Travelogue exhibition from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

Lao Tzu

The exhibition “travelogue” (or something like that as I didn’t quite get the full name of the show as I couldn’t find a sign in the gallery that explained it) at PKW went as quickly as it came. If it wasn’t for Emily who told me about the show, I wouldn’t have caught it.

It seems like good art college pedagogical practice to encourage travel to see beyond the shores of the red dot, and bringing ‘art making knowledge’ along but knowingly planning for an exhibition. The exhibition, was split into two gallery spaces with a rather unbalanced display of works. Perhaps it was put together as hastily as it came to a close of 10 odd days (less Sunday, Monday). There is a strong inclination to think that it was necessary to demand they show evidence that they have gained from it, having subsidized or paid for students’ traveling expenses. Arnewaty’s display of envelopes and paper boats ferrying sweets, with some recognizable names of lecturers suggest the concept of ‘well wishes’ of a journey of learning, and that of a burden to produce evidence of the fruits of their exposure to another culture.

In this sense, our student-artists have brought with them their ‘learning’ from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, and have applied them in a simple, intimate exhibition of their interpretations of the places they visited or their concept of traveling. Given the time and space, they have done pretty well to convey the knowledge of the lands beyond our shores, however insignificant, to the viewer. Just as they have surveyed the places they have visited, I could only survey the exhibition 10 minutes overtime of closing on the last day.

The photographic work that struck me as typical tourist were by Poh Ya See, titled “I’m at the top of the World” consisting of a few photographs 21x29cm. They were blur, badly taken and incoherent except to the photo-taker. What was more interesting from the same artist, was the work ‘Around the Roti-Prata Land in 22 days”, consisting of wooden paddle like shaped pieces, painted in bricolage style, with the occasional carbon transfer of ‘iconic’ art imagery like Van Gogh’s self-portrait, and several huge standing stop-sign-like boards of unrecognizable striped pattern. It seems potentially loaded with some message, just like pressing random alpha-numeric keys on your mobile and sending it to ten best friends. It was a difficult space to show, in the upper space of gallery 2. The bits and pieces of wood, though beautifully decorated disappears in the space with no spot-lighting, just as the work losses specificity of context, further confused by the beguiling title. It would have been better to swap spaces with Dennis’ paintings and a hanging syrup piece that did nothing to enhance the perception of the white walls in gallery 1. in the upper space of gallery 2, perhaps the higher ceiling would have created some tension and fore-boding danger of syrup crashing on the viewer.

The work by Jayet Ng Cai Zhen seemed to conform to the laymen’s expectation of an artist on a vengence to travel and paint. Numerous sketches, studies and notes were taken in a neat but cryptic handwriting, and developed into four framed works, superimposing text and drawings of these sketches, and filled with washes of colour. Visible iconography of Camobodia or Vietnam was evident. I suppose we all have the impression of artists sitting around and painting plein-air, like the impressionists, which incidentally is probably the world’s most popular art poster style. This culminated in an installation piece, veiled by a white mosquito-net-like fabric, with a simple plinth and stool for the viewer to plummet through original drawings and washes perhaps torn from an otherwise well traveled sketchbook.

The most poetic piece I felt, was by Quek Wei Xiang, a push cart made with cardboard, tempera paint, ‘recycled’ material that was left to disintegrate under the elements in the forecourt of gallery 2. To me, it epitomized the trinkets we may gather from travels, and in the end left to their own demises. These trinkets may have been peddled on pushcarts or roadside stalls and bears a curious relationship to the arts and culture of the place of visit. The intention to buy these trinkets vary – as souvenirs for oneself, for pestering relatives who demanded trophies of travel, as an avenue to reduce spare change. The foreign-ness of these trinkets are facsimile of perhaps famous artifacts or place. How much we understand of the place and culture are often substituted by these miniature trophies or mistaken ‘cultural artifacts’. The average tourist, I can imagine and have witnessed, will be more keen to ‘shop’ then understand, sympathise with the effects of uneducated tourism on local culture. They erode more than value, just as how the push cart disintegrates undervalued and weathered by the elements of the tropical weather in Singapore, than protected in doors like most art objects.

The traveler is different from the tourist. It is hoped that these artists have covered short distances, and have inspired their peers to step out of their comfort zones of art making in Singapore to see what art and culture means to other people. Perhaps they can then develop a kind of sensibility of art making that considers the audience, site specificity and cultural context of any contentious travelogue; a art making context that separates art from industry.

2.0 of 5 stars

PKW Gallery, ended on June 3, 2006

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