Monthly Archives: October 2008

Mapping the Corporeal by Ronald Ventura

 

Ronald Ventura – Mapping the Corporeal

The physical presence of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figures might raise a few eyebrows, especially when it looks like Gunter von Hagens Body World meets Lewis Carroll’s darker version of Alice in Wonderland or a softer version of Damien Hirst cut-up animal corpses. 

The work’s focus seems to be the mafia-like characters created by the artist, existing as scaled models, in paintings, and in silhouette cut-outs. Mapping the Corporeal, seems to be suggesting the study of the human figure and its transformation into something else. This something else, like the personification of animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, might be intended to reveal the artist’s understanding of the human psyche, and our understanding of animal behaviours and traits.

What is intriguing about the exhibition is the number of variations, of zoomorphic characters, and their goth-like appearance. The silhouettes, like American artist Kara Walker, seem to suggest the works coming alive and roaming the gallery, casting shadows with their near invisible forms.

While the individual works are great and dandy in the expressive graphic sense, the relatively homogenous pockets of ‘installations’ or painting spill-outs do not stand out. The presentation of the works is probably second to the intention of the artist, it is inhibited by the scale of the paintings and posters. The chosen scale relates better to the human figure better, in a more intimate smaller room setting, than a larger, taller gallery white cube space. These are almost too conservative in placement, and lighting, and failing to ignite the aurae these anthropomophic characters possess.  

While Mapping the Corporeal was technically well executed and considered, the individual symbolism, arrows and motif would need to be decoded and ascribed one’s own meaning, with the aid of one’s references to fantasies, pop art, and a dash of surrealism. The human body may indeed be a manifestation of one’s psyche, more than just a vessel of flesh and blood. 

NUS Museum, 5 September – 16 November 2008 Opening: 11 September 2008, 6pm

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Bound for Glory by Wong Hoy Cheong

 

Wong Hoy Cheong – Bound for Glory

A visual artist with a keen interest in nationalism, contemporary social issues, and installation art, Wong Hoy Cheong presents 5 works for Bound for Glory, an expository process that hints at hitting at a pre-determined definition of nationalism – the national anthem, through stories (narration), (constructed) photographs, video, and interior decoration.

NUS Museum, 11 September – 23 November 2008 Opening: 11 September 2008, 8pm

Excelsior Mortis by Jack Youngblood

Neo-Excalibur meets Space Odyssey

Excelsior Mortis! images with the kind permission of the artist

With tumbling stock markets and bank freezes in a few European countries, Jack Youngblood’s proclamation “la la la…when all is lost, and there is nothing left to lose…celebrate the loss!” may not be that ridiculous afterall.

Treading similar grounds after his previous work in the group exhibit The Gloaming, the protagonist spaceman, Jack Youngblood makes another appearance, foregrounding the memento mori theme even more strongly. What is revealing about the digital age, is the sense of loss, in bits and bytes discussed in the catalogue essay. And this is reinforced in the paintings, portraying the spaceman aging to the point of decay, both feet in the grave. There is an incredible sense of contrast, in the selection of which print goes next to which, and their relevance to the title of the show: ‘excellence’ and ‘death’. Simple, but it works.

Where does this place painting in the age of digital reproduction and touch-ups? Naturalism, and realism are so augmented that we can no longer discern what is RAW and what is not. So why bother painting naturalistically/realistically, at all?

The answer seems to lie in the oil painting at the end of the gallery, primed and exuding presence. One can imagine the careful choice of perishable soft wood of the tropics, decaying with the image of the skeleton spaceman on the board. The weight of the panel seems to be laden with more than the history of western painting, but the burden of Photoshop too. This burden, to blend and merge the best of both media. But it pulls well together, the soft sheen of organic gloss varnish, and the gloss-optimised digital inklet prints.

Another development in the artist’s body of work seem to be the crests of the spaceman, Jack Youngblood in different renditions, resembling both a knight’s coat of arms, or a biker gang’s crest. The spaceman, might just be a knight, charging into space; art space; an avant-garde metaphor of a new kind of art form making a strong appearance in the Singapore art scene. There is a certain charm to this, noble yet crude. The artist makes no excuse to use the digital paint brush like a new excalibur, making its stake in a larger concept than space, cutting up preconceptions of deviant fan art, making meaningful swiping manoeuvres to push the objectification of digital paintings, digital paintings as legitimate art objects and its exceeding relevance to art making in Singapore and elsewhere. When one doesn’t comprehend this intention, the work fails to make any sense.

The work does suggest smallness, the lone spaceman in a vast universe filled with stars; digital bytes in a universe of inter-connected servers. This overwhelmed smallness is comparable to a Nikon website’s flash animation on the Universe, and Us. This smallness, reels again in the current climate of financial loss in the light of the possibility of global recession; but measured against a greater loss of environmental damage, and impending doom to mankind’s descendants, this smallness begs re-measurement. Memento mori, seen in a environmental light, may just be the phrase we need to tide us over greed and difficult times.

This exhibition is accompanied by an exhibition catalogue, stickers, and T-Shirt. Nice.

11 Oct – 2 Nov
Excelsior Mortis!
by Jack Youngblood
Post-Museum, 107 Rowell Road, Opening hours: 6-10pm (Tue-Fri) and 12-10pm (Sat+Sun).

Silly Margins: an extract to complement the earlier review

Silly Margins

Today’s story was sent in by listener Yap Tat Ming. He writes:

My primary four English teacher Mrs Yeo taught me this golden rule of always drawing a one-centimetre margin on the left-hand side of my exercise book. For the longest time, I wondered about this need to waste space, as I could have written more words, saved more paper and made my exercise book last longer if not for those margins. I really believed it was a silly rule but I reluctantly drew them anyway.

Fast forward 30 years. One day as I was tidying up my house, I found my primary school exercise book. As I flipped those pages of yore, I could not help but smile. There was something special about this book that made me treasure it. It was the margins. At every margin, Mrs Yeo would pen some encouraging words like, “I am happy that your ambition is to become a teacher”, “Interesting narration of a pencil-box life? love your ideas of giving birth to little baby pencils”, “You are the only boy whose best friend is a girl – keep it up”. Sometimes she would draw a star, a sad face, a smiley or just a simple tick to show her reaction to my statement.
I noticed a few pages on which I did not draw margins; there were no remarks. How I wish I had drawn them.

I finally understood Mrs Yeo’s golden rule of drawing margins. Just as I had drawn margins for her to pen remarks that I so fondly cherish, I should also draw margins in life’s hectic schedule so that I can savour the process of my work. I have learned a few tricks about drawing margins in
life:

Give allowance of time. Avoid tight schedules and aim to arrive early by
15
minutes or more for all activities. Too often, stress is created by my ambition to squeeze too much activity into a limited time.

Plan time for things that matter. Plan time to enjoy my hobbies, time to spend with my loved ones, time to go on a vacation and time to play my favourite sports.

Spare time for little things. Spare some time talking to a child, pouring myself a good cup of coffee, comforting someone, cleaning the toilet, learning to cook Mee Siam from Mommy, helping the old lady to cross the road, marvelling at the sunset, or just watching the street busker performing.

I thought drawing those silly margins was a waste of space and was worried that my exercise book would not last the whole year. The fact was, the margins turned out to be the highlight of my book and by the end of the year the book was only three-quarters filled. Yes, I had worried for nothing. The worth of the exercise book is not measured by its length; it is measured by its content. Likewise, time is not measured by seconds; it is measured by the moments. I shall continue to create such moments by drawing those silly margins in my life!

WRITTEN BY YAP TAT MING
undated 

A Slice of Life is written, produced and presented by Eugene Loh unless otherwise stated. If you wish to share the scripts with others, please credit it to ‘Eugene Loh, A Slice of Life, 938LIVE, a station of MediaCorp Radio’.

8Q-Rate: School

Apt, but Q-rious selection

8 Q-rated, images with the kind permission of SAM

The 4 month long exhibition opened on Aug 15, 2008, asking visitors to dress up in school uniforms, or to dress up as teachers. while I probably wouldn’t have a problem with the latter instruction, a different kind of school matters kept me away.

While the retrofitting of the school could hardly be classified as architecturally exciting, the new space is functional. The glass encasement of selected portions of the building,consistent with the Singapore Art Museum a stone’s throw distance away. The brightly coloured exterior walls will probably excite children more, as seen in the above picture album taken on children’s day. Familiar with larger spaces for contemporary art, such as the Tate Modern in London or PS1 in New York, 8Q seems more modest, and suited for more intimate installations, paintings and multimedia works. The inclusion of this primary coloured premise, with a Children’s Art Loft to boot, seems to break the stultifying effect suffered by SAM when the reborn sibling sited across the road, the National Museum started offering better spreads of contemporary art – in more exciting and challenging terms, for example the International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA) and the largest living artist retrospective on Matthew Ngui both in 2008.

The opening of the new space is fronted by two exhibitions, 8 Q-Rated: School, and Masriadi: Black is My Last Weapon. While the strengths of each exhibition differs, it does seem, by virtue of the allocated floor space (ie. resources), the Masriadi exhibition topped as the highlight, squaring down the local ‘visual artists’/’designers’.

What 8 Q-Rated: School lacked for space, seems to be made up by the number of curators fronting the exhibition. This exhibition seems as much a legitimate showcase of the curators, and their chosen artists. Since this information cannot be found on the 8Q micro site,it makes sense to list the curators. They are Joyce Toh (for Phunk studio), Sam I-shan (for Jason Wee), Michelle Ho (for Grace Tan), Low Sze Wee (for Ahmad Abu Bakar), Tan Siu Li (for Jahan Loh) Joyce Fan (for Chong Li-chuan), Suenne Megan Tan (for Donna Ong), and Kwok Kian Chow (for Tan Kai Syng). While many would question the role of the curator, as I often do of my own involvement in Drawing Out Conversations, it is not addressed so one will assume the primary default: to organise an exhibition consisting of artworks in accordance to a set theme, and be able to explain the selection.

While the selection of artists and works are apt, and are described in wall labels, they do not all immediately respond to the theme of school or to the building and its histories. Notably out of synchronisation are Grace Tan’s fabric sculptures, in folds and pleats, Ahmad Abu Bakar’s ceramic sculptures.

Nonetheless, the works appeal to me on different levels and to different intensities.

Phunk:studio, a design collective that fronts Singapore in the arena of relatively avant-garde graphics design takes their swipe at the visual arts by presenting a scaled classroom, coated with blackboard paint which allows the viewer to scribble just about anything with the white chalk provided. reminiscent of old school chalk boards, with a hanging white skeleton and world globe, the pristine white classroom offers a mock lesson on Universality, flanked by phunk:studio styled graphics with the words “Chaos” and naughty graphic posters. At most playful, the work is ephemeral as chalk on the blackboard, because it fails to get deeper into any kind of critique about schooling in Singapore or art education, literally stopping viewers at the door.

Jason Wee’s rattan blocks, titled In My School Are Many Rooms resembling paper houses the Chinese might burn at funerals is tongue in cheek, creating an impossible architectural model, shaped like tetris and over-sized playing blocks. A giant puzzle not to be handled by the public, it pales when compared to architectural models and paper funeral houses, deficient in craftsmanship. One suspects the loading bay space which this is situated encroaches the work, which might have been better sited in the middle of the school’s open square, allowing its viewing from a distance and from above. The artist also offers another visual puzzle, Let Us walk Through the Burning House, a second piece on another level, comprising arching rattan sticks, shaped like building archways. Hardly a relic from a performance, what you see is what you get. My perception of the second work, just as it “depends on the space of the gallery for its shape and form, as the canopy is held in place by the walls…” is influenced more by absence than presence – the work depends too much on the museum’s aura and invites sharp criticism, perhaps part of the worksuggests and evokes risk-taking in art.

Grace Tan’s fabrics take sculptural form, and seem to address a growing need to acknowledge the growth of the creative industries in Singapore, apart from the formative years of nation building that saw pride in professions of engineers, accountants, lawyers, bankers and doctors. The appreciation of the works are hampered by the dim lighting, perhaps a dramatic effect compromising the sensual folds and pleats of the different fabrics. The relationship to the theme of school, if I am allowed to take a leap of interpretation, lies in the resemblance of pleats of school skirts and fabrics for uniforms.

Chong Li-chuan’s sound scape is a real hit and miss. Unless you stay for hours, you will likely miss the verbatim rendition of the Catholic High Primary School song, instead hear only a version stretched and manipulated in sustained notes and sounds, becoming noise. While this piece is conceptual, the hypnotic drone of school song, speaks volumes of indoctrination of values and traditions, a function of schools. On hind sight, perhaps the work could have been broadcasted, and audible on selected FM frequencies, or insert these into the audio guides on a separate track, like Spell#7’s work in the Singapore Biennale.

Donna Ong’s enigmatic installation features her usual sensible use of readymades, weaving a tale of dolls exchanged between Japan and America before the second world war. It seems to question naively the values of ‘friendship’, from the perspective of an anonymous collector-character. The work beckons the viewer to indulge in her world of make believe and fascination with life-like dolls. The arrangement is deliberately claustrophobic by arranging the cabinets in a concentric manner, with their doors opened limiting one’s movement when viewing the work.

Tan Kai Syng’s video is oddly arranged, revealing a technical issue to align 3 different projections. The work explores the element of time, when the protagonist of the video work, the artist, appears in all three screens, simultaneously being at 3 places at the same time. The work is more than meets the eye, playing on the notion of margins in exercise books, and the idea of a ‘found corridor’ with a painted red line. The work’s meaning extends to this hidden corridor, accessed via a closed door from the first room, and into a second hidden room.

Jahan Loh’s graffiti work requires little association to the rebellious nature of youths in schools. An escape from reality is treated with florescent pink, light blue paintings and aerosol black-lined mural, peppered with pop cultural images and popular brands such as Nike. The large Chinese wall text 逃学 (escape from school) suggests either a subliminal message, or a dare to break away from norms.

Ahmad Abu Bakar’s pieces reminds one of batman (yes, this is far fetched), and one really needs to get informed of his earlier works to see the consistency in pushing shapes and form, technical competency in his chosen craft type. While placing these objects on the floor allows one to appreciate them from a vantage point, they fail to give any sense of crowdedness one expects from installations utilising sheer numbers to overwhelm. The scale of the individual pieces begs the attention of a more suitable context, and space.The size of one, simply vanishes in the space; the choice of many diminishes the skill of each.

The skill of each artist greatly differs, offering a rich mix where one will surely find a gem to follow in more challenging shows to come at 8Q. The complexity of arranging museum exhibition programmes hangs on tethers, limited by other constraints unimaginable to the average viewer. National Interests might clash, fore-shadowing the importance of art, and its related funding. While we may see artists involved in these other national interests, such as Zulkifle Mahmod’s bewildering F1 trophy design, it would be interesting to see the reverse, when other industries put their stakes in art. Maybe the arts would the next thing worth investing in, that will not make the world poorer but culturally richer.

References:

Tate’s definition of the role of a Curator.

Role of a curator, an exercise for student, source untraced.