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)


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