Monthly Archives: July 2008

Alain Fleischer: Time Exposures

Sensitising* bodies

The recent exhibition by French contemporary photographer, filmmaker and writer Alain Fleischer is part of Month of Photography Asia. Two distinct characteristics of his work stand out: his obsession with superimposed images on toys, female nudes and then re-photographed; cinematic projections (or at least I think they are) on buildings, and then re-photographed within a setting. The pastiche is unsettling, especially in the former, in a 80’s cibachrome saturated, grainy look. Perhaps influenced by early French nude photography, and art from the Neo-Classical, Rococo and Baroque, Fleischer’s photographs are less rudely shocking, more ‘curious’ than mysterious.

It helps when one considers the relationship between daguerreotype, the chemical processes that precedes black and white photography as we know it, and the genre of photography. Portraitures, landscapes and the city were subject matters since the invention of photography. It thus seems legitimate to reference that experimental spirit of daguerreotypes in Fleischer’s work, somewhat fleeting and considerably longer in time exposure.  

The relationship between film/cinema and photography are inverted here: usually, one talks about film as photographs 24 frames per second, but here, photographs become filmic, caught in a stasis of meaning given by the juxtaposition of the film’s title/context, and the buildings on which they are projected onto. 

The un-labelled newly created work from his Ecran Sensible (Sensitive Screen) series,  is perhaps the most revealing and thought-provoking, un-assuming piece in the exhibition. Tucked away in the depths of the gallery, a lone room with pinned up and floor-strewn photographic paper lies witness to works produced at Lasalle, and only a video recording to suggest the Lasalle masterclass activity. The image on the paper on the wall bears 2 figures: a haunting image of a beautiful Asian lady in a dress-down blouse, bearing her shoulders, and another ghostly figure in the middle ground. The context and the surrounding of the picture is baffling, and seemed to be unimportant to the artist, from the lack of wall texts. 

What is thought-provoking is his adaptation of a simple video camera and elementary projection technology, despite his level of comfort one may feel after working years in a particular style. From the video, one gathers the image is recorded on a sony video camera, inverted to a negative, and re-projected as a digital negative onto photographic paper, as in the Lambda printing process, but from a low resolution 1024×768 LCD projector. The paper is then developed like and black and white photograph. While inverting the digital image back into analogue, the final image is evident of square pixels on the chemically developed photographic paper.  What is amazing is the demonstration of the co-existing ‘pixels’ and ‘silver crystals’ on a singular plane, and the sheer determination to process the paper, while it is still on the wall, with mops-full of chemicals – developer, stop, fix, wash, waterbaths.

The resulting image, detached from its original digital rendition, is both emotionally charged and ghostly. The figure in the foreground gives the impression she doesn’t want to be photographed, but nonetheless ‘captured’, taken, and possessed on paper. The otherwise static image, is sensitised and made emotionally charged with the splashes and spills – imperfections from the raw process. Perhaps the body of photography is also being sensitised and revived, making sense of traditional darkroom techniques in the digital era.


21 June – 3 August 2008

Singapore Art Museum

*sensitize: make (photographic film) sensitive to light

Transient Light Whispering Breeze

Of vibrations and flickering light

The title, I must admit, suggests a phrase lifted from a Japanese Haiku, poetic, suggestive, promising and mysterious. Perhaps inspired by minute observations such as blowing bubbles in water, tremors seen in the projection of the meniscus of water in two glasses, conversations muffled and buffered by walls, and Spanish Flamenco tapping of feet.

The 4 works presented here are collaborative site specific works by Ruben Ramos Balsa and Yuen Chee Wai, attempting to present how ‘microscopic details reflect universal laws’. Like the Chaos theory in Physics, where “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas” and “the notion draws on the premise that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear or prevent it from appearing. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system that triggers off a chain of events with momentous outcomes”.  What is thought-provoking is the illustration of this ‘butterfly effect’, linking ‘sound’, and its invisible propagations through vibrations of air molecules, to produce ‘tremours’.

While not entirely interactive, the works do present a strong statement on the minute effects of sound, attempting to make visible the invisible. For example, The Standard Waveform, suggests the distortions when sound passes through the wall, and we are forced to look curiously at the spiral line on the wall till the gallery sitter tells us to listen instead of looking, if it was working. In Event Horizon, the bass generated from two subwoofers sets of vibrations on two glasses, which are then projected cross-sectionally, sending tiny ripples like miniature tidal waves in the ocean, or a simple science experiment that illustrates the effects of a pulsating physical wave. In Aqual Lungs, waiting 7 minutes will show you blowing bubbles to a designated sound pattern, perhaps like music or drum and bass to fishes?
The most interesting work in the exhibit is probably Pies de Plomo Zapateado Luz, a tiny projection of tapping feet on the surface of a singular bulb, to the sound of tapping feet. we often take sight and sound for granted, and when one of the pair is distorted, reduced in proportion here, it creates a discomfort, much like the bass in Event Horizon. The result is stunning, and you are almost coaxed to repeat the senseless, non-rhythmic feet tapping.
Like Bill Viola’s He Weeps for You (1976) the works here could be stretched to suggest ‘the passing of time’, ‘ephemeral nature of our lives’ compared with the Universe. But to the untrained eye, the works are ineffective to stir more than feet with vibrations and flickering light.
transient light

the Atelier

National Museum of Singapore

June 5 – July 13, 2008

admission free, 10 – 6pm.

A Bowl of Rice by Zai Kuning

Price of Rice and the value of art

Rice, a potentially politically and economically charged commodity has hit the news headlines several times with rising prices, and seemed a taboo material to be used in abundance for arts sake. Rice, a staple for all South East Asian nations and beyond, is often compared to gold at harvest, and deeply intertwined with folklore and traditional virtues of labour. Bordering on an act of re-distribution, the artist hopes to use the address the global economical dimension of this recent rice price hike, and the inequalities faced by small scale farmers that rely on rice for livelihood, affected by natural climate and man-made exploitations; in our local context, the difficulties faced by those where rice is a staple food, a necessity.

The installation by Zai Kuning consists of kolam patterns growing, reconfigured and diminished every Sunday– made from 500Kg of rice purchased from Sculpture Square’s project fund for it’s 9th Anniversary exhibition and rice donated by viewers and well wishers. In the centre of the kolam, are placed 9 wafer thin gold discs, arranged in a circle, suggesting the preciousness of the staple grain, and perhaps to imbue it with spiritual importance, like offerings seen in rituals of the Balinese Hindu, Taoism or Tibet; or the gold that clad the Pagodas of Myanmar. The rice from the installation is neatly packed in plastic bags, assisted by H.O.M.E, and distributed to local charitable organizations – Catholic Welfare Service, Singapore (CWS) Darul Ihsan Orphanage, Singapore Kampung Senang Charity & Education Foundation and Marine Parade Family Service Centre, Food Not Bombs and other beneficiaries.

One of the site-specifici reasons for the work lies in the history of the chapel gallery, a site that once cleansed weary souls and offered a place of prayers for many. Zai Kuning, famous for his 90s action as a Butou Dancer in theatrical circles, and earlier profound involvement in radical performance art, and continued exploration of music through his collaborations under Onistudio, threads this installation with a few accompaniments of singing and the guitar unplugged – to sing a song of praise in tribute for the farmers. Can a live action or performance be spiritual, without being religious? Can the artist intervention raise the value of the rice gathered, and in turn feed more? But if so, for how long? The installation definitely subverts the art market, opening more questions of our own values towards rice and ‘an act of charity’ beyond that as a commodity to be speculated.

The symbolism or significance of the material used in Zai’s work also reminds one of Thai artist Montien Boonma’s work, or conceptual German artist Joseph Beuy’s work where the material takes centre stage of the work’s meaning. Montien Boonma uses powerful spices and herbs in a bid for spiritual healing; Joseph Bueys associates felt, and animal fat with his own biographical, mythical healing. While it is questionable whether art can make the rice taste better, or indeed would it make us savour every grain of rice at lunch and dinner time, one is only touched by the art when we see each grain as a fruit of someone’s labour, and witness first-hand the respect the artist accords his material.

A bowl of rice by Zai Kuning

Sculpture Square, Chapel Gallery
22 June – 13 July, 2008
10 – 6pm daily, admission free

Zai Kuning’s Onistudio Blog at
Montien Boonma’s Temple of the Mind: