TransportAsian at SAM

Travelling at the Speed of Memory

TransportAsian, Images with the kind Permission of SAM

A timely photography exhibition that features a range of works, presented mostly as photo installations, coincides with the Month of Photography Asia, in its 7th year. The works are promising, though not exactly “fusion of themes Transport and Asia…a delightful array of works documenting the history of transportation” (extracted from e-invite). Instead, they represent the artists’ engagement with the medium of photography, with notions of travelling and memory, challenging traditional means of presentation (as static framed pictures), and representation (real vs manipulated). Photography as a discipline is well represented in the various modes of presentations and concepts.

Stephen Shore, in his pictorial book The Nature of Photographs, which captures a certain range of visual styles that are sympathetic towards the snapshot aesthetics says that “Photography is inherently an analytical discipline. Where a painter starts with a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture”.

The exhibition is loosely divided into four sub-themes: Time, Space, Action and Fiction. These four themes are visual markers, more than a conceptual understanding or statement what photography as a craft or discipline entails. One may understand that all photographs are those captured by devices involving a shutter speed, and in the process flattens a three dimensional space into a two dimensional image. That is a re-presentation of what the lens sees, what the lens is unbiased of. While photography as a manipulative medium is gaining its legitimacy as fine art, it still straddles our polemic perception of it as “given truth”, often cited in the case of Journalism, and “contrived artifice”, often cited by examples from the predominant use of digital manipulations. In the hands of a good photographer, any photograph is biased towards the vision of that photographer, composing, omitting or including elements subjectively.

The work by Tung Mai, Racing Forward, features a self pedalled bicycle with a rotating slide hexagonal box, with unnerving digitally superimposed images of Vietnam and those of Singapore. Partially surreal, the work is not realised to its potential, when it loses its interactivity, and constantly shadowed by the “Under Maintenance” sign. It loses its enigma, where the slow pedalling action is suppose to remind the viewer of the rapid pace of progress in Southeast Asian countries,  and the need to slow down to even witness the changes.

Chun Kai Qun’s Carmegeddon, draws strong continuation and development from his earlier work stereoscopic slidemaster, seen in For Mr. and Mrs. Children. Tapping on his fantasies of a huge construction site converted into a monster car crash and destruction site. The scaled model is then meticulously re-photographed, and converted into a stereoscopic slideshow seen on a Sony PSP. The Asian model cars crashed and burnt in American Hollywood fashion, and felt like a reminder of the current economic crisis. Like British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, the artist has managed to capture the imagination of terror, miniaturize it, and making it a game. Video games, often cited to train hand-eye coordination and reflexes. On another level, it could be a caution of an overdose of violence in video games in teenagers and young adults, and their inherent anti-social, societal side-effects. Perhaps by nullifying terror, it gives us the courage to look at the scale of the damage, the crashed and the burnt.

Mintio’s Conveyance, installation of dazzling multiple exposure prints of light trails are alluring, drawing one’s vision into it’s depth. The black curtains, and surrounding trestles fortify the exclusivity of the experience of viewing, and adds a theatrical edge to the work. The light trails remind me of The Street Hawk (1985), or Star Trek light warp speeds into deeper space. Light trails, created by slow shutter speeds, compresses time into a single frame, unlike PAL video, that stretches 1 second into 25 frames. What is interesting in these digital collages, is the consistent layering of images, just as now time is layered in the slow shuttered image.

Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s Breathing is Free 12 756.3, is as conceptual as Richard Long’s Walks. But unlike Long that presents documentation of his intervention set against nature, Jun’s work is fixated on an image of a lone runner, against a plethora of blurred urban landscapes, or motorways. The notion of the Myth of the Artist, which suggests that what the artist makes will be art, is called to play.  Featuring interlaced, digitally slow-motioned video, they show evidence of the artist challenging his physical limits. Ironically, the cost of staging leg breaking runs around the world, would cost more than free.

John Clang’s work is a scaled version last seen in Clang: A White Book. A good example of how a piece of work could be re-presented to suit the site.

Ko Aung’s Human, featuring an installation of black and white panels, and greyed black and white carpet, accompanying photographs of a man and woman, painted/dressed in black and white. The exercise in strict non-colour – black and white – does what it did display, raise question marks.

Nge Lay experimental, simplistic Me and Another Process series of photographs, tackles ones’ imagination. The aesthetics of which, when stretched, reminds one of a flame.

Richard Streitmatter-Tran’s The Jungle Book, is hilarious, deliberately confusing the audience, with his titles and imagery. A large fish is held hostage, in Gulliver’s Travels Lilliput fashion, and a large space ship crashes into the local canal. The parody of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, itself a parody of traveller tales literature, is a reminder of the fiction of photography, held hostage by its maker.

Gilles Massot’s, The Space within Space within the Space, is largely collaborative with students from LASALLE college of the arts where he teaches photography. The images or clusters of them are pictorially strong, but one cannot help feel congested. The over crowding, and juxtaposition of different exhibiting strategies, such as the projected compass directions on the floor, to the suspended acrylic dry-mounted transparencies remind one of the real landscape in Singapore, and the religious event which the pictures document: they are highly juxtaposed and laden with meaning, transposing an alter-reality into reality. Road signs, when seen in a particular sequence, surreptitiously gain a new lease of iconic meaning.

Dominic Khoo’s Emotion in Transportation series could best be understood and appreciated as street photography.

Shannon Castelman’s Jugaads of Southeast Asia transforms the ubiquitous street hawkers’ stalls into objects of fascination, incredibly enchanting visual studies of two bicycles, and tricycles. The rich colours draw the viewers in. Captured by dusk, and without human presence, we are left to ponder their trade, cargo and stories.

Mark R. Kaufmann’s The Fabulous Flights of Fancy Time Machine, is a splendid contraption that is strategically sited next to Shannon Castelman’s work. An assemblage of everyday objects, and a giant toy of a boy’s fantasy, an idealised realisation of childhood. The lighting adds to the lure and imagination of a real flying object, but not in the Da Vinci aesthetics. One suspects the work was more ambitiously interactive. The “low carbon (emission) flip book cinema” does not quite work with the context of the installation, and one leaves expecting more. In Cinema Paradiso fashion, it celebrates film, and all its magical moments.

Chua Chye Teck’s April 2008, Tokyo transgresses the theme of transportation badly. Instead, it picks up the subtle colour of pantone pinks, diluting in scale from left to right. Minimalistic in presentation, and highly methodical in production by On Kawara standards, it distills the colours of the Japanese flag (Red and White), and suggests the dilution of culture and traditions. The inevitable, perhaps in an evolution, and Art or photography as a medium, a record, internationally recognised standard of Culture.

Xavi Comas’ Pasajero/ Passenger, fulfills the fantasy of every traveller that carries a camera. Consisting of some ill placed fluorescent light tubes and selected digital prints, the work mimics a traveller’s photograph slide show, projected on a wall. The role of the flaneur, or observer is often the privilege role of artists on society. A foreigner in Japan, he observes the habits and sights on the Japanese commuting trains, giving a narrative to each frame filled. Traditional Black and White here, is timeless, it distills and simplifies these narratives. What is perhaps annoying to the pre-digital viewer is the lack of the grain, the texture of traditional photography replaced by digital pixels and white burns.

The TransportAsian exhibition, given the title, was not as kitsch as one feared. These sets of contemporary fine art photography, as opposed to commercial photography has served to establish the creative potential of the craft to set one smiling or thinking. Perhaps photography as its best, travels at the speed of memory. Like Roland Barthe’s musing over the significance and appeal of photography in his book Camera Lucida, the draw of photography begins with those images that mean most dear to us.

7.0 of 10 stars

Singapore Art Museum, May 30 – August 11, 2009
Usual admission charges apply.

One response to “TransportAsian at SAM

  1. Hello,

    Chanced upon your website. Thank you for the good words put in for this show. Just want to clarify that my work has not been digitally manipulated, the entire image was created within the camera. The film pieces are as it is. 🙂


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