in-between surfaces and text
(photographs with the kind permission of the artist)
There are two components in Lee Wen’s recent exhibition at Your Mother Gallery, and it is necessary to see them separately – the performance “Too Late the Hippie” and the paintings. The performance was brief, sermon-like and the late-comers stood at the door, straining to hear what the artist had to say. The text read by the artist summed up his personal interpretation of Hippie culture, portraying himself as a protagonist for a lot of ideals that were prevalent artistic concerns of the 60’s. Perhaps it’s a foreboding sign that even some performance art today will share these hippie-like reactions – make peace not war. Is this deja-vu feeling a suggestion of the hegemony Western Art History has over wordly performance art? The paintings or black and white photographs, are cryptic and symbolic like naively painted murals in a buddhist temple – the sign of a bald man, if one didn’t associate this with the artist’s personal would think of a monk, a bird, a bird-man, a man-tree, bolts of sunlight and so on.
The exhibition title seem to be a prelude to the forthcoming “Future of Imagination” (FOI) performance art festival to be held in Singapore, initiated by Lee Wen, as the initials FODMOI do kind of remind you of FOI. The paintings sit uncomfortably between child-like doodles — in it’s selection of stark colours, and composition — and National Archive type prints of the area surrounding the gallery. The black and white photographs are mounted on aluminum plates in a contemporary fashion, presenting a simple documentary of the area along Jalan Besar Road, nearer to Hindoo road. The aesthetics clash violently between the two media, and one is forced to reexamine the work in the context of the artist’s earlier performative yellow man series – they works could represent the juxtaposition of one’s imagination on reality, how modern day living grows violently on heritage-rich sites, in a cinematic sensibility seen here. The two best pictures, in terms of formal picture analysis, are the “one with the growing tree”, and “the one with City Square looming ominously in the background”. One could also choose to see these as DADA actions, defying logic and ‘ruining’ good black and white photographic images.
Whichever the case, the bold move by the artist sets the platform to reconcile thought and motivation behind his performative actions, and physical two-dimensional works that speak for themselves. While this speech is incoherent, like spasms of dialogue from someone else’s dream, we are compelled to search for our own meaning in-between the surfaces of paint and photographic image, and in-between convulsive interpretations of Singapore culture – to celebrate the melting pot of cultures and/or to promote rich ethnic traditions and heritage.
“In this exhibition, Lee re-visits his early motivations mainly in spoken word, text, drawings and paintings as well as retrace and question the influences, transference and transportation of Dada and Surrealism evolving into performance and conceptual art within the Singapore context. A performance entitled ‘Too late the hippie #1’ will be presented during the opening. The exhibition runs till 11 Nov.”
The book “Republic of Daydreams” are available from Your Mother Gallery.
6.0 of 10 stars
Your Mother Gallery (91A Hindoo Rd)
Free (By appointment only, call 9787 7874)