire to contribute further to this debate, feel free to e-mail your comments to email@example.com. Constructive remarks – either agreeing or disagreeing with my position, it doesn’t make a difference – will be posted. UNCONSTRUCTIVE ONES – I.E. THOSE ATTEMPTING TO EXPLOIT RACIAL SENTIMENT – WILL BE DEALT WITH ACCORDINGLY. I’m sorry that it’s now come to this, but attempting to frame this exchange in terms of racial politics smacks of a. irresponsibility, b. paranoia and/or c. malice.
Again, if you would like to be heard, just drop me a note expressing your views (whatever they may be), and I’ll be sure to put them up if I feel they contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.
It’s tough trying to concentrate on art when just beyond the threshold is a lush, sylvan Eden – the perfect backdrop for Sunday afternoon strolls, cups of iced tea over endless chit-chat, and general tranquility of spirit.
But not so bad for the art too, especially if it’s of the inoffensive, pastel-pretty variety that looks good on the wall somewhere in a home.
The annual Artwalk@Wessex took place this weekend. Over two days, some fifteen artists opened their studios slash galleries (slash domiciles?), nestled in the pastoral environs of Wessex estate, to the masses. Almost all of these were quartered in colonial era walk-ups, the old apartment units transformed into air-conditioned mini museums or shambolic, paint-splattered, canvas-cluttered workrooms. The contents proved to be a bit of a crapshoot, ranging from the interesting to the promising to the downright banal. The latter, unfortunately, seemed to dominate. Lest anyone forget that Wessex, aside from playing host to artist spaces, is primarily a moneyed expatriate enclave, a lot of the art we saw today seemed to fall into er, what I think of as the “lifestyle” category. Or, as my companion bluntly put it, “Bali-also-can kind!” Meaning that this stuff wouldn’t look out of place in a store catering to white buyers looking to do up their pads in the Bali aesthetic, all wood furniture and stone Buddhas and paintings of exotic flora in pleasing palettes …
An impish Brandt portrait. Image from Sealey Brandt Photography.
Our first stop, the gallery of one Helene Carpenter, seemed to fit almost too well into that context. Her work consists in the main of abstract-looking floral patterns set against vibrant backgrounds, the shimmering gold canvases in particular standing out. (No pictures though, sorry.) The sumptuousness of her colours, the motific profusion of blossoms, the location of her space right smack in the middle of Wessex Village Square and adjacent to the snazzy Laurent Bernard Chocolatier – it was hard to shake off the feeling that here, rather than a showcase for art, was a store selling art that spoke to the unique, tropical charms of the Wessex experience, for foreigners, by foreigners. In other words, little more than part of a general lifestyle concept. Elsewhere, the studio of Sealey Brandt, who specializes in portraits of families and children, struck something of an anomalous note: while Brandt’s work (above) is utterly enchanting, she is after all a commercial photographer, rather than an artist who deals in the photographic medium. Again, the nexus of economics, art and expat culture seems to have shaped the contours of the event in certain inescapable ways.
Example of Kong’s oeuvre. All images above from the artist’s personal site.
Having said that, however, the afternoon did turn out to hold moments of genuine pleasure. Home-grown boy Max Kong explores the effects and implications of hapticity and texture in the range of materials he utilizes: wood, resin, cement, paint so thickly applied it becomes a three-dimensional presence on the canvas, à la Van Gogh or Monet. Well, minus the representational concerns of course. Kong seems to delight in the exploration of materiality and surface texture for its own sake, resulting in some very delightful pieces (above). To quote Merleau-Ponty – not for the first time on this blog – “The senses intercommunicate by opening onto the structure of the thing. One sees the hardness and brittleness of glass … One sees the springiness of steel” (The Phenomenology of Perception).
Detail of above. Image courtesy of Mayee Wong.
Lunchtime at Hock Lam Street, Dick Lim. Image from d’ArtStudio.
Dick Lim, a.k.a. Chye, deploys the painterly gesture in his work – to extremely amusing and disturbing effect all at once. His portrait of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (above) seems to be a straightforward tribute to the chief architect of independent Singapore, at least from a brief exchange I had with the artist, yet, looking at the painting, one can hardly believe that to be the case. The tactile brushstrokes become a dense mess of interlocking marks around the mouth and eyes, and up close the surface of the canvas really begins to recall Freddy Krueger’s flayed, excoriated complexion.
Lim’s monochromatic sea- and street scenes of Singapore I also found fascinating. They seem largely to be driven by the nostalgia factor, such as Lunchtime at Hock Lam Street (above), which depicts a milieu no longer extant. However, the teeming throngs he evokes in these pieces – so antithetical to, say, the open spaces and sparse figuration found in the Chinese ink landscapes of local master Chua Ek Kay – strike me as channeling the population and overcrowding issues facing the country these days, not to mention the perennial question of individualism and personal liberties that dogs all aspects of life in the Lion City. But that’s a topic for another post.
Then there was Dick’s downstairs neighbour, Croatian transplant Milica Bravacic. Bravacic is clearly taken with Peranakan culture, a large part of her oeuvre featuring designs from actual Baba building tiles. In fact, those designs are a near obsessive motif in her work, not only assuming pictorial predominance in their own right, but also taking precedence over human figures when the latter do appear (above). The ascendancy of material culture here seems to suggest an opposition that operates at the juncture of person and thing, between the organic and the manufactured. The deliberate ontological enmeshing of individual and commodity functions in two ways: not only do these objects acquire significance, “things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context”, the human or organic dimension is, by the same token, identified with the realm of otherwise senseless, material things, a reduction of the ‘real’ to the state of the artificial. The transposition of values between human and non-human actants gestures at the fascination with material culture that is such a decisive aspect of the revival of interest in all things Peranakan, signalled by the opening of the Peranakan Museum and the wildly popular local TV drama, Little Nyonya. (Which incidentally stars an old schoolmate of mine, actress Eelyn Kok.)
A couple of new discoveries and a balmy afternoon stroll; Artwalk@Wessex wasn’t a bad way to while away the weekend post-lunch torpor.
5 reasons why Seth Rogen needs to spend more time reading and less time running around in a face mask
Seth Rogen, last seen chop-socking his way across the big screen in The Green Hornet, recently appeared on Conan O’Brien, where he took it upon himself to share some choice nuggets about Singapore. All the usual platitudes got recycled: excessive cleanliness, the chewing gum ban, the death penalty, the Michael Fay incident, even a little bon mot about “benevolent dictatorships.” So far, so yawn.
Well, except for one thing: he got most of it wrong. So here are 5 reasons why Seth Rogen needs to spend more time reading and less time running around in a face mask:
1. “I’ve never been to Singapore. – No, most people haven’t.” Really ? Here are some numbers compiled by the Singapore Tourism Board that suggest otherwise.
2. “Singapore’s kinda claim to fame, is that’s like where, in the, in the, ’80s, that dude .. d-d-did graffiti and got caned, er, a bunch of times.” If you’re referring to Michael Fay’s caning, dude, it occurred in 1994. AND his sentence got reduced by the Prez after a clemency plea from Clinton. We’re not sadistic monsters ..
3. “Gum is illegal. No gum, in all of Singapore … You literally can’t chew gum!” Again, no. You CAN chew gum hereabouts, you’re just not permitted to either sell or buy the stuff.
4. “No one who’s lived there has ever voted.” Huh. I have. And so have many other Singaporeans I’m sure, since VOTING IS COMPULSORY.
5. “And you’ll ask them: How are things going here? And everyone has the same answer, they all just go: So far so good.” I can’t prove it, but this one sounds like more bullcrap. I very much doubt if Mr. Rogen spoke to any locals outside of the staff at his hotel, and even if he did, here’s a newsflash, Seth: the Singaporean version of “so far so good” is “Ok lor.”
Scoring a couple of cheap laughs is one thing; sounding uninformed is another.
A parallel event of Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The madness is upon us.
Reviews of the Singapore Biennale coming soon. Logistical kinks have been many and exhausting, which has resulted in delays. In the meantime, this is Filippino artist Briccio Santos’ Heritage Tunnel, on display at the SAM as part of Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 1991 – 2010 – one of the numerous ancillary shows of the Biennale.
The mise en abyme effect created by placing two mirrors in the structure, one at the top and the other below, was pretty cool, resulting in a seemingly bottomless well of books.
I would like to make some grand statement about how the semantics and semiotics of contemporary art is really a self-reflexive play of mirrors … but right now I’m too damned tired.