Posts Tagged ‘Singapore Biennale ’11’
Ok, its coming on December: people are preparing to decamp for the hols, the Orchard Rd. belt is now visible from space at night, and top ten lists of the year’s best everybloodything are popping up like OWS sub-movements ..
Time to deck those halls, folks.
This year I thought I’d try sumthin’ new: my own list of top ten art moments. After all, this marks the first full year I’ve spent at home in quite a while, and 2011 – fortuitously – produced quite the bumper crop for art lovers hereabouts. There was the inaugural Art Stage fair; the 3rd Singapore Biennale; the OH! (Open House) event; a whole slew of impressive shows at the SAM, including Its Now or Never II, Negotiating Home, History and Nation, and Video, an Art, a History; as well as the arrival of several major new players on the local gallery scene, such as Art Plural and Ikkan Sanada.
The art gods were working overtime this year.
A couple of preliminary notes: I’ve unfortunately had to restrict the list to pieces either (a) by Singaporean artists, or (b) which spoke to uniquely local issues. Its not an ideal situation, I realize – also, that second one is highly debatable – but the alternative presents too dauntingly wide a field. For instance, I saw certain works by Judd, Oldenburg, Vito Acconci and Pierre Huyghe for the first time this year, which I loved, but it didn’t seem quite .. apropos to put them in a list for 2011 (the Judd piece, say, dated from the ’60s). I also considered expanding the list to include Southeast Asian artists in general, but, again, it made little sense. While what I saw locally by contemporary regional artists was pretty damned good, it represented but a fraction of what was available in their home countries; I’m sure critics there can come up with far more comprehensive and intelligible lists of their own. I know this runs counter to the new spirit of globalized plurality which seems to characterize our little red dot and its burgeoning art scene in the new millennium (the catch-all colloquialism here being “foreign talent”), but this is Singapore after all. I hate to admit this, buuuut … I was afraid that if the parameters got too broad, the final tally might not have erm, included too many Singaporeans. How’s that for xenophobic insecurity eh ? (Notabilia, don’t bite my head off.) Finally, this should be borne in mind: I saw a whole lotta stuff this past year, but there’s plenty I missed, so if there’s something you think should’ve made the cut but didn’t, feel free to drop me a line, or just leave a note on this post. (One caveat: if you’re planning to write in recommending the ArtScience Museum, please don’t bother. It’s absence from the present discussion is both deliberate and, I hope, conspicuous.)
Anyways, enough prattling. Below are my picks – “my” being the operative word. Write-ups supplied where available, otherwise I’ll get round to it when I’m free (or not, which is entirely possible).
In no particular order, here’s the first ever Jusdeananas Annual Singapore Art Roundup:
1. THE MERLION HOTEL (2011), TATZU NISHI. Displayed: Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House.
From an earlier write-up on this blog:
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.
(Read the full version here.)
2. EXPENSE OF SPIRIT IN A WASTE OF SHAME (1994), SUZANN VICTOR. Displayed: Negotiating Home, History and Nation, Singapore Art Museum.
3. TAMAN NEGARA (2011), LOO ZIHAN. Performed: Singapore Survey 2011: Imagine Malaysia, Valentine Willie Fine Art.
From an earlier write-up on this blog:
It consisted of Loo alternately standing stock-still, and moving between two pillars … Accompanied by several chamber pots filled with water, he would, at regular intervals, drink from these pots, or transfer the contents from one to the next …. Apparently the piece … was a reference to (an exorcism of?) an old childhood trauma. The exact intent behind it was not entirely clear to me just from watching, but I loved it. Performance art was proscribed by the authorities after the hijinks of Josef Ng, Shannon Tham and Vincent Leow back in the early ’90s. Ng, as most people might remember, snipped his pubic hair at a public performance in Parkway Parade, and Tham chewed up and threw up a copy of The New Paper … while Leow, a year earlier, had taken a leak in front of his audience — and then guzzled it back down … The consequence of all this was, of course, official disapprobation, and censorship: the National Arts Council condemned Ng’s act, the artist was fined 1,000 SGD, and, most unfortunately, funding for performance art of all stripes was embargoed – a ban lifted only in 2003, nearly a decade later …… Are we now witnessing a return to the sort of in-your-face stunts that performance artists of a previous generation espoused ?
(Read the full version here.)
4. AN EXILE REVISITS THE CITY (2011), GREEN ZENG. (Exhibition.) Displayed: The Substation Gallery.
5. RAW CANVAS (2010), JANE LEE. Displayed: Collectors’ Stage, Singapore Art Museum.
From an earlier write-up on this blog:
The work is phenomenal. As it appeared at the SAM, Raw Canvas was an absolutely mammoth web of thick, solid skeins of paint (I think – other materials/additives were probably involved), which by some trick of the trade were made to adhere to the surface of an entire wall, transforming a simple structural element into a towering, ceiling-to-floor exercise in stereoscopic synesthesia, a play on the perceptual tensions between two-dimensional appearance and resolutely tactile, three-dimensional reality. In that sense, Lee’s work deconstructs, literally, the painting as an object. The interrogation of the traditional medial supports of paint and canvas is effected at the level of their sheer physical facticity: paint moves from being a tool of utility (the means of pictorial creation) to being an obdurately material existence in its own right, insisting on its own auratic presence as a three-dimensional object in space, the shift occurring not merely as aesthetic affect or formal inflection, but as manifest ontological redirection.
(Read the full version here.)
6. ALL LINES FLOW OUT (2011), CHARLES LIM. Displayed: Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House.
From an earlier write-up on this blog:
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 …… 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 …… 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.
(Read the full version here.)
7. MULTIPLE PERFORMANCES (2011), MARK WONG, KAI LAM, ZAI TANG & YUZURU MAEDA. Performed: dream: borderlands and other territories, Goodman Arts Centre.
8. ADINANDRA BELUKAR (2011), GENEVIEVE CHUA. Displayed: Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House.
9. ? (?), ?. Displayed: privately.
From an earlier write-up on this blog (the painting in question is the one on the left):
In that sense, the painting is, above all, citational. It quotes from the trans-spatial archive that is the contemporary discipline of art history; it references repositories of localized memory in the inscription of those narratives — teasingly, ambivalently — into its iconographic negotiations. But the main locus of referentiality, of course, is the inclusion of Titian’s painting, a nod to the forces of globalization as much as the art historical archive. The nebulous space of the composition, anterior to the painting within a painting, reproduces the reproduction: the presence of a dog and the tiled grid of the floor in both; the slant of a shadow across the wall gestures at the bisection of Titian’s work, by the partition draped in green fabric; even the samfoo-ed getup of the young girl, though ostensibly standing in stark contrast to the nudity of the Venus figure, alludes, in its pristine whiteness, to the smooth, creamy expanse of flesh that is the goddess at her erotic best. That the position of the young girl’s head also, coincidentally or otherwise, obscures Venus’ obscuration of her own pudenda with her hand — a gesture notorious in the annals of art history for its risque titillation — also perhaps further sediments the two spaces in the painting in a mutually constitutive embrace.
(Read the full version here.)
10. ARTISTS IN THE NEWS (2011), KOH NGUANG HOW. Displayed: Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House.
11. (The honorary spot.) HE IS SATISFIED FROM MONDAY TO FRIDAY AND ON SUNDAY HE LOVES TO CRY (2009), CHUN KAIFENG. Displayed: It’s Now or Never II, Singapore Art Museum.
Artwork of the day: Viet-American artist Tiffany Chung’s stored in a jar: monsoon, drowning fish, color of water, and the floating world (2010 – 11), which was included in the Singapore Biennale earlier this year. (My previous post about Martin Creed made me realize what a backlog of images I have, and just from the past year alone …)
The piece was on display in the National Museum, one of the Biennale’s four venues. The basement gallery was rendered a deep, dark pitch-black, a reversal of the typical white cube aesthetic. The transformation of the space was stunning, I thought, but combined with the low lights overhead, it wasn’t exactly the most propitious of conditions under which to view art – as evidenced by the difficult time I had trying to eyeball Chung’s exquisite miniatures of floating homes. Little models of floating communities, complete with green spaces and rowboats, were laid out on plates of glass suspended from the ceiling, the entire setup indeed resembling the sort of water-borne “alternative” architectural modes envisioned by Chung:
Tiffany Chung’s work monitors the dramatic effects of economic development, urbanisation, and consumer culture in her native country of Vietnam. Inspired by her experiences of the historic 1978 Mekong River floods – an event that has haunted her into her adulthood – Chung has constructed an alternative model of urban development where ‘floating life’ is a way of life. Based on a principle of horizontal planning rather than the grand vertical structures found in modern cities, Chung’s project draws upon traditional architectural forms in the Mekong region and other parts of Asia to propose alternative modes of sustainable living.
As artistic representations, Chung’s prototypes are beautifully realized – not unlike Michael Lee’s delicate paper models at the Old Kallang Airport site. Seemingly set adrift in mid-air in the dim glimmer of the space, the tiny houses and aquatic parks are also supported by miniature flotation devices, a fact made clear only upon close inspection. Beyond that, however, there didn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of the problems that comes with real-life usage. The label refers to the piece as an “alternative model of urban development”, or “alternative modes of sustainable living”, but without some accompanying proposal as to how these habitations will function in real life, they remain quite simply in the sphere of representation, falling somewhat short of the claims that they present a viable solution to urban overcrowding – and its myriad practical difficulties, which really require more than the spectatorial impact of art to address adequately. This deracinated character of the work – its failure to transcend the visual register, a failure brought into focus by its own contradictory claims – seems to bear out Guy Debord’s prognostication: “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” Here, the subsumption of “social relations” by the image, in a twist on the Marxian commodity fetish, is betrayed by the disembodied nature of a work that purports to offer a model of “sustainable living” but stands as an appeal only to the gaze; the inversion represented by the visible “in societies where modern conditions of production prevail” is signaled here on a formal level by the almost oneiric quality of Chung’s levitating miniatures, their spectral silhouettes on the ground (above) as prominent as the objects that cast them, insubstantial entities doubly displaced from the realm of the real.
(The full text of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle is available over at the Marxists Internet Archive.)
Martin Creed’s contribution to the Singapore Biennale this year, Work No. 112: Thirty-nine metronomes beating time, one at every speed, 1995 – 98. (His titles speak for themselves.)
I love the order of it: the metronomes lined up in a strict row like so many infantrymen, the mechanized sound playing out a rapid, staccato melody ..
Artistic director of this year’s Singapore Biennale, Matthew Ngui, recently wrote in to the press. Included in his letter was this claim: “Fourty-four per cent of the artists in this year’s biennale were from Asia, of these artists, 74 per cent were South-east Asian.” (Read it here.)
Unlike, say, the Venice Biennale, which features so-called national pavilions, the Singapore version is a themed show – by which I mean that, in the latter case, the nationality of participating artists isn’t fixed. Which of course may give rise to questions of scope and focus, like the extent of local and/or Southeast Asian representation, for instance.
I took a cue from the feminist collective, the Guerrilla Girls, who famously pointed out the skewed numbers in the Metropolitan Museum: even though less than 5% of the artists were female, over 85% of the nude artworks were of females.
And how did they know this ?
They walked in, and counted.
So I decided to start counting too.
And below are the results regarding the nationality of the artists represented in the Singapore Biennale this year. Some notes on methodology: Nationality is necessarily a far more fluid concept that gender – which made for some head-scratching moments – and where there is some overlap, I’ve noted a hyphenated identity for the individual concerned, e.g. Michael Lin, who apparently is Taiwanese-born, but grew up in Japan, or Tiffany Chung, who was born in Vietnam but moved away to the U.S. as a child. Also, quite a few artists on this list were born in one country, but are based in another. Chung, for instance, has returned to Vietnam, and is now based in Saigon; Polish-born Gosia Wlodarczak lives and works in Melbourne; Candice Breitz is South African by birth but calls Berlin home these days. And then there’s the thorny issue of the connection between environment and work: does an artist who works out of say, China, or is Chinese-born, necessarily produce work which reflects Chinese concerns? How far is geography a determinative category when it comes to art? In any case though, the effects of globalization is something I’ve had to ignore here, for the sake of clarity. Artists are listed by their country of birth.
Collectives, such as the Indonesian Ruangrupa, or the Danish group Superflex, count as one. (I assumed that the core members of those groups are mostly Indonesian and Danish, respectively. Again, hardly ideal, I know, but I don’t have all the time in the world.) The Propeller Group, on the other hand, proved slightly more complex: apparently their membership consists of Americans and Vietnamese individuals, so I’ve had to count it as two – it appears twice, under Vietnam and the U.S.
Finally, collaboratives, of which there are two, did NOT count as one entry – unlike collectives. Husband-and-wife team, Shao Yinong and Mu Chen, were counted as two individuals, though helped by the fact that both were Chinese. Couple Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset – though they produce work together as Elmgreen & Dragset – were likewise listed under Denmark (Elmgreen) and Norway (Dragset).
Results are broken down by both country and region. There’s also a separate list for female artists.
Feel free to verify this list against the information on the Singapore Biennale’s official site.
SOUTHEAST ASIA (20)
Cambodia (1): Sopheap Pich
Indonesia (1): Ruangrupa (collective)
Malaysia (2): Roslisham Ismail, Shooshie Sulaiman
Philippines (2): Louie Cordero, Mark Salvatus
Singapore (9): Song-Ming Ang, Genevieve Chua, Koh Nguang How, Michael Lim, Charles Lee, John Low, Tan Pin Pin, Ming Wong, Zai Kuning
Thailand (2): Navin Rawanchaikul, Arin Rungjang
Vietnam (3): Tiffany Chung (Vietnam-US), The Propeller Group (collective with Vietnamese members; Vietnam-U.S.), Danh Vo
EAST & SOUTH ASIA (8)
China (2): Shao Yinong & Mu Chen (work collaboratively)
India (2): Gigi Scaria, Sheela Gowda
Japan (2): Teppei Kaneuji, Tatzu Nishi
South Korea (1): Kyungah Ham
Taiwan (1): Michael Lin (Japan-Taiwan)
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND (4)
Australia (3): Robert Macpherson, Tracey Moffatt, Stuart Ringholt
NZ (1): Dane Mitchell
Bulgaria (1): Nedko Solakov
Denmark (2): Superflex (collective), Elmgreen & Dragset (Elmgreen)
France (1): Liisa Roberts
Germany (3): Michael Buetler, Julian Gothe, Leopold Kessler
Norway (1): Elmgreen & Dragset (Dragset)
Poland (1): Gosia Wlodarczak
Portugal (1): Leonor Antunes
Spain (2): Marcos Corrales, Ruben Ramos Balsa
Switzerland (1): Beat Streuli
U.K. (6): Phil Collins, Martin Creed, Ceal Floyer (Pakistan-U.K.), Simon Fujiwara, Mike Nelson, Charles Sandison
MIDDLE EAST (3)
Iran (1): Tala Madani
Israel (1): Omer Fast
Turkey (1): Gulsun Karamustafa
South Africa (1): Candice Breitz
NORTH AMERICA (10)
Mexico (1): Rafael Lozano-Hammer
U.S.A. (9): Charles LaBelle, Jill Magid, Matt Mullican, The Propeller Group (collective with Vietnamese members; Vietnam-U.S.), Lisi Raskin, Martha Rosler, Taryn Simon, Ryan Trecartin, Charlie White
TOTAL: 65 (The Propeller Group was counted twice.)
Number of female artists: 20. Genevieve Chua (Singapore), Tiffany Chung (Vietnam-US), Ruangrupa (Indonesia), Shooshie Sulaiman (Malaysia), Tan Pin Pin (Singapore), Sheela Gowda (India), Kyungah Ham (S. Korea), Mu Chen (China), Tracey Moffatt (Australia), Leonor Antunes (Portugal), Ceal Floyer (Pakistan-U.K.), Liisa Roberts (France), Gosia Wlodarczak (Poland), Gulsun Karamustafa (Turkey), Tala Madani (Iran), Candice Breitz (S. Africa), Jill Magid (U.S.), Lisi Raskin (U.S.), Martha Rosler (U.S.), Taryn Simon (U.S.)
Country with highest number of participating artists: Singapore (9) and the U.S.A. (9).
Region with highest number of participating artists: Southeast Asia (20), followed closely by Europe (19).
Interesting fact: The English-speaking world – of which I consider Singapore to be a part – was overwhelmingly represented. Artists from the U.S. (9), Singapore (9), the U.K. (6), and Australia and New Zealand and South Africa (5) made up some 29 in total, or 44.6%.
Regions/countries unrepresented: South America (or just anything south of Mexico – this is really eyebrow-raising); Russia; the Caribbean; Central Asia; almost all of Africa (white South African Candice Breitz being the continent’s sole representative).
This year’s biennale has been one controversy after another almost from the word go, and Matthew Ngui, artistic director, has at long last seen fit to speak his mind.
He wrote in to The Straits Times to clarify his stand on certain matters, which published his letter in the Life! section today (28 May).
YES TO GLOBAL ART
I would like to respond to two issues brought up in the article “Biennale A Big Hit” (Life!, May 17) by Deepika Shetty.
The first relates to the choice of the Old Kallang Airport site as a venue for Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House.
The use of old buildings or sites-in-transition as exhibition spaces for contemporary art is a short but distinctive tradition of the Singapore Biennale: Tanglin Camp in 2006, South Beach Camp and the Central Promontory Site in 2008, and City Hall in both years. This not only allows for unique and innovative installations that respond to the site, but also invites Singaporeans to experience sites often closed to them and, in many cases, about to be changed.
The selection of these sites is based on a number of considerations, including the size of its spaces, state of the building, safety and the convenience and comfort of its visitors. We consciously try to have spaces in or as close to the city as possible, and to provide air-conditioning and other facilities. But cost is a major factor and it is not always possible to provide pristine conditions.
Yet these spaces offer artists and curators the freedom to work with unique and evocative sites, and for audiences to encounter contemporary art is new and exciting ways.
The second issue concerns the curatorial direction of the Singapore Biennale: Should it remain international or should it narrow its focus to show only Asian or South-east Asian contemporary art?
Throughout the world, contemporary art biennales are usually international in nature. They offer local audiences the chance to experience contemporary art from around the world. When international and local artists and curators meet, networks are strengthened and new exhibition opportunities are created.
The Singapore Biennale is widely respected. In its short history, it has become known for being “international with an Asian focus”. Fourty-four per cent of the artists in this year’s biennale were from Asia, of these artists, 74 per cent were South-east Asian.
Most of the South-east Asian artists were commissioned to make major new works – enabling ambitious projects and a platform to show alongside international peers, and providing new contexts for their work.
Artists from outside the region also relish the rare chance to come to Singapore and engage with the city and its culture, and to see their work in a new environment. It would be a great loss to deny this opportunity in the future to artists and curators who do not fit a particular regional profile.
The Singapore Biennale is the only recurring, government-funded, contemporary art exhibition in Singapore that is not defined geographically. The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) already has a mandate and core programme focusing on South-east Asian contemporary art, and holds the world’s most extensive public collection in this area. A large-scale South-east Asian exhibition titled Negotiating Home, History And Nation was shown at SAM concurrently with the biennale. During the first biennale in 2006, SAM presented Telah Terbit, a major survey of South-east Asian art from the 1970s and 1980s.
If SAM is already offering such an important and extensive focus on South-east Asian art, should the biennale or any other body funded by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, have a similar focus?
The Singapore Biennale should maintain its tradition of producing extraordinary international exhibitions every two years or so in Singapore with new curators, local and international, at its helm. This complements the South-east Asian focus of our local institutions and ensures that Singaporeans can experience regular, fresh exhibitions of contemporary art from across the globe.
My curators and I feel that narrowing this focus would not strengthen the art scene in Singapore and the region, but would diminish it by removing a rare and valuable platform for participation on the international stage.
Singapore has built its success on being a global city with an expansive outlook and it deserves the opportunity to see its art as part of the wider world.
Artistic director, Singapore Biennale 2011
A couple of quick thoughts: First of all, it seems a little strange that Ngui is responding only at this juncture, two weeks after the wrap of the Biennale. He states clearly that his letter was written in response to Deepika Shetty’s article of May 17 (read it here), but public concerns over the inaccessibility of the Old Kallang Airport site and the artists represented in the show only made up a portion of that story. If anything, the writer’s main angle was the unbelievably optimistic visitorship numbers reported by the SAM – a point which Ngui chose to ignore altogether. In fact, Shetty’s piece was followed up by a longer article by Adeline Chia two days ago, which openly challenged those numbers. Ngui, however, apparently decided instead to make his reply to two lesser points – raised in a piece published more than ten days back. Why ?
Secondly, questions about the choice of some of the artworks – most notably, about the large number of video works that were featured in this year’s biennale – were actually discussed in an even earlier ST article, also by Shetty, published on 21 April. That’s some five weeks ago. Sure, SAM’s director, Tan Boon Hui, did respond to that piece, but preferred to skip over issues about the choice of artworks altogether in his reply. Why didn’t Ngui speak up then ? It seems like he decided to wait it out, and is even now only just tackling the topic of the geographical scope represented by the biennale and its artists – rather than questions of the artistic merit of some of the inclusions, which are no less valid. I’m not saying that I agree with popular sentiment in this matter – I don’t – but the event is after all paid for by tax dollars, and its organisers should remain responsive to public concerns.
So far Ngui and Tan have only responded to a select few issues raised in the press – based on personal preference, one is forced to assume. These guys, along with Storer and Smith, were responsible for making curatorial decisions, so how about stepping forward to own those decisions ?
Hmmm. It seems as if controversy is stalking this year’s Singapore Biennale every turn of the way. Some two weeks after the event ended, questions about its dubious visitorship claims are still being floated in the media.
The following article, which appeared in The Straits Times today (26 May), builds on an earlier piece.
The difference ? The skepticism is now full-blown and undisguised.
Good for ‘em.
MEASURING THE BIENNALE
The art show drew more than 900,000 visitors, but the bulk of them viewed two free exhibits. So is it considered a success? By Adeline Chia.
Hollywood blockbusters are not the only ones in the business of chasing eyeballs. Arts programming is also pulling out all the stops to boost audienceship.
Take the recently concluded Singapore Biennale, which drew a record number of more than 900,000 visitors during the two-month run of the contemporary art show. This tops the 502,200 visitors that the second edition drew in 2008, and exceeds the inaugural edition’s 883,300 visitors.
On paper, this year’s Biennale should be considered a roaring success. But a closer look at the visitorship figure reveals that nearly 700,000 of the 900,000 visitors were “outdoor” visitors.
This means they went to Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich’s installation in the National Museum’s Rotunda, and to the Merlion Hotel installation at Marina Bay by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, but did not enter it.
These works were free exhibits and were installed in public spaces where there was heavy pedestrian traffic. They comprised only two out of the 161 artworks shown throughout the visual arts event.
In contrast, the number of people who went to the Biennale venues of the Singapore Art Museum, (SAM), National Museum of Singapore, Old Kallang Airport and inside the Merlion Hotel was about 196,000.
The Singapore Art Museum, which organised the event, declined to reveal the number of tickets sold.
To put the 900,000 figure in context, it exceeds the 743,647 visitors that went to the Singapore Art Museum for the whole of 2009.
It also beats the visitorship to the Venice Biennale, the oldest and most prestigious art show in the West, which drew 375,000 during its six-month run in 2009.
Going by the Singapore Biennale figure, about 700,000 people would have visited the outside of the Merlion Hotel or the National Museum’s Rotunda, making both places extremely busy and vibrant arts venues, with an average of about 11,700 visitors a day.
How did the Biennale organisers arrive at such a high visitorship number? The Singapore Art Museum says people who made “clear and deliberate eye contact” at the Merlion Hotel are counted. These included people who stopped to take pictures or to read the artwork description.
The counting was done manually by staff or volunteers who were station every day in the open space outside the hotel over one month. The figure was then used to estimate the outdoor visitorship for the exhibition period of two months.
At the National Museum’s Rotunda, visitorship was tracked by a computerised People Counting And Tracking System, a special sensor that is sued by major museums around the world.
But should the Biennale relook its method of estimating visitorship figures?
After all, what is the difference between an arts “visitor” and a passer-by who happens to glance in the direction of an artwork? This distinction is especially important when artworks are placed in busy public places.
In response to queries that the visitorship number seems inflated, a Singapore Art Museum spokesman says: “The overall figures are certainly not inflated. This can be attributed to the increased public outreach and community efforts by SAM.”
For example, it worked with grassroots organisations, which provided free bus rides to visitors, and with schools, which organised student trips.
The Biennale organisers also integrated its programming with existing shows at the museums to attract more visitors.
The spokesman said outdoor visitor figures act as a gauge of the public’s exposure to the event.
But the visitorship number also begs the question: How fair is it to use visitorship figures to assess the success of an arts event?
Clearly, numbers cannot tell the full story. They say nothing about the quality of the artworks or the subjective experiences of visitors.
No doubt, figures are important because they help to measure the reach and impact of an event.
Arts Nominated MP Audrey Wong, who used to be artistic director at the Substation arts venue, syas that while attendance figures may be a limited part of the story, they are a significant part.
She says: “If your attendance is 40 per cent, that’s not good. In the end, artists want an audience. They want to communicate to people.”
Attendance is especially important because many arts programmes are funded by public money and such spending has to be accounted for. No one wants to pay for a festival that nobody is watching.
If an event is doing consistently badly at the box office, funding for it may be cut. The result may well be a smaller Singapore Arts Festival or Biennale in future. Or the direction of a festival may be changed to take on a more populist slant, to attract more visitors.
Even if an event is privately sponsored, sponsors would want bang for their buck.
Take the Singapore M1 Fringe Festival, which is supported by the telco company. The arts festival, which typically runs in January and features emerging artists, is organised by The Necessary Stage.
Ms Melissa Lim, the theatre company’s general manager, says “attendance and ticket sales will always be important to our sponsors because they represent the market outreach for their sponsorship dollars.”
But even if numbers are the easiest and most direct way to measure the impact of an event, an over-reliance on figures may start a meaningless numbers game.
In a bid to justify funding, arts managers may need to top each year’s performance with even higher attendance numbers to satisfy their bean-counting paymasters.
As the Singapore Arts Festival general manager Low Kee Hong puts it, it is a “vicious circle”.
“If you’re busy chasing numbers, you’re stuck in a rut,” he adds.
He should know. After he took over the running of the annual festival in 2009, the attendance figures for the arts festival released by the National Arts Council fell drastically compared to previous years.
Last year, the council said 80,800 people attended the Singapore Arts Festival. It is a far cry from 2009’s 800,000 and 2008’s 600,000.
This was because the festival stopped counting complimentary tickets given out and also took care to exclude passers-by when a free event was taking place outdoors. Instead, the organisers counted people who registered their names or took a goodie bag.
The resultant figure, Mr Low says, is a more meaningful one.
He says attendance figures tell only “10 to 20 per cent of the full story of the festival’s impact”.
“It is not a qualitative understanding. You don’t gain any insights as to what is going on in people’s heads, how they are processing the festival,” he says.
He is looking to “softer” measurements such as feedback forms, post-festival focus group studies and what people share with him informally.
Are these measurements enough to satisfy the bureaucrats who need to meet performance targets and who want hard figures? Mr Low says he sees “the beginnings of change”.
He adds: “We need to understand it’s more than just numbers. As civil servants, we need to grow and mature in the way we measure success.
“If internally, people don’t see the value of the things I do, then there is no way I can say 80,000 people attended the first edition, right?”
The Necessary Stage’s Ms Lim says counting is “more of an art than a science”.
It is especially difficult for outdoor performances and artworks. For example, in the Esplanade Tunnel, where the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival has art exhibitions, a volunteer is stationed there for a day to count the number of people looking at the artwork. The number is then multiplied by the number of days that the festival lasts.
It is not a scientific method, but these ar eth realisties of such calculations, Ms Lim says.
The Hong Kong Arts Festival has a simple solution: It counts only what is directly quantifiable, such as the number of tickets sold and the number of underprivileged children sponsored to go to a performance.
Over at the Sydney Festival, the largest arts festival in Australia, it measures attendance figures, both ticketed and unticketed, as well as the revenue generated by the festival.
For non-ticketed attendance, it relies on an external government agency that makes estimates by observing how many times a public space, whose capacity is known, is filled over the course of an evening.
This year, the festival also commissioned an external body which estimated that the event contributed around A$50.2 million (S$66 million) to the New South Wales economy.
This is calculated from visitor expenditure and the demand for goods and services in other industries, such as restaurants, hotels and shops.
That is another way of measurement, but as Ms Wong points out, “the emphasis may switch back to economics to justify spending on the arts”.
The more important question, she thinks, is measuring the quality of the visitor’s experience.
“In evaluating the arts in Singapore, we haven’t come up with a proper method of qualitative analysis,” she says, adding that the problem is faced by many other arts councils in the world.
But a fuller picture can emerge from using a variety of measures, she says, such as by counting, one-by-one interviews with attendees, focus group studies and, for big events, measuring the economic impact.
As the Singapore Arts Festival’s Mr Low says: “It’s clear that you cannot depend on absolute numbers alone. I’m not saying abandon the numbers, but beef up the other aspects as well.”
So the third Singapore Biennale is over.
And my reviews are still only partially done.
This is why I suck at life …
Anyways. Yesterday, in addition to putting out a concluding piece on the Fujiwara saga, The Straits Times also ran a brief post-mortem of sorts on the event.
Comments at the end of the post.
BIENNALE A BIG HIT
Visitor numbers rise to almost one million thanks to Merlion Hotel. By Deepika Shetty.
The third edition of the Singapore Biennale which ended on Sunday drew 912, 897 visitors. This is substantially more than the 505,200 visitors the second edition drew in 2008 and exceeds even the inaugural edition’s 883,300 visitors.
The final tally comes after a mid-term report saying that just 100,000 visitors had seen the $6-million contemporary art event after five weeks, far below the target audience figure of 650,000.
According to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), which is in charge of this edition, the earlier update did not include outdoor visitor figures for the most popular site, the Merlion Hotel in Marina Bay, which explained the difference. There were 696,709 outdoor visitors to the Merlion Hotel and the Rotunda at the National Museum while indoor or admitted visitors totalled 196,028. Other related and pre-opening events attracted 20,160 visitors.
In a statement to Life!, SAM said there was a surge in attendance in the last two days. The target audience figure of 650,000, it said, includes outdoor visitor figures. For this, only visitors who made clear and deliberate eye contact with the art works were counted. At the Merlion Hotel, some instances of “clear and deliberate eye contact” included those who stopped to take pictures of the hotel or read the artwork description.
The show, which opened on March 12, had attracted its share of complaints and controversy including that of inaccessibility, the condition of the main venue Old Kallang Airport and the censorship of an installation by award-winning British-Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara (see other story).
Arts educator Angelia Neo, 39, said: “My friends visiting from overseas made a stop at Old Kallang Airport. Sadly, they did not discuss the art, rather the heat and humidity which most visitors experienced. I felt sad because there were many good works at this iconic venue which were under-appreciated just because the audience felt physically uncomfortable.”
Mr Tan Boon Hui, director of the Singapore Art Musuem, told Life!: “We did underestimate the amount of time we needed to work on Old Kallang Airport. It is a very beautiful building but somehow it is not in the mindset of every Singaporean, particularly the younger ones.”
While the venue was criticised, some people in the arts industry feel it has the potential of being developed into a space for contemporary art.
Influential regional gallerist Valentine Willie says that with minimal costs, Old Kallang Airport could become the permanent home of the Singapore Biennale, just like the Arsenale (arms depot) became the main venue for the Venice Biennale.
Ms Iola Lenzi, 48, a Singapore-based curator, art critic and researcher, said while the Old Kallang Airport with its modernist architecture was a treat to discover, this biennale had trouble reaching out to people unfamiliar with art.
She added: “Meaningful contemporary art is not obscure. Too many works in this edition were flat both conceptually and visually, lacking the spark necessary to excite people and drive them to investigate the meaning of the piece.”
Gallerist Stephanie Fong, 35, agreed: “For the next edition, I would like to see works in more sites that are accessible both literally and metaphorically to ordinary Singaporeans.”
Interestingly, it was works by Asian artists that had some of the strongest recall with visitors. Singapore artist Koh Nguang How’s painstaking installation titled Artists In the News, was one of the works which resonated with visitors. It featured a room full of newspaper articles and an installation looking at artists and key art events which made it to the news. The work examined the documentation of Singapore’s art scene in the mainstream media and called for greater inquiry about art and artists.
Student Amarylis Seah, 17, said: “This work had the deepest impact on me and made me realize how the stories behind the news could be so engaging.”
While Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi’s The Merlion Hotel – a 100 sq m luxury room that encased the iconic half-lion, half-fish statue facing Marina Bay – emerged the biggest draw of this biennale, some of the other works made their mark on visitors too.
Marketing manager Nor Jumaiyah, 30, said: “This edition felt like a platform for experimentation with its focus on artistic practice and daily life influences. Unfamiliarity is a great starting point and I found some works such as the confessional videos by Malaysian artist and curator Shooshie Sulaiman and local film-maker Tan Pin Pin very intriguing.”
Others applauded the move to have a local artistic director to lead this event. Singaporean artist Matthew Ngui led the curatorial team which included Canadian Trevor Smith and Australian Russell Storer.
Mrs Neo said: “While it was a good move to have a local artistic director for the biennale, the selection of works could have benefited more had the curators been Asian too. I would like to see more works by South-east Asian artists in the next biennale. After all, we are in Asia, home to a vibrant arts community and I would want to see how Asian artists confront key issues and concerns in their countries.”
A stronger focus on Asia is what Ms Lenzi would like to see as well in the next edition of the Biennale. “I feel strongly that in view of the number of biennales and triennales these days, in Singapore we would do better to focus on our particular area of expertise,” she said.
“Singaporeans, I believe, are genuinely interested in South-east Asian contemporary art and the international crowd is far more likely to come to Singapore for world-class regional art, fresh and relatively unexplored elsewhere, than for re-heated international art in the tropics.”
I get that the organisers probably have visitorship numbers to meet with regards to funding for future biennales. After all, 6 million big ones is quite a chunk of change. (Though, considering the YOG budget fiasco …)
But, seriously, “clear and deliberate eye contact” is all that’s necessary for a head-count these days ?! Rather than an actual head ? So, someone strolling past a museum with a piece of outdoor sculpture stops to eyeball the work and then moves on – that guy gets to be included in visitor numbers for the day, going by the SAM’s arrestingly wacky logic.
Sure, the Merlion Hotel may be situated out of doors, but its interior comprises the chief significance of the work, by which I mean that one can only really claim to have “seen” or “experienced” Nishi’s piece by going indoors, and witnessing how he incorporates our national symbol into the realm of private luxury living. The Merlion is a regular stop on the local tourist trail – as the number of tour buses parked along Connaught Drive on any given day is testament to – and just how many of those sightseers were there of their own volition, or even for the Merlion Hotel, as opposed to the Merlion itself ? If one were to queue and actually enter the MH, then yes, “attendance” and “visitorship” would become incontrovertible experential facts. Banking on “eye contact” and picture-taking though – which engages only the work’s exterior, hardly the primary locus of interaction both in terms of intent and on a practical, formal level – and especially when the work is also situated where there already is plenty of foot traffic, is a double dose of disingenuousness, no ?
Lame, lame, LAME.
Shetty also notes in her article that the magic figure of “696,709 outdoor visitors” includes more eye contact with the art in the National Museum’s Rotunda – which really only refers to Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich’s Compound. The rotunda is free to all, meaning that one can enter the National Museum, look at whichever piece happens to be on display there, and leave, all without paying the price of admission. Or, as is more likely – since everyone entering the museum has to pass through the rotunda, which effectively comprises the sole public entrance to the building – visitors simply walking in and giving Pich’s piece a second look while buying tickets or ambling past were also co-opted by the SAM into its ocular-based accounting, regardless of whether those people actually made it to the Biennale exhibits in the basement, or were simply headed off to the National Museum’s other shows, which have nothing to do with the Biennale.
I want to be generous and say, okay, if funds are contingent on meeting quotas, then yeah, all this is pretty ingenious; I’d rather some artful tallying than no more biennales in future. If all this, however, is simply some kind of PR exercise to justify themselves to the public, then really, I think the public deserves better.
The following piece appeared in The Straits Times yesterday (May 17), bringing to a conclusion the uproar over the SAM’s censorship of Simon Fujiwara’s contribution to the Singapore Biennale, Welcome to the Hotel Munber.
Having kept silent for the duration of the Biennale, the artist has, at long last, raised his voice on the matter – revealing a couple of interesting nuggets, one of which is the fact that he’d provided “images and detailed descriptions of the finished work many months before the exhibition” (italics mine).
In other words, according to Fujiwara, the SAM knew of the inclusion of pornographic material in the piece beforehand. Which begs the million-dollar question: why was it only an issue two days into the event ? I suppose there are several possibilities: a. no one on the curatorial team was reading those “detailed descriptions” too carefully, and/or b. they assumed they could get away with it (only to be torpedoed by hawk-eyed viewers).
I still say Fujiwara passed up on the perfect opportunity though. If indeed censorship of homosexuality is one of his themes, as noted below, then the SAM’s act of censoring would have been the chance for the work to self-reflexively perform its own thesis – an artwork about censorship itself materially censored. All that was needed was perhaps a sign explaining the absence, in place of the porno mags ? Now that would have made a splash: a work enfolding the experiential terms of its own statement into itself, meta- and ur-levels of being collapsed into one …
ARTIST DECRIES SAM’S ACTIONS
By Adeline Chia.
British-Japanese Simon Fujiwara (right) whose art installation Welcome to the Hotel Munber was closed to the public for much of the Singapore Biennale following a censorship controversy, has finally spoken up.
He had converted a gallery at the Singapore Art Museum into a 1970s Spanish hotel bar, complete with hanging legs of ham, and containing erotic pictures and text.
But just after the opening weekend of the Biennale in March, the museum removed some gay pornographic magazines from the installation, citing legal prohibitions against the display of pornographic material. There were also concerns that the pornographic magazines, which belonged to a collector, could be handled by the public.
A public outcry ensued when it was revealed that the museum had removed the magazines before informing Fujiwara, and the exhibit was closed “temporarily” while the artist and the museum discussed other options. But it ended up shut for most of the two-month biennale.
Last week, two days before the biennale ended, the museum said that the installation would be permanently closed. Speaking for the first time about the controversy, Fujiwara, 28, described the actions of the museum as “unprofessional and unethical”.
In an e-mail statement to Life!, he said: “While I understand the legal prohibition of exhibiting pornographic materials in Singapore was the main cause of this removal, I believe it was both unprofessional and unethical to alter the work without my prior consent.”
He explained that his work “examines the violent oppression of human freedom and the censorship of homosexual literature under General Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship in 1970s Spain”.
It does this by fusing seemingly harmless nationalist symbols such as bulls’ heads, wine barrels and portraits of the leader with banned materials such as pornography and erotic literature.
As the work was conceived partly to raise awareness of censorship and civil liberty, he added that “it would have been both hypocritical and unjust of me to continue to show the work in a censored state”.
The winner of the Frieze Art Fair’s prestigious annual Cartier Award for emerging artists last year, Fujiwara’s works often deal with fictional narratives, sexuality and history, and have been exhibited at prestigious platforms such as the Venice Biennale, Manifesta and the Sao Paolo Biennale.
He added that he had provided “images and detailed descriptions of the finished work many months before the exhibition” and that the sexual imagery had been discussed with the exhibition organisers, and that was why an advisory had been prepared.
He said: “I believe that it was the responsibility of the museum to have made a balanced judgment before the work went on display.”
Yesterday, the museum director Tan Boon Hui said the museum decided to permanently close the work as both sides could not agree “on a solution that will work for all”.
He added that “the complexities and integrity of the work would be lost if any part were altered”.
Despite his strong criticism of the museum, Fujiwara said the Singapore Biennale has been an “important and encouraging experience”.
He said the unsensational journalism and the voices of support in Singapore, Asia, Europe and the United States made it clear that “an important debate has been had and is still in progress”.
The official rejoinder to ST’s report on dwindling attendance numbers at the Biennale.
SAM’s director, Tan Boon Hui, wrote a rather strange-sounding letter in response to the article, and it appeared in Life! today (23 April).
My comments at the end of the post.
BIENNALE WILL CLOSE WITH FULL HOUSE
We refer to the article (Biennale Blues, Life!, April 21) and would like to thank Life! for its continued wide coverage of and support for the Singapore Biennale 2011.
Since the Biennale opened, we have seen a healthy visitorship of over 100,000 at the main venues: Old Kallang Airport, The Merlion Hotel at Marina Bay, National Museum of Singapore, Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q.
This number tracks only indoor visitorship or venue admissions. It does not include outdoor visitorship at the Merlion Hotel and parallel events, which are still being tabulated. It is not possible to compare this with 2008’s mid-point visitorship of 325,000 which included both indoor and outdoor visitor numbers.
Based on preliminary projections, we are confident this Biennale will come close to meeting its target visitorship.
We also found that many visitors are keen to learn more about the history of the Old Kallang Airport and have arranged a special tour on the topic. Conducted by Mr. S. S. Khaw, president of Flight Science, the tour takes places on May 1, 2 and 15, at 1pm.
As part of the Biennale’s Family Day Out programme, admission into all Biennale venues is free every Sunday and on public holidays.
There are still three weeks left before the Biennale closes.
The House is still Open and everyone is welcome to return, take part in the activities and revisit the works as often as they life and make Singapore Biennale 2011 a Full House.
Tan Boon Hui
Singapore Art Museum
First of all, why no response from Matthew Ngui, Artistic Director of the Biennale and a practicing artist himself, and the individual probably best-placed to answer queries on the curatorial choices made in this year’s Biennale ? Those concerns were as much a part of Deepika Shetty’s article as was the fact of falling visitor numbers, and for Tan to ignore them altogether seems to tacitly warrant public objection to the choice of art – the complaint about the lack of paintings, for one, which really bespeaks the need for wider education with regards to contemporary art and its practice. Of course, many artists today still paint and sculpt and draw and everything in between, but one goes to a biennale to witness the most interesting and cutting edge of contemporary artistic praxis, a category which isn’t necessarily centered on more traditional mediums. Someone needs to point this out, and it sounds like Tan just missed the opportunity.
Secondly, the tone of Tan’s reply strikes a rather bizarre note – not unlike a child stamping his foot and protesting, “No, no, no.” He sounds defensive on the one hand, and without proper justification on the other. His assertion about visitors to the Merlion Hotel, for instance, was already noted by Shetty; according to the figures she cites, the MH draws an average of a thousand visitors a day. Its been almost six weeks since the opening of the Biennale, which makes for some 40,000 visitors. Add that to the 100,000 figure, and it still doesn’t come even close to the 325,000 who apparently made it to the previous biennale by the time it was halfway through. As for the ‘parallel events’, some of them are so small-scale – e.g. the Post-Museum’s OPEN* exhibitions, those on at the NUS museum and Tyler Print Institute – that it seems hard to believe that their numbers could possibly make any substantial dent in the discrepancy. The biggest ancillary show is probably Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia, 1991 – 2010, which is on view at the SAM itself. The museum charges one admission rate for all exhibitions under its roof as well as that of 8Q’s, so how does it differentiate between visitors to Biennale displays and to er, ‘parallel’ shows ?
Nothing personal against Tan here – I’m sure he has the museum’s reputation to see to – but that argument smacks of disingenuousness or corporate PR mumbo jumbo, unconvincing and probably counter-productive on both scores.
His claim that the Biennale will “come close to meeting its target visitorship” doesn’t even come close to being a reasoned argument.
And then he segues into another publicity pitch for the event – don’t forget, folks, it’s only going to be around for another three weeks, and it’s free on Sundays and public holidays, PLUS we now have special tours, so come, come, come ! …
… cue eye-rolling.
The Life! section in today’s Straits Times ran a lead article on the attendance woes plaguing the Biennale (reproduced below).
So they finally clued in.
There are several reasons for the low numbers apparently, with the relative inaccessibility of the main site, the Old Kallang Airport, being cited as numero uno. I don’t get this. The OKA is a stone’s throw from Kallang station: one exits from the right, crosses the street (where there’s a ginormous orange sign pointing the way), walks a block, crosses another street (where there’s another sign), and voila! the street leading into the complex is right there. It takes all of three minutes.
If one drives, Google Map it beforehand. If one takes a cab, Google Map it beforehand.
Singaporeans sure are a whiny bunch.
Another reason seems to be the art itself. The major cause of complaint: it’s perceived to be about as accessible as the Kallang Airport site, which is to say not terribly. (See image below.) Is that a bad thing ? Perhaps, from the organizers’ point of view. Avant-garde contemporary art, though, needs to be a. novel, b. difficult, c. controversial or d. all of the above, to get its point across. Or a point anyways. You know, challenge assumptions, push boundaries, explore possibilities – all those tired-sounding cliches that nonetheless hold true. In most cases, head-scratching or outrage on the part of the general viewing public is almost a predetermined corollary to what often turns out to be the most effective stuff. Manet, Turner, Picasso, Duchamp, Fluxus, Warhol – all pioneers, all on the receiving end of vilification in their day.
Perhaps the comparison to established names may be presumptuous, but my point is, incomprehension doesn’t necessarily suggest inadequacy.
Oh, and then of course there’s the Fujiwara scandal – but I’m sure most of us are tired of hearing about it by now.
The third instalment of the Singapore Biennale is attracting fewer visitors this year. By Deepika Shetty.
The third edition of the Singapore Biennale does not seem to be a great crowd-puller.
Over 100,000 people have gone to see the top contemporary art show, which started on March 13 and ends on May 15.
The numbers include visitors to the three main venues – Old Kallang Airport, Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q, the National Museum of Singapore – and excludes the outdoor figures for the most popular site, the Merlion Hotel in Marina Bay. The luxurious hotel room created by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has been drawing over 1,000 visitors a day.
Unless there is a stampede in the next few weeks, the final visitor tally may fall short of the 650,000 target set by the organizers, even though they say they are on track to hit the numbers.
The 100,000 figure is well short of the 325,000 people which the 2008 edition drew by the time it hit the midway mark. Overall, 502,000 people attended the show in 2008, compared to 883,000 in the inaugural edition in 2006.
This year’s biennale was postponed twice, first to avoid clashes with last year’s Youth Olympic Games and Grand Prix Season and then to align with the school holidays.
After it opened, it was mired in controversy over an installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara titled Welcome To The Hotel Munber. The installation with pornographic gay content was censored by the Singapore Art Museum before being temporarily closed. The museum and artist are still trying to work out hwo to change it. By press time, it remained closed and the museum said it is still in discussion with the artist on how to modify the work.
The low visitorship could be attributed to a few factors. One common complaint by visitors is the location of Old Kallang Airport which artgoers found far removed from the museum venues.
Writer Jams Ong, 38, said: “I felt the last Biennale was better because the locations were closer, making it easier to go from one to the other. I feel Old Kallang Airport is too out of the way and a bit distant from the museums.”
Although there are shuttle services to Old Kallang Airport as well as the Merlion Hotel sites from the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum, they operate on an hourly loop taking about 15 minutes between each venue.
Another issues which has cropped up is the art, which this year has not resonated as well with both the layman and the more well-informed visitor.
Local art collector Colin Lim, who has attended all three editions of the contemporary art event, says he remembers the previous biennales for their artworks.
“Unfortunately, this one will be remembered for the shortcomings of the curatorial team. From the environment in which the art was displayed, to the selection of the artist and hence the artworks, to the way the Simon Fujiwara installation was (mis)handled, one cannot help but feel that the curators had not been up their task. The spotlight should always be on the art,” he says.
Making art accessible to the public was one of the key considerations of the Biennale but several visitors interviewed by Life! over two weekends found the art too abstract and tough to relate to.
Mr Joseph Estrada [?!], 52, an engineer, felt there were too many video works. “The video installations are just too long. Most people do not have the time to wait for things to happen in the video,” he said.
Student Ng Xiao Yan, 20, found the last edition of the Biennale better. “There were more visually arresting works in 2008,” she said.
Another student Sydney Ho, 23, felt that while the art was interesting, many of the works were very hard to understand.
Led by artistic director Matthew Ngui and his curatorial team, which includes Canadian Trevor Smith and Australian Russell Storer, this Biennale explores artistic journeys in relation to ordinary encounters and activities such as shopping and eating.
Works centered on the latter themes are the ones which have been most appreciated by visitors. Apart form Nishi’s hotel room, other popular artworks are Malaysian artist Roslisham Ismail aka Ise’s refrigerator installation titled Secret Affair and Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s interactive installation titled Frequency and Volume: Relational Architecture 9, 2003 (see side stories).
Lecturer Cindy Tan, 33, enjoyed looking at the various media used to create the art. “The use of multimedia shows that the Singapore Biennale is embracing technology and keeping up with the times.”
But some art connoisseurs such as Doctor Lim felt some artforms had been ignored in their entirety.
“I know painting as a medium is somewhat shunned by practitioners and curators of contemporary art but the dearth of paintings in this Biennale – I only spotted the wonderful ‘family’ portrait by Navin Rawanchaikul in the National Museum – makes me wonder if this was done on purpose,” he said.
Organisers say that discussions like these add to the character of the island’s premier visual arts event. Says Mr Tan Boon Hui, director of the Singapore Art Museum: “One of the goals of contemporary art and of a large scale exhibition like the Singapore Biennale is to start conversations and this Biennale has certainly sparked off much discussion on a range of topics, from the debate on the Merlion’s status or significance as a national icon, to what is good art.”