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

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