Monthly Archives: November 2009

Distance and Proximity at NAFA Gallery

Ambivalence between what is real, and constructed

Distance and Proximity is dedicated to the legendary artistic vision of Bernd and Hilla Becher, and their former students of photography at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. Also known as the ‘Becher School’, this group was where internationally renowned and critically acclaimed photographers, such as Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, have emerged from. Curated by Wulf Herzogenrath and ifa, the exhibition featuring 76 works of nine artists, presents not just an important chapter in the exciting history of German photography, but very much a major aesthetic breakthrough in the history of art itself.”

The theme of these stunning photographs is probably the antithesis at the heart of photography – what is real and what is arranged, selected, consequentially framed and constructed. Within Becher School, lies a consistency of questioning the image. The image is never what it appears to be. This is done through a juxtaposition of two contradicting ideas within the frame of the photograph, such as the old and new – Candida Hofer’s DHFK Leipzig 1 (1991) a copy of a roman statue, which itself is a greek copy in a large hall with modernist furniture; or the interrogation of the image by scrutinising a large print of it. The resolution of these prints are everything. Sharpness of the grain, the single human desire to conquer image making, makes an incision into our peripheral vision, secondary to the incredibly ordinary objects that are photographed. The sharpness and contrast, enabled by large format photography in many of the works on exhibit, perhaps synonymous with German camera lenses made by Leitz Wetzlar or Carl Zeiss.

There is an element of scientific enquiry in the works of Bernd and Hilla Becher, that had taken a profound rootedness in the the works of others. That scientific enquiry persists, evident in the series. The relentless documents of these super-structures, related to post-world war II Germany are landmarks to human triumph over adversity, but in a cold way. These Steel structures diminish the human scale, and the photographs devoid of human presence. Picking on the theme, one might say there is both distance (to view these structures) and proximity, when they are rescaled as an image, and flattened on a 2 dimensional surface.


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Jane Lee at Osage, Singapore

strides of colour
Status, high ceiling
(Images courtesy of OSAGE Gallery)

The intent of abstract painting has never been stronger. The investigation of processes and materials has gone bolder.  The physical limits of paint, are pushed in an enormous multi-weaved layer sliding to reveal a doorway. At that end of an act of sliding, slipping between calling it ‘document of an action’ in the abstract expressionist tradition, and painting because paint was used, is the prodigious Status (2009). The red gate is unapologetic of the mess it makes of the wall and floor, not unlike the scene of a murder from Aliens, the movie. If it was a crime scene, borrowing an idea from artist/curator Guoliang, the figure – representation in painting – is murdered. The figure, or the need to paint something representational is dumped in Jane’s work. Paint is both the subject (matter) and object. As a subject, it questions the ‘status’ of painting against other art-forms such as Damien Hirst’s shocking diamond crusted skull, and its obscene price tag. As an object, it takes on that visceral, abject quality, like clotted blood or bodily innards.

Status up close

It is perhaps relevant to consider the scale, and depth of Jane Lee’s work in relation to other abstract painters in Singapore. From a league of established 2nd generation artists, the contemporaries of Ng Eng Teng, we could consider Thomas Yeo, Goh Beng Kwan, Teo Eng Seng and Anthony Poon. The contemporaries of Jane might include Ian Woo, Ho Tzu Nyen, Jeremy Sharma, Boo Sze Yang, Khiew Huey Chian and Yong Tai Si.  Ho Tzu Nyen and Yong Tai Si had previously shown at Painting as Process, at Earl Lu Gallery in 2004.

The distinct differences with Jane and the 2nd generation artists, is the sense of scale, access to a range of materials, exposure and gallery support.  Jane’s boldness was perhaps encouraged by her monumental wall mural, Raw Canvas (2008) seen in the Singapore Art Biennale 2008. The availability of good quality gels, medium or other painterly additives meant the inventiveness of the artist could move beyond a bricolage of painterly surfaces, to make paint take a 3 dimensional form, yet stay vibrant and luxurious. The support of the gallery is also crucial, allowing the pieces to be arranged in a thoughtful manner, and canvassing academic discourses to surround her work. The two talks held in conjunction with the exhibition are prominent examples to how the gallery supported the artist.

The distinction with the contemporaries, in Singapore and elsewhere are perhaps less clear. Conceptually, ‘painting as process’ runs deep in the works of these artists, as opposed to the traditional understanding of painting as representation, or ‘recognisable pretty picture making’. ‘The ‘play’ might suggest the influence on the artist by a different discipline. For Jane, her textiles training is suggested by the draping, dyes, canvas stripes ‘sewn’ into the gallery’s temporal wooden walls. Painting as process’ almost becomes synonymous with the ‘play’ of material; methodical, malleable transformations that play-doh or blue-tack might take. Any semblance to recognisable forms, are almost always after thoughts, the artists’ clue to new entry points to view the works.

The success of Jane Lee’s paintings can perhaps be summarised as such: they are incredibly beautiful to look at; the rich, dense surface shimmers, dodges and hides all possible conclusion of arriving at a singular interpretation. The surface beckons us, as Tony Godfrey admits in his panel discussion “Painting in Asia Today”, like a dance as the viewer tangos with painting, moving forward, side ways, and back to catch a different glimmering light. The carefully planned colours, encourage us to take strides – to accept abstraction as another tradition of painting, and to indulge in visual excitement.

7.0 of 10 stars

Jane Lee
Osage Gallery
26.09.2009 – 08.11.09

Lost in the City

Lost and Found

Lost In the City

This exhibition is considered a mini-blockbuster. As part of the Singapore Art Show, it spans nearly 3 months, featuring Joo Choon Lin & Chun Kai Qun, Justin Lee, Michael Lee, Genevieve Chua. Expounding various ‘losses’ the result of living in the city, the artists had lamented the lack of pockets of green space to roam and play, Justin’s Kitsch in the city, Michael Lee’s research and invention of buildings by-gone, Genevieve Chua’s gender bender Twilight-like, frolic in the forest. Taken half-seriously, the works are enjoyable to ponder; taken too seriously, only Michael Lee’s work stood out as a critique of the Singapore City, while the rest pitched concepts that were more universal.

From Green to Brown to Black to Brown to Green (2009) by Joo Choon Lin and Chun Kai Qun is tucked between levels on the staircase landing. The space is transformed appropriately by adding plywood floor boards and covering up some of the walls and pillars. This work has three parts – an animation featuring a tree-elf creature defending the forest against another evil creature and fighting rapid urbanisation of natural habitats; a diorama which was used as the set for the stopmotion, a construction site cast in a wheel barrel; two large posters featuring the tree elfs against the backdrop of real construction sites in Singapore. Whimsical in the Charlie and the Chocolate factory manner, the animation doesn’t present an ending, but a loop, suggesting our procrastination towards a verdict of environmental resolution and action. To some, the inconvenient truth remains inconvenient; we still want to drive to work, print paper and work the way we work, consuming vast amounts of natural resources.  Affected by the light from the stair well, part of the animation lacked contrast and attributed to a poorer viewing experience. Perhaps the work might have benefited more if it were embedded in the main exhibition hall of the National Museum, with controlled lighting and darkened space.

Justin Lee’s East and West Series: Globalisation (2008-9) cast aerated concrete sculptures of Chinese classical terracottas/sculptures suggest two main messages. The crane with discarded coca cola drink cans suggest context of globalisation eroding Chinese culture, or littering as an environmental issue. The second, globalisation represented through computer/internet, music are signified as objects placed unsettlingly on the classical sculptures. Headphones garb 12 petrified soldiers’ ears, as if just turning them into concrete, hardening them against their own roots and culture. The arrangement of the sculptures are peculiar. The work would have benefited more if they were placed strategically around the entire museum. Putting them together seems more convenient that contextually emphatic.

Kitsch, overtly simplification of the complexity of cultures of the East and West, failed to press us any further to critique our own identities. The message of Globalisation here, is over generalised, and didn’t touch any raw nerves, or send us into spiralling vertigo confusion of ourselves.

Michael Lee’s National Columbarium of Singapore (2009) documents 100 real and ‘inserted’ national monuments, unbuilt, destroyed ideologically and physically as the result of urban redevelopment. In all seriousness, some of the buildings presented are political satires, self-deprecating of our apathy towards local architecture and national identity.  These hung, marvelous paper sculptures resemble clouds, imagination bubbles materialised, but still unreal places to touch or approach, least inhabit. As an investigation of places as landscape narratives, the work reveals and reviews our own pysche towards buildings – as spaces not places, as memories more than simply places, as identity not just memories.

Genevieve Chua’s ambitious photographs pull together elements of narration, music and installation. The images are ambiguous and seductive because we are story lovers by nature. The 3 projected screens tried their best to link not always successfully aesthetically and formally; as an installation, they lack punch, leaving more to be desired given the complexity of what the artist was trying to express – forlorn,  gender issues that embroil adolescence and adulthood.

In a different interpretation of the title of the exhibition, this review too is ‘lost and found’ in the city.  After much procrastination, inhibitation, this review is posted nearly 1 year after the exhibition, and embedded in the troves of this wordpress archive, on Nov 7, 2010.

7.0 of 10 stars

21 Aug 2009 – 3 Jan 2010
National Museum of Singapore