Daily Archives: February 4, 2007

SIGNS, OMENS AND RELICS OF FAITH by Brian Gothong Tan

More successful than the work in SB2006 “Living in a Dangerous World”

The singular installation that is part of Theatrework’s Creatives-in-Residencies (CIR) is definitely more developed stylistically, technically and symbolically than the work “Living in a Dangerous World” last seen at Tanglin Camp, in the Singapore Biennale. This one is less tacky, better executed. Set in a darken space, and interactive as one walked on a large triangular walk-way. The works came to life, with light, sound or visuals by stepping on the red squares, corresponding to each apex of the triangle. Each apex had a particular setup which loosely corresponds to its rather unconvincing title “Signs, Omens and relics of Faith”. It is unpersuasive because the title words are too heavily connotated to religion, while none is seen here. The artist has this to say in the booklet handout:

“The word SIGNS suggest a marker of something in the present, OMENS a marker of something in the future, and RELICS a marker of the past. So the element of time is very important, objects gain meaning, and somehow lose meaning as time progresses.”

Instead, we do see by stretching the one’s imagination, the complex personal symbolism involved, suggesting that everything in the exhibit meant something past, present and future – each and every object is considered and deliberate; every action and video edit is measured – and Brian is suggesting a futile cycle of urban anxiety and productivity (symbolised by the young woman in office wear, in the act of day dreaming in the video monitors), skyscrapers climbing higher (the triple projection screens), of life and death of culture and just about everything else (the platter of white ready-mades).

Brian Gothong Tan

Brian Gothong Tan

Brian Gothong Tan

The most fun work could possibly be the white on white platter of objects, offering no right answers for the symbolism behind the work. Ready-mades seem like the artist’s preferred material and a strength in this installation. The water and chrysanthemum could symbolise life and death, the eggs could symbolise wealth and fertility, the Mao Ze Dong statues could mean Chinese Culture, and the cubic Astroboy could signify the fragmenting ing cultures in general. The male and female hands, holding shards of glass could suggest the fragility of life, and meaning, in the cycle of all these.

I think Brian Gothong Tan is one of those constantly defining standards for multi-media visual arts in Singapore. His messages, propagated by an acute understanding of video images stands out from a lot of other works seen locally. If this is a sign of better things to expect from the young artist, I am glad that the omen is auspicious and that he has shed the relics of ‘over doing’ kitsch.

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6 of 10 stars (Proudly said it’s worth the trip)

extended till Feb 7.

72-13, Mohamed Sultan Road (the same building as STPI)

SEND ME AN ANGEL by Tang Ling Nah

A Curious Exploration of Windows into Our Imagination

“Tang sets out to create a ‘transitory space’ by using the walls, floor and ceiling as a canvas for her drawing. The drawn space will appear vaguely real/unreal, or hidden/revealed within the actual space, whereby the material communicates with the imaginary aspects of the work to form a dialogue with the viewers.” (lifted from Installation Introduction)
Send me an angel

There are 2 parts to the exhibition, one situated beneath the staircase welcoming visitors to sit on a cushy black leather stool, and the other on level 3, guiding the viewer from natural light to the inner rooms with controlled light – into a space which we can imagine the artist waiting for an angel. The first did suggest the intimacy of a confession room, while the the latter suggest a post-modern private prayer room. I am recalling the importance of the theatrics in Baroque churches, where light was directed to sculptures to simulate the kind of divine light we imagine should look like. The Ecstasy of St. Theresa by Bernini is perhaps a good example of this. Here, like Bernini, Ling Nah has provided another dimension – spaces imposed onto the walls – for the viewer to ponder about divinity, if her exhibition title suggests any connotations of celestial beings.

The site-specific installation beckons the viewer to walk into the artist’s imagined space. The works project the same sense of stillness seen in her earlier work at the Singapore Art Museum stairwell space, an illusory site specific work in 2006.
There is that continued obsession for extremely dense charcoal marks, and a feeling of lightness of a created imaginary space. The density reminds one of Mark Rothko’s work. Ling Nah’s work seen in it’s entirety and not from the above photographs, could best be described as windows into a floating world, much like Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman’s Mirror Mask. There are a few new explorations, different from her earlier installations in this work: a sense of spontaneity from the manner which the works are inscribed onto the wall, the addition of mirrors, and a contemplative ‘U’ shape bench, that the artist terms ‘the well’. An artist publication accompanies the exhibition, revealing the thought processes and inspirations behind her work.

SEND ME AN ANGEL by Tang Ling Nah

There is something expressionistic about the work, the manner which the strokes are applied, and something abstract about the placing of masses of black, the kind of sensibility one will find in Singapore Artist, Ian Woo’s paintings. The spontaneity is a refreshing development in her large charcoal drawings which she is known for. The dense rectangular blocks of black on the ceiling, and the straight black lines on the wall act as a contrast to that expressiveness, stopping the viewer from totally immersing in an imaginary world. Perhaps an entirely black floor, as suggested by artist Tan Guo Liang, would have plugged the awkwardness of these regular blocks of black, and throwing the viewer into a darker space for contemplation, absorbing the soft incandescent gallery lights.

The mirrors act as another device to create space – reflections and casting light onto the wooden floor. Again these reminded me of the movie Mirror Mask. These mirrors enhance the work when seen from a particular angle and we don’t see our reflections in it. when we do see fragments of our reflection, any magic is broken.

The centre piece is perhaps the oddly shaped bench. It does allow the viewer to comfortably experience the work from slightly different angles. It also allows visitors to chat facing each other, creating a kind of intimacy for visitors uncommon in exhibition spaces. There is a feeling that conversation is encouraged with the work, and within the work. And this conversation is extended through the artist’s publication. The fact that there is a Chinese title and I am uncomfortable about it, is worth pondering because either the meaning from Chinese is lost in translation to English or vice versa. Language affects our thoughts, our wordly and worldly perceptions, as suggested by different philosophers and anthropologists. Flipping through the prinstine white book possibly suggests that most of the artist’s thoughts were expressed in Chinese but written in English. The reader will have to do a little code switching to understand the artist’s propositions. Nonetheless, it provides another window into the artist’s mind. If an art review is any angel, Language is another space, that remains unconquered by the artist’s Charcoal.

8 of 10 stars

Front Row, level 3, 5 Ann Siang Road
Till March 4, 2007

The artist’s publication is available at Front Row Sales Counter for $20 a copy