Monthly Archives: June 2008

Points of View by Matthew Ngui

The impressive solo exhibition by Singapore veteran artist Matthew Ngui, consists of 9 works from 1989 to present. Russell Storer, curator of POINTS OF VIEW first seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney Australia, wrote: “This exhibition … traces the development of the artist’s practice over time, from his initial responses to the Western Australian Landscape, through key anamorphic works from the 1990s, to newly produced video works that develop his long-standing investigation of multiple points of view”. Judged by far the most elaborate solo exhibition by a contemporary local artist, this exhibition promises to provoke re-thinking issues of space, and perception. Matthew Ngui is familiar to us as the first Singapore artist to appear in Documenta X (1997), a German exhibition held once every 5 years, before any deliberate government-led cultural export of Singaporean-ess.

We can attempt to analyse the significance of Matthew Ngui’s enquiry into the landscape, and his interest in anamorphic works by considering the works’ disjunction with perspective and concept of the ‘Real’ (as in, we believe what we see). The landscape is an inspiration and subject matter for many artists’ works, because of its vastness and ‘age’. That vastness has created our philosophical response to it, in the form of the Sublime and Beautiful, evident from critical theories and countless artworks. Coming from a country as minute in land mass as Singapore, it is hardly surprising that the open horizons of the Australian landscape could prompt the artist to ‘map’ it using LED in grid formations, attempting to ‘capture the landscape’, seen in the photograph documents of the series of installations titled Bits of the Western Australian Landscape 1990-91.

An interest in ‘mapping the contours of the land, as a form of drawing in space’ could lead to an interest in the studies of creating and distorting mathematical representational perspective, a tool to depict three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface. By using anamorphic lines,shapes and letters of vast proportions, it disjoins conventional perspective and the ‘Real’. This is predominant in all of Matthew’ Ngui’s work, including his commissioned piece for Northeast line at MacPherson MRT station. The reality is that they are simply marks, placed in a sophisticated manner to produce a ‘correct’ image from a specific viewpoint. The meaning of this gesture allows us to see ‘fragments’ or stray marks to be coherent again, just like it is possible to see or feel the constructed ‘big picture’ of any situation if we step back far enough and see things from a particular angle.

By a stroke of coincidence, it might be interesting to consider Matthew Ngui’s untitled/Seeing may be believing but not always understanding and Singapore Art Museum’s presentation of Alberto Giacometti’s Seeing. Feeling. Being. in the same breath, because both seem to suggest a presence, a gut feeling, an instinct to something. Matthew Ngui’s gut feel seems to be revealing ironies and truisms with perception evident from his witty titles, while Giacometti’s instinct lies in his ability to empty his mind, and focus on a singular representation, repeated countless times of the core of existence, evident in his frail lone stick bronze-cast figures.

While the illusion of vision may intrigue some, the detailed, visually rewarding and in-depth philosophical inquiries of seeing and vision in Matthew Ngui’s solo show would not be enough to move the audience that prefers art that ‘deal’ with other real issues: inflation, poverty, fear of epidemic outbreaks, natural disasters and food shortage to name a few. Democracy of points of views, perhaps.

8.0 of 10 stars

Matthew Ngui: Points of View (Singapore)
28 May – 29 June, 10 am – 6 pm daily
Exhibition Gallery 2, Basement
National Museum of Singapore
Admission Free

Other links:

Other early works by the artist,

Seeing. Feeling. Being: Alberto Giacometti

In order to exist just once in the world, it is necessary never again to exist.
Albert Camus

Man Crossing a Square, 1949

Giacometti’s work haunts us in many ways. The bronze’s gaze, for once, seems to pierce through our own gaze when it returns nothing with their seemingly empty eye sockets. The literature often cited with his work, notably Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness: an Essay on Phenomenology Ontology (1943) suggests a reduction of more than representation with his works. They are meditative, and vacuous, traversing perhaps into the artist’s understanding of being, and nothingness, two concepts that could perhaps be approached with a Buddhist vision of emptiness and phenomenology. Phenomenology, as explained rather clearly by the American Heritage dictionary, is ‘a philosophy or method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness’.

Noted for his thin, stick like elongated figures, his lithographs from his Paris san fin book on exhibit is a pleasant surprise for some. His drawings actually reveal more than his daily life and environment, but possibly the kind of strokes, pushing and pulling, adding more than reducing each small stump of clay he adds to his enigmatic figures. The sculptural process just repetitive, experiential and instinctive as drawing. Like many other artist, his drawings are part of a daily ritual to fill his mind with ideas and inspiration for other works. The magic of museum frames does little to embellish his ordinary lithographs/drawings, paling in comparison with his sculptures.

As a side display to this exhibition, Victor Tan’s sculptures stand and hang outside the Giacometti galleries, suggesting a certain affinity between the two artist’s works. Both seem to deal with the notion of emptiness, Victor Tan’s stainless steel wires surrounding a void to create a volume; Giacometti’s bronzes are thin and frail to a minimal form and volume.

The exhibition seem to place more emphasis on the biography of the artist, showing fantastic black and white photographs by Ernst Scheidegger, of the artist’s studio and the processes involved in making his sculptures. These documentaries, together with the film, reveal another side of the artist usually hidden by his association with big ideas of Existentialism. This other side, with all due respect, paints him as a mortal, a laborious artist solely focused on his art, and what it seeks to convey.

What can be felt, is the artist’s transcendental fervor for art making, separating him from other flirtatious socialite artists like Pablo Picasso, filling the core of his existence with drawings and sculptures, each day seemingly his last.

6.0 of 10 stars

Seeing. Feeling. Being: Alberto Giacometti

1 May – 15 June 2008, Singapore Art Museum.
an exhibition catalogue is available from the Museum Shop.

My Last Adornment by Shing

empty instant photo booth

Renowned jewellery designer Shing, of cult label Argentum, creates her second installation My Last Adornment, using jewellery to reflect on themes of vanity and mortality. Viewers are invited to step into the installation and put on their last adornment inside a photo booth and contemplate the transience of life. This act becomes less about vanity and more a reminder of their mortality and how precious lives are. (curatorial text lifted from the Substation Website)

The wall with the only window had suicidal text written by Sylvia Plath, amongst others, contemplating the last act of death, debilitating one’s will to live, and to some extent, questioning existence/existentialism.

The soft churn of a LCD projector stood in the path of the wall, to a curious ardent cold glow of light emitting from a booth wrapped in thick, white fabric, beckoned by 2 pairs of queue stands.

The booth, on close inspection, reveals an instant passport photo machine, with a seemingly out of place noose, delicately and intricately assembled from jewelery trinkets inviting the viewer to toss $6 for a set of photos with the silvery noose as a face-frame. Not quite your Kawai neo-prints, signing the substation’s photography disclaimer seems like signing a part of you away.

To appreciate the installation by Shing requires acquired taste, especially if the manner in which the work is marketed/themed surrounds death. Reminisce of the Portrait of Wu Xiao Kang and an earlier 2008 exhibition featuring Joshua Yang, in its nonchalant sub-cult(ure) interests. While more is desired to be seen, as a minimal piece it seems a stark, weaker contrasts to John Clang’s treatment of his photograph-book booth. The audience interaction component does not fit well with the jewelery piece (the noose), as the use of the squeaky clean commercial photo booth distorts the darker aesthetics of the sub-culture.

What did work, deliberate or not, was the smell of decaying flowers in the gallery, perhaps a better reminder of death than the photo booth and pencil-graffiti wall added together.


implosion of fiction in black and white.

Not exactly a re-reading of Douglas Adam’s humorous sci-fi Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the truistic vision of the title of the exhibition may baffle some, but intrigue those familiar with the written works by Jeanette Winterson, or Haruki Murakami. The artist has created 6 new works for this exhibition, continuing the artist’s “investigation into philosophies, reasons and methods of individuals and communities imagining the future.” (extract from curatorial text by Emi Eu, guest curator at STPI).

The works rest their weight on the shoulders of contemporary writers, creating a similar poetic gesture, clean, minimal and graphic in black/white and grey tones. The space is darkened and lit with cold fluorescent, arranged in 3 parts, beginning from Teardrop in room 1, Star, Ends, Territory, Plants in room 2, and Corridor in part 3. Well arranged, the conceptual pieces imagine different futures, plugged in by our own imaginations, no doubt bleak and bleached by the melodramatic black walls. The works could also be considered as complex symbols or signs of the future, driven by the artist’s own crystal ball gazing and dreams.

Teardrop, suggests google-map like markers, icons representational of ‘tear drops’ or avatars/figures left standing. A world without colour, or a world without racism by (skin) colour, these 3000 stickers are arranged to look like stalactites in a limestone cave, glistering in the cold light. After watching apocalyptic hollywood films like I am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith, I am almost instantaneously convinced of the piece’s warning message.

Stars implodes, like holding one’s breath and feeling our ear drums tingling. The gallery sitter mentioned that it looked a bit like the imperial Death-Star in George Lucas’ Star Wars. Relating this to the title of the exhibition, one cannot help but think about physicist Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and his big bang theory that started life in the universe. If all life started with a big bang, perhaps it would go, as one. Implosion means “crushed from the outside in”, perhaps the universe and life (as we know it) will be consumed not by the big bang, but by our egos and naive understanding of it.

Territory, 3 parts of a ‘representation of an invaded imaginary territory,’ hums quietly. The work reminds me of the global fear of terror, not against religions, but against fear itself. It is curiously repeated 3 times, like most computer games that give you ‘three lives’; the ominous number 3 suggests hope and longevity to the superstitious.

Like all good fictions, the true artist intention, or ‘ending’ is ambiguous. The starting, it should be noted, is also ambiguous. I had entered the gallery expecting the apocalyptic, oracular and prophetic. Like prediction balls, they very much depend on the question we ask. In all seriousness, This exhibition is cleverly constructed to linger, anchored by one’s own imagination. It can be appreciated for it’s sleek execution or clever cyclical logic, which eventually implodes on itself when no (fictional) worlds are left to describe it.

Exhibition from May 22nd to July 13th, 2008
10:30am to 7:30pm daily, free admission
Third Floor-Hermès, 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers

8.0 of 10 stars as soon as i get my hands on a copy of Philip.


Other links:
Artist’s website:

Raw 2.0 at NIE Art Gallery

As cliche and self-ego-inflating as it might sound, teaching is a noble profession that creates all other professions. The diploma in education visual arts exhibition shows a glimpse of the raw creative energies that our new batch of art teachers, coming to a school near you in late June 2008. Differing in presentation, content and chosen technical competencies, the exhibition offered a range of subject matters from the deeply personal to the mundane copies of master pieces or the conceptual installation of vinyl stick-ons of urinals.

It is debatable whether art teachers, at the compulsory education level will succeed in nurturing the artists of tomorrow, but one thing is sure, they will sow the seeds of imagination in the minds of many. It is often not the polished ideas that stimulate, but the raw ideas that germinate and spread. 

Oddly timed, the exhibition straddles the last week of the holidays and into the June Holidays, depleting the potential of localised visitors from NTU and NIE. Located in the far flung reaches of Jalan Bahar, off Jurong West, the gallery sits proudly next to the NIE playhouse, offering loads of potential for serious exhibitions or a larger carnival celebrating teaching, creativity and art. 


Raw 2.0