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