I M Breather by Jeremy Hiah

Aren’t we all in need of a little fresh air too? 

This is probably the only art-gallery-exhibition in Singapore that attempts to change the works for a single artist. Perhaps inspired by Barbara Kruger’s talk, part of the encounter series under the auspices of the Singapore Biennale 2006, the curators at p-10 have offered permutations of Jeremy Hiah’s work to some success. These included sculptures and video (from earlier years), installations, photographic works and collaborative works. These span from his college days at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, residencies in Europe, exhibits from previous shows.  

Jeremy’s works draw a mixture of responses. The works were quoted to be ‘terrorist art attacks’ by Ong Su Bin (ST, Feb 18, 2006), but are perhaps more cheeky than taboo. 

I think Jeremy’s work could be read in a simpler context. He is simply an artist stating the simple in his own poetic way; it’d good to be alive and breathing. In the context of world terrorism (incidentally an influence on the artist’s works), natural disasters and potential epidemics, art seems trivial, if not a mechanism for coping with emotional doldrums.  

They could be perceived as intellectually twisted, quirky with the aesthetics of Vincent Leow, Tang Mun Kit and the Artists Village.  The discussion of installation art, art brut (for painters), naïve art, Paul Klee can be quoted in reference to Jeremy’s work. 

 Vincent Leow, a prominent local artist was a major influence for Jeremy both in terms of providing opportunities to exhibit, as well as a stylistic impetus to draw and paint. An immediate response from a more traditional audience will be ‘these are not paintings, but doodles’ or ‘you got to be kidding right?’ Objects and subject matter, imaginary-nice-drawings were juxtaposed with text in barely discernible syntaxes, a symptom of Singlish at its best, and painted often in child-like demeanor. There is an element of randomness, and surprises in Jeremy’s work, a characteristic shared by perhaps other young artists like Benjamin Puah (Ben the Rat), Erzan Adam. Some have gone further to describe these works as ‘kinky manifestations of the post-modern condition’, whatever that means. These works, perhaps made fashionable by Vincent Leow and Tang Mun Kit, pride process over product, with little concern for the nanyang style that Singapore Art stems from, or at least says the book “Channels and Confluences” by Kwok Kian Chow. If Liu Kang, a teacher can inspire and influence a generation of local artists (Singapore Artists Directory. [Singapore] : Published by Prime Prints Pte. Ltd. with the assistance of the Ministry of Community Development, c1987), Vincent Leow is a key to understanding the style of these younger artists.

 The first installment of the ‘series’ of exhibits at p-10 are crude. But only if you regard Louise Bourgeois’ works as crude.  I can’t help but feel sympathetic about artists, with the image of Vincent Van Gogh painting feverish at his canvas. Is this the image of an artist most of us associate artists with? The early series of Jeremy, such as ‘painting with a vacuum cleaner’ or Mona Lisa with buttons as nipples, when depressed emit a pre-recorded mechanical laughter are antagonistic against the system of art. The purpose was probably not to shock, but a reaction against his art training and society’s perception of art. You could paint how ever you wanted; if Jackson Pollock could paint with drips and drops in a tin can with a hole in the bottom, surely painting with a vacuum cleaner would be acceptable. The Mona Lisa represents the priceless quality of art and if it’s the only artwork that comes to mind when asked to name ‘a good piece of art’, we should be concern with who and what determines good art and art that’s worth a laugh. The artist has obviously decided to be that determinant.  

The second installment “Paradise/Terrorise” at p-10 are more sophisticated and layered in meaning. These large prints feature masked characters indulging in activities in a make-believe garden. Two compositions strike me. One of the ‘Dogs playing cards’[1], by a painter unfamiliar to me, and Henri Matisse’s ‘The Dance’. The defiance of reality or realism, and reliance on canons adds complexities to reading his work. They are no doubt funny and hilarious to view, but yet sinister. the masked figures, not so much suggest anonymity but suggest the intention to conceal, adding to the myth of these photographs. Who are these figures? Are they part of a cult? Are they celebrating a boy’s world of make believe, filled with sweet bearing angels and guns? The large prints enable the viewer to pour over the details and muse over the perfections and imperfections of the photograph. These prints resemble studio shots, exuding a professional quality and resolute sharpness of grain. These ring like the cash register in my head, and give the impression that they cost so much more to produce compared with the earlier DIY works.  Perhaps the resolution of the artist was more than breathing fresh air, to produce brilliant works that are about the product and about the process; works that step beyond the shadow of low-craftsmanship ‘kinky manifestations’ as criticized by others.


P-10, 9 Feb to May 4. 

Part VI: This Is Not A Mushroom
tickleart, citylink mall towards Esplanade
15 April – 14 June

[1] Online search suggests that Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (1844-1937) might be the artist of the dog playing cards series. These paintings are often plagiarized and mass-produced into tourist trinkets.


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