Monthly Archives: September 2008

New Castle by Chua Chye Teck

Gallery View

Gallery View

(Images with the kind permission of the artist)

Prohibition in check

Last seen at solo exhibitions Wonderland at Wheelock Gallery in February – April 2008, and at Eternity at Post-Museum in December 2007 – January 2008, these new works from his 2007 Newcastle (UK) residency programme shed more light on his photography sensibilities.

Consistent with photographing the banal, as opposed to glamorous and glamorized cityscapes or landscapes, Chua continues to pursue his subject matter, with the same keen eye for urban blight. Newcastle, once an industrial town and shipbuilding centre strives for revitalization in the past two decades is remarkably examined from the eyes of an outsider, and the dilemmas of urban renewal captured in stasis. This series of works is not of despair, and neither is it of destruction. It seems to feature a desire, to keep things in check, to struggle or hold in place.

The term prohibition1 can then be used to describe two things happening when we view his photographs. Firstly, all pictures represent the barriers, boundaries setup by the inhabitants, as seen in the brick and mortar, windowless walls, closed windows, and the ubiquitous tall fences. These barriers it seems, are more psychological through Chua’s enigmatic photographs, with these same barriers looming unassumingly in the background. The near incinerated blue trash bin almost smells of crime, the terrible breakdown of law and order touted by the novel Clockwork Orange by Antony Burgess of 1962.

Secondly, as one is drawn to the surface of the print, we are restricted, barred from peering into these homes or beyond the horizon. We are curious, held by our fears of finding something unpleasant, and held by the picture plane. Something is always hidden in all these prints, even when the two prints that seem most out of place, the Sea and the Garden, are examined in this light. The sea, perhaps a view from Sunderland (Newcastle, UK), faces Scandinavia, enshrouded in a Sublime mist. The statuesque bust in the garden has its back turned against the photographer/viewer, and two eagle sculptures  just visible, one without a beak suggests more in our imaginations, then if we were to face them straight on and head on. The medium of photography too, it seems, keep things in check, providing the kind of evidence one needs to remember. This evidence is representational, a construct in place of the actual building or event, and strangely how we take them for granted. do we cherish holding photographs of our loved ones more, or an actual embrace and tug at their hands?

The mood of the exhibition is somewhat solemn, and chilly to the bone, gloomy, ultimately grey. The neutrality is diffused by the cloudy days, offering the kind of lighting prominent in many of Chua’s works – desaturated, between the brink of life and lifelessness. Chua’s insistence on using photographic film and the final presentation of 12 sleek aluminum mounted prints suggest a new level of artistry execution, and conceptual maturity. 

While the exhibition plays a pun on the name of the city, now suggesting the urban city replacing the medieval concept of a fortress of protection/barrier/boundary, the Singaporean or global audience will find sympathy for derelict buildings, here in haunting corners of Singapore and elsewhere. The photographs then serves the purpose to keep our ‘upgrading’, ‘en bloc sales’, ‘property investment’ mentalities in check, surely there’s more to calling a building a house, and a house a home. 


New Castle by Chua Chye Teck


Substation Gallery
Sep 7 – 16, 2008
Admission is free, Open daily 11-8pm
Limited edition prints, in two sizes are for sale. 

1: Prohibition refers to ‘the action of forbidding something, especially by law’.

Other links:

Artist’s website:  

Newcastle City Council Website:

For Mr. and Mrs. Children


Chun Kai Qun, 'Race for The Prize', Installation, 2008

Chun Kai Qun,

(Images with the kind permission of the artists and Post-Museum)

Between Bona Fide Irony and Pastiche

I am extremely impressed by what the twins put together, since their previous exhibition (with the inclusion of Joo Choon Lin) Extra Value Meal at Your Mother Gallery in May 2008. A more considered arrangement and lighting in the Showroom of Post-Museum, brings their current practices to renewed public scrutiny, and self-examination. The focus of this review falls on the intent of the works, rather than an association with nostalgia and childhood, as explored by Clara Chow in her introductory essay. Two key concepts come to mind, firstly the question of metaphor and irony, and secondly, pastiche. From the angle of pastiche, For Mr. and Mrs. Children suggests a surreal presentation of their practices in Sculpture (Kai Feng), Installation and Print-making (Kai Qun), reminisce of a sanitised version of the British Chapman Brothers. It is pastiche because the modes of presentation remind one or some other artist we have seen else where. It might be regarded as an amalgamation of styles and adaptations.

While not as mystifying as British Humour is to an average Singlish-speaking Singaporean, there is an uncanny wittiness about the concepts explored by the two artists.

There is a obvious message of irony in the works by the two artists, as reflections of their observations of Singaporean Society. Failing to appreciate their works will put us in the category of people, unable to laugh at ourselves, and hence lack any sense of humour. Kai Qun’s prints are non-sensical doodles, that expanded from his imagination and inspiration from Lunar Park, Melbourne, Australia. Inventing his own method of screen printing, by adding pencil drawings to break the monotony and clarity of the border that ‘protects’ the print, he adds life to the print. These prints seem to consider line more than mass, breaking out in a psychedelic rampage of bright colours. With the Amusement park as his muse, this is perhaps a deeper critique of our attitudes towards humour but lacking the sharp tongue and severity of 19th century British or French satirical prints.  Or perhaps its an attack on reason, a release of a series of automatic drawings gathering in flock on a singular page.

In a lesser abstract presentation, Forgotten Eyes represents the toy the artist would like us to view the world again. depicting void decks, public playgrounds in deserted conditions is hardly comforting. Perhaps a sign that kids play virtual games, or are caught up in tuitions, enrichment classes more than the lure of sweat and bumping around as police and thief make-believe at the playground.

The message of irony is stronger, and blatant in Kai Feng’s sculptures. In ParkLife, buildings that have no stairs, multi-storey carparks replaced by multi-storey benches, as if ready to park people. In Ride of a Lifetime!, an obvious allusion to our Singapore Flyer, the biggest one in the world for 2008 (only), shows padlocks on cabins, turning the ferris wheel into rotating cells. Perhaps it signals our own obsessions with being ‘World Class”, at all economic and social costs. Does it hint at the state of the freedom of (political) speech in Singapore, with the grey loud hailers pointing out from the fenced compounds of the Ferris wheel? 

The previous series of work is in stark, bewildering contrast to his assembled Untoys series. each assembled from readymade parts, the joy seems to be matching material, existing holes and screws to create a new toy. While the irony is missing here, the works are stunning too. In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, J.F. Sebastian (the toy maker of Tyrell Corporation) or Guillermo Del Toro fashion, these toys are uncanny creations, because they are put together in a Frankenstein manner. Does this suggest our augmented lives, where we cannot live with technological gadget wizardry? 

The largest work in the exhibition Race for the Prize, sits in the back room. Consisting of an arduous circuit for plastic ducks to race on, it spoofs the forthcoming F1 night race of Singapore, providing visual candy with its lush fake grass, flags, and fake sponsors banners such as “Goggle, Koca Kola, Nikke” and so on. The fact that the circuit doesn’t work very well, might not prove as much as a ominous sign, than a technical glitch involving complicated pumps, water wheels that don’t all turn, and an uneven floor.

The exhibition could be very boring to those gearing to see gargantuan Singapore Biennale-class outdoor installations. But mind you, those outdoor biggies have budgets that out-proportion most National Arts Council funds proportioned to solo exhibitions. The works here, are modest, and of an almost expected ‘toy’ scale. They sit comfortably in the art gallery, un-challenging by Land art standards.

Despite toy proportions, I am still impressed with the commitment and hard work these artists have put in since then, resulting in a more well-made, considered and presented exhibition. I can only imagine what thrill a bigger budget will give. A larger boat race, with gradients and water velocity calculated to the pin, obscenely plush carpet grass, and more. More remains to be seen if a larger budget will allow their craft to scale to new proportions, and break the pastiche mould. If I am allowed to indulge in fantasy, a bigger biennale-like budget might allow for Lunar Park style treatment to Race for the Prize, perhaps allowing audience to pilot remote control speedboats, or spot real sponsors’ banners. It might have allowed for more individual attention, display, lighting of the Untoys. For example, enlarging one of those bugs to 20 times the size in pop art style will provide much entertainment. 

The intent of the works might no doubt start with the artists’ childhood games of playing racing leaves in storm drains, or at least by what they remember of it. A stronger interpretation of the works lie in their humour and subtle engagement with satire on society and culture in contemporary Singapore.  After all, artists are often regarded the observer of ourselves, holding up mirrors to reflect both the good, bad and ugly.

Catalogue available mid-September or Mid-October.

For Mr. and Mrs. Children

Post-Museum Show Room, 
Aug 30 – Sep 21, 2008.

Other relevant links:

Extra Value Meal ( website by Chun Kai Feng, Chun Kai Qun and Joo Choon Lin