Monthly Archives: February 2008

Awlays here but not awlays prsenet

(examining the role of) art in a senseless world

Awlays here but not awlays prsenet

“Until you spend time getting to know the audience and figuring out what are the concerns on the audience’s mind, you are creating something that is solipsistic and useless.”

anonymous web stream of information

Art is is never completely senseless. It has to be created with a purpose, and with a presence.

The contemporary art exhibition presented here is mostly well considered for it’s site specificity – context and visual appearance in the confines of the uber-youth and trendy University. Spread over the concourse, and across different faculty buildings to reflect the need to engage a large audience pool, and to encourage members of the public to explore this ‘open concept’ university, one will be delighted by the nice surprises some of the works bring. While the title is deliberately mis-spelt, perhaps to create a sense of discomfort, it does make a point about art in our daily lives: art exists and it is up to the individual to notice it, and more often then not, ‘decode’ its meaning. And sometimes, to find that we understand it all along.

Along my hastened visit to the exhibit, I could only find a portion of the commissioned works which I will mention here in brief.

Donna Ong’s “The Sixth Day” continues the artist’s fascination with assortment of objects, and their arrangement in a given space. The installation is complete and aplomb, as it engulfs the viewer in make-believe. It does harmonise with the raw building’s space by opting for an all white colour scheme, complemented by warm tungsten lights. While the appearance of florescent light ensures safety to the viewers when treading in this space, it does contradict a possible atmosphere of the installation, like turning on the lights at a candlelight dinner. Here, the work consists of mostly treated ornate wooden furniture, decorative glass, spherical shaped objects and artificial saplings. Homage is given to Louis Bourgeois, by the artist’s use of white spiders made from wire, creating a dreamlike effect, especially stumbling upon the arrangement in a ‘hole in a wall’. These spherical objects, possibly stones, resemble eggs. The artist’s text suggests a domestic setting of the ‘the sixth day’ which God made man and woman. While the theology behind this title cannot be confirmed in this review, like Donna Ong’s earlier works, they do seem to place the viewer as creator, offering some amount of role-playing and imagination. In a certain sense, the work straddles the artist’s whimsical surrealism,

Ho Tzu-Nyen’s cheeky puzzle pieces, titled “The Guernica Project” and “The Epic Poem of Malaya Project” requires the pieces to be distributed, and brought back to SMU to be reassembled again in a year’s time. The significance of the work stems from understanding the pieces History as a discipline holds. The little pieces of ‘information, memories, facts’ are pieces together to form a bigger picture, determined by a larger social agenda. While the work may seem like rip-offs of other established artists, namely Pablo Picasso and Chua Mia Tee, they do work conceptually like Pop Art, and ‘performance art’ in a time-based action, when the pieces are dismantled, and eventually put together again. By using ‘ready-made’ images, we are forced to examine the original paintings, and decide if we wish to decipher their artists’ intent and relate them to the theme of this present exhibition.

Khiew Huey Chian’s piece “Interaction with…” is lost in the architectural confines of the courtyard, muffled by the flood of daylight, unlike the more controlled rainbow-like piece from August 2007 at the Esplanade’s Jendela Space. Visually and formally, it does not communicate anything with the existing lines, shape and form of the design of the courtyard. But precisely because the work is ‘lost’, and found like walking into a spider’s web, it does seem to fit the theme of the exhibition.

Ana Prvacki’s “At the Tips of your Fingertips” video is a mock advertisement for wet tissues to money cleaning, a pun on money sanitisation or money laundering. Tongue-in-cheek, it questions our obsession with money and sanitation. Money as representative of goods and services seems to be questioned. Is the printed paper at hand really worth a basket of edible apples? Successfully placed above a bank, it does raise some issues indirectly with capitalism, and perhaps its clash with our communitarian ideals.

Zainudin Samsuri’s “Tat-Mon”, is a curious contraption that is suppose to spin slowly, like a booby-trap. Resembling a large propeller or the hands of a large clock, they are suppose to swing, taking swipes at unwary passer-by. In it’s working condition, it does suggest the hazards of rushing past time for one important errand or another, and at the expense of ‘health’.

Joshua Yang’s huge wall mural, titled “Trying to tie up loose ends but leaving just enough room to breathe” is probably the most successful piece in terms of visual appearance to arrest the viewer, with the capricious timely comments, scribbled like vandals do, in a mass of string-theory influenced marker white lines on infused dark hexagonal shades of grey, and rollered black. The mural faces the opposite mosaic wall, effectively completing a mood of passing in the passage of the concourse.

Works that are less successful are Jane Lee’s “Bond”, Hazel Lim and Michael Tan’s “Acu-points”, Ye Shufang’s “Breath and Other Exchanges”. Bond is less than memorable perhaps because of the scale. Conceptually, the work could have been up-scaled, rivalling abstract minimalist, Daniel Burren famous for his strip works at and on art institutions. Acu-points missed the point of public interaction, failing to identify the ‘vessels’ or life lines of the building, to be site-specific and potentially more engaging. The array of colours and movable wooden balls may excite young children, but may need more conviction for adults. Breath and Other Exchanges, despite it’s seductive wall text, and sexual connotation seems marginalised by it’s location and would pass off as any child’s innocent toy ride.

While the world is not as senseless as it seems, at times, the place of art does seem to be to provoke and offer diverse viewpoints on any preferred subject matter. The value of art however, should need to be derived from its context and the people who embrace it. Siting contemporary art in this semi-public space is thus both exciting and appreciated. One of the purpose of this exhibition perhaps, is to bring art to the students of SMU, in case they did not make to National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum across the road. Another, simply to challenge the artists in examining their own practices, no matter how international or universal they claim their perspectives and theories to be, and their roles as artists, mentors, educators, advocators of various causes to fresh minds of the Singapore Management University.

Singapore Management University, concourse area

Other links: Glossary of Economic Terms, compiled by Lynn Kirby and Larry Weiser for Wisconsin, accessed 25 Feb 2008,

The Thing It Saw by Ian Woo

Eyes, perception and memory

“For the 20th Century artist, the medium carries its own message”.

Philip Ball, author of Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour, Penguin Books, 2002


(images with the kind permission of the artist, and PKW Gallery)

PKW Gallery’s closing exhibition is best described as abstract and playful, or a purposeful expression of colour. To steal yet another quote from Philip Ball, “colour in art – as in life – is both inspiring and uplifting”. The works by Ian Woo somehow does that, amid the saddening news of the closing of the artists-run space. The Thing It Saw thus becomes significant in the artist’s development of smaller, more intimate and less intimidating scaled works, as well as a foreboding message, about seeing/perception, and in the past-tense of the title, about memory.

The Straits Times (February 23, 2008) featured an abstract article on quantum physics, that is apt to compare to Ian’s abstract paintings. What struck me was the duality of the effect of light on glass – as reflections and a beam that passes through it. There is something plausible when we consider Ian Woo’s style and manner of painting and the above effect: Like light striking glass, the painting both exist as pure, dried pastel-like paint dribbles and “paint arranged and worked until it ceased to be visible beneath the image itself”, another existence, another realm.

Can paintings remember? Perhaps they can remember, the intimacy of the brush and paint. Or the friendship between the artist and his tools of the trade. Or in some instances of art history, potentially serving as officious documents, as in “The Marriage of Arnolfini” (c.1434) by Jan Van Eyck.

Visually, between the hell-shaking challenges of reality by Hieronymus Bosch and material self-reflexivity akin to Michael Raedecker, the series by Ian Woo is a microcosm of activity and responses to an untamed universe of exploding colours, more so than ever. The artist has managed to capture the nuances of the materials of a good piece of art – paint and imagination. In the eyes and mind of painterly viewers, these ruptures of colours on the canvas, in the form of recognizable squiggles, dabs and washes form an eruption of pure brush marks. Held together by the foundation of warm shades of grey, there is visual stability and harmony in most of the pieces.

Staring at these paintings long enough, these marks become construed as objects, physical, like volcanoes or imaginative landscapes of the mind yet intangible. What we see is more than meets the eye.

The Thing It Saw

6.0 of 10 stars

PKW Gallery till Feb 23, 2008

Other links:
Eyes, in Blade Runner (1982, directed by Ridley Scott), by Thomas Karantinos, accessed Feb 24, 2008.

Still/Life by Jason Lim

Stillness and Calmness

Still/Life questions the notion that Still Life is a sedate and traditional form of expression.” (exhibition text)

The body of work presented here is eclectic, spanning several years of practice, each perhaps evident of a persistent inquiry of the material of clay, and ceramics as an object of art and desire. Ceramics, more than paint could ever be, has an intricate relationship with Nature. Ceramics, born of earth, a distant cousin of metamorphic rocks, it claims to be one of the earliest sculptural art forms,evidently seen in discovery of the Venus of Willendorf. Ceramics, like sculpture, emphasizes intrinsic qualities of the material, sometimes dictating the form.

The title of the exhibition is especially apt, revealing the clay object, under the guidance of the artist’s hand taking a life of its own. Not in the implication of Michel Foucault’s discursive text, ‘What is an Author” (1977), where the artist’s creation exists beyond its nomenclature and intention. Instead, what the artist challenges are the material and processes – in form, thin-ness, firing temperatures, casting, printing, and mark making.

Like many still life drawing arrangements, the exhibition seems to be arranged for a specific purpose. Like an installation, these ceramic apparatus as a eclectic series – some recognisable like Coca Cola cans, others like gold ingots or abstract – seem to suggest a balance between the function of decoration and symbolism. While meaning and artist intention is not as strong as Jason Lim’s Venice Biennale 2007 piece, Just Dharma, a hybrid chandelier made from 2000 pieces of egg-shell porcelain and light bulbs, this exhibition does consolidate, like a mini-retropective of the artist’s experimentation, showing the creative possibilities of work and re-working such a natural material.

Still Life by Jason Lim

7.0 of 10 stars, if you follow the artist’s work. do catch the installation at the Singapore Art Museum

Post-Museum Show room, till Feb 10.
107 Rowell Road.

Other links: Earliest paintings known to man: Caves of Lascaux