Daily Archives: February 12, 2006

Ran 染

A visual appetiser of art by Singapore and Chinese Artists at the Esplanade

I think several artworks in the group exhibition titled Stained manage to pull off some coherence to the theme of the work – something that drags the bottomless permutable concept of globalisation and how cultures rub onto one another. Some of the artworks may leave one wondering about the weak links and whether the artworks or artists were invited to fill up the numbers. These artworks probably pale slightly in comparison to those seen in Zooming into Focus: Contemporary Chinese Video & Photography from the Haudenschild Collection at Earl Lu Gallery in August 2005.
 
Without going into grim details of what ‘worked’ and ‘what didn’t’, I would prefer to talk about ONE work in this exhibition (because it was the first I saw from the Esplanade linkway!).
 
This exhibition, with works in the linkway, concourse, and Jendela Gallery, will be worth scouting around if you are in the area.
 
2½ stars of 5
 
 
Ran was held in Jendela Gallery from 20 January – ? February 2006.
 
 
 
 
A river in 3 parts
By Jerome Ming, and sound by Zai Kuning
11 January – 19 February 2006
 

Another glimpse of China, apt after the rainy season

It seems appropriate to feature the fast-vanishing landscape Of China, in the ‘Huayi – Chinese Festival of Art’. If you don’t know the extent of the vast three Gorges Dam that will cover “riverbanks, cities, towns and villages located along the reservoir. The three Gorges Dam will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world”, this passageway of photographs by Jerome Ming and haunting sound by Zai Kuning will take you through the picture snapshots of the extraordinary lives of the Chinese living along the Yangtze River.
 
Much lies between the photograph, the photographer and geographical space of the Yangtze River and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. I am not trying to discredit the photographer here. I am merely stating that it will be ambitious to say that enough can be documented through the pictures on display. I have seen passers-by mock what they see in the photos.
 
These photographs with high contrast levels probably reveal little of the sentiments of the people affected. However the red painted water mark and monotonous droning wind instrument sound seem to add to a sense of frustration and helplessness one may imagine the residents to have. If you were in Singapore during January, the incessant rain would have allowed you to feel the inconveniences of rain in sunny tropical but urban Singapore. Now imagine if that water would rise above the height of Bukit Timah Hill, Singapore’s highest land form (at about 160m above sea level). Perhaps with this bit of imagination, we will feel the helplessness behind the work, by the artist and locals alike.   
 
I suppose this photo exhibition is really a small spiel, as compared with the Earth From Above outdoor photo exhibition by Yann Artus –Bertrand, to highlight the extent mankind alters the environment. The exhibition is a visual representation of ‘inconvenience’ and a wake-up call to ignorant passers-by to world environmental affairs.

Artery: Inaugural Exhibition

Art that flows in the city 

  

I think the most obvious connotation of the title of the exhibition is its reference of the Concourse (underground linkway) that joins the different buildings, as an important anatomy of the University – the artery, with the pun on the word ‘art’. This first exhibition, if it is any statement of the art to be featured there, promises well-placed, well-suited art for popular contemporary art consumption. The works, if I didn’t mis-read the foreword by Howard Hunter, President of the University, spearheads the Visual Arts Initiative, by offering art by artists from around the region. Mounted by curator Joanne Lee, the works are well-spaced, allowing breathing space for the works and the passers-by to stop and look without holding up traffic. This exhibition is split into 3 components to cater to almost everyone’s taste: 

‘MURMUR’, at the Gallery, School of Economics & Social Sciences – 

Featuring works by Anthony Poon, Chua Ek Kay, Pinaree Sanpitak, Jane Lee and Delia Prvacki, the selection explores the eloquence of repetition and rhythmic gestures, visual silence and material minimalism; 

‘Testimonies’, at the Concourse, School of Economics & Social Sciences –   

Featuring recent portraits in ink by Tang Dawu, photographic works by Francis Ng, and Dadang Christanto’s 2005 Testimonies of the Trees series, the section explores personal memory and subjectivity; 

‘Looking In Looking Out’, at the Concourse, Li Ka Shing Library – 

Featuring commissioned works by Heman Chong, Tan Kai Syng and Ana Prvacki, the works are site-specific interventions with architectural histories, pop psychology, and the trafficking of ideas. 

(Above text from curator’s note) 

  

As pointed out by a fellow artist, it is curious that the senior artists’ works are more skilfully crafted than the younger artists’. The former works could be seen as engaged with primal concepts of ‘menhood’, or spirituality. The latter works seem more complicated and deal with a certain commercial attitudes of urbanicity – the city and its “interventions of life and living, of noise, the rich textures of organic confusion and chaos” (extract from curator’s text). For some strange reason, I felt compelled to glance and ‘browse’ these works, like a lifestyle magazine. The older works show evidence of ‘hands-on’ in the final physical objects, while the younger artists seem to have favoured a mechanical means of (re)producing their art –photographs, Inkjet on PVC canvas, 2000 copies of offset print, vinyl stickers. This does give a unique textural juxtaposition and visual pleasure.  

  

If the University is like a heart, what flows out could be the un-selfish public education that is desperately needed to complement the Singapore Art Museum. Perhaps if presented cautiously, and avoiding connotations of high art, these public art exhibitions will ease the sore memories of a public who remembers fondly of their green patch of grass and the Raffles Girls’ School gate; perhaps art will heal the ‘vericose vein’ perception of the fledging University beside the ERP gantry. 

  

3 stars of 5 

  

  

Artery was held in the Singapore Management University from 12 January – 31 March 2006. 

(Oasis by) 1 Singapore Artist: Han Sai Por

The Rain has stopped and every 1 has come to see art.
 
Han Sai Por’s work is no stranger to sculpture buffs in Singapore. Her name is such a pull that the title of the exhibition, incidentally ‘1 Singapore Artist: Han Sai Por’, seems to circumvent the need of a sticky title common to other sculpture exhibitions! Seeing her timeless sculptures and charcoal drawings, as opposed to temporary installations, or ‘transient sculptures occupying space’, seems like breathing fresh air after rain. There is that raw energy unleashed by carved granite, a certain need of a connection with our earth that draws us to Sai Por’s work. I suppose that need is even stronger in a society that presses for speed and efficiency while Sai Por’s work seems to require a certain meditative state of mind to be truly appreciated.
 
The main focus of the exhibition seems like the square granite-pebble perimeter, decorated by 20 cog-like granite pieces titled ‘Seed with Void’ arranged systematically within. Each cog-like piece has a tea-light, surrounding the centre piece, a cuboid granite block, which also has a tea-light. There are a few suspended ones, which seem to mirror the circular window at the top of the chapel building. The shimmering tea-light renders these pieces as mere tea-light holders, something which I am not prepared to accept. Something else isn’t quite here; it feels as if the space swallowed the work. The granite path seems like a perimeter path, and a boundary at the same time, playing hide and seek on the grey cement flooring of Sculpture Square. The granite cuboid, ‘Square of Light’, like Sai Por’s other works, seems to yearn for the nourishment of rain, sun and air, not air-conditioning and cement – man-made stone.
 
There are three intriguing works in the exhibition: ‘The Impression of Mount Kinabalu’ drawings, the urn-like sculpture ‘Light Bowl with Cover’, and ‘Sundial’ the stackable piece. 
 
The drawings are extremely attractive to look at. They all have a white glaring streak, a pathway through the denseness of charcoal on paper. These seem to possess something the granite sculptures lack – an immensely imaginative space, captured by the contrast of the blackness of charcoal and whiteness of white paint on paper. Our eyes may play tricks on us, altering the perspective, scale and depth of that white streak as our eye shifts focus between a background and a foreground. Any further exploration by the reader will have to deal with the psychology of vision. The sculptures on the other hand seem always middle ground, limited by its greyness and physical presence. The piece nearest the entrance ‘Sunlight penetrates the woods’ may give us an insight into Sai Por’s work. It is perhaps exactly that feeling that she wants, that abstract contradiction of wanting to see light, but being blinded by it.
 
The urn like sculpture ‘Light Bowl with Cover’ seems to tackle the issue of form and function. Should sculptures have any functions, for example, to decorate the house, to create a memorial for the dead? It is curious how it resembles a stove, and it can probably be used as one, or a garden lamp or a trophy for a champion of sorts.
 
The stackable ‘Sundial’ seemed configurable to suit the space, and reminded me of Brancusi’s ‘endless column’ similar in its unity in form, lines, and suggestion of infinity. These pineapple-slice-like cogs, with knowledge of its strength, repetitive and technical birth process, is the other source of energy in this exhibition. They sit silently, waiting for the brave soul to shift them. The stacking reminds me of stones I saw in Scotland, stacked at mountain paths to mark the path of climbers that passed by. They are like silent prayers, rock-piles in Tibet made by passing pilgrims, rebuilding collapsed ones in one endless cycle.
 
I think it is inescapable to consider Sai Por’s work with meditation, concepts of the ‘void’ or seeking it, and the sense of a material ‘sublime’. This exhibition feels like another rock-pile on Sai Por’s accolades of achievements, working in a vanishing and difficult art form. Most of her raw materials are not native, and require expensive sourcing. The tenacity and stubbornness not to succumb to the allure of new media, and sticking to art that lasts makes her stand out from other Singapore artists. Perhaps this makes her the 1 Singapore artist to catch.
 
3 of 5 stars
 
 
1 Singapore Artist: Han Sai Por is held in Sculpture Square till March 3, 2006

Erased, Mislaid, Rejected, Revisited

Not all marks can be erased.

The exhibition probably will make little sense to a lot of people, especially if you are unfamiliar with the discourse of conceptual art or unfamiliar with reading Chinese characters – seven gold painted classical frames of painted ‘kiddy’ Chinese characters, four huge wall-size canvases with traced Chinese characters, some broken furniture, a television with running Chinese text that must be viewed with a truck mirror, and a wall projection of other past projects. The aptly named exhibition will make sense if you have:

(1) been following the development of art in Singapore, or
(2) attempted to find the missing link between image and text, or
(3) interested in visual and literary puns.

Without duplicating some of the comments about Cheo Chai-Hiang’s work written and argued cogently in the exhibition catalogue, or some of the implicit information that a reader can gather from his extensive and impressive artistic practice resume, I shall attempt to write my appreciation or criticism about the exhibition.

If one is familiar with the Lu Xun graphic image-installation, titled Celebrating Little Thoughts, at old Nanyang Institute of Education Bukit Timah Campus, and LA-SALLE SIA College of the Arts, the familiar image of Lu Xun, now with neon smoke, brazen onto the façade of Sculpture Square seems like a calling-card of something intellectual, perhaps a little kitsch. Perhaps Lu Xun has become a symbol of the Modernity, the new ‘old’. Chai-Hiang has timely surfaced his contribution to Singapore’s art history with the conceptual and controversial proposal 5’ x 5’ for a modern art exhibition, chaired by Ho Ho Ying in the seventies, shortly after Ho Tzu Nyen’s Arts Central Commission 4×4, an artwork appropriating and quoting famous artists in Singapore. Yes, it seems there were interests in art forms other than the Impressionists or propagating the Nanyang Style in the seventies. It is timely because 2005 had witnessed several international-scaled art symposiums seeing speakers from Pompidou, Long Ying Tai (ex-cultural Minister and writer from Taiwan) and talks of varying levels of discourse, with a renewed interest and curiousity in art of the fifties through to the seventies.

To comprehend and appreciate the works that laid within Sculpture Square Erased, Mislaid, Rejected, Revisited, one had to be comfortable with the in-difference between text (written or painted words) and the mental image that it allows us to create. Chai-Hiang had glorified the position of the poet, and distilled the very essence of poetry to Chinese Characters, painted within rigid, possibly traced pencil guidelines with textural strokes in black. White impasto strokes dance and surround these pencil marks. The canvas is framed in gold painted classical frames one will find in the Lourve Museum, and hung carefully and spaciously within the gallery. The work reminds us of Art & Language, or how text implies and challenges one’s imagination. I recall reading about this painting that depicted the back of the stretcher – wood, canvas and label – and the title was something like “the best painting you have ever seen”. The empty space surrounding the gestural strokes is reminisce of Chinese paintings, where the emptiness expands and contracts visually, giving the subject matter breathing space. Perhaps Chai-Hiang being the fierce night-bird (sic, read here as devil’s advocate) by drawing our attention to the gestural strokes – that made abstract paintings so interesting to look at – and con-text – which tickles the left-side of our brains. One should be amused to read a note by the artist, near the projection wall, that a group of kindergarten children could not ‘read’ or recite the words of the paintings Shi Ren (The Poet) and E Niao (The Fierce Night Bird). This obviously signified something interesting to the artist, otherwise it wouldn’t be up as an ‘afterword’. Because Chai-Hiang’s modus operandi methodology engages the audience by the use of carefully selected ‘words’ like a poet, and they were likely to appeal to a naïve audience that was happy ‘just’ to read it; an innocence that appreciated simple things. It is exactly abstract concepts like poet and The Fierce Night Bird that separate adults from appreciating simple things.

The work You Liang Zhu Shu (There are two trees), reminded one of works by the arte povera movement in its use of materials and assemblage. This work possibly should be seen together with the television screen facing out of the gallery that requires the viewer to stay in the gallery to read the text that appears in large font size. Here, the de-constructed or dis-functional use of ‘chairs’ perhaps pays homage to Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965) and the challenge to re-consider meaning and image-making, intended function and creative or destructive usage. The title of the work connects in a grammatical sentence in Chinese, to a square running LED display placed on a stool, much like American artist Jenny Holzer who explores truism, and public psyche when her works are placed in very public spaces. The LED display reads “one is a money tree, the other is also a money tree” (trans. by the writer). In the context of the art galley in sculpture square, one find private and quiet space to consider this work, against the backdrop of moving traffic outside the gallery main street, and roadside planted trees. Perhaps this is a metaphor to how some artists may see particular art forms ‘like trees’ as ‘money trees’, in the context of how art in Singapore can be rather commercial at times.

The set pieces in this exhibition, measured by presence and scale, seem to be the four wall size canvases titled Dear Cai Xiong (A letter from Ho Ho Ying, 1972), with Chinese text pencil-traced from perhaps the original reply that Chai-Hiang received from Ho Ho Ying, regarding his controversial proposal for the piece 5’x5’, an installation of a ‘empty’ square measuring 5 x 5 feet, half on the wall and half on the floor, to represent the Singapore River. The pencil-traced marks reminds the viewer that this work could potentially be ‘erased’; but experienced users of the pencil will also realise that pencil marks will still leave traces after attempts to erase it. Perhaps the significance of this work prompts us to re-examine some of the neglected art criticism and writings, which essentially is the content of Ho Ho Ying’s reply, in the history of Singapore Art. Some other art critics may see this as too much of an ego message to lay claim to conceptualist art in Singapore.

Singapore art history is indeed in a precarious position, because much of the pre-Eighties art writing are in Chinese and seldom referred to by art educators today; it has the danger of being ‘erased’, sitting uncomfortably like the half-formed, outlined text in this work, fighting for attention in a generation that favours new media. The presence and monument of these four canvases with their deliberate blemishes, traced-scotch-tape marks is a tremendous effort by one artist to re-visit, albeit nostalgically but nonetheless thoroughly critical of his own works. It should be recorded here, that the exhibition was accompanied by artist talks, artist’s conversations with Ho Ho Ying, and even a book launch of Re-connecting: Selected Writings on Singapore Art and Art Criticism, translated by the artist. If Lim Tzay Chuen’s work, a proposal to ship the beloved Merlion to Venice Art Biennale was misunderstood to be a failure, and not about failures, Chai-Hiang’s work runs the risk of being incomprehensible to the techno-savvy and impatient viewer. The show is however, comfortable to a privileged art audience – those that shift comfortably between Chinese text and English text.

Chai-hiang’s contribution to the local art scene extends beyond the 5’ x 5’. This exhibit still stirs thoughts on what art today should be about (subject matter), use (media), be contextualised (curated). It is about time we seek out the roots of a local art practice, and surface canonical works and writing from the seventies. His playfulness with language and image extends beyond the surface of the exhibition, into the memories of an art audience that laments the lack of acknowledgement for art that is witty.

4.5 of 5 stars

Erased, Mislaid, Rejected, Revisited: Cheo Chai-Hiang’s Works 1972 – 2005
Till 4 Dec, 2005

Kill ’em All / Love ’em All

Francis Ng presents his new body of works, a hybrid between commercialism and eccentrics

The gallery was frightfully silent, and the pictures seemed like they were taken last Halloween. This body of work, comprising of 22 images each 48 x 48 inches, by local sterling installation and photography black-horse artist, Francis Ng, hang with military precision and poise. The information leaflet states that the work ‘(takes)… the shape of a multi-modal experiential reflection and introspection on the meaning of one’s true self and existential state. Together, the exhibited works provide a dialogic platform, provoking questions about who and what we are and how we came to be who we are’.

I think one would agree with me the commercial aspect of the work: they seem to appeal to fashion magazine-spread lovers. And feature the envious list of support from sponsors like Toni & Guy, Pacific Optical and Cathay Photo.

The photographs seemed professionally finished and mounted, except for palm smudges on the back. One would assume the back of the work is meant to be seen, and important because of the way eight photographs are suspended that way; the words ‘Kill’ and ‘Love’ in vinyl are plastered on the back of two of these photographs. With the unusual aluminium mounting, perhaps a clue to the artist’s obsession with a certain kind of precision, because mounting on aluminium is regarded as the most technically challenging method as opposed to sticking it in a picture frame. Of course, the perfectionist art framer would probably advise an acid-free lacquer coating to go on the surface of these dirty-pretty things.

These square prints had an effect on me: they gave the impression of ‘more of the same’, leaving me stranded for something beyond the surface. It’s too slick to look at, almost.

The slickness of each of these photographs contrasts with the sense of rawness seen in his earlier photographs, those with a view of nude bodies with their heads hidden behind suspended concrete blocks, and this is probably the strength of the exhibition. The artist has taken a risk to try something terribly new. There is a strong sense of the influence from contemporary fashion photography here, where selling clothes and cloth doesn’t necessarily mean you need to show the model wearing the clothes. It is possibly about selling an image of the chic and avant-garde. Hence I think what Ng is trying to tell and sell here is really the brand of the artist, the same thing that dragged me from (my own) overtime work to see this.

The eccentric titles make me sick, as they bear little visual or literal reference to the photograph, which I assume to be the work, and not a record of some performance, akin to Erwin Wurm meets Fancy Dress party. I can only imagine them to be vague, lame titles related to Chinese Zodiac animals, and their friends. For example, ‘Dog’, ‘Chicken’, ‘Dragon’, ‘Phoenix’. The titles seemed like after-thoughts to the ‘matter of fact’ poses, which contribute to the filmsy conceptual framework of the exhibition and the whimsical but funny nature of the body of work. Which could be something interesting if it wasn’t hanging in such a serious venue, the Old Parliament House. Unless of course, I lack irony to read anything overtly political over the title of THIS exhibition and its contentious site.

I think the concept of ‘identity’ in this body of work is heavily cloaked, if obvious at all. We should consider the cram shophouse-like interior to be of significance, perhaps making reference to the pre-war living conditions in urban Singapore. I think many would agree with me, the success story of modern Singapore is the breeding ground for generations X and Y, who may have little regards for tradition and heritage and are more concerned with spending, partying or masquerading. One can imagine the clash of ideology between the generation of our grandfathers and this self-proclaimed generations X and Y; each viewing the other as eccentric.

If Ng’s quoting Susan Sontag “to photograph someone is sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time” is any mis-reading by me, either the artist has misunderstood the context of the tag, or has decided to go for an over-kill.

I think at the end of the day, the kind of art on display is not to everybody’s fitting and a clear case of Kill ’em All if you are a traditional photographer or regular consumer of fine art from the fine selection of the Singapore Art Museum; or Love ’em All if the next Mardi Gras is in town and you lack fashion samples. Nonetheless, this bold step forward could be the red herring from Ng to launch his next much-awaited exhibition. After all, he is the blue-eyed boy of the avant-garde, young-art scene.

2.0 stars of 5

Kill ’em All/Love ’em All was held in The Arts House from 22 December 2005 – 7 January 2006.