Monthly Archives: June 2007

‘extra ordinary’ & the 9th Emerging Artists Show

less than extra ordinary

extra ordinary

Images taken with the kind permission of PKW Gallery 

Exhibition postcards sometimes reveal a lot about an exhibition: it is the first encounter a potential audience has with the show.

The exhibition didn’t bode too well, when you read the title twice – there seems to be two opposing exhibits, rolled into one exhibition. The postcard further read: ” Presenting works by – Erica Lai, Genevieve Chua and Jennifer Koh, et al, Curated by Jason Wee”. Again, the words “et al”  was an omen that perhaps the curator didn’t care, or it is a deliberate curatorial attempt to distant, minuscule the context, artists or artworks.

The first space, had a minimalistic setting, exploring the potential for proximity with the photographs by placing them on  shelves of varying height – presumably to create the illusion that the works are well spaced out, giving room to breath.  But the problem is there is just too much breathing space that it starts to feel intimidating, and you start to wonder if the prints could have been a little bigger. They were neither personal ‘objects’ – treated with a reverence they are due – nor photographs – surely there’s a better manner, quantity, deliberation to exhibit these? The display just didn’t do the works justice.

To do the works justice would be to ignore the shelf and look at individual prints. The works could be considered contemplative gestures, with the camera in the traditions of snapshot photography, interpreting everyday life and it’s significant moments of interaction with objects. They are perhaps highly codified and personal, except for it’s simple aesthetics gestures – vignetting, play with composition, colour, out-of-focus, soft focus. One can almost imagine the discipline of the artists, carrying that camera or at least being near a camera when they took these photographs. Despite the seemingly codified curatorial text, that weighed more than the consideration for display of these ‘extra’-lised the photographs, the curator seem to emphasize that “the three set of photographs in this exhibition are abundantly ordinary”, yet dealing with issues that the photographers may not have necessarily agreed with. A curatorial text should bring the audience closer to the work, not distance it. the gallery hand-out seemed more like a distant foreword of the exhibition. This is in that sense, a daring curatorial practice, treading on the boundaries of an avant-garde  exhibition or an incoherent one.

The next room perhaps sealed the fate of how I would rate the exhibition. The walls were lined in an undulating horizon, with pages cut/torn (not de-constructed) from recent art college graduate catalogues, which included established names such as Susie Wong, Rizman Putra just to name two. They seem to be selected pages from all the catalogues, but the sad state of the red tape aside, they are an interesting reminder of the number of visual art graduates we have per year, in page form. The room seems to suggest the potential for art, and art making by these 85 names and pages. Is this perhaps the intention of the curator, a critique of the faux pas branding of artists as ’emerging’ when some of them are already practitioners? Or it’s a suggestion of the fate that perhaps only 10-20% of yearly art graduates (my conjecture) will make it somehow, to become practising artists? Is it a critique of the market forces of the art world, or a bad pun on ‘red tape’? Much remains to ponder about this less than ordinary show. This is not an exhibition easy to read, and seems to be an indication of the rocky start of returning budding curator/Singapore Biennale artist, Jason Wee.

2.0 of 10 stars for ‘extra ordinary’.

1.0 of 10 stars for ‘ & The 9th Emerging Artists Show’

For more pictures, click on the picture below:

extra ordinary

Engraving the World -A Selection from the Chalcography Collection of the Louvre Museum

Print as Technology – breath-taking strokes of the masters

The exhibition of prized prints from the Chalcography Collection, Lourve Museum in France are displayed in the two galleries nearest to the ticketing, and lift lobby. For anyone interested in drawing, mark-making, cartography, masters copies, print making, you must see this exhibition.

“Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and the Singapore French Festival ’07 Voilah! are proud to present for the first time in Singapore, the Chalcography collection of the Louvre Museum. In line with SAM’s practice of working with renowned international museums and collections, a selection of etchings produced by the Louvre’s Chalcography from engraved copper plates of historically significant works will be on display at SAM from 4 May to 22 July. The selection of 138 etchings dates over four centuries, chronicling the development of the art of copper engraving.”

The works affirm the importance of draughtsmanship in intanglio printing, and the mad cap necessity to ‘record’ the world around us. This exhibition also raises issues of archiving images, and in this case, skewed because these were mostly commissions by the King, and rarely recorded the everyday mundane activities.

This exhibition is best seen as a contrast to the ’50 Years Documenta: Archives in Motion’, and the accompanying tiny section of ‘documenting Singapore through art’ (an intervention by Singaporean archivist, Koh Nguang How?). The need to ‘remember’ is an important process of nation building, as seen in the chalcography collection. From the collection, it is made known that artists joining the Academy of painters and sculptors (and later, engravers), have to submit these as entry requirements, for preservation. A little bit like our national legal depository of books for posterity.

If the collection presented here are any significant inspiration, we should consider the role of institutions that archive art, or fragments of Singapore Society, and presenting them.

While Singapore artists are making art, who’s actually collecting them? Who is taking pictures of what’s worth recording? Are they nice pictures? Are they accessible?

8.0 of 10 stars

The catalogue is a must buy for educators or art enthusiasts in prints. It includes a well documented DVD, explaining etching, and printing.

Singapore Art Museum
04 May – 22 July 2007
All pictures with the kind permission of the Singapore Art Museum. All rights remains with Louvre Museum, France.

chalcography Collection, Louvre Museum

Streetwork by Shaun Gladwell and Craig Walsh

delightful imagery, street culture meets art gallery culture

Shaun Gladwell

The gallery is dimly lit for the video works, and rather atmospheric. The space is shared between 2 artists, displaying 6 projections, 3 framed photographs, and a scaled model of a lit warehouse. The space seems to be over-powered by the left of the gallery, because of the size of the projections and the movement they have.

The title of the exhibition Streetwork may mean different things to different people. To a missionary or charitable organisation, it means helping the homeless, living on the streets. To a skateboarder, it may mean a grand day out, skirting round benches and ‘carving’ railings or steps. Here, the title is possibly the mutation of the term “artwork”, or “work of art”. on the left of the gallery on entering, Shaun Gladwell has taken to the streets, absorbing street cultures of skateboarding, break-dancing, the act of street-looking, bringing them into the context of art. The juxtaposition of these different cultures (and graffiti is not mentioned here) actually raises issues of assimilated activities, in a different cultural context – be it black American break dancing in Japan by a Japanese (seen in Shaun Gladwell’s work), or Ninjitsu or Capoeira in Singapore by Singaporeans. It’s almost as strange as Imogen Kimmel’s Secret Society (2000) featuring a secret society of female sumo wrestlers, breaking traditions and rules of Japanese Sumo.

Exploring “everyday life as exceptional and at times strange …”, the works are suppose to “cross national boundaries and culture. Their audiences are provided with a sense of being connected to a larger global picture where the mundane can be exceptional”. In the curatorial text, the Sublime is mentioned too.

While not all the works reach the stage of being about the Sublime, or transcendental for those watching the digital videos, Shaun Gladwell’s storm sequence comes close, almost like a skateboarding version of Casper Friedrich’s Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (1818), in digital video. The stormy sea as backdrop serves to contrast the feat of the skateboarder (hoorah) and the danger of nature in anger. The person is immediately put in it’s own place, insignificant in scale to nature. In the slow motions of the videos, or ‘extended moments’, the viewer is also given additional space and time to ponder about challenged public-private spaces. Are the skaters in their own world? Are we not in our own world too, metaphorically speaking?

untitled (Yokohama)
To appreciate these works, consider the idea of Youth culture taking on athletic beauty and aesthetic movement in space. In Yokohama linework (2005), we see a downward projection of the feet of a skateboarder following a broken white line, presumably on the streets of Yokohama. The work reminded me of Richard Long‘s long walks, art made by walking in landscapes. Both seem to explore notions of ‘a physical line’, how it constructs our understanding of distance, time (by the time you have finished walking a line, time has elapsed) or ideas of ‘separation’/’divide’. There is also a performative aspect, which the Situationists would have been proud of.

Calligraphy and Slow Burn

To the right of the gallery, the projections are more static, seeing people pass what seems to be the industrial roller door of a warehouse. The work by Craig Walsh is more interactive and cleverly deceptive. Hidden in the model, are two surveillance cameras connected to a projector, by peering into the lit space of the model warehouse, your act is projected on one of the screens. Presumably, that was how the strange projected video documentation of people peering was recorded. The roller doors we see on the projection, are actually the roller doors of the scaled model, seen from the inside.

The work related to architectural spaces, non-spaces, public and private domains. By shrinking space into a scaled model, it allows the viewer to step back and re-consider our relationship to public spaces. The scale humbles the single person. Non-spaces are interesting phenomenons, neutral and almost universal. You could say they are like the airport lounges of many countries, transit spaces where it would take a while to guess it’s real physical location. The warehouse is one example of such non-spaces, sometimes showing art. The private and public domains are often crossed and explored by artists through the use of surveillance cameras, recording private actions and re-projecting them into a public area. The public and private boundaries are blurred when public spaces are used for rehearsals for dances, hip hop, BMX stuns or public displays of affection. The viewer is entrusted the role of a voyeur, while being looked on by others.



The exhibition is well suited to explore a smooth blend street culture and the quiet contemplative mode of the gallery. If artists make works in reaction to society, looking at art in like looking into a lens at our surroundings – it either enlarges, reduces or distorts. These very different works by the two artists have created visual intrigues, magnified interpretations of public domains that are well sustained and explored.

8.0 of 10 stars

till June 18, Substation Gallery

(photos with the kind permission of the Substation Gallery)


Picturing Relations: Simryn Gill & Tino Djumini

Inside out

“As a means of story telling, photography enables the framing of selective views of reality and also reveals how a ‘true’ picture of reality may be negotiated. The works of Simryn Gill and Tino Djumini stimulate us to rethink our concepts spaces and domesticity in relation to various aspects such as socio-cultural identities, history and memory.” (extracted from curatorial text)

The exhibition pits two photographers with documentary edge against each other in the relatively new NX Gallery, a newly built annex of the NUS Museums (NUS Cultural Centre). Simryn Gill’s works are superbly hung, protected and armored behind clear acrylic sheet, still allowing intimacy, though you might have to bend low to see the lower rows of pictures. Tino Djumini’s works are more standard, black framed, and centralised archival matting. On one wall, you will find Gill’s portraits of homes, and on the opposite wall, Tino’s family portraits in a home setting. Gill’s are in colour and Tino’s in startling black and white. They are like time capsules, freezing a moment in time. The works resonate each other really well, creating a self-reflexive environment to contemplate the notions of ‘otherness’ and ‘identity’, and for me, how messy my own home is. The works literally opened doors to homes – constructs of what a home means to many.

Pictures with kind permission of NUS Museums

It was fascinating to listen to the artist at the talk. Simryn Gill describe the process of making the work ‘Dalam‘ (2001), first exhibited at Galleri Petronas . Curious of shoppers that roamed Petronas shopping complex, it inspired the artist to want to see the homes of these people who window shopped, to perhaps study the link between consumerism and materiality of filling one’s home with shopping. It was a negotiation to travel 8 weeks (excluding a 2 week break in the middle) to photograph 258 homes, set in Malaysia. The work is more of a personal discoveries, she explains, rather than a historical documentation.

As an artist reputed to be born in Singapore, but grew up in Malaysia,the work perhaps is what the artist calls ‘coming into terms with the self’, collecting pictures more than documenting what it means to be living in Malaysia, in a variety of places. She is a collector more than a historian, and that reminded me of Singapore archivist, independent researcher Koh Nguang How. Koh likes to collect too. The artist also reveals when the work was first shown in 2001, many people asked whether the photographs will be labelled, giving information of ‘who’ lived in these houses when the photograph was not revealing enough. Were they Chinese, Malay, Indian or others?

Zai Kuning remarked during the dialogue that the works were about looking, an invitation to share the artist’s 8 weeks experience condensed into the 258 frames. The work can also be interpreted as bridging private and public spaces, bringing very private living quarters to a semi-public arena we call the art gallery. It was bringing the inside, out making the private public, in the hope to make sense of contemporary social living conditions. The artist asked for favours in all these homes and formed new relationships between the owners and herself.

Both photographers allow the viewer to form their own narrative, pride, and prejudice of the images. Perhaps by capturing a posed moment, or stasis, flipping the inside of one’s personal living spaces out, they wish to force the viewer to take a stand – to be a voyeur or aesthetics policeman or policewoman.

8.0 of 10 stars

NX Gallery, NUS MUSEUMS (NUS Cultural Centre)

11 May to 15 July 2007

other links:

FindArticle “Simryn Gill and Migration’s capital” by Kevin Chua, in readable fragments

Article by Kevin Chua on Contemporary Visual Arts Project Broadsheet, that used Simryn Gill’s Dalam (2001) in discussion of another discourse, iconoclasm (albeit in home)

Domestic Bliss by 3 Malaysian Artists

domesticity and the investigation of selves

The works here are focus, deliberate and framed as ‘exploring the myth of the happy home’. Other than Vincent’s work that seems out of place in this line of thought, Chang Yoong Chia and Sharmiza Abu Hassan’s works are spectacularly intricate, and refer specifically to mother and child relationships.

Notions of Domesticity has always raised curious looks, seldom explored because of an Asian disposition not to discuss ‘home matters’ openly. But domestic issues shape not just homes, but national identity on a macro scale. The home is a private sanctuary, a place where relationships with people and objects are more fused, and worth examining. Looking at one’s home, or homely affairs is looking within oneself. This exhibition is worth contrasting with another ‘clinical’ show, Picturing Relations: Simryn Gill & Tino Djumini at NUS Museums, examines the physical conditions of domestic households of Dalam (2001) and Indonesian households.

Domestic metaphors have been used to described the relationship of nations too. The relationship of Singapore and Malaysian contemporary art is closer, less bickering than the media’s portrayal of our the two nation’s political relationship. There are many parallels, interests and developments in the visual arts scene that is seldom officially acknowledged, other than sketchy descriptions of the Nanyang-styled Pioneer Artists’ works (We seem to share a few similar Pioneer Nanyang-style artists) in Kwok Kian Chow’s Channels and Confluences (published by SAM, 1996). Similarly, the works in this exhibition reminded me of a Housework project by Singapore artists in 2003 (scroll below for their 2003 press release abstract).

Vincent Leong

The work by Vincent Leong consists of graffiti-styled stenciled wallpaper, presented as an installation at the deep end of the chapel gallery of Sculpture Square. My reading of his work is only wall-paper deep, giving the impression that they are rather crude at first glance, they reveal an interest in motifs of silhouette of kanpong stilt houses, coconut trees, hibiscus flowers. This wallpaper presentation is perhaps too subtle, and is missing the context and contrast it requires to stand out – it perhaps should be out in the streets next to a street stall, or within a living space setting. Unless of course, they were real wall papers, block printed on wallpaper.

Chang Yoong Chia

Chang Yoong Chia’s Maiden of the Ba Tree, is poetic, tapping on the traditions of ceramic painting to reveal the love-lost/misplaced of a mother and child, the generation divide that many mother-child relationships face. Like a comic strip, the illustrations tell a narrative of a mother aging and becoming detached to the son, whilst over-shadowed by a Ba tree. It reminded me of China artist, Ah Xian’s Cloissonne works and similar artists that have used traditional craft to suggest the rich heritage we inherit, and contradictions contemporary living and working has on traditional values and beliefs. Families are more nuclear than nuclei at the same geographical proximity, or cultural confluence. The hanging spoons may have a more intimate reading if they were placed on a circular table, like a family reunion meal setting.


Sharmiza’s objects, more delicate than Louis Bourgeois’s interogation of feminism (a word not mentioned in the exhibition hand-out), simple and formalistic play with shapes, texture, and significant materials. The single bed, made of grey metal mesh is lovely to look at, but either too small, competing for attention with the huge span of wall, or too low on the similar coloured concrete floor.

The subtitle of the exhibition “The Myth of the Happy Home” is disconcerting indeed. It suggests rifts or shifts in the Asian meaning of happy family. There is a suggestion of a burden of happiness, perhaps on the processes of art making. While this is debatable, the position of the artist often depends on the ‘position’ of the family: financial and family background, dependency on the individual for sustainability, absence or reliance of emotional support et al. The strength of these artists, seem to be to take their limitations – space and time to make art – and transform these into concepts and things that are useful to them. Only by investigating one’s position at home, society and culture, can the artist create works that will stand the test of his or her life time, and perhaps beyond.

More pictures:

7.0 of 10 stars

5 June – 5 August 2007

Sculpture Square

Chng Nai Wee’s Singapore Art REFERENCE on Housework Project (2003):

Home Service
By Twardzik Ching Chor Leng, Vincent Twardzik Ching and Amanda Heng

For the housework project, we (Leng, Vincent & Amanda) propose to set up a Home Service Agency to provide domestic help for the period from 10 August to 10 September 2003. Any member of the public who requires domestic help can make an appointment by phone (from now) or at the customer service counter set up at the exhibition space. Home services will be provided as requested at a negotiated fee (no real money involved) by any of the three professionals, Twardzik Ching Chor Leng, Vincent Twardzik Ching & Amanda Heng

Home Service Agency proposes to make an issue of Housework. The professional business set up presents a situation where Housework, the everyday routines that are often regarded as non-productive and a waste of time, can be made an issue for discussion. Public participation is essential. Dialogues and exchanges about housework and our values in contemporary life are engaged and performed between the public and the artists/domestic help in the form of negotiations in the “employer’s” own home. Documentations of the services/exchanges provided in video, texts and photos will be made for presentation at the exhibition space during the exhibition at the Alliance Francaise Gallery from 5 to 10 September 2003.

Services offered includes: laundry, ironing, floor mopping, vacuum cleaning, carpentry, plumbing, window cleaning, gardening (pruning, watering, weeding) marketing, washing toilets/ kitchen/ room, making tea, meal preparation, making beds, dish washing, feeding pets, walking pets, etc…

Service fees (no real money involved) are negotiable based on the nature of the work, the amount of work, time needed, the location, necessary equipment and cleaning supplies and the working environment/condition.