The Artists Village: 20 years on

‘The Artists Village: 20 years On addresses many issues concerning the history, or rather, memories of TAV. History encompasses verifiable events and accounts of those events. The reciprocal relationship between memory, forgetting, and history questions and reveals how remembering and forgetting alters our perception of historical experience and the production of discourses. The dynamics of individual and collective social memories of TAV artists during the Ulu Sembawang period and the Post-Ulu periods offer multiple entry points to our understanding of TAV. Other forms of memories such as memories that have been written and archived brings to the fore the role of infrastructural memory in the form of museums, archives, monuments and other sites of memories in the construction of historical narratives.’ (Curatorial text, lifted from the Singapore Art Museum Website)

TAV:20 Years On

The recent exhibition in the Singapore Art Museum may baffle few, with square picture stickers adding to the complexity of Peranakan design floor tiles in the ticketing foyer and corridor outside the lower galleries. A mixture of newspaper article cut-outs, resized photographs of performance process and artwork delineate the controversial artistic practices of a loose group of artist residing in Ulu Sembawang from 1988 to 1990, their registration of the group under the Societies Act of Singapore in 1992 leading up to the landmark Hong Bee Warehouse exhibition in 1992, and their young successors who continue operated without a former space. 

Who are these villagers/artists? Why are they so important to warrant a mini retrospective of their artistic practices?

The Artists Village (sic), TAV for short, is more associative than definitive. Like the European Impressionists of the late 19th Century, or the Situationists International once based in Paris in the 60s, the label is used more as a convenience for these group of exceptional and tenacious artists, than a term to describe a singular mode, style, methodology for art making. TAV stood for a certain democracy and freedom of artistic expression, usually through modes associated with action art, live art, or performance art.

There are two ways to appreciate the exhibition: Firstly, the showcase of the Singapore Art Museum’s 1990s aggressive collection of avant-garde Singapore Art, and the huge fragmented archive of TAV photographs of events, artists and artworks. The museum seem to have shifted it’s emphasis on collecting Modern South East Asian Art, rather than it’s local contemporary artists, judging from the type of donated works shown in recent years. The works here, both exhibited and suggested are challenging, thought-provoking and indicate the concerns of artists for the society in the past 20 years, providing a critical lens to view the nation’s rapid development of the 90s. These are fragmented because the viewer has to actively find them in the wall text, the single-channel video interviews of selected artist members, the video in the ticketing foyer, PDF document of the dis-jointed chronology found on the museum’s current website.

Secondly, the construct of histories overlap, and becomes a trajectory of personal perceptions and collective memories, seen in the curator’s apparent struggle to piece together fragments of Singapore’s post-modern art history. More different images await the patient audience as amateur researcher, only to find missing dates, missing description of performances, and only to be satisfied with small pictures treated like an 8 Days magazine spread – crammed for editorial space. Doesn’t out memories work in the same way – fragmented, blur and linked in a nexus of ways not necessarily linear? What I ate for breakfast yesterday could be ‘remembered’ after I think about the car I passed on the road that broke down that morning. 

 The exhibition starts and seem to end with the tiles. While the selection of Robert Ern-Yuan Guth’s “Killing nothing but time” to represent the future of TAV, at the end of the illustrated wall timeline is strange, considering his brief 1-2 years participation with TAV, it does illustrate the group’s openness and aesthetics for the  banal. While the appreciation of performative, and installation art is largely esoteric, TAV has managed to gather a large following in Singapore, and elsewhere, having proven to be a leading avant-garde artists initiative. While the dates of the exhibition is planned to coincide with National Day (independence day), little reference is made to the country’s recent local social history (1988 – 2008), in relation to TAV’s development.  

Perhaps this reveals the lack of an onus for documenting local art history. As long as there isn’t a strong institutional acknowledgment, such as a faculty of history of art in the local universities, or private enterprises that collects, archives and makes sense of local art, the problems faced by TAV and the museum will haunt other loose artists groups that lack the means to document, archive and store their art, images, interviews and collective memories.


Aug 9 – Oct 5, 2008

Singapore Art Museum


End notes:

How memory works.

One response to “The Artists Village: 20 years on

  1. Pingback: Drawing as Form « Boonscafe

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