Archive for February 2012
Local artist Alecia Neo’s Goddess of Mercy is being presented at the Substation Gallery as part of the M1 Fringe Fest. this year.
The artist has recreated two living spaces from real-life referents, belonging to a pair of mother-son couples: the Neos (any relation?), a devoutly Buddhist, cancer-stricken woman living with her hairstylist son, who professes faith in a personal mash-up of various Buddhist and Taoist cults, as well popular Asian folk religion. In the other section, culled from the lives of the Tans, the younger Tan considers himself agnostic, while his mother, a pious Catholic, now suffers from a debilitating case of Alzheimer’s.
Re-imagined domesticity as narrative is nothing new. (Simon Fujiwara’s censored contribution to the local Biennale last year, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, is a case in point.) What was striking about Neo’s piece is her embrace of the olfactory dimension: a small coil of incense was kept burning in one section of the work (the Neos’), and some essence of rosemary in the other. Engaging the sensorium is a big deal in contemporary art these days, but the tactile and the aural senses are the next most common modes of appeal after the visual – and only rarely the olfactory and/or gustatory after that.
Props to Neo, and the Substation as well for being open-minded about their space. It may seem like a trifling touch, but not for nothing is smell considered the most powerfully evocative of the senses – the incense, in particular, activated the display for me in very immediate, visceral ways, evoking the numberless shrines and temples I’ve encountered over the course of my life, the thick, woody scent of joss sticks coating the air almost always an inescapable element …
Goddess of Mercy runs till Feb 26.
The Gillman Barracks opens in September.
For those who can’t wait, a detailed write-up in The Straits Times today.
The final price tag ? – ten million big ones. Gotta love Singapore.
ENGINEERED FOR THE ARTS
Will the planning of Gillman Barracks arts hub by the government stifle or help the arts in Singapore?
By Adeline Chia. Published February 16, 2012.
The vision for the Gillman Barracks is a brave and ambitious one: a cluster of top art galleries from around the world, housed in quaint historical buildings nestled in leafy surrounds.
The art on show is a mixture of the cutting edge and the established, including A-list artists such as Takeshi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Annie Leibovitz.
It aims to draw visitors from the jetsetting art collector to the window- shopping man on the street. In other words: ‘an iconic international destination for contemporary art in Asia’, according to the official literature.
Gillman Barracks is the bold new step in Singapore’s continuous march to become a global arts city – by building an arts district akin to Beijing’s 798 Art District, South Korea’s Heyri Art Village or New York’s Chelsea.
The difference is that these art districts abroad have sprung up naturally while Gillman is a government-led project. Its development is planned by the Economic Development Board, Jurong Town Corporation and the National Arts Council at a cost of about $10 million.
In the past few years, Singapore has grown pretty serious about contemporary visual art.
Two international art fairs, the high-end Art Stage Singapore and the mid-priced Affordable Art Fair, have taken off. International galleries have also started moving in, such as Art Plural Gallery opened by Swiss art dealer Frederic De Senarclens.
In terms of arts infrastructure, things are buoyed by the development of the $80-million Singapore Freeport, a storage space for art, with international auction house Christie’s as the main tenant.
In 2015, there is another biggie: the much-anticipated opening of The National Art Gallery, a 60,000 sq m gallery that will be housed in the City Hall and the former Supreme Court buildings. The institution will focus on South-east Asian art and its renovations will cost an estimated $530 million.
With Gillman Barracks, scheduled to open with a bang in September with all the galleries ready for business, Singapore’s art race goes into turbo mode. But even before the cluster throws open its doors, sceptics are asking if it is possible to engineer an arts hub, Singapore-style, by using a committee to choose a winning combination of tenants.
Thirteen galleries form the first wave of tenants in the former colonial army barracks located off Alexandra Road.
They include Ota Fine Arts, representing Japanese superstar artist Yayoi ‘polka dot’ Kusama; Sundaram Tagore Gallery, carrying the works of Leibovitz and American abstract painter Frank Stella; and ShanghART Gallery, representing top Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi.
The galleries are supposed to pay commercial rates and those approached by Life! said they have not been given discounts or other monetary incentives to set up shop here. In a call for applicants released by the Economic Development Board last year, rental rates were cited as between $31.50 and $35.50 a sq m a month.
Most arts observers welcome the list of galleries in Gillman. Mr Wang Zineng, 30, a South-east Asian specialist at Christie’s, calls it ‘an exciting mix that promotes inter-Asian interactions and conversations’.
But he is worried about the ‘long-term sustainability of the project’. ‘In any such project, there is seed money. After that money is spent, what happens? The commercial viability remains a question.’
A challenge is overcoming the ‘saturation of the art market in Asia’, including Hong Kong’s buzzing commercial art scene and the India Art Fair. ‘There are a lot of art fairs and auctions around. How do you sustain the interest of collectors?’ he adds.
Prominent Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie, 57, is blunt in his assessment: ‘In a sense, Gillman has already failed.’
He owns four galleries in South-east Asia under the Valentine Willie Fine Art name.
‘Places such as Chelsea and 798 grew as a result of a need or a demand. Here, the Government is manufacturing the demand,’ he says.
He points to Hong Kong, where rents are exorbitant and yet the city attracts top-shelf international galleries such as London’s White Cube, whose roster includes well-known British contemporary artists Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, and Gagosian Gallery, a supergallery chain owned by influential American dealer Larry Gagosian.
Mr Willie says: ‘No government was there to give you some nice old buildings. Hong Kong is just where the action is. You can’t manufacture that. EDB of all agencies should understand basic economics: you can’t manufacture demand.’
He adds that the Economic Development Board should instead help existing arts clusters such as Artspace@Helutrans in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, a 70,000 sq ft warehouse space owned by Helutrans, an arts handling firm.
The Singapore branch of Mr Willie’s gallery is situated there, together with three other galleries: Galerie Steph, Ikkan Art International and ReDot Fine Art Gallery.
He says: ‘Instead of trying to harness the energy of an existing hub and helping it, they are trying to kill it. It’s unfair competition.’
Another Artspace@Helutrans tenant has a different view. Japanese art dealer and gallerist Ikkan Sanada, 61, who moved his long-standing New York base to Singapore, says: ‘I don’t believe in government intervention, especially in art.’
But he says that sometimes some initial help can ‘kick off arts activity’.
He opened his gallery in May last year and shows works by top names such as photographer Cindy Sherman, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and British ‘bad boy’ Damien Hirst.
He says: ‘I welcome the Gillman Barracks. It provides a diversity of galleries, which is good for the arts community.’
He says that the next two to three years will be crucial in testing the commercial viability of the cluster.
‘While the market can be influenced and improved by initial investment, you can’t control or force the public to start buying art. If the buyers don’t come and sales don’t materialise, then some galleries may have to leave. We have to wait and see.’
An EDB spokeman says that the Gillman Barracks was chosen as a venue because, according to industry feedback, ‘a successful arts cluster should have unique architectural and/or historical characteristics’.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority then proposed the Gillman site because of its 14 low-rise military-style buildings and lush green surroundings. The entire development will yield 9,000 sq m of space for lease, with a tenancy term of three years with an option to extend for another three years.
Dr Eugene Tan, 38, programme director of EDB’s Lifestyle Programme Office who is overseeing the Gillman Barracks’ development, says that it was necessary for the Government to step in to ‘address the failures of the open market’ to develop a successful arts cluster.
‘Many arts clusters which have been left to develop freely by private developers have succumbed to short-term pressures to lease spaces to the highest bidder,’ he says.
As a result, art businesses are priced out by high-end bars and restaurants.
‘This issue is particularly pressing in land-scarce Singapore. As many commercial tenants compete aggressively on price, there are limited options for emerging clusters of art businesses to grow organically over the long term.’
He adds that Gillman Barracks is not modelled after any particular arts cluster abroad.
The Gillman galleries certainly buy into his dream. Many of them say that they have chosen Singapore to be closer to their South-east Asian clients, and because Singapore is an emerging centre for the thriving art market in Asia.
Mr Ota Hidenori, 52, whose Tokyo- based Ota Fine Arts is opening its first 108 sq m outpost in Singapore, says: ‘Singapore is just starting out and I want to be one of the first players here.’
His gallery carries the work of artists such as Kusama and video artist Hiraki Sawa.
He says Singapore is a good base to tap into the booming art market in Asia, given its multi-cultural identity and the quality of its public museums and arts professionals.
New York-based gallerist Sundaram Tagore, who owns an eponymous chain of galleries in New York, Beverly Hills and Hong Kong, also believes in Singapore as an emerging arts hub. Its central location in Asia leaves it well-poised to tap into his collector base from Dubai to Australia. His gallery space in Gillman is about 4,500 sq ft.
The 52-year-old says that his gallery was not given any financial incentive, but the power of EDB ‘collectively marketing’ the Gillman Barracks as a serious arts cluster with a strong roster of galleries is attractive to him.
As for the place being master planned, he says: ‘Singapore doesn’t have the benefit of history, unlike the great centres of art such as New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo. When you are trying to create things speedily, you need a stimulus. Here it happens to be the Government. If you wait for organic development, you could be waiting forever.’
ShanghART’s Swiss director Lorenz Helbling, who is in his 50s, says that he decided to come into Singapore because it is an ‘emerging, interesting place’.
‘So many cultures come together here. As a market, I don’t know how bright it is. Who knows? But most of the time, we don’t do things for commercial interest. It’s difficult to know what collectors want. We just do our bit and hope that collectors follow.’
ShanghART is one of the most influential galleries in China devoted to contemporary art, and it was chosen as one of the top 75 galleries of the 20th century by Taschen, the German art and design publisher.
Singapore is its first gallery outside Shanghai and its repertoire features some of the biggest names in Chinese art such as Zeng, Chen Xiaoyun and Ding Yi. Its space in Gillman is just over 100 sq m.
Mr Helbling did not consider Hong Kong as an option because ‘there’s too much shopping’.
‘In Singapore, I feel that you can develop an artistic kind of feeling, it doesn’t feel too commercial.’
Most arts observers say that it is early days yet, but agree that this is a high-stakes game that requires careful management.
Curator and art consultant Lindy Poh, 41, acknowledges that government agencies face a ‘double bind’ when engineering arts clusters.
She says that art clusters such as Soho and 798 had a strong indie vibe (‘an X factor’) at certain points of their development, which ran counter to state intervention, which suggests bureaucracy and surveillance.
She says: ‘Our art market is very small and benefits from certain boosts, and government agencies have their own pressures to deliver on key performance indicators.
‘But if agencies are perceived as engineering the creative sector excessively, they are also seen as stripping it of its aura of independence.’
Dr Tan has a delicate task ahead, but he has grand plans for Gillman Barracks. He says: ‘Apart from making it an international destination and marketplace for contemporary art in Asia, I want it to be the place where you can see and experience the best and most innovative art of your times.’
Is this a beautiful dream or the prophecy for a brave, new chapter in Singapore’s arts development? Only time can tell. But Mr Jasdeep Sandhu, 45, owner of Gajah Gallery, says that government support gives the Gillman galleries ‘a bit of a tail wind’.
He adds: ‘It’s a business decision that these guys are making to come here. They are sharp business people who see its potential. It means they have confidence in Singapore as a spot for art.’
‘Places such as Chelsea and 798 grew as a result of a need or a demand. Here, the Government is manufacturing the demand. Instead of trying to harness the energy of an existing hub and helping it, they are trying to kill it’
Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie
‘Singapore doesn’t have the benefit of history, unlike the great centres of art such as New York, Tokyo. When you are trying to create things speedily, you need a stimulus… If you wait for organic development, you could be waiting forever’
New York-based gallerist Sundaram Tagore
Galleries at Gillman
EQUATOR ART PROJECTS (Indonesia)
Gallery directors: Deddy Irianto and Tony Godfrey
Artists: Agus Suwage, Arahmaiani, Ay Tjoe Christine
FOST GALLERY (Singapore)
Gallery director: Stephanie Fong
Artists: Chun Kai Feng, Chun Kai Qun, Tang Ling Nah, Namiko Chan Takahashi
KAIKAI KIKI GALLERY (Japan)
Gallery director: Takashi Murakami
Artists: Takashi Murakami, Anri Sala, Aya Takano, Mr.
FUTURE PERFECT (Australia)
Gallery directors: David Teh and Jasper Knight
Artists: Adam Cullen, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ho Tzu Nyen
MIZUMA GALLERY (Japan)
Gallery director: Mizuma Sueo
Artists: Makoto Aida, Konoike Tomoko, Ikeda Manabu
OTA FINE ARTS (Japan)
Gallery director: Ota Hidenori
Artists: Yayoi Kusama, Hiraki Sawa and Tomoko Kashiki
PEARL LAM GALLERIES (China)
Gallery director: Pearl Lam
Artists: Zhang Huan, Zhu Jinshi, Li Tianbing
SHANGHART GALLERY (China)
Gallery director: Lorenz Helbling
Artists: Zeng Fanzhi, Chen Xiaoyun, Ding Yi
SILVERLENS (The Philippines)
Gallery directors: Isa Lorenzo and Neli Go
Artists: Patricia Eustaquio, Frank Callaghan, Wawi Navarroza
SPACE COTTONSEED (Korea)
Gallery director: Janice Kim
Artists: Moon Kyungwon, Lee Seahyun, Choi Hochul
SUNDARAM TAGORE GALLERY (US)
Gallery director: Sundaram Tagore
Artists: Annie Leibovitz, Robert Polidori, Frank Stella
THE DRAWING ROOM (The Philippines)
Gallery director: Cesar Villalon Jr
Artists: Jose Legaspi, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Kawayan De Guia
TOMIO KOYAMA GALLERY (Japan)
Gallery director: Tomio Koyama
Artists: Yoshitomo Nara, Franz Ackermann, Mika Ninagawa
The bicycle installation at the National Museum of Singapore. Image from The Dreaming Wanderer.
Today’s the 70th anniversary of the infamous Fall of Singapore, which marked a spectacular humbling of the once-proud British empire, and the beginning of the Japanese Occupation – one of lowest, darkest points in the island’s history.
Here’s one of my favourite displays in the National Museum: a wall of bicycles, commemorating the er, rather unusual arrival of the barbarians at the gate.
An article over at Military History Online, aptly titled Bicycle Blitzkreig: The Japanese Conquest of Malaya and Singapore 1941-1942, describes it:
However, in the Malaya campaign the Japanese were able to stay right behind the retreating British, never giving them time to catch their breath. There were at least two reasons for this. First, the British abandoned vast quantities of stores and supplies. Tsuji refers to theses as “Churchill Supplies”, and the Japanese helped themselves to food, transport, and munitions, which greatly eased their somewhat tenuous logistical situation. The second reason was that the Japanese had issued their soldiers thousands of bicycles. Western Malaya had good hard surfaced roads, and the Japanese soldiers rode down them, as much as twenty hours at a stretch. The Japanese had sold many bicycles in Malaya before the war, so they were able to find parts and repairs in most towns and villages. When they could no longer repair the tires, they rode on the rims. If the Japanese soldiers came to an unbridged stream, they slung their bikes over their shoulders and waded through. When larger bridges were blown, the Japanese engineers performed prodigies of quick repair, so that not only bicycles, but tanks and lorries as well could pass over in a surprisingly short time. “Even the long-legged Englishmen could not escape our bicycles”, says Tsuji, “This is the reason they were continually driven off the roads and into the jungle where, with their retreat cut off, they were forced to surrender” ……
…… The Japanese advanced deliberately toward the center of the island over the next two days. Their goal was the village of Burkit Timah, and control of the island’s reservoir. The British attempted to establish a defensive line along the Jurong Creek, but although there was sporadic heavy fighting, most of the defending troops lacked enthusiasm. At British headquarters plans were made and orders were given for counterattacks and heavy resistance, but on the front lines not much was done. The smell of defeat was in the air, along with the burning oil tanks, and everyone had a strong whiff of it. Deserters, those unfortunate Australian “replacements”, and desperate civilians were all running around Singapore town getting drunk rioting, or looking for a way out. The harbor was still full of ships, and they began leaving. Most made it to some destination, although several were sunk with great loss of life. Some attempt was made to evacuate military specialists, such as Squadron Leader Harper’s ground crews. It took General Percival a few days to accept the inevitable, but on February 15th he agreed to surrender. Most books on the subject have pictures of the surrender at the damaged Ford Motor Company factory: Percival gaunt, unhappy, Yamashita sleek, triumphant.
(Read the article by Allen Parfitt in full here.)
Happy bicycle day, folks.
Image from The Language of Museums!
This was published last year in Ben Davis’ Interventions column on Artinfo.com, but trying to pen a review of the latest Art Stage brought it to mind again.
The original can be read here.
Total Eclipse of the Art: The Rise of Art News and the Crisis of Art Criticism
By Ben Davis. Published: January 5, 2011.
As 2010 came to a close, Stephen Squibb over at Artlog put together a helpful crib sheet of the best moments of art criticism of the year. I admire this list (and not just because I’m on there, though that’s probably part of it). It’s a more heroic gesture to try to pick out what’s worth remembering than it is to issue crabby proclamations like “criticism is dead.”
Still, the way I think about the present moment is this: Art criticism is in eclipse. This is a carefully chosen metaphor. Let me explain.
If you had to name the major development in art discourse during the 2000s, it would undoubtedly be the ascent of “art news,” which has definitely replaced “art criticism” at the center of discussion. There’s been an enormous proliferation of writing about the art scene. Artforum.com’s “Scene and Herd” was founded in 2004. Artinfo.com, the publication I write for, was founded in 2005. And of course, there is the tremendous excitement generated by the art blogosphere, which draws its strength from attitude and outrage.
Heck, just yesterday Lindsay Pollock, a well-known art journalist, was named editor-in-chief of Art in America, long a redoubt of art criticism.
A simple logic governs this proliferation of “art news”: Readers care a lot more about reporting on the art world than they do about reviews of art. By whatever metric you use — Web traffic, reader feedback, or just percentage of the collective brain taken up — people are more inflamed by the latest institutional scandal or art-related celebrity sighting than they are by quaint, old-fashioned discussions of what, exactly, makes an artwork good.
So it sometimes seems that the art scene has swallowed the art itself. The galleries are more packed than ever at the same time that writing about art seems strangely directionless. As in a solar eclipse, the halo around art grows ever brighter and more distinct, even as the light source itself vanishes from view.
One explanation for this development is technological. The 2000s saw the Internet come to predominate over print, and, in a certain sense, the medium is the message. Information circulates faster on the Internet. The natural consequence of this is a different tempo of art writing. Worthwhile criticism — the kind that’s more than just “I liked it” or “this blows” — requires time to digest and space to breathe. The Web tilts art writing towards a different style and a different subject matter.
But though the medium may be the message, it doesn’t always get the last word. As I’ve argued before, the rise of serious art criticism — in the sense of the “theory-crit” that one associates with the old, exciting Artforum — had a specific material context: the turbo-charged expansion of the post-WWII university system, which produced a robust audience for highly abstract art theory.
“Theory-crit,” however, always had an internal flaw, summed up by Walter Robinson, my former editor at Artnet (another pioneer in online art news, incidentally) who likes to point out that if you read the average Artforum review you wouldn’t know that the objects in question ever existed in a real space, let alone were merchandise for sale.
The expanding market for “art news” coincided with the ballooning of the more commercial side of the art world in the ’00s: the explosion of art fairs (Art Basel Miami Beach debuted in 2002, Frieze in 2003), the rise of the “ego-seum,” the hunger of corporations to tap high-culture cachet (Takashi Murakami’s team-up with Louis Vuitton was in 2003), the triumph of art-as-investment, and the “emerging artist” wave that saw galleries harvest kids fresh out of school (Alex McQuilken’s “Fucked,” a video of the 19-year-old artist having sex made while she was at NYU, famously sold out at the 2002 Armory Show). But everything about “theory-crit” requires the reader to buy the idea that the academy is the most important tastemaking center. Thus, the commercial explosion created a space where all the stuff about the market and the social scene, institutional moves and their political ramifications, actually feels more relevant than the most “serious” criticism.
And so, in a kind of dialectical response to theories of aesthetics that don’t have that much to say about art’s context, you get reporting on art’s context that doesn’t have that much to say about aesthetics.
Just because you can’t see the sun in an eclipse, however, doesn’t mean it’s gone. The above reflections make me think that criticism’s loss of luster has less to do with some terminal death spiral for serious thought than it does with some weaknesses internal to the old theories people used to make art seem important.
I believe there’s a tremendous hunger for serious art criticism out there — it just has to be criticism that actually engages with the contemporary reality of art. After all, without an interesting perspective on what makes visual art distinctive, all you have left is the art world as a crappy arm of pop culture or a place for high-end gambling.
At the same time, the above thoughts also put a positive spin on the “art news” boom. Set against the de facto idealism of “theory-crit” (reducing art to pure theoretical machinations), the appeal of reporting on the art scene would seem to be partly that it yanks art back down to earth. “Art news” is a mug’s materialism. Which would mean that all the pulsating, magnetic shimmer of “art news” is really just displaced glow from the object itself, that is, a real investment in art as something relevant. The sun will come out tomorrow.
Prices (2011), William Powhida. Image courtesy of the artist’s personal site.
A belated look at Art Stage Singapore 2012 .. or ASS, as some are fond of referring to it.
There are no numbers here.
And there are no definitely no checklists inventorying who sold what to whom for how much. (Interest in art itself deflected by interest in their prices – just about so neat a fulfillment of Marx’s notion of the commodity fetish it’s nearly ridiculous.)
A disjointed juxtaposition seemed like the only comprehensible response to the bloated phenomenon that is the contemporary art fair.
Next to the entrance to this year’s Art Stage fair, where a posse of goons in dark suits stand like chthonic sentinels before a walkthrough metal detector soaring ceiling-wards, guests are greeted by an aureate version of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE statue (above). This one isn’t too large. Measuring some six by six feet, it’s love on a manageable, human scale. Unlike its more monumental counterparts – say, the colossal one just a block away from the MoMA in Manhattan – this piece crouches down to look the viewer in the face … or, more pertinently, to let the viewer look it in its (type)face.
Painted a gleaming gold, this particular incarnation of Indiana’s work was proudly displayed on a L-shaped platform, like the embrace of a cupped hand, with spotlights trained on it both from above and below, the illumination serving to bring out the incandescent shimmer of the hue. The sides were coloured a bold, garish red: besides chiming with the rich vermilion and crimson shades of the wall-to-wall carpeting beneath, the immediate evocation – for me anyways – was a pair of Louboutin stilettos.
Indiana’s LOVE design first emerged from the socio-political ferment of the 1960s as, of all things, a MoMA Christmas card. (It was also probably a response to certain nascent visual trends, like Pop Art and hard-edge painting). According to this Mental Floss article:
Robert Indiana never intended for his LOVE sculpture to become an emblem of 1960s counterculture, because it had nothing to do with free love or hippies. As with his other works, LOVE was all about personal symbolism
The word “love” was connected to his childhood experiences attending a Christian Science church, where the only decoration was the wall inscription, “God is Love.”
The colors were an homage to his father, who worked at a Phillips 66 gas station during the Depression. “When I was a kid, my mother used to drive my father to work in Indianapolis, and I would see, practically every day of my young life, a huge Phillips 66 sign,” he once wrote. “So it is the red and green of that sign against the blue Hoosier sky.”
The tilted O was common in medieval typography, and Indiana has variously described the leaning letter as representing either a cat’s eye or an erect phallus.
The LOVE icon as commentary on Christian Science – and, more broadly, the promises and blandishments of organized religion …
… here morphed into a gilded monument, glittering away under the spotlights.
A neat segue.
First, Stephen Colbert on what he dubbed “moneytheism”:
And it means that our collective cultural belief that the unfettered free market will take care of us is also not delusional. No. It is actually a religion. You see, psychiatrists often use use cultural acceptance to explain why it is not crazy to hold certain religious beliefs, say, a virgin gave brith to God’s son, or it’s an abomination to eat shrimp, or we protect ourselves from evil by wearing magic underwear. So, let’s just classify belief in the free market as religion. After all, they both have invisible hands, and move in mysterious ways. That way, no one can call us crazy and we can get all the benefits the government gives to churches. We no longer have to pay taxes on the money we make as long as we face Wall Street six times a day and say our prayer. “There is no god but Alan and more profits are his prophet.” Then on Judgment Day Ronald Reagan will return on a cloud of glory and take us up to money heaven.
(From the Nov 19, 2008, episode of The Colbert Report. Watch the relevant clip here.)
Now Martha Rosler on the money-driven world of the contemporary art fair:
Accusations of purely symbolic display, of hypocrisy, are easily evaded by turning to, finally, the third method of global discipline, the art fair, for fairs make no promises other than sales and parties; there is no shortage of appeals to pleasure. There has been a notable increase in the number and locations of art fairs in a short period, reflecting the art world’s rapid monetization; art investors, patrons, and clientele have shaken off the need for internal processes of quality control in favor of speeded-up multiplication of financial and prestige value. Some important fairs have set up satellite branches elsewhere. Other important fairs are satellites that outshine their original venues and have gone from the periphery of the art world’s vetting circuit to center stage. At art fairs, artworks are scrutinized for financial-portfolio suitability, while off-site fun (parties and dinners), fabulousness (conspicuous consumption), and non-art shopping are the selling points for the best-attended fairs—those in Miami, New York, and London (and of course the original, Basel). Dealers pay quite a lot to participate, however, and the success of the fair as a business venture depends on the dealers’ ability to make decent sales and thus to want to return in subsequent years.
(See Martha Rosler, “Take the Money and Run? Can Political and Socio-critical Art “Survive”?” in e-flux Journal 12 [01/2010].)
The always-already interpellated subject, according to Althusser:
To take a highly ‘concrete’ example, we all have friends who, when they knock on our door and we ask, through the door, the question ‘Who’s there?’, answer (since ‘it’s obvious’) ‘It’s me’. And we recognize that ‘it is him’, or ‘her’. We open the door, and ‘it’s true, it really was she who was there’. To take another example, when we recognize somebody of our (previous) acquaintance ((re)-connaissance) in the street, we show him that we have recognized him (and have recognized that he has recognized us) by saying to him ‘Hello, my friend’, and shaking his hand (a material ritual practice of ideological recognition in everyday life – in France, at least; elsewhere, there are other rituals) ……
As a first formulation I shall say: all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject.
This is a proposition which entails that we distinguish for the moment between concrete individuals on the one hand and concrete subjects on the other, although at this level concrete subjects only exist insofar as they are supported by a concrete individual.
I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellationor hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there!’
Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him, and that ‘it was really him who was hailed’ (and not someone else). Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of hailings is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, the one hailed always recognizes that it is really him who is being hailed. And yet it is a strange phenomenon, and one which cannot be explained solely by ‘guilt feelings’, despite the large numbers who ‘have something on their consciences’.
Naturally for the convenience and clarity of my little theoretical theatre I have had to present things in the form of a sequence, with a before and an after, and thus in the form of a temporal succession. There are individuals walking along. Somewhere (usually behind them) the hail rings out: ‘Hey, you there!’ One individual (nine times out often it is the right one) turns round, believing/suspecting/knowing that it is for him, i.e. recognizing that ‘it really is he’ who is meant by the hailing. But in reality these things happen without any succession. The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing.
I might add: what thus seems to take place outside ideology (to be precise, in the street), in reality takes place in ideology. What really takes place in ideology seems therefore to take place outside it. That is why those who are in ideology believe themselves by definition outside ideology: one of the effects of ideology is the practical denegation of the ideological character of ideology by ideology: ideology never says, ‘I am ideological’. It is necessary to be outside ideology, i.e. in scientific knowledge, to be able to say: I am in ideology (a quite exceptional case) or (the general case): I was in ideology. As is well known, the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself (unless one is really a Spinozist or a Marxist, which, in this matter, is to be exactly the same thing). Which amounts to saying that ideology has no outside (for itself), but at the same time that it is nothing but outside (for science and reality).
Above is Indo-Thai artist Navin Rawanchikul’s massive painting, part of his Navinland installation.
This, perhaps, represents the navel-gazing of the art world at its best.
The label describes it: “Navinland Needs You: We Are Asia! is a newly composed art created especially for Art Stage Singapore 2012. Almost 13-metres in length, the centrepiece acrylic canvas is a celebratory Who’s Who of many of the significant figures in Asian Art today.”
Indeed it is. Below is a listing – helpfully provided by Art Stage, next to the painting – of just who.
Wally-spotting was never so amusing.
In the meantime, here is a snippet from art critic Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses on Art and Class:
2.0 Today, the ruling class, which is capitalist, dominates the sphere of the visual arts
2.1 It is part of the definition of a ruling class that it controls the material resources of society
2.2 The ruling ideologies, which serve to reproduce this material situation, also represent the interests of the ruling class
2.3 The dominant values given to art, therefore, will be ones that serve the interests of the current ruling class
2.4 Concretely, within the sphere of the contemporary visual arts, the agents whose interests determine the dominant values of art are: large corporations, including auction houses and corporate collectors; art investors, private collectors and patrons; trustees and administrators of large cultural institutions and universities
2.5 One role for art, therefore, is as a luxury good, whose superior craftsmanship or intellectual prestige indicates superior social status
2.6 Another role for art is to serve as financial instrument or tradable repository of value
2.7 Another role for art is as sign of “giving back” to the community, to whitewash ill-gotten gains
2.8 Another role for art is symbolic escape valve for radical impulses, to serve as a place to isolate and contain social energy that runs counter to the dominant ideology
2.9 A final role for art is the self-replication of ruling-class ideology about art itself—the dominant values given to art serve not only to enact ruling-class values directly, but also to subjugate, within the sphere of the arts, other possible values of art
And here is current darling of the New York art scene, William Powhida, famed for his take-no-prisoners approach to art world critique, and his Dear Art World, the text of which is transcribed below (courtesy of brainpickings.com):
Dear Art World,
I feel you sitting there trying to process the CRAZY shit going on. I’ve been there for months, and it’s driving me INSANE. Fuck it, it seems counterproductive to EVEN talk about this shit, because EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS WHY “SHIT is REALLY FUCKED UP,” or why I’m wrong.
BUT, I’ve come to some conclusions about shit. One is that we spend A LOT of time BLAMING each other for notunderstanding WHAT the problem actually is — TRANSPARENCY, Barack Obama, mandates LOBBYISTS, immigrants, RESPONSIBILITY, FREEDOM Truth, LIZARD PEOPLE, FLUORIDE in the water… TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE OF ANY OF IT.
I mean, everyone ALREADY has the Answer, it’s just that every ELSE just has ‘it’ all wrong. It’s really simple, apparently, to fix everything by applying some JESUS™, REGULATION®, or CONSTITUTION™ to it. If only we’d just free the Market, convict some bankers, spiritually channel the Founding Fathers, regulate derivatives, STOP eating GM corn syrup, spend more…time with your Family OR LEGALIZE DRUGS.
EXCEPT WE don’t do shit*, because this is AMERICA, Land of the Mr. Softee® and home of the BRAVES® where we are FREE to ARGUE about the CAUSES of social and ECONOMIC inequalities until the grass-fed cows come home. We argue in comment threads, on Facebook™, and twitter™. AND, when we aren’t arguing, We agree with our favorite ‘experts’ on FOX®, CNBC™, and CNN™ as we slide into RECESSION 2.0.
One of the OBVIOUS conclusions I’ve arrived at is that a very FEW people LIKE it that way. WHILE SHIT is bad for MOST of us — 9%+ unemployment, $14 TRILLION+ debt, and a perpetual War on Terror® — *THEY* hope we’ll all just pull a lever next fall ‘PROBLEM SOLVED’ and argue some more about the INTENTIONS of the CLIMATE, BECAUSE the 1% is doing fine.
The only FACTS worth stating are that 20% of the population controls 85% of the net worth and earned 49.9% of the income last year. IN the AMERICAN SPIRIT™ of BLAME and recrimination I’m going to point the finger at…deREGULATED CAPITALISM®! IT is in the very spirit of Capitalism to ACQUIRE MORE CAPITAL. To quote @O_SattyCripnAzz, fellow citizen and member of #Team #1mmy [?], “Money is money no matter how u get it.”
Unfortunately, the same 1% also supports the rest of us by BYING shit and funding almost everything else (museums, residencies, grants…) putting some of us in an awkward position (YOU TOO NATO and Pedro), BUT that doesn’t mean we should SHUT THE FUCK UP, take their MONEY, and say ‘Thank you!’ The Art World is NOT separate from SOCIETY and THIS is how SHIT gets all FUCKED UP — PLUTARCHY, motherfuckers.
So, in my useless capacity as a tool artist, I’ve made some pictures about this SHIT that are FREE to look at**, and they’re ALL DERIVATIVES.
[signed William Powhida]
** Bring a chair
Dear Art World (2011), William Powhida. Image from the artist’s site.
Korean artist Lee Yongbaek’s Broken Mirror Classic consists of a mirror in a gilt frame.
Serendipitously, the perfect moment of self-regarding complicity.
Dracula, Aaron Horkey & Vania Zouravliov.
Film buffs – or fans of the movie poster genre – will have heard of Mondo by now.
A recent article in the NYT describes its work as such:
But an outfit far from Hollywood has sought to recapture the vintage hand-drawn spirit while injecting some contemporary flair. The company is Mondo, an offshoot of the Austin, Tex., theater chain Alamo Drafthouse. It commissions artists to design alternative versions of posters for films considered cult or genre pictures. The styles range from multi-tiered, character-packed collage (like Tyler Stout’s fanboy-friendly work for “The Empire Strikes Back”) to subdued prints that express a movie’s mood more than anything else (like the simple smoking gun forming Clint Eastwood’s profile in Olly Moss’s “Dirty Harry”).
(Read the piece here, or scroll down – it’s reproduced at the end of the post.)
For a full visual listing of the posters, see the Mondo Archive.
Iron Giant, Kevin Tong.
The Breakfast Club, Jay Ryan.
Dirty Harry, Olly Moss.
Jurassic Park, Aaron Horkey.
The Shining, Jeff Kleinsmith.
The Lost World, Dan McCarthy.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jason Munn.
John Waters Dusk-Til-Dawn Movie Marathon, Little Friends of Printmaking.
HAND-DRAWN HOMAGE TO CLASSIC FILMS
By Mekado Murphy. Published: 7 October 2011.
THE movie poster is dead. Long live the movie poster. Gone are the days of hand-drawn studio posters that possessed a creativity and artistry matching that of the films themselves. Think of “King Kong,” with its harrowing illustrations, or Saul Bass’s Minimalist design for “Vertigo.” The contemporary studio poster is often a literal, less adventurous affair, like the vision of Julia Roberts on the back of Tom Hanks’s scooter in the poster for “Larry Crowne,” a typical example of today’s photography-driven advertisements.
But an outfit far from Hollywood has sought to recapture the vintage hand-drawn spirit while injecting some contemporary flair. The company is Mondo, an offshoot of the Austin, Tex., theater chain Alamo Drafthouse. It commissions artists to design alternative versions of posters for films considered cult or genre pictures. The styles range from multi-tiered, character-packed collage (like Tyler Stout’s fanboy-friendly work for “The Empire Strikes Back”) to subdued prints that express a movie’s mood more than anything else (like the simple smoking gun forming Clint Eastwood’s profile in Olly Moss’s “Dirty Harry”).
As wild as the company is about movies, Mondo is serious about its posters, and it is not alone in this sentiment. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has an archive of more than 38,000 movie posters, recently started adding Mondo’s work to its collection. While the archive is diverse, adding a large series of alternative posters from an independent company is a rarity.
“We’re always seeking out the unusual,” said Anne Coco, an archivist for the Academy, which will collect every poster Mondo designs from now on. “As we became more aware of what Mondo was doing, it just seemed like a good fit.”
That’s quite a step up from Mondo’s beginnings, in 2004, as Mondo Tees, a T-shirt shop started by Tim League, the founder and chief executive of Alamo Drafthouse. The shop carried shirts decorated with classic movie images, as well as vintage iron-on decals.
The same year the shop opened, Alamo Drafthouse collaborated with the Austin nightclub Emo’s for a music and film event called Cinemania. Mondo made its first foray into poster creation, turning to Rob Jones, a designer of rock posters. The results were high-energy screen prints for “The Warriors,” “Foxy Brown” and “Better Off Dead.”
“It was so novel to have subject material that was based in cult movies,” Mr. League said about the collaboration, “that there was interest from other artists saying, ‘Hey, I’d love to be involved in what you guys are doing.’ We honestly didn’t even know what we were doing yet. It was just three posters.”
They began to figure it out fairly quickly and commissioned more posters the next year for the Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow, a national tour of screenings at towns and cities famous as settings for the movies shown. Meanwhile the Drafthouse continued to work with artists on posters for special screenings offered by the chain in Austin. Though a physical shop still exists, the center of gravity shifted to an online site with posters as the focus.
Mondo wasn’t blazing a trail. “There’s a long tradition of theaters doing their own posters,” said Rudy Franchi, an expert on movie collectibles who runs the Web site posterappraisal.com. “There was a famous movie theater in London, the Academy Cinema, and they had a man named Peter Strausfeld who did these beautiful woodblock posters for them.”
But Mondo is one of the few to parlay its designs into a thriving business. Licensing deals allow it to produce official posters for series in which there is major fan interest, like a “Star Wars” collection from 2010. A set of three posters from that series, designed by Mr. Moss, was recently listed on eBay for $7,499.99.
And studios are now going to Mondo to request alternative posters. This summer it collaborated with Paramount Pictures on posters for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (with a highly stylized, colorful look) and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (with a stark, retro feel). While a studio doesn’t often commission alternatives, Paramount executives saw Mondo’s work appealing to a coveted demographic. But designs are set on Mondo’s terms, not the studio’s.
“One of the riders in our contract is that we pick the artist and have, more or less, final cut on what we do,” said Justin Ishmael, Mondo’s creative director.
Its artist roster has grown significantly over the years, including a few high-profile names. Mondo used Shepard Fairey, best known for his poster for the Obama campaign, to work on John Carpenter’s “They Live.” And Drew Struzan, one of the mammoths in the field for his work on posters in the “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future” franchises, designed a 21-color “Frankenstein” poster that feels as if it could have been the original advertisement. (All 325 in the run sold out, at $285 each.)
This year Mondo began a directors’ series, with posters focusing on the bodies of work from the likes of Wes Craven, Zack Snyder and Guillermo del Toro.
“I felt completely overwhelmed and happy,” Mr. Del Toro said about being chosen for the series. “I’m a huge fan of their posters. They involved me in approving every step of the design. They took some of my notes to heart, but mostly my notes were ‘Wow!’ The ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ poster is the most beautiful piece I’ve seen.” That Art Nouveau-like concoction evokes the film’s fantasy elements in a lush composition.
Paradoxically, while Mondo has mostly become a poster business that sells T-shirts on the side, buying a poster from the site is virtually impossible. By the time one is displayed on the site, it has already sold out. Each release generates considerable traffic, so Mr. Ishmael uses the company’s Twitter account, @MondoNews, to announce, randomly, when posters go on sale. The limited editions can sell out in a minute or less (raising their coolness factor); often it’s easier for a casual buyer to find Mondo’s work on eBay.
While the store’s posters aren’t frequently selling to collectors of classic material, its work is being invited to the party. Heritage, an auction house that hosts the largest sales of vintage movie posters, added some of Mondo’s pieces to its catalog this year.
Time will tell how Mondo’s work fits into movie memorabilia history, but for now it’s giving genre fans a new visual way to celebrate the films they love.
You know, that commonplace: ““The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
So I guess I’m grateful, in a manner of speaking.
A friend recently brought this to my attention: a simultaneous dissing and out-ing on Facebook. (See screengrab above.)
Curator Tang Fu Kuen clearly is not a fan of my work on this site. This is what he has to say: “An example of a bad sophomoric art blog that imagines it’s contributing intellectually to the SG visual art scene. He calls himself Louis Lardpants!”
I suppose a snarky one-liner is hardly much to get riled about, but that second statement got a little too personal for my taste.
To every critique (although this hardly counts), a rejoinder:
1. Disagreement is perfectly legit. After all, I pull no punches on this blog, so I can hardly expect my readers – and critics – to concur with my opinions, or even my approach. However, this needs to be said: my writing is NEVER about snap judgments, or personal vendettas. (Thank goodness I have few of those.)
It’s about ideas.
The primary impulse behind the direction that this blog has taken in the last year or so derives in large part from what I see as a deficit in critical articulations regarding local art, and local art historical canons: aside from the work of a handful of veteran scholars and foreign academics, there are, sad to say, but a few commentators and critics of Singapore art writing today who are possessed of lucid voices, a tendency to lateral reflection beyond those tired boundaries demarcating the facile notion of autonomy which cloaks the artistic object, and a familiarity with the critical praxis of the Anglo-American academy (since we are hardly heirs to an indigenous tradition of criticality).
In short, I DO view myself as “contributing intellectually to the SG visual art scene”, quote unquote.
That is not a defense, by the way. My work speaks for itself – any claims I muster on its behalf are necessarily inadequate, and the best recourse would simply be to the writing as such. Go read.
In that vein, I invite Mr. Tang – if he, or any acquaintances, happen to be reading this – to an exchange on the pages of this site: a frank, civil discussion of what art criticism and writing in Singapore is, can, and should be, or perhaps regarding any one or more of my reviews on this site, which he may have issues with. Zippy labels like “sophomoric”, while understandably fun, are hardly convincing – unless, of course, as a prelude to a more considered evaluation, which, unfortunately, does not seem to be the case here. I may have deployed a couple of those in my time, but only always as lead-in to careful analysis, and serious commentary.
As I recently mentioned to someone, I believe in reasoned judgment – but, more than that, I believe in dialogue.
The invitation to an exchange is, hopefully, ample demonstration of that fact.
And, hopefully, Mr. Tang, too, knows how to walk the walk. Otherwise his talk may not be worth much.
2. Now this is where the comments rankle. You’ll notice that he makes an allusion to my Facebook handle; indeed, “Louis Lardpants” is how I’m known on FB. (Feel free to look it up, but most of it is accessible only to people in my contact list.) That is quite CLEARLY a reference to – and a deliberate puncture of – the anonymity that I’ve maintained on this site thus far. Now, quite a few regular readers already know who I am, and those with whom I’m not personally acquainted will probably have been clandestinely apprised of the fact by those who are. It doesn’t matter. My identity isn’t a big secret, but the reviewing process being what it is – i.e. not always resulting in a positive verdict – it does save a lot of in-person hassle when I go to shows if I remain faceless. Which explains the continued charade.
I understand that Mr. Tang may have a beef with my opinions as they are expressed here, but surely my choice to remain anonymous should be considered personal, and to be respected as such ? (Even the exclamation mark – “He calls himself Louis Lardpants!” – seems to suggest mockery of that sobriquet, which is, I think, hitting below the belt somewhat.) Again, I stress that writing published on this site, and the critiques contained therein, are directed at (a) publicly expressed opinions, publicly exhibited works of art and publicly accessible exhibitions, and (b) institutions, or individuals as representatives of said institutions or in their capacity as professionals in the art world. In other words, I would NOT look up someone’s Facebook profile and post it on the pages of this blog, or on my own profile – especially not if a preference for anonymity is palpable. (“What bad art! And he/she calls him/herself XXX!”)
I don’t do that … but apparently others do.
Some of you are going to say that Mr. Tang’s comments were made on Facebook, and – privacy settings aside – only for the eyes of his contacts. I do wish to point out that if limited visibility was indeed a consideration here, these remarks would have been made using the Message function, or put on some form of limited setting – not out in the open on the wall of a profile, where word of it got back to me within an hour or so.
I suppose the only conclusion is that Mr. Tang intended for me to be publicly out-ed.
Which is why I decided to put this up here. If he does not wish to respect another’s privacy, then I guess I should feel no qualms about a direct address on an open forum like the present one: Mr. Tang, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.
I definitely welcome a candid conversation about art matters, or my writing, or specifically regarding The Longue Duree … blog – but everything else is pretty much off limits.
I hope that much at least is taken to heart.
Image from The Substation site.
The facade of the Substation is currently swathed in a screen of black and white PVC slats. The installation is the brainchild of a local architect and a designer, Randy Chan and Grace Tan, titled Building as a Body. The work, as that moniker suggests, imagines architecture as anatomy. According to Tan:
The façade becomes bare and neutral, but powerful and dynamic beyond the surface. Subsequently, Randy and I started talking about the parallel between the body and architecture. Over the course of our dialogue, the notion of constructing a layer/skin to cover the façade came naturally to us.
By shrouding the façade, we are removing and masking the ‘face’ of the building, which is the most critical, visual, and symbolic physical representation of The Substation.
(See an interview with Tan here.)
The correlation between built structures and somatic structures is not a new one:
… Renaissance building owed its special qualities as an “architecture of humanism” to its analogies, in theory and physical presence, to the human body. A confessed Wolfflinian himself, Rowe would seem to agree with the ascription of a corporeal psychology to the experience of architecture, a response of the human body to a building that, for the building to be successful, would have, so to speak, to be matched and instigated by the building itself. We sense an echo of Wolfflin’s conclusion that “we judge every object by analogy with our own bodies.” Wolfflin wrote of the “creature”-like nature of the building, “with head and foot, back and front” ……
For Geoffrey Scott, the building’s “body” acted as a referent for “the body’s favorable state,” the “moods of the spirit … power and laughter, strength and terror and calm.” Translating the long tradition of Renaissance bodily analogy into psychological terms, Scott identified two complementary principles at work: the one, founded on the response we have to the appearance of stability or instability in a building, is our identification with the building itself: “we have transcribed ourselves into terms of architecture.” The other was founded on the fact that with this initial transcription we unconsciously invest the building itself with human movement and human moods: “we transcribe architecture into terms of ourselves.” Together, these two principles formed, he asserted, “the humanism of architecture.” … Thence Scott’s impassioned plea for the body in architecture: “architecture, to communicate the vital values of the spirit must appear organic, like the body.”
(Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny [1992, MIT Press].)
Comparisons to the large-scale outdoor projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude aside, Building as a Body strikes one as an informed intervention in the urban streetscape: cloaking the physical presence of a well-established local institution in a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t play of shifting chromaticism, the work perhaps functions as an oblique comment on the Substation’s diminished influence in the arts scene hereabouts, a game of optical hide-and-seek to mirror its vicissitudinous wax and wane in the public eye …
A write-up in The Straits Times last week, reproduced below.
VEIL FOR SUBSTATION
Artists turn the arts centre into an art installation for its 20th anniversary.
By Denise Cheong. Published: 3 February 2012.
One of Singapore’s landmark arts centres has itself been turned into a work of art.
Take a stroll along Armenian Street and you will find The Substation shrouded in interwoven black and cream plastic strips.
The arts centre-turned-art-installation was commissioned by the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Art Museum.
Singapore artists Grace Tan, 32, and Randy Chan, 41, created it to celebrate The Substation’s 20th anniversary. Their work, quite an artistic and architectural feat, is titled Building As A Body.
It is a 15m-tall and 10m-wide matrix of 471 PVC strips, each between 5m and 9m in length and 3cm in width. These strips are connected to steel poles using square rings and conceals the entire facade of The Substation building.
The 80kg structure was completed on Jan 10 and is on display till March 28. It is supported by steel scaffolding clamped to the building’s pillars, and took three days and 10 construction workers to build.
On why the artists concealed the arts centre, Chan said he was disappointed that since the National Library and a well- known char kway teow stall (Armenian Street Char Kway Teow, now at Block 303, Anchorvale Link Coffeshop in Sengkang) were relocated, the area was now often deserted.
‘The idea was to personify the building. If you look at it one way, the veil represents a woman’s coming of age as a young bride. However, it can also stand for something more morbid, as a veil is also used to cover a corpse,’ he said.
Tan added: ‘This is why we chose the monochromatic colour scheme instead of something more striking. The polarity is very symbolic.
‘The image of a veil in itself is very elusive and mysterious. This can be paralleled to how The Substation means different things to different people.’
The Substation artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim, 38, said: ‘I hope the installation will activate a new imagination of The Substation, not only as a home for the arts but also as a platform for design and sculpture.’
He added: ‘The Substation already stands out in gentrified Armenian Street. This installation disrupts the clean lines of this neighbourhood. I like it and I think it’s an important statement.’
On the use of PVC strips, Chan said: ‘As this is a public art installation, we were very strategic about the materials used. Instead of just draping a big cloth over the building, which will eventually get wet and heavy, we went for this idea of weaving so that wind can flow through it.
‘PVC material is water-resistant and also very light, making the veil structurally sound.’
This is Chan and Tan’s first time collaborating on an art project of this scale.
He is an architect by profession, and she is an associate artist of The Substation’s research programme and the founder of kwodrent, an inter-disciplinary practice specialising in design and fabric works.
Here is scholar of the sartorial, Anne Hollander, on the material existence of clothes:
Dress has not only no social but also no significant aesthetic existence unless it is actually being worn. Western sartorial relics on display simply do not have the artistic status of antique vases and cabinets. Half their beauty is obviously missing. This is true not just if they are displayed unworn, but always, simply because they are not seen completing the unique and conscious selves of their owners …… Concepts of design and feats of workmanship survive, along with indications of social attitudes, economic conditions, and so on. But a vase in a museum has a completeness to offer the eye that a dress never has, though both may be breathtakingly made according to artistic standards of equal altitude.
(From Hollander’s classic study, Seeing Through Clothes.)
Unworn clothing, or dress, then, as an inert physicality, un-activated as social or aesthetic fact by the animating force of a body.
Now these – at the SAM’s latest offering, The Collectors Show: Chimera - bodies missing, effaced, obscured, abstracted:
First, Filipino artist Patricia Eustaquio’s Psychogenic Fugue (below), on loan from collector Marcel Crespo (son of former Filipino Congressman, Mark Jimenez). A piano cover, an expanse of cream-coloured lace, is set over a missing piano, its evacuated, vacant interior illuminated by several spotlights. The armature of the piece is provided by the simple means of a hardened thermoplastic resin, which moulds the fabric from beneath into a phantasmal non-presence – evoked, named, but always already displaced. As the label observes: “Delicate in detail and haunting in its hollowness, this ghostly shroud calls attention to its absent object, poignantly emphasising its loss.”
Another contribution by a Filipino artist: Yasmin Sison’s Orange Madonna (below), from the collection of one Dr. George Soo. The painting’s central figures are, literally, dis-figured. The minor iconographic tradition of the Virgin and Holy Infant in a grove of orange trees – one of the more famous examples of which remains Cima de Conegliano’s late 15th century treatment of the subject – is here given an update by the clearly visible contemporary wear. More to the point, however, is the salient effacement of the figures, the painted surface where their faces should be reduced to a muddied soup of chaotic brushstrokes and chromatic confusion, explicitly negating the dimensions of mimesis and iconicity.
The title of Yayoi Kusama’s installation, Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Nets 2/10 (below), speaks for itself. Courtesy of Lito and Kim Camacho, a replica of the Venus de Milo is set against a flat background, both rendered in Kusama’s trademark “infinity nets” (a pattern of reiterated dots), binding object and setting in a virtually indistinguishable homogeneity. To quote theorist Roger Caillois on what he termed “legendary psychasthenia”, or the phenomenon of a subject psychologically identifying with or becoming absorbed into a physical space:
It is with represented space that the drama becomes specific, since the living creature, the organism, is no longer the origin of the coordinates, but one point among others; it is dispossessed of its privilege and literally no longer knows where to place itself …… The feeling of personality, considered as the organism’s feeling of distinction from its surroundings, of the connection between consciousness and a particular point in space, cannot fail under these circumstances to be seriously undermined; one then enters into the psychology of psychasthenia, and more specifically legendary psychasthenia, if we agree to use this name for the disturbance in the above relations between personality and space.
(Qtd. in Anthony Vidler’s The Architectural Uncanny.)
The body is here, the artist flatly states, obliterated, the object visually subsumed as an image of the subject in a state of destabilizing psycho-spatial collapse.
Finally, Indonesian Entang Wiharso’s The Unspeakable Victim – The Story Behind Superhero and Black Goat Colony (#3) (below), from the collection of Hugh Young. The work is one in a series of similar metal-plate sculptures, resembling, in their broad figural contours, paper cutouts, or the cast shadows of wayang kulit puppets. The rather obscure narratives conjured by the artist aren’t the point here; what is apropos is the evocation of the wayang: “… you have to understand the wayang – the scared shadow play … Their shadows are souls, and the screen is heaven. You must watch the shadows, not the puppets.” (A quote from Peter Weir’s 1982 film, The Year of Living Dangerously, based on C. J. Koch’s novel of the same name.) Orientalist melodrama aside, the wayang in its performative dimension indeed provides a ready analogue for the abstracted corporeal complex as Wiharso envisions it. The appropriation of the silhouette as a formal strategy, rather than the puppets themselves, in all their intricate detail, suggests a double dislocation here: the shadow as a Platonic un-reality, a cave of fleeting illusions, which the art of the wayang encodes into its very praxis; and Wiharso’s spare, bare forms, the body submitted to a specific mode of erasure.
A return to where we started from: Hollander’s claim that the unworn dress is an incomplete prosthesis of the wearer. If that notion may be analogized to accommodate the artwork-collector complex – the effaced body, so prevalent here, as an intimation of the missing, crucial, animating force that supposedly provides the conceptual glue which brings together the various strands of contemporary art praxis on display, or, in other words, the individual collector and the determining aesthetics of particular collections and tastes – then the shortcomings of the show become glaringly obvious, “simply because”, as Hollander puts it, “they are not seen completing the unique and conscious selves of their owners.”
After all, Chimera bills itself as “a tribute to the art patrons of today, the exhibition offers an insight into the breadth and richness of private art collections, introducing visitors to the personal visions and passions that shape them.”
Where, then, are these ‘personal visions and passions”, beyond the parade of names that mean little to general art-viewing public – Crespo, Soo, Camacho, Young, among so many others that soon begin to blur one into another ? Those function here simply as a placeholder for the act of semantic truancy, the organizing principle claimed but, for all effective purpose, occluded. Or to reiterate the abovementioned – “evoked, named, but always already displaced.”
The artwork as static and inert as an article of dress removed from the absent anatomy; the gesture of the hollowed-out body as an analogue of that missing element which serves as the ersatz foundation of the exhibition, a presence alluded to but ceaselessly deferred – the Collector.
It was all so .. deracinated.
A tribute of sorts this show certainly is, but what to ? The power of individual collectors possessed of the necessary resources ? The readiness of an institution to genuflect ? The ingenuity of the curator ? The cosy network of connections which sutures the art industry and the socio-economic elite ? Or perhaps the creed of convenience, the exhibition as an easy, fail-safe showcase of the snazziest examplars of contemporary Asian art, a blatantly transparent attempt to wow both collector and peasant alike, the latter especially who should be grateful for the opportunity to view such remarkable pieces accessible otherwise only to the privilege of (superfluous) capital and private property.
Consider me grateful.