Monthly Archives: April 2009

Reminisce on Paper by Tang Ling Nah


Lightness and Weight

Reminiscing on Paper 18 Apr, Sat, 2-8pm

(Images courtesy of the artist. The panoramic photograph is taken by the artist, as an example of a moment he was ‘overwhelmed’ by a view form a Seven-floor overlooking an industrial park; This sense of by overwhelmed can sometimes be felt in Tang Ling Nah’s larger installations)

The recent exhibition by Tang Ling Nah reaffirms the faithfulness and commitment the artist has to her unusual medium of choice – charcoal. Density weightiness and lightness, seem apt words to describe her work, bearing upon architectural non-spaces, or imaginative spaces; fractures in our daily lives. The three choice pieces, can be seen in the (Picasa web album) link above.

The Glimmering, represents density, the overpowering desire to accumulate vast amounts of charcoal from stick to paper, with unbelievable amounts of fixative. This density, seen in her earlier works as explorations of the medium. 

The second image represents weightiness, giving emphasis to form of the architectural space, imaginary or real. The chunky weight of the stairs, is felt in the uneven blend of tones, the strong geometrical shapes that pierce the two-dimensional surface of the  paper, invading our real space. The dissolving of the density to weightiness perhaps signifies coming to terms with the medium, and shift to the depiction of space, and the desire for space.   

The last image, An Other Space within a House, an amalgamation of 5 drawings suggests impermanence, lightness, a matrix of possibilities shifting like plate tectonics. In a strange manner akin to MC Escher’s work, interior and exterior spaces collapse into one.  Like most of her other works, the title guides the viewer to the underlying concepts of the work. Like other pieces, the other space refers to an imaginary space projected both by the artist, and the viewer. This piece is most iconic, and perhaps a turning point in the development of her works, abandoning illusionism for the lightness of charcoal – a gleeful flutter of lines on the wall of paper to a congregation of faithful strokes.

Psychotaxonomy by Michael Lee

Perseverance in paper


Images with the kind permission of
the artist

The recent works by Michael Lee pulls no punches, flourishing elaborate paper cuts inspired by the Baba House, a new peranakan museum located on Neil Road. Following the methodology of a researcher, and art as an instrument, the artist unpacks and picks at the rich heritage of motifs and symbolism of the Peranakan heritage. As the title suggests, the artist tries to interpret and classify these motifs, making sense of this unique personal collection that became the foundation of the museum. The series of works on show question the domesticity of the interior of a building that houses the exclusive museum, the value of heirlooms and once everyday objects. Paper, an obvious choice to suggest the fragility and threat of erosion facing the Peranakan culture  in Singapore, and indeed of any culture with the persuasive invasion of Globalism. Peranakan culture, faced a minor revival with the popular Mediacorp (Singapore) Mandarin TV series Little Nyonya.

In a manner befitting of a continuation of his earlier book art installation, Documents: The $100,000 gallery of art, the familiar twists with architectural interior spaces, and play with lighting are resurfaced with paper cuts on scores of paper. The first work that greets the viewer in the gallery is a large free standing arch that resembles a paper version of a mirror, casting a motif-decorated shadow. On closer inspection, the rear reveals tiny rooms with overturned chairs, much like the aftermath of an interrogation. The work is successful by making subtle interjections (within the context of the museum) with the overturned chairs both suggesting abandonment or ‘fierce’ interrogation, perhaps of one’s culture.

In The Big Sweep, the sweeping aid in Peranakan households is convincingly created using paper, caught in action with motifs of urns, vessels trapped in between the stems of the broom. The placement of this broom is spot on, near the large ‘mirror’ and challenging the viewer when they enter the space. Culture, represented by iconic silhouettes of Peranakan objects is being swept away, disposed. The confrontation also reveals our perception of the material paper and it’s often relegated status as material in folk craft, and our equanimity of another person’s culture.

The large ‘mindmap’ or taxonomy of symbols and meanings, An Almost Natural History of Social Relations, reminds me of the babelfish in Douglas Adam’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Both tries to make sense of the unknown, translation them into something understandable; both are fictional, and both entertaining to ‘see’. It resembles the work by the conceptual artists Art & Language from the 60s, in the important use of ‘words’, signs and signifiers, the mind-mapping, sometimes seen in their work. The scale of this is impressive, telling of the rigor of diagram making and ordering thinking.

Mail Order: Gift from Heaven is exploitative of the space available, but less impressive of the design of individual creatures, lacking the aesthetics and proportion deserving of the mythical creatures. They are literally, quite flat.

Will the Real Phoenix Please stand Up? is conceptually interesting, but less promising in the final details. The piece is lost in it’s translation from idea to title, and again, off course when intricacies were omitted from paper cuts. Though not exactly resembling fowls, they did add a different deceptive subterfuge to the work.

The exhibition describes the artists perseverance and obsession with paper, this time with the tinge of cultural sensitivity and historical intervention. While the hyperbolic and humorous title works for some, it may detract from the visual form, and aesthetics of white on white (white paper in a white gallery). With a great force of personality in the earlier two works, the latter two appeared weaker and contrived to interpret an aspect of Peranakan motifs.

6.0 of 10 stars

At Home Abroad


A Mirror of the Banal and  Contemporary 

Abroad At Home

(Images shown with the kind permission of SAM)

The grass does sometimes look greener on the otherside.  Local pop singers might find it necessary to do well overseas before launching their albums locally for expediency – the local pop music scene simply cannot support them alone. Similarly, visual artists may face the same desire to venture outwards for residency and exhibition opportunities, where the audience base is arguably larger, and more appreciative. The exhibition title At Home Abroad, is not necessarily oxymoronic, but tries to bring Singapore artists and artworks that have had successful showings elsewhere, back to a local context and audience. Short of being called a propagandized ‘Singapore art showcase’, the exhibition offers more, treading universal, difficult themes and territories of Xenophobia (Ming Wong), community  (SooKoon Ang and Choy Ka Fai) and abstraction (Jason Lim and Zulkifle Mahmod).  

Possibly the most successful and provocative work in the exhibition, Angst Essen/Eat Fear by Ming Wong plays with language and xenophobia, “… a continuation of Ming Wong’s preoccupation and fascination with world cinema, and issues of identity and alterity – the state of otherness or being the other. ” (exhibition text). In a fashion similar to American artist Cindy Sherman, he sets up a elaborate film stage, immersing himself in the various roles, male and female guises and poses that the viewer may find humorous.  The work might share resonance with the recent Serangoon Gardens Foreign Workers’ dormitory saga, where local residents petitioned against the government’s decision to convert a disused school into dormitories. Citing traffic problems and compromising the safety of children, young women and maids, this incident revealed Singaporeans’ polarised viewpoints of global openness and unfair racism and xenophobia towards transient foreign workers. Unfair and unaware, one may laugh at the artist’s attempt to mimic German dialogue, but an American or British might have the same or worse dismay uncomprehending frown upon hearing Singlish for the first time. Are we as forgiving as how we want to be treated elsewhere in the world?

Choy Ka Fai’s dual panoramic projection, and digital pseudo- tour guide  allows us to re-examine the values and significance of Housing Development Board dwellings to National Identity, personal memories and histories. With fresh eyes, we are treated to a long digital video tour of public housing estates in Singapore. Shot with mostly pan shots to envelope different scenes from many Housing estates, it mimics how one might pan one’s video camera from left to right or vice versa, to capture the impossible ‘total experience’. As a frank mock-documentary laden with statistics and facts, it assumes the viewer is ignorantly local or tourist. For those unattracted to the concept of public housing, the work may be dull and superfluous. To the aesthetically trained and well travelled, the work provides an entry point to examine how ‘public’ space is lived, transformed and affecting the manner in which we think (in compartments, stacked neatly on one another). But perhaps we need to be ignorant and tourist ourselves to see and cherish what we have, instead of complacency, and complaints. 

Sookoon Ang’s installation is disappointingly minimal, failing to make a strong presence in the gallery space, or to a localised context. With two tiled cubes with monitors showing blurred images of a garden scene and a road sweeper scene, apparently filmed in China, these are raised on poles, in a field of fake grass. aloof  and distance, the work loses its immediacy previously seen in her smaller, more intimate works. Perhaps there could have been more ‘monitors on poles’, more relevant videos/images of the banal and everyday or allowed some kind of audience participation. Then perhaps the link to a local or foreign context might have been stronger, other than the artificial turf that reminded me of Lasalle College of Arts’ (Singapore) reason for having their artificial green patch, and why some of us dislike plastic flowers.  

In the more conceptual and ‘abstract’ False Securities by Zulkifle Mahmod and Last Drop by Jason Lim, we are challenged to appreciate sound as a form, and everyday glass vessels, and concepts as forms, stacking and breaking if we push or drop them too much. while sonic art might not have a huge following here in Singapore, Zulkifle’s work marries respectable installation aesthetics and conceptual push for different methods and scales for producing meditative situations and sound scapes. This particular work with  questionable carpentry is less interactive that the installation  last seen at Osage Gallery Singapore. As unappreciative as one might be, it fails with the lack of strong visuals associative of the processed sounds and aural sensibilities that an audiophile would demand from an enveloping sound experience. As a result, the experience of the work was less than meditative, perhaps as fun as one may like testing CDs or headphones at a dingy audio shop with perspiration soaked headphones. 

Some of the works in the exhibition are more successful in creating an intimacy, or question our own suppositions of identity while some require more free imagination and prior art experience to appreciate. Mirrors of the banal and  contemporary, they reflect another side of us that indeed is worth pondering at home, and abroad.   

6.0 of 10 stars

Exhibition Website:

Look out for the beautiful but pricy catalogue (S$48, I think)

till Jul 26, 2009
8Q Singapore Art Museum