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,

2 responses to “Awlays here but not awlays prsenet

  1. I enjoy your writing very much, though I’ve not been able to follow it as closely as I’d like to. The passion and love for art reveal through the writing and it is heartening to read, almost allowing the reader to indulge in it, in the enjoyment of appreciating critically.

    However, I get quite uncomfortable when there seem to be quick-fix ideals that anchor on dualities (good/bad, successful/failure). These dualities are portrayed in the text almost non-reflexive of themselves. Insensitive usage of dualities risk discouraging explorations of grey areas, which are the breeding grounds for umteen creative and critical possibilities. What we do not need in this day and age is the insistence of dualities to implicitly encourage hard and fast (dictatorship of) ideology. Criticism and criteria are more than welcomed, ideologies are beautiful. But a truly enjoyable piece of writing makes one think, not direct how one should think. Another point of consideration would be a more seam-less weave of references into the writing. I appreciate the efforts to bring art beyond its locality (and raise the awareness of the need to do so) to a broader conceptual context. But the style of writing sometimes make me feel like the names are dropped for the sake of doing so. It may not have been intended that way, but it could read to the reader as being rather patronizing.

    Nice short pieces of art writing. I would love to read more from you — longer, more digested and more contemplated-upon pieces of writing. It is very heartening to know that there is local art writing readily accessible online. A “permanent” evidence that it vividly and continually exists regardless of “wind blow rain hit”.

  2. It is not easy to follow the foot steps of brilliant art journalists, critics, writers – especially when they are continents away.

    I do agree with you – I should write “longer, more digested and more contemplated-upon pieces of writing”.

    The length of the writing and the time I actually set aside to do so, has bearing on the perspectives within the text at the time of writing. I do often feel the need to rewrite stuff, or have an editor to sit down with to refine and put forward the best writings possible. I sometimes see the exhibition twice, before penning thoughts (even though this contradicts my own writing manifesto BLINK-30). The writings, for now, have a specific audience – for one that require a short paragraph before planning precious time to see an art exhibition, often just to disagree with the text. Which is why I do insist to take my own pictures, because it complements that one or two perspectives I take.

    I always see the work personally, applying simple formal aesthetics to what is before me, and where possible, other information which I have at hand. Overtime, I do hope the readers calibrate what they know and would like to see, with the ‘judgement’ calls I make, and compare these with other sources of information available.

    Name dropping is simply a tool, a short-hand to explain visual similarities, or formal aesthetics, a privilege not intended in malice. In doing so, I attempt to share my own perceptions, and aesthetic judgement, that should be contested, and not canonized. It is neither extremely theoretical, nor academic in nature.

    I should mention at this point, I do think about Clement’s Greenberg’s writing and it’s influence on our understanding of the role (and his definition) of Modernism in art; I do thread the word count carefully, but not losing sight of Singapore visual art writers like TK Sabapathy, Chia Wai Hon, Lee Weng Choy and Malaysian art historian, Marcos Hsu.

    Thank you for taking time to comment.
    I now know I write for you too.


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