Monthly Archives: October 2009

Ng Yat-Chuan at NIE Art Gallery

Brevity of line, is the soul of drawing.

Ng Yat-Chuan

There is much economy in drawing. Not just the cost of the artistic activity, or the space it take up. Great drawings, in the traditions of Ingres or like-minded masters, show economy in their use of line, where the weight of the stroke suggests the form of the subject matter. An emphatic line may show the tension the line has, the weight of the arm or the shadow of an eye.

The drawings of Ng Yat-Chuan exemplifies the good traditions of academic drawing, and more. A mix of close observation is tossed with brevity of the line to produce ‘life-like’ drawings of their sitters. It is not just academic drawing because you do have to know the characteristics of the line more than just tracing a vision of what the eye sees. Hand-eye coordination is horned to produce ‘exactitude’, by feeling — the pencil gliding on paper and gut sense where the next stroke should go — as much as seeing.

6.0 of 10 stars

Oct 10 – Oct 7, 2009
NIE Art Gallery
Mon-Fri: 10.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Sat: 11.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m.
Enquiries: 62196072 or email artgal(a)

Edition of 10, serialised and signed, A3 hardcover bound reproduction of a collection of drawings available for sale at $1500.

Proceeds will go towards covering some production costs. A5 catalogues, available complimentary at the gallery.

Roundtable Discussion: Drawing and the Teaching of Drawing

Thursday, 29 October 2009, 2.30-4.30 p.m.
The Art Gallery, National Institute of Education, 1 Nanyang Walk, S(637616)

Registration: Joy Millan at millan.khristian (a) Deadline for registration is on 26 October 2009

PYT 09

Art with an edge:
Young Singapore Art (ySa), with a tinge of competition

PYT 2009, Images with the kind permission of SAM

It was not long ago that the concept PYT, drew ‘huh?’ from blank perplexed faces. Today, it might just be a hip term to suggest that you have been to the Singapore Art Museum’s Annex space, 8Q.  PYT, short form for President’s Young Talent is a state endorsement to “showcase the work of upcoming Singapore artists whose work is both promising and exciting, and deemed of high enough standard to represent Singapore at International Art Fairs and platforms”. Started in 2001 with an eager stable of 9 artists, the biennial event had included designers, that have since spawned  President’s Design Award, now run by the Singapore Design Council.

Historically, this event was seen to be Singapore’s answer to Britain’s Turner Prize, in a lesser media glitz manner. Tate Britain’s website states: “The Turner Prize is a contemporary art award that was set up in 1984 to celebrate new developments in contemporary art. The (£40,000) prize is awarded to ‘a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding’.” The difference is, the PYT nominees are judged on their newly commissioned works, while the Turner is judged on their works in the 12 months preceding.


The galleries were suitably proportioned for the 4 artists.

Visual Deception

Donna Ong’s Dissolution is the centre piece, consisting of layered acrylic sheets that separate mulberry-paper like cut-outs of trees, rock and cranes typically found in traditional Chinese ink paintings. Painted in a similar fashion that emphasizes the brushstrokes, wide tonal values and atmospheric perspective, the layers are compacted visually by a surveillance camera. The surveillance cameras are linked to three corresponding screens that flatten the layers into the three video images, each featuring a different detail of the large panorama/scroll. What you get, is a clever visual experiment with perspective, a visual remix of the Western single-point perspective represented by the ‘gaze’ of the camera, and the atmospheric, spatial treatment in traditional ink paintings of mountains and ravines. As one peers anxiously at these screens, nothing changes; a stasis that is rather zen-like, a calming contrast to the bustle of roaring traffic in the city, or bombardment of mass media that surrounds us.

Dissolution, here, refers to ‘the action or process of dissolving’, the disintegration of perspective and scale. The illusion of 3D space created by perspective is questioned. This flattening could allegorically symbolise the merger of points of view, or ways of looking. This is consistent with Donna Ong’s interest in inward looking themes and objects, not unlike (a lot younger) Louis Bourgeois. The dissolution, on a grander scale symbolises the melting pot of cultures, technologies and sciences. The scrutiny and critique of a reproduction of a Chinese landscape also suggest the need for us to examine our own roots and culture. On another level, it questions ‘ways of looking’ begging us to uncover our layers of mis/understanding of knowledge.


Donna Ong, Dissolution, 2009

In a darkened passageway with the hum of a Machine, reminds me of E.M. Forsters The Machine Stops (1909). Objects are arranged like mushrooms, or spawns of spores along two long, parallel shelves. On closer observation, with whatever available light, these objects are assembled from nuts and bolts, screws and such. Something so metallic is made organic, like scientific specimens presented for examination.  Except that one can barely keep one’s eyes opened. The sting to the eye, caused by chemicals released from freshly painted wooden constructed panels, almost seems deliberate.

Dissolution (detail of object)

Dissolution (detail of object)

In another darkened space, towers made from an elaborate arrangement of glass/crystal vessels are lit in a mirrored hollow in the wall. These vernacular dioramas seem alive, with the soft glow that dims and brightens like breathing. One might recall the crystal palace of Superman, or the grandeur of The Crystal Palace in Sydenham Hill in the Victorian era. The fragility and transparency of the materials used here is crucial to an interpretation of the work. Resembling high-rise buildings in urban cities, they seem to have a foreboding message of over-crowding, alienation or destruction of the natural habitats (thus absent in the work) we take for granted.



There is a performative and social aspect, often undermined by the confusing visuals in Felicia Low’s work the Stimulus and the Conversation. The space is incredibly homely, but at the same time, only like a showroom. Human interaction complete the space. Community art, or ‘new genre public art’ credits Joseph Beuy’s belief that anyone can be an artist, and the social dimension of the process of artmaking is arguably more important than what goes on show eventually. The conversations, which are recorded are evidences of self-discovery, are presented as audio clips one can listen to at a communal table. It is most certainly non-visual, opposite to any grand illusion of the master artist.


Conversations, speech, the written word are important elements in Felicia Low’s work.


One almost always feel like watching a documentary, discovering the social function of art in society, beyond pretty things that go on walls. Felicia Low has worked with different social services in her own capacity and in her collaborative artworks. Like Rirkrit Tiravanija, the purpose and function of the artwork unravels only with the participation of the audience. For Felicia Low’s new work to stand out, one has to disregard any finished pieces/artworks. Everything will be unfinished, unpolished. Everything however, will be an artefact, a seed for other ideas which the participants will take with them. The Art potential here, is not just the stimulus of a conversation with the artist, or amongst participants. Here, it is about sowing ideas; it is a place to leave one’s baggage at the door, let art-making be a distraction before galvanising the courage to re-examine family, life and our priorities.


Metaphor for Bureaucracy

The work by Chor Leng reminds me of Matthew Ngui’s You can order and eat delicious popiah (1997), and Lim Tzay Chuen’s impossible projects. But this is not a parody of their work. Visually, Lifeblood is stunning, pumping water from the Singapore River from the gallery to the courtyard installation. The outdoor installation is best seen at night, when the soft green sinister glow illuminates the courtyard.


The complex arrangement of tanks reminded me of a scene both from the book and from the movie, The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Not in the strict visual resemblance, but a overwhelming sense of Bureaucracy, flowing from one tank/department to the other. Of course, the artist intended to tell the audience the process involved, with a booklet in the gallery detailing the email exchanges between government officials, the curator and the artist. We are informed that piping the water from the Singapore river would be possible, but not economically viable. So unlike Lim Tzay Chuen’s impossible proposal to move the Merlion to Venice Biennale, the Singapore River, the lifeblood of the nation, did have a slim chance of being the symbolic lifeblood of 8Q. For those of us unfamiliar with the significance of the Singapore River will belittle this gesture. Maybe pumping newater from somewhere to somewhere would have done the same, only with less algae.


In the gallery, the placement of a large tube-tank is successfully minimal. For us old enough to remember Ghost Busters, the green tank resembled ectoplasm, bubbling like radio-active industrial waste. Placed next to the tank, is a flight of steps. The industrial steps that lead to a tap, and the text “You are in control” is deceptive, as nothing happens when one turns it mischievously. The water runs, albeit slower, as the brass pipes roars and vibrates for that instance. It puts people in their place. We are not in control, it seems. In the context of the museum, it seems to question the tussle of artist or art institution as the deciding factor for what art is. The position of power lies beyond simple steps and a tap. The work has visualised the complexities of decision making, and utilized the 8Q’s courtyard effectively.


Semiology: Text, Image, and Representation

The whole event created by Vertical Submarine, an artist collective is intriguing. It is more art-like than Phunk Studio, yet slightly situationist to pin it down as installation, or performance art.  Semiotics study is played out extensively in A View with a Room. Titles, images/references are all interlinked and than un-signed. Playing with the common hotelier or bed and breakfast phrase “A room with a view”, this is subverted to “A View with a Room”. This is only evident if you look through a peephole in the wall (Bet you didn’t see this), to find a curious grey-scaled room.


After a Narnia-like journey through the cupboard, along a corridor stuck full of paper, you will emerge in a tiny room, where objects are carefully suggested, painted, and in some cases, halved. The walls seem to balloon, enveloping half the sofa and television showing Battleship Potemkin (1925) . There is a soft evening artificial glow from the ‘window’, and a sense of being stuck in time.


The choice of grey scale is both dream-like and sterile. The attention to detail is playful and astounding. One can almost feel that the Vertical Submariners have spent more time on their work, with their powers combined, compared to the other individual artists.


The work spells unlimited fun with language, and the potency of imagination and imagery are of the same epitome.

9 of 10 stars.

Aug 15 to Dec 27, 2009

Results of the PYT will be announced on Nov 6, 2009


In an attempt to rationalise the decisions that will be made by the panel of judges, one can consider the merit of this outstanding works in three simplistic criterias:

1. Aesthetics Quality

2. Craft (Selection/Technical Control of Materials)

3. Art Idea

Loosely based on the above, the CV of the artists, the quality and frequency of their works, age/profile, clarity and consistency of their art message, the following odds are ‘computed’/grabbed from mid-air:

Donna Ong/Dissolution 1 : 4.2 (travelled, biennale ready) 1 : 7 (room stings my eye)
Felicia Low/The Stimulus and the Conversation 1 : 5.0 (social art promising for art outreach and audience development) 1 : 8 (tough luck; “What is essential is invisible to the eye”)
Twardzik Ching Chor Leng/Lifeblood 1 : 4.3 (conceptual art always has a European market) 1 : 3 (Everybody loves the Singapore River)
Vertical Submarine/A View with a Room 1 : 3.0 (subversive? Will be interesting to invest in an artistic collective) 1 : 2.5 (Witty, clever, a LOT OF EFFORT)

Collectively assess the works by the artists by rating the works according to these 3 criteria:

The survey takes about 5 minutes. This survey ends 2359hr, Oct 31, 2009.

RESULTS OF BOONSCAFE SURVEY (11 replied to the survey, from unique IP addresses)

“WHO WILL WIN?” RANKED as follows:

1.Vertical Submarine
2.Donna Ong
3.Twardzik Ching
4.Felicia Low

The average score, out of 5, given by the participants of the survey.
CRAFT: 3.7

CRAFT: 2.3

CRAFT: 3.3

CRAFT: 3.8

Mind. Body. Spirit by Li Chen

Seeking roundedness


We live in a highly complex and volatile age. There is a deep spiritual poverty within humanity – they are spiritually lost and confused souls. Art is not merely a record of life and its activities, but is also a valuable form of spiritual healing.
Li Chen

Mind, body and spirit might sound like a mantra for a Yoga ad.   Mind, body and spirit, may well be the last pursuit for many. Nonetheless, the completeness of Being seem to be encapulated by Li Chen’s body of work. Rounded forms, perched on granite plinths occupy the greenery of Singapore Management University, as part of an exhibition by Li Chen.

The curious arrangement is somewhat sporadic, scattering rather than concentric like other sculpture parks that consider the environment. Some people will agree with me, that the works by Li Chen, resembles an Asian Botero in stone, instead of bronze. Others will argue that the spirituality embodied by these works transcend comparison with Fernando Botero’s ‘large’ sculptures, or obese form. By this comparison, we seem to be arguing whether it is important the Italian’s discovered or imported Spaghetti. Our own interpretation of the work may be more important than the provenance of the artist’s inspiration.

Questioning our fulfillment of seeing curvaceous, rounded sculptures, against the  representation of the Laughing Buddha (弥勒佛) for its posterity, or the Venus of Willendorf (c. 24000B.C. – 22000 B.C.) might reveal a cultural preference for the voluptuous form. In a primal mindset, the full body represents prosperity or fertility, while thinness represents malnourishment and neglect.

In that light, the sculptures of Li Chen reflect the pursuit of fulfillment, symbolically, ballooning with inner peace, invigorating and uplifting.

ANALOGIC by Vertical Submarine


Analogic, images with the kind permission of the artists, Post-Museum. CICK HERE FOR MORE PHOTOGRAPHS.


It is a relief to see paintings again. Seeing literal paintings again by an avant-gardist group such as Vertical Submarine, was like seeing Art & Language paint pretty British sea scapes. But wanting to paint, was perhaps a subterfuge to explain the group’s deeper interests in chaos and order. The exhibition, was perhaps an analogy into their minds and their current belief of how artists made art.

Analogy, is a thing that is comparable to something else in significant respects. Objects are linked by a complex mindmap, the result of anarchy in the sub-conscious. These objects or actions are linked by sheer virtue of their physical appearance, or words that have the same pronunciation – homophones. Analogic, is a antithetical exhibition by Vertical Submarine, also shown in the President’s Young Talent (PYT) exhibit at 8Q. The PYT group exhibit seemed more controlled and refined in its presentation, while these seemed frankly quite the opposite: sporadic, raw, and experiment in progress. The exhibition also featured a refrigerator with beer and Coca Cola. The prefix ANA- means “against”, which alters the meaning of the title ana-logic to suggest a frivolity, nonsensical exercise of wit.

An extract of this mindmap, is presented as a series of illustrative acrylic paintings, that link several seemingly unrelated words. A “potato”  (French: pomme) leads to (French: pommes) “apple”, that relates to the forbidden fruit, and an imagery of a “snake” in the biblical garden of eden. The snake, as it curls its slithering body resembles a “donut” which in turn inspires a “life bouy” found at pool sides. The word-picture play continues, before it leads to “ground” and reminds us of potatoes, and the “apple” again. In this supposed order, is disguised chaos — a highlight of the power of our imagination.

Dada Means Nothing – the instinct rules

The pathological exercise of mind-mapping the sub-conscious may remind us of the endeavours of the Dadaist. Artists follow their instincts, and the mind-mapping of the ideas behind the exhibition lends a circular logic to conceptualism in art, figurative painting and analogies and metaphors in linguistics. By subjugating themselves to this exercise, as random and raw as the final exhibition may seem, they have touched on the instinctive rules of being creative, innovative or visionary.

The list of images that was to accompany the reading of mind-boggling Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum resembled the work by Art Historian, Aby M. Warburg, Mnemosyne-Atlas (1924-1929). But unlike Warburg, this hinted at a critique of the internet and abundance of images floating, waiting to be picked up and used. Warburg was setting a precedent to how fluid, organic, non-literal ‘visual history’ could be— as opposed to Art History that is usually reference and cited academically to death. Art History, in simple terms, might have consisted of a collective series of well documented writings on Art over a slated period of time. Analogic by comparison, struck chords with the fluidity and organic nature of the individual human mind.

See Vertical Submarine at PYT 2009.

“Vertical Submarine’s ANALOGIC features a series of paintings inspired by the concept of analogy and its proximity to the past as expounded in Umberto Eco’s novel, Foucault’s Pendulum. In the exhibition, the paintings are presented as image sequences of related words, concepts and objects. Based on Eco’s concept of tying things up and linking seemingly diverse and unrelated concepts into one work, Vertical Submarine delves into an exploration of ‘analogy’ and ‘analogue’, creating in the process a nostalgic act of journeying back to the analogue era.” (Exhibition Text)


8 – 28 September, 2009