Monthly Archives: May 2006

Fiction @ Love

Stuffed with Goodness

I think any description will be under rated for this well curated exhibition. I can imagine secondary students, those besotted by any well-drawn and sensuous manga, to love bits and pieces of this exhibition. I can imagine tertiary student going gaga over some of the more subversive pieces. It has something that every young person will like. It is curiously popular with contemporary iconography. The works are eclectic, and more subtle than in your face graffiti splashed with sub culture. I think the curious symbolism, bright colours and daring compositions evident in the show, especially of the works by the local artists, show a certain maturity of ‘graphic-fiction’ in contemporary visual art – it is no longer defined strictly as comics, manga, graphic design, multimedia video or installation/sculpture. Pictorial Fiction as its best, escapes reality, retreating into its own world with its own logic, taxonomy and taste, seen in the works by fFurious especially in “Everywhere there are signs” a DVD-loop, Claire Lim’s “Hidden Ghost” installation, Lim Shing Ee’s “Towering Reciprocation”.

Paintings in the show

The relationship of commercial print-work and painting is complicated. A design house or printing house will refer to the design as ‘art-work’, just as how a painter may call the canvas dripped with enamel paint an ‘art-work’. Yet the distinction is often reiterated by the uniqueness of the object – design is usually associated with mass production, mass consumption while art is associated with selective, elite provenance. Consumption here means owning it, not just ‘seeing’ it. That distinction seems to be narrowed here, in the exhibition. How this changes the pattern of art collecting is anyone’s guess, but what is certain is it acknowledges the creative efforts of designers and visual artists, agreeable with lifestyle magazines like ‘ISH’.

I think the common thread is the lack of narrative, or the distortion of it, and the disturbing new iconography that disturbs the less receptive audience. This lack of narrative is a stark contrast to a presentation in comic form, perhaps due to the limitation of a single frame, A comic book offers a concise narrative, while paintings in the style of comic books parody the media, offering ludicrous narratives, if any. The works by Pop artist Roy Lichenstein too, seem to be contented with the parody of the presentation of comics, and staying on the surface of things. The narrative of Pop Art lies with the artists more than the physical object. Artists are no longer craftsman since the Renaissance, when a name was pegged to a work. Art is critically linked to the myth of the artist as a purveyor of society at its best or worst. They, the flaneurs of bourgeois society, are the honest critics of societies and often honoured as such decades after they die. Designers are often perceived as a different relatively younger breed (well, when did industrialisation come about?) of commercially linked artisans. Art Paintings play on the notion that an artwork is unique. Well, perhaps to different degrees of uniqueness when we talk about prints and photographic prints.

Neo-Classical paintings, or even Post-Impressionist paintings are under-written by a story that warms the viewer. The works in this exhibition are re-presentational of the kind of art that shocks or creates a warm fuzziness that oozes with cuteness or the Japanese type of ‘Kawai” style. Flat colours to me are synonymous with uncluttered speed. Users of graphic manipulation software with ‘fill’ tool/function will understand what I mean by ‘speed’. This uncluttered speed is often at the expense of narrative. The visual elements are far more important than narrative and meaning. The new iconography are logo-like; they are reduced pictograms stripped of its original business dealings. 

The exhibition is about a lack of contemporary fiction more than about the fiction of love. This fiction is perhaps about friction with the chaos in contemporary societies and urbanicity. From one main stream angle, these works don’t fit in, and somehow the maker and viewer are given the choice to escape into a parallel logic world. Of course, if one sees the price tag of a Takashi Murakami, one may be prepared to change one’s mind about acceptance by the art world, with its whim and fancies. From the perspective of the graphic and manga faithful, it is the statement and claim of a ‘movement’ and ‘style’ as legitimate as the ‘Baroque’ or the ‘Renaissance’.  If there is any love, it is the love for the computer and the mouse as a tool to create a simpler two dimensional world. Or love for the style of manga, in its various guises and fabrics. There is bits of angst and subversion, narcissism, experimentation for most to find a liking for. Dai Suki (大好)。


4 of 5 stars

Singapore Art Museum

12 May – 2 July

Beyond Description by Kim Bum-Su

As Interesting as tiles

The sculpture square played host to it’s fourth artist-in-residence, Kim Bum-Su, emptying its gallery floor and opting for a stained glass-like effect on it’s windows. From a far, they look like stain glass in the pattern of paranakan tiles, reminding the visitor of the provenance of the Baba Methodist Church that is now Sculpture Square gallery.

These myriad coloured patterns on closer look are actually ‘film stills’ captured on 35mm cine film. Without much guess work, they are probably cine-transfers of Korean film, or unwanted film bits from the Korean Movie Industry. I can almost imagine a Korean Film buff looking meticulously at each pattern, trying to recognise the films in which they were cut from. The saturation of colours in the various sequence of frames – pink, blues and green – suggest that some coloration has been done to produce these cuts. Some of these patterns, in its concentric layout, remind one of ripples; others in its strong horizontal and vertical lines remind one of the Cross. Other then these curious familiar looking patterns, much is left unsaid about its connection to the images on the film, or the bare concrete floor. The work leaves too much room for imagination, or none at all – it is simply about patterns, perhaps unconscious pattern making, just as how Paul Klee would have imagined his. The work, despite using the material so closely associated with film, has no narrative inherent in film and rejects narrative completely.

There is a certain relationship to Yayoi Kusama’s work in its obsession in a single material or form. The photographic positive film, like Kusama’s dots are reproduced and stuck on a surface. Each looks the same but are definitely different from each other. The single installation here is possibly intended to be a spectacle, but perhaps fails to impress because the work seems too invisible, fighting for attention against the glaring white walls. The physicality of the work is in question. I am wondering if the effect would have been better if a facsimile of the church was reproduced in acrylic boards, and clad entirely with the pattern he has obviously meticulously stuck together with transparent tape. A projection of the sequences in which these stills were extracted from may put more sight, sound and colour than the limited windows can offer. There is a possibility that the artist was interested in the persistence of vision, of film and memory. There is definitely a relation of sight and the persistence of memory in this site-specific work. I can imagine his fleeting memory of Sculpture Square and Singapore when he returns, a country that barely excites with film. Few will find the smell of photographic chemicals that reek gently in the space alluring. Even fewer can appreciate the mammoth effort required to produce this work. Somehow the absence of a physical nature of a three dimensional work is problematic in a space like sculpture square. The work is simply too flat for a space like Sculpture Square.

As I sat in the gallery typing this, 5 visitors come and go, averaging 20 seconds. I suppose most visitors would agree with me, this exhibition was as interesting as Peranakan tiles. The work barely transforms the space or the experience of visiting an empty gallery.

1 of 5 stars
Sculpture Square, till May 21, 2006

The HDB Heartbeat by Selvarani Munnusami

Mail art that comes with the HDB letter box

The work is obviously not mail art. It hardly contains any artistic correspondence with anybody with the mention of art-making. It is something else, an installation of a local artist sorting out her thoughts, an interrupted piece of artwork that seems more interesting than its intended end state. It is perhaps serendipity at work, one of the art world’s most elusive processes.

It is not by accident that Mark Dion was quoted as an influence on Selvarani’s works. If anyone has much to say about the value of junk mail and scrapes, it should be Mark Dion who combed the banks of river Thames for artefacts of various worth – pre-war metal bits, strange rusted vessels to contemporary PET bottles. If we appreciate Dion’s petite effort to save every last ounce of tiny Thames history, to document and archive the contents of it, we will appreciate Salvarani’s will to find the HDB letter box, and gesture to record (not keep) the contents of these abandoned boxes.

There is a certain poetic gesture in searching with great difficulty for something, and then finding it. I think this seems to be the cherry on top of the cake, a stark contrast to how Picasso would say ‘I do not search, I find’ (Je ne cherche pas, Je trouve). From the write-up available, the artist has gone through great trouble to find this array of letterboxes, and the work seemed to have lead her in the process, and not the usual other way round. She has gone from Town Council to MP, to sub-contractors, scrap yards and ping-pong-ed around. The work is much less about mail art, even though the intention to manufacture, write and mail postcards with images of flyers and envelopes that transit through our mailboxes, was probably the original thought.

There is something else that writes the work into my memory, the connection between a coursework report written like a ‘diary’ placed carefully on top of the letterbox in the gallery for all to read, the height of the letterboxes propped on top of layers of bricks. A curious video played on a small television in the metal carcass of the top left-most letterbox, of images of more mailboxes, with the fluttering sounds of the letterboxes disturbed from their slumber.

Next to the familiar letter box, which we are told are from Bishan, was placed a metal shelf with 20 – 30 cardboard boxes of mail categorised to some private taxonomy. Some were labelled ‘Bills’, ‘Education flyers’, ‘Repairs’. This reminded me of Andy Warhol’s shoeboxes of collected items found in his storeroom after he died. Would you be fascinated by the things of a dead but famous artist? Would you be equally thrilled by the things that a ‘somebody’ (as opposed to ‘nobody’) collects? There is something we all (85% of Singaporeans) have in common. Sorting mails, as we sort our lives, some with the same ease, others with difficulty. If only we could let go of burdens, problems, emotions as easy as we throw leaflets from the relentless housing agents! Possibly what the moment of opening the mailbox is what the artist referred to as the HDB heartbeat – a moment of anticipation for a letter from a loved one, a moment of annoyance the next bill or parking fine appears. It is romantic to think we are all the same when we open the letterbox, tired, expressionless or excited and nervous.

3 of 5 stars
SVA Degree Show 2006: a well placed suite exhibition that surprises.
Till May 14, 2006

Furniture Design Award: Fly

‘"FLY", the theme of Singapore Furniture Industries Council's 2006 Furniture Design Award (FDA), encourages participants in the Students & Young Designers category to cross creative and cultural boundaries, and produce innovative concepts that are truly in a class of their own.’

Most would agree with me, that the Bauhaus School (1919 – 1933), led by Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, was one of the most influential factions synonymous with the avant-garde. These Bauhaus architects with their purists’ aesthetics concepts and went on to spawn an international ‘style’ in architecture and design, that is beginning to see its philosophy, aesthetics and political modernism even in tropical, otherwise post-war utilitarian Singapore.

The Bauhaus School, as we are led to believe, deem that there is no difference between the craftsman or craftswoman, and the artist. Artists look at the creative products of designers for inspiration, and vice versa.

Thus this exhibition, the Furniture Design Award with the theme of FLY, under the giant umbrella theme of ‘Hybrid Composite’ seem appropriate to acknowledge the believe of the Bauhaus, and exhibited at in an art gallery. Art and Design ‘products’ seem to share more similarities, bridged by our own shifting, blurring, expanding definitions of ‘craft’. Ask the average art student, the elements and principles of art and design are often used synonymously, and universally to critique, appreciate or reject. I am going to assume here, that it was a deliberate attempt to discuss or suggest that art and design were to be criticized, when placed in the arena of the art gallery for public viewing.

From the visual arts perspective, the artworks on display mostly fail to tackle the theme on ‘fly’ on a psychological AND social level. Most are happy to play with the form and shape of wings, imaginary lines that will excite anyone familiar with air-waves in relation to Bernoulli’s principle reacting over ‘wings of an aircraft’. From the design perspective, I shall not claim expertise, one work are largely constrain and constipated by colour and fluffy material; some are obviously not functional and remind myself how useless I was at school for design assignments.


The work “Flap Flap”, by Han Kian Siew seem most adequate to be discussed here from the visual arts, and design perspective. Crudely put by me in words, its function is as an artwork and coffee table. The title is rather kiddy and colloquial; the aesthetics of it is serial in its composition of multiple discs arranged in a grid. Two such discs defy the uniformity of the grid and emerge from the rest like butterflies above a sea of flattened thistles. The moment is frozen like a photograph; it seems to be quite metaphorical of two butterflies eloping, or representational of two great minds in conversation at a coffee table for two. Any outsider seemed unimportant to the two butterflies. And perhaps the judges for the Furniture Design Award deemed this gesture against uniformity unimportant too. From a certain perspective, they look like spinning saucers on a stick, and I’m wondering if designers are like the acrobats, balancing meaning, design principles and whether being revolutionary means throwing everything into the wall and calling it performance art. Maybe two saucers decided to transform and fly away, much like the fantasy flight sequence in Terry Gilliam’s cult movie ‘Brazil’ (1985).  I am worried that it would need great deft and concentration to perch the coffee or tea cups and saucers on these discs.


To many design fanatics, design is art, if not an art of living. Things surrounding us should be pretty, tasteful, somewhat functional and inspirational. I cannot imagine cleaning ‘Flap Flap’ once a week, after dust has settled on every nook and cranny. But I can imagine staring at it on long days and cleaning it as a ritual of existence.


2.5 of 5 stars

 Singapore Furniture Industries Council
15 Apr – 1 May 06, Sat-Mon, Jendela