The Scenic Eye, Visual Arts and the Theatre

Typically Fluxus re-presented in quiet whispers and a nice big, dark space

The exhibition title is almost baffling. I think the ‘scene’ here refers to the change in scenes of a play in parts. This is not to be confused by a 'scenic landscape' and a photographer's keen perception to capture the 'scenic view'.

Here, the viewer is almost encouraged to consider these artworks in mindful of German theatrical art practices. Brecht, perhaps?The exhibition space is splendid for works that require a dark space – works spanning across disciplines of the visual arts and Theatre. The space is luxurious, standing at “At 1200 square metres, double volume, and totally column free, this is the largest exhibition space of museum standard in Singapore”.

The exhibition’s first impression was the quiet whispers from the speakers of numerous works. For example Hans Peter Kuhn’s “Middle Place” (1996), surrounded by 4 speakers spewing the sound of waves circling the listener who sat on a chair on a platform, watched by other viewers. Or Ute Weiss’s “Walking Down the Street”, captured voices playing through 4 pillar-booths with door viewers, and one-way reflective surfaces. The listener in the booth then becomes on ‘display’ and could be observed by from the outside. The listener feels as if they are eavesdropping on interviews, sharing in on a secret.

“The Legend of Colour”, by Qiu Yufen, extends 3 metres above ground with a veil like fabric extending downwards from Mao-style blazers. The blazers are of different colours, reminding me of a colour pencil set. Others built like miniature exhibition booths and the careful spotlighting. Overall, it was a considered viewing space to see the works for the viewer to consider the works, given the nature of the works, and some subtle reference to war and holocaust , example in Jochen Gerz’s “Purple Cross for Absent War” (1979/1996). The work included a tunnel with a television on a plinth with an image of a man''s head. a purple UV light tube was on the floor, and a steel cable ran across the vision of the viewer at the beginning of the tunnel, 'severing' the head. Because of the audio, some of the works seemed like props to a performance, and we are merely watching the documentation. The works now only interact with the audience one-way. Through this exhibition, it was possible to imagine that performance art, or live art was an extension of theatre, and dance in the fashion of Pina Bausch, moving beyond of the physical space of a theatre, and conceptual comforts of narrative. The audience for this extended theatre needs to be constantly working, participating in every movement of the actors and props in the epic theatre to make any sense. I can imagine it to be excruciating to watch German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s plays, like a seven year old watching Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams”. As a result of the dark space, the works, under the careful spotlighting are particularly outstanding, despite some of the work’s inherent familiarity to ‘child’s play’ typical of Fluxus art – paint strewn canvas, paper mache dinosaur egg-like sculptures, naïve-art like automatism drawings. Of course, some works are truly outstanding in its visual impact, like the work by Wolf Vostell “Which Music creates the Mind’s Barrier” or “The Fluxus Harp”, a scaled model tank bolted to a plinth with steel cables, and an uncanny high pitched sound, as if someone was pulling an imaginary bow across these cables. The work probably made reference to the world wars, and seem to suggest that ‘fluxus music will sooth the savage beast’, a catharsis of energy and remembrance of tragic events.

Fluxus art can be defused by humour, if one reads too much into it. I recall seeing Joseph Beuy's "Reading Poetry to a Dead Hare" in a lecture, and the confusion i had in my head. I did find the image funny but nobody was laughing. Was Beuy's making a statement about art not being reciprocated, because we are all stuck up or 'culturally dead'? In a nutshell, this exhibition was a good follow up to the Singapore Art Museum’s presentation on German Art several years back, and a good range of works to work the brain. The relationship of theatre and the visual arts is best mediated by works in the likes of Matthew Barney's Cermaster, that has claimed international recognition and acknowledgement, which sadly are absent from this slightly nationalistic show. But then again, it is in the National Museum, isn't it?

3.0 of 5 stars

National Museum, till July 23

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