Sound & Vision (2018)

Innocent Eye

Sound & Vision (2018)

Sound and Vision … is a presentation of artists working in conditions of abstraction, highlighting the means of composition in their art-making that engage with notions of repetition and rhythm, tonality and intensity, and unity and dissonance, and how these are being interpreted in artistic practices across mediums.” [Press Release]

It is inevitable that adults see abstract art with much suspicion. After all, much of abstract modern art looks like something a child could do. Except young children can’t really paint abstractly, and their paintings are often ‘narrative’, in a way that there are stories told as the paintings are made. Ask any parents who have kids attending pre-school, or read art historian, Jonathan Fineberg’s The Innocent Eye: Children’s Art and the Modern Art (1997). In Fineberg’s Innocent Eye, he uncovered and discussed children’s drawings collected by many known modernist artists and explained why we value children art. Fineberg examined the formal qualities of children’s art, and revealed influences by children’s art on early abstract painters, and certainly not the other way round.

Interestingly, there had been artists who tried to paint like children. Jean Dubuffet, Joan Miro, Cobra artists, and Paul Klee to name a few. In Singapore, Ben Phua’s paintings, Vincent Leow’s early paintings, or Angie Seah’s early drawings can come to mind. There are probably artists who still try to paint like children. Many artists in the past and present praise the ‘innocent’, unclouded vision of childhood and children, and these visions become muses for them to emulate, in a bid to evoke perhaps a romantic notion of ‘innocence’, expressive directness, simplicity, and perhaps universality across cultures. To some artists, they believe that their ‘inner child’, or ‘child-like sub-conscious’ are an un-tap creative force. To say that all abstract art is child-like would also trivialise what we know about our unconscious mind, and how artists have tapped on them to make art. Trivialising abstract art exposes what we don’t know about our subconscious minds too.

With this in mind, I tried to look at the artworks in this modest exhibition with an innocent eye.

The artworks were hung in a manner that emphasised the visual quality similarities between the paintings by different artists. I had mistakenly thought the sculptures by Wyn-Lyn Tan was by Ian Woo, because certain colours were similar to the paintings by Ian, and I remember he had a series of large, graphite line drawings that were very ‘sculptural’. The inclusion of Zulkifle Mahmod’s wall-hanging sound sculptures were a pleasant surprise and addition to the works on show, making the visual experience more enlivening.

But close observation by connoisseurs will recognise the differences of methods, colour-palette and media used by the three painters and 1 sound artist.

Ng Joon Kiat favoured a toss of graphite dust in his acrylic palette. They make his paint speckled, just enough to prod your curiosity. He used the skin of paint to create subtle variations in surface texture, and an incredibly harmonious and refreshing pastel colour range. We see less mass and lesions in these paintings than Ng’s green series which are marked by generous paint. Here, the cartographic surfaces we see in the green series erodes away, revealing more subtle yet luscious spreads of the palette knife, and wintry colour.

Wyn-Lyn Tan’s canvases appear to be doused, blotted and smeared effectively to create ink-like, and batik-like surfaces. Her odd stone-like sculptures resembled post-painting relics, perhaps enshrined in resin. From some angles, they look like ink landscape paintings, where the atmospheric perspective leads the viewers’ eyes calmly into the surface of the painting. They are meditative, where some strokes flow or ebb, and were fascinating to stare at. The colours resemble natural mineral shades found in stones.

Ian Woo’s canvases on the other hand, appear calculated in a different way: deliberate colour-contrasts are laid side by side to create an unusual surface that refuses to sit still. Everything is unfamiliar. Just when you think you can recognise a shape by following its contour line, it ends abruptly and throws your focus. The visual effect is unsettling, and conversational: each stroke talks to the previous one, responding to it, coaxing it to reveal something it doesn’t already know.

Zulkifle Mahmod’s sound pieces can be viewed as de-constructed paintings made with copper piping laid in a maze-like pattern. They show their structures, raw and bare. They refuse to lay flat, uses the shadow cast by the pipes to form an alternative surface of the work on the gallery wall. When all three sound sculptures are turned on, the syncopated rhythmic thump on copper pipes is piercingly loud, amplified by the walls of the space, yet mysterious as I tried to find a pattern or melody to the sound. They reminded me of three groups of people having their own conversations at the same time, growing louder, then quieter, overlapping at times, and other moments where they are eavesdropping curiously, waiting for the other group to finish. They could also sound like 3 monologues, that happen to sound like “call and response” at certain intervals.

If children’s art can teach us anything, it is to look at things with innocent eyes. Doing so will yield surprises. If that were one of the artists’ intentions, then I say they have done so successfully.

Works by Zulkifle Mahmod, Ng Joon Kiat, Wyn-Lyn Tan and Ian Woo
Curated by Michelle Ho
FOST Gallery, 10 November – 30 December 2018

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An Other Space (2018) by Tang Ling Nah

Intermediary stage: lost and found in translation
An Other Space (2018) by Tang Ling Nah
(click on the image above to access a Flickr Album)

An Other Space consists of constructed rooms with real and unreal windows extending throughout the space, and plays with the idea of windows opening into a duality of spaces: inside versus outside; private versus public, and reality versus illusion”. (exhibition wall text)

Something fascinating happens when hand-drawn illusions of spaces, theatrical lighting and a purpose-built space comes together in an installation. It appeals to our inner child, with imaginary portals and long corridors to run into familiar yet unfamiliar spaces. It appeals to our adult minds, with deep metaphors of ‘transcendence’ symbolised by drawn staircases, windows and doorways. One might gaze up to look at a pothole window, only to discover it is an object hung like a painting. What seems like a glazed window to the Marina Bay turns out to to be a ‘prop’, suggesting but not giving any view. A series of cabinet-sized drawings suggests utility cabinets. But the drawn windows represent a collage of window views, some dreamy from the afternoon equatorial rain while others clear, blunt views of the flat opposite. A tiny doorway, right-sized for a mouse, playfully welcomes our imagination to enter the exhibition too. An uncanny shadow of a city skyline is projected well above eye level like misty, imaginary clouds might do in an interior if one knew where to look.

The installation by Tang Ling Nah transports the viewer into another space: one that is contemplative, anticipatory and a respite of sorts. Jendela gallery is divided into four spaces, named the Entrance, Courtyard, Contemplation Room, and the Safe. Walking through them, under 3 minutes if one was in a hurry, suggests a metaphoric journey into the safe room of our minds.  What awaits, without giving the ‘ending’ away, is poetic, simple and likely designed to make you feel peaceful. I can imagine that the effect is enhanced if one visited the gallery again at dusk, rather than the sweltering light of day.

As I walked from the Entrance to the Safe, I can’t help but feel a sense of waiting. I waited for something to happen, but nothing does. My impatience was the only thing shown, and perhaps that is one thing the artist wants to draw out, as a point of inflexion. To some extent, if we allow ourselves to be poetic about the experience, the installation is a meeting space to ponder, to chat, or practise mindfulness — ‘the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us’ (Foundation for a mindful society, 2018).

With these in mind, one might conclude the work has to be approached with more introspection than a desire to espy a spectacle. The installation is a collection of views, as much as they are a collection of sketched spaces, waiting to draw us in.

19 Oct 2018 – 6 Jan 2019
Jendela Gallery, Esplanade

 

Reference:

Foundation for a mindful society (2018). Getting started with mindfulness. Accessed Nov 13, 2018 from https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

That’s All There Is by PG Lee and Yeo Tze Yang

That’s All There Is by PG Lee and Yeo Tze Yang (2016)

Reeling in ties that bind 

“That’s All There is” is an exhibition by two artists one generation apart. By one generation, I mean Lee was Yeo’s art teacher at Junior College. The works also stand apart because Yeo’s medium of choice is painting, while Lee works in sculpture and installation. “That’s All There is” as a title is significant on a few levels: first, it is a tongue in cheek expression, describing a modest exhibition in a new “Spare Room” gallery that is essentially part of a cafe; second, I would argue that the work exemplifies the essence of painting, sculpture and installation; and third, at a deeper level, describing the (relatively) ephemeral nature of life, and eternal blood ties that bind, that transcends death.

Describing an exhibition as modest might imply a few dilemmas. First, is it oxymoronic to describe something that is “public” as something unassuming, or shy? Second, does it suggest real world budgetary constraints that limit the scale of an exhibition? Third, does it suggest the limit of the artists’ creative endeavours, in quantity and quality? I would argue that it does quite the opposite, overcoming these dilemmas with a creative proposition. The exhibition is an “enabling constraint” (note: Singapore art teachers who are reading this will know where I draw this term from), limited by space, time, budget and space. The exhibition is a “challenge”, piecing together two unrelated practices and making sense of them in a continuum that suggests a universal quality of art, the humanity underlying thoughtful artworks. Lastly, by placing works side by side, it forces the viewer to confront what they know about paintings, sculptures and installations, and what they know about contemporary art.

In Yeo’s body of work, the subject matter of family comes through quite strongly. In the four paintings shown,there is a painting of a kitchen from an interior of a HDB flat, a portrait of the artist’s grandmother, an “aftermath” of a family dinner, and a beach scene with the artist’s father facing the sea, with his back facing the viewer. His paintings can be described as painterly with brushstrokes that carry harmonious yet muted colours, and quietly energetic. The subject matter depicted wobbles expressively in paint and are not the most accurate in proportion or perspective. In short, quite Lucian Freud-like but raw around the edges. But it’s quite clearly enjoyably done. Each brushstroke and coagulated paint adds to the whole.

In Lee’s body of work, the subject matter is less direct, and perhaps metaphorical. In one work, a photograph of the artist’s grandmother in the kitchen, is propped precariously against the wall with a stick. The stick appears wooden, but it might well be made of metal if we consider the rusty spots and bottom end. The large inkjet-printed photograph appears frail, wavering so slightly as the gallery visitors walk about; it might fall just about anytime. In another work, a large enclosed room apleats as if the wax walls might melt. A tiny scribble on the door reads “foolish”, and another detail reads “Buddha” (Fo). Another work shows a large slab of paraffin wax that resembles a translucent white layered cake, sits quietly on an acrylic plinth. The fourth work, has two fishing rods in the distant end of the gallery; a fishing line runs from one, a fixed to the ground stealthily. Many visitors treaded around it with much amusement. Some almost tripped over it, but never beyond the restrain of the fishing rod; the rod simply bounces, and holds the silvery line back in tautness. As sculptural pieces, they command presence and the material use adds to our interpretation of the works; they also encourage the viewer to walk around it. As installations, they interact with the gallery space, and require the audience to “interact” with it: stepping around, inside, or under it.

If we connect what we see of Lee’s works with his earlier works, we relate them with the theme of mortality, or ephemeral qualities of life. In the same vein, Yeo’s work can be interpreted as imbued with an urgency to document his family, and to some extent, the personal, memorable, and significant moments. So both sets of work are less apart than we might think, and their placement in the gallery were considered to yield maximum association between them. Both bodies of work relate to the fleeting-ness of our everyday existence. Perhaps both are stark reminders of the delicate, mortal ties that bind.

 

That’s All There Is
That Spare Room @ The Fabulous Baker Boy, 7o River Valley Road, 29 Jul – 7 Aug 2016

See: exhibition blog

http://yeotzeyang.tumblr.com

 

Memories (2015) by Chua Chye Teck

An exercise in Wabi-Sabi, finding and un-finding

Memories by Chua Chye Teck

Memories might not be a word many will associate with photos of found rusted metal wires. Displeasing, wretched, forsaken, or strange, might.

Chua is a collector of images as much as a photographer. He finds a mental image of an object or scene, and pursues it relentlessly. He is interested in debris, consumerist items and abstract formal qualities of unwanted objects perhaps as a way of approaching Singapore’s psychogeography (1). He uncovers tensions and dilemmas of the relationship we have with his chosen objects, by portraying them starkly—raw, plain, and time-worn. In this series, Chua photographed insignificant strips of wire discarded or fallen from vehicles along roads and roadsides, against a neutral, flat grey background. The physical act of collecting these numerous wires is a commitment to an artistic vision and meaning. This documentary treatment dignifies the object in the context of an art space. On the other hand, they also resemble evidence photos of a crime scene, where judgement is yet passed.

This series can be seen as an exercise in Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-Sabi refers to a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetics centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection (2). The artist finds this imperfect object, and also finds its transcendental beauty. As lines in space (if we can ignore the object’s provenance for a moment), they have the potential to trigger our imagination for incomplete drawings. A stick figure, a contour of a shoulder, or tresses of hair. There is room for play, if we indulge in our sensual perception rather than our rational minds.

This series seems to collect other lines, which I suspect are unintentional. The cracks on the wall become more obvious because we are on the look out for imperfections. Imperfections are everywhere if we look for them; they become absent if we are not on the look out for them. Traces of scratches and smudges can be seen on the surface of these unprotected photographic prints. Passers-by have ignored the “Do not touch the artwork” floor sign and have carelessly left their mark. They are no doubt evidence of crime against the preservation of art.

The photographs were displayed in a horizontal linear trail, inviting the viewer to see them in a particular sequence from left to right or right to left. Showing these  in a grid might have brought out the shape of the lines depicted in the photographs. The combined scale of the grid may have allowed the photographs to have a larger presence.

Memories (2015) as a whole potentially serves to challenge our perception, and sensitivity towards the formal qualities of lines we might find around us. When we can see beauty in imperfections, we might be more tolerant, and perhaps forgiving, towards our built-up environment.

16 April to 19 July 2015
Esplanade Tunnel

(1) Psychogeography refers to the impact of our geographical environment on our perception, emotions and behaviour.
(2) Wabi-sabi. (2015, May 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:55, June 6, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wabi-sabi&oldid=661971899

“Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas” at SAM

playfully tactile; a little fun for different age groups

Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas

This ‘young at heart’ exhibition features seven works by artists from Asia. “Imaginarium” is an excuse to celebrate immersive, interactive art with young children, or those young at heart. The works were carefully chosen to represent the diverse practices that are trendy in Singapore, and recast in a way that enables the audience to ‘walk into the art’. The latin originated suffix “-arium” denotes a location or receptacle. Imaginarium thus suggests a place, or confined space, where one’s imagination takes flight. Like Sensorium (2014), the artworks engage viewers’  multiple senses.

In a campaign-like manner, Chiang Yu Xiang’s “We Built this Estate!” (2015) invites the viewer to participate in an imaginary urban planning exercise–positioning big building blocks to form towers, buildings and other structures, as if one was playing the role of a town planner. The other works are equally playful and literal. In Kumkum Dernando’s “Kiko’s Secrets” (2015) and Lee Jeeyoung’s “Dreamhouse” (2015) allow the audience to enter into a ‘space within a space’. The former, three imaginary worlds contained within three boxes big enough to walk into; the latter, a house that appears to be made of candy, which leads to a snowy white garden through the doorway.

To some extent, the works are only as successful if the audience responds by giving themselves a chance to interact with the objects within the artwork. This is not a passive, deep-thinking type of exhibition. It must be experienced, even if it means asking the gallery sitter how things work if the instructions and rules are not absolutely clear or well sign-posted. At first glance, the nationalistic tag, in association with Singapore’s jubilee celebrations, appears superficial and overtly chirpy.

The viewer would have to be familiar with the local subject matter, news and culture in order to interpret the works for their subtefuge undertones. These subject matter include: nature, greenery and affiliated ecological issues (Greenroom II and Trees), housing and land use constrained by Singapore’s small land mass (We Built this Estate!), maker culture (Let’s Make! Studio), the workforce’s alleged lack of imagination and innovation (Dreamhouse and Kiko’s Secrets)and local folklore and pragmatic envisioning for the future (Imagin-a-doodle).

I’m not being a cynic, but I think the elements of these works present an opportunity for the viewer to reflect more deeply about this nation-state. For instance, Takashi Kuribayashi’s mixed installation “Trees” (2015) reminds us of a terarium, and a dystopian segmented tree; a reminder of the nation’s status as a garden city, and the fragile balance between maintaining the balance between urbanisation for housing, industries and roads, with nature. Izziyana Suhaimi’s “Let’s Make! Studio” (2015), from a different angle, suggests the current lack of craft in our collective mindshare, and thus the need to re-introduce the importance of being able to make-create, to counter the consumption-only mentality. Vincent Twardzik Ching’s “Greenroom II” is a reminder of the nation’s promise to create more cycling paths, rising from the plague by congested roads and a growing demands on public transportation. Yet our obsession with gadgets (and the “air-conditioned Nation’s” inevitable consumption of electricity) might put carbon emissions into overdrive despite efforts to go green with new building standards, and promoting active means of transportaton, such as cycling.

Nonetheless, the exhibition deserves an applause for taking the bold move to shift this signature programme to a new slot–from June holidays to March holidays. The Singapore Art Museum’s curators obviously saw an opportunity to experiment, and I think it has achieved some success by challenging artists to make immersive, interactive works for children.

14 March – 19 July 2015 SAM at 8Q