Migration Addicts

Give sculpture square a pat(ch)

The curatorial text suggested that the exhibition will be about: “migration” and “addiction”…mobility and fluidity of the urban citizen and the “rootlessness” felt by the individual. In reality, the works seem to be threaded together by 7 artists that have had some travel, and dealt with some aspects of alienation. The works are definitely less about 7 days spent infusing in the atmosphere of the Sculpture Square gallery, making site specific work; rather it seems to be reactions to socio-emotions when one thinks about migration, not necessarily par-taking in it. In other words, anyone should be able to relate to the works, if they had been following some current affairs, and have taken public transport. The exhibition mini-catalogue creatively takes the form of a minaturised passport, with Sculpture Square’s logo brazen in gold, and artist’s work description, with images of previous works. This review will make reference to some of the works, those that stick out and not really a critique of how the work relates to the curatorial brief.

The first thing that greets the viewer on entering the space, is a giant platform with what seems to be a whip attached to a mechanical arm. This was under repair at the time of visit. I can imagine the work would have been better if the platform was coloured differently. The din created by the whipping would have created a curious tension of the entire exhibition, and affecting the other works. This anxiety would have allowed other readings into the work, rather than staring at a long, limp black object. It is perhaps the most intimidating work, if it was functional.

Those unfamiliar with the presentation of contemporary art that parodies commerce, will find Jiang Chongwu’s “New East Asia, Made in China” amusing. It resembles Surasi Kusolwong’s “Freedom of Choice (1 pound each)” of 1999 shown at Cities on the Move, where everything within the framework of a shop within the museum or gallery, could be sold for a price, much like a street market. The gallery visitor can exchange Singapore currencies for New East Asia currency and ‘purchase’ or exchange them for toys made in China, in denominations of $5 and $10. What the layman or shrewd business minded will do in front of the work, is guess the profit of the middle man, the artist or the gallerist. Does this reveal the game of the commodity art market, which the art world frequently crosses into? Or does it mock the spiritual aspect of art making? Whatever the case, I do find it hard to part with a tenner for a plastic rifle. The work feeds on the culture and understanding of Kitsch, the global phenomenon of the rising manufacturing super giant, China. If the writer doubts me, just look at the next electrical appliance you see, and guess where it is made. It’s not only New East Asia that is Made in China, the consumer-material world is practically made in China.

Another work that is extremely Kitsch is the work by Jin Shan titled “Shen Zhou 7”, made of flower pattern fabric, in the odd shape of China’s Space Rocket of the same name. Depending on one’s taste, this work could arguably be the 'visual' keystone in the exhibition, or the worse piece of art. The work is not surprisingly phallic, spot lit in the centre of the gallery. It is rather cute, bordering on being vulgar. I think it is more of a practical joke on the adult viewer suppressing a giggle, and the notion that art has to be serious with a theme like “migration”, conjuring up images of forced migration due to natural disasters, wars and economic doldrums, than a serious critique on the Chinese Space exploration efforts, and it’s relation to ‘migration to space’. Nonetheless, the work is great fun to look at, and nostalgic to those that still know what a bolster is.

The work by Zulkifle Mahmod, titled “In My Space”, is a poetic work in concept to block out the noise and enter a neutral space, much like retreating into one’s head and hearing the buzz of ‘silence’; a condition that one appreciates or fears of being alone. Being alone is a situation that most commuters in Singapore indulge or suffer from, witnessed on blank faces on trains and buses. It resembles Korean Artist Lee Bul’s work, where one enters a cushioned capsule to sing Karaoke to the artist’s own MTV. Superficially, it reminded me of Rachel Whiteread’s “Ghost” (1990), the plaster cast interior space of a house that was knocked down, it it’s dichotomy of absence and presence. After discussion with another fellow artist who prides craftsmanship, we came to the conclusion that the work could have been better executed, and with black sponge that will soak up the light and not just the sound. The dodgy white sponge looked unconvincing of its sound-proofness, and walking around the structure worries me. The atrociously trimmed and secured black curtain within tickles and seems redundant other than a curtain of inconvenience, or to mask temporarily the shock of whoever may actually be in it. There are speakers in the corner of room, but no sound was coming from it when I was there.

Ang Soo Koon’s work “Bekerja” wasn’t working, and from the wall text, I’d gathered the Super-8 film work featured her as a factory seamstress, a la American Artist Sophie Calle style. The projectors were placed, with aluminum structures raised high above the antique stained plinths, revealing the Super-8 film instead of using a 400ft film reel. Unfortunately for the audience of Singapore, especially those curious of the glory of 8mm film. Even to the untrained eye, a projected image from a Super-8 film looks starkly different from a LCD projection. To those familiar with projected images, the work would have been able to evoke nostalgia of Singapore’s rapid industrialization years. This work remains a concept in my head, until screened.

Suzanne Winterling’s “Vision of a Diamond City” poses the legitimacy of performance art as sculpture, in the tradition of British Artists, Gilbert and George or Vanessa Beecroft’s exhibition of nudes. The work tries to make a link to the concept of cyberpunk teenagers, a loaded term itself, and fails miserably, even when it is put on a plinth. Unlike the Singing Sculptures and Beecroft’s performances, the work is not controversial at all and show two teenagers standing there, with the change in costume after sometime. I can imagine the feeling of the models, just like Gillian Wearing’s “Sixty Minute Silence” of 3 rows of men and women dressed in police uniform of 1996. For some strange reason, I am reminded of Maid agencies, and the blank look of prospective domestic workers when they gaze out of the shop front, into their future, and perhaps seeing many scenes and things. Some people call this the ‘spaced out look’, a state of mental migration, traveling inwards and nowhere at the same time. I’m tempted to quote from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, but feel talking about the work should stop here.

Naho Kawabe’s “Tiger, Wake Up”, features the sound loop of a nature reserve setting, and a video loop of a view of a ‘forest’. From the title, we can expect some representation of a tiger, perhaps a metaphor for the close knit relationship Singapore has to Malaysia, or the dodgy history of General Tiger Yamashita from World War II. The viewer anticipates something, but what my gut feeling tells me, will get nothing. The work is rather amateurish, like a boy let loose with a new video camera with night vision.

The show lacks impact with the whip impotent and super-8 projectors indecisively out of action. The works are indeed thought provoking, but not as much as the curatorial writeup and ‘promise’. A very ambitious exhibition deserving better technical support. Sculpture Square deserves a pat on the back for use of the high ceiling and well spaced works, but requires a patch for the poor technical considerations for 3 of 7 works.

2.5 of 5 stars
Sculpture Square

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