Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bird Island by Guan Wei

No bird is an island

Bird Island

Not all birds migrate. If they do, it is because of the scarcity of food, habit, climate change or a combination of the above. Some birds stay, in flocks, hunting or foraging together to beat scarcity of food. The title of the exhibition, Bird Island suggests such a haven, where birds rule.

There are two painted series in this exhibition: The Bird Island Series, and the Buddha Hand Series. Both series seems loaded with icons, and obscured metaphors that are difficult to decipher immediately. The larger Bird Island Series acrylic on linen paintings hold these motifs: large puffy clouds, and an ominous white hand, large bird;  silhouettes of figures in 18th century garments, European sail ships, sea creatures. The background resembles a map, with icons of mountains and the sea. Painted with bold black outlines, the painting also resembles a Japanese wood block print. Deliberately ambiguous, you are never sure if the uncanny figures were arriving or escaping the foreign land. But my best guess is the birds are the habitants of the native island, and they watch the immigrants arrive by boat. On the other hand, the Buddha Hand Series seemed more frivolous and frolic, the figure appears to be playing with the  godlike hand.

The series of works by Guan Wei resembles the works of Keith Haring, partially. They both feature recognisable, iconic figures. In Keith Haring’s work, these are multi-coloured, cartoon-like. In Guan Wei’s work, they are chubby, nude, possess male genitals, and a mouth or ‘hole’ for a face. Both artists seem interested in mythology: urban or invented.

Humourous, and serious if you read into the symbolism, Guan Wei’s works delve into the artist’s own cultural background (and migration) as well as hint at global issues/dilemmas regarding immigration.

6.0 of 10 stars.

Chan and Hampe Galleries, Raffles Hotel
June 6 – Aug 6, 2011

Click here, for the exhibition’s curatorial text and gallery information.

Video, an Art, a History

video didn’t kill the artist

Video, an Art, a History 1965-2010. A Selection from the Centre Pompidou and Singapore Art Museum Collections presents Centre Pompidou’s well-received new media travelling exhibition with an added Southeast Asian touch …”
(extracted from exhibition website)

The generous collection from Centre Pompidou (France) assembles a decent collection of video works that demonstrates how video – moving images captured live or pre-recorded – is used to express themes related to seeing and social commentaries.

Video didn’t kill artists, it gave them a new means of expression, different from photography. What is touted as new media isn’t exactly new – the formats in which they are recorded in, Video Home System (VHS) developed in the 70s is possibly obsolete, with museums clutching onto Betacam SPs or high definition transfers. What we see in the exhibition are possibly assimilations of VHS, a format in which the artworks were made in; some would argue that what is presented in this exhibition – DVD or media players – were re-cloned, and thus relevant as new media. Hard core video artists might insist these works have been changed – VHS has an estimated digital resolution of 320 x 480 pixels, a painful blur when compared with High Definition Television, which could be as high as 1920×1080i.

This exhibition is significant in a few aspects. Firstly, It is the first major exhibition featuring many video artworks, though not necessarily all iconic, they help to define the interest in video as an art form in the 70s and 80s. Secondly, it highlights the importance of experimenting with a tool, adapting it to create visuals not possible with other art materials. Video art, along side installation art, pushed the boundaries of what was accepted by the public as art. With the ability to create moving visuals, cheaper than film, makers found it possible to make their artworks more accessible using video. Technically, you could make copies just as how you made prints. Print making in that sense, served as a reference concerning the distribution of video as art: collectors could buy art in editions.

Thirdly, the inclusion of southeast asian artist, despite the difference in year of production, suggests the appreciation of video is not only a Western-only aesthetics. VHS technology, was developed by the Japanese. Together with the other increasing means to make moving visuals, artists from around the world have used tools in a similar fashion to those used in video art – live feed, pre-recorded and playback – to critique the internet, phenomenon of media saturation, technology, augmented realities and more. Knowing video art arguably is as important as acknowledging the renaissance oil paintings had used mathematical perspective to depict a world within a frame and on a canvas. Understanding the tools and technique of the Renaissance artists explains why paintings can be so realistic and allow us the have a deeper appreciation and respect of this art form. What is more than meets the eye, what the laypersons cannot easily reproduce, should get some respect,

Fourthly, from an institution perspective, the Singapore Art Museum is flexing its curatorial muscles to claim a stake and a voice in the global production of meaning of art. The museums traditionally set standards of what art is, and our national museum is trying to have it’s voice heard – by a local and visiting audience alike.

What was commendable is the museum’s effort in producing a range of programmes to accompany this major exhibition from centre Pompidou, France. For example, the screening of ‘home movies’, that examines the idea of independent film-making, that relate to local artists such as Tan Pin Pin. Also commendable, is the museum’s conscious decision to establish a Moving Image Gallery this year. What might be lacking, which the museum had done so in the past, was commissioning new works – in new media. That may have allowed (renewed) interest in public or corporate support for art in new media, and better illustrate why video art is ‘a history’ when it barely begun locally.

Video didn’t kill the painter either. The immediacy of painting is far too powerful than a video that takes 15 minutes to sit through can overcome. As such, it may take more than Video, an art, to liberate us from demanding paintings as de facto art. And that will also take more than blockbuster contemporary art exhibitions or biennales to change.

7.0 of 10 stars

Video, An Art, A History 1965 – 2010

Credit Suisse: Innovation In Art Series
Video, An Art, A History 1965 – 2010
A Selection from the Centre Pompidou and Singapore Art Museum Collections
June 10 to September 18, 2011
Singapore Art Museum, admission charges apply.
3 Activity booklets for most ages are available at the reception.

An exhibition catalogue is available for $85+ from the museum shop.

Art Garden @ SAM

Splendid fun

(image: Dawn Ng / Hello Sunshine, SUPERHIGH, 2011)

Following a successful season in 2010, Art Garden returns to the Singapore Art Museum with more delightful, interactive artworks and short animations. Judging from the crowd – parents with strollers and excited children – the exhibition is splendid fun.

Delving deeper, each artwork could suggest phenomena of this 21st century or a critique of challenges of raising children in the digital age, urban city, city of climbing costs of living or climate volatile times.

For example, Paramodel’s Paramodelic-Graffiti suggests even in our imaginations, we dream of conquering nature with tracks and cranes. Bertrand Plane’s Lightning Action a premonition of our obsession with consumption, while Alexandre Dang’s Dancing Solar Flowers, placed indoor and surviving on artificial light says a lot about over-protection.

Most of the animated films may appeal to adults than to children because of it’s mature content. I don’t mean risque content. Rather, thoughtful universal themes such as love, friendship, self-identity that are developed in simple plots that are enveloped in frisky, adorable characters.

As a garden welcoming everyone, this 2 gallery exhibition is decked in rich, colourful spectrums set to dazzle young children and the adults young at art.

Art Garden 2011 @ SAM

7.0 of 10 stars
Singapore Art Museum, 3 June to 30 August 2011

Sculpture in the Park

(Casey Chen, Making Cents, 2011, Bronze)

Art interacting with the environment

Sculpture in the Park is an eclectic collection of sculptures and installations, placed in Fort Canning Park. Part of Sculpture Society’s 10th anniversary exhibition, this public display of art, centres on the theme ‘ art and the environment’. The theme, read deeper, is not ‘art for the environment’ – it is not an exhibition that exhorts the audience to think about climate change. Instead, it delves at the need to value public art, art made for the public. The works generally evoke different responses, some interacting more successfully with the surrounding, within the context of the park. The most successful works were well sited and genuinely provided an artist’s viewpoint on the issue of art and the environment; the less successful ones were less confident, one dimensional, and perched unwittingly onto trees or obscure corners of the park. As sculptures interacting with the environment, scale becomes vital; scale must be coherent with the message of the work.

My favourite work in this collection, must be Casey Chen’s Making Cents. In true pop art, Claes Oldenburg fashion, two enlarged 50 cent coins appear to have fallen from the sky and landed unassumingly in the park. As a pun, the artist is giving his ’50 cents’ worth of opinion – the average earthlings doesn’t value the environment as much, or is unable to do so for reasons beyond the self.

That seems to resonate with public opinion of public sculptures – confusion between aesthetic value and utilitarian value. This confusion could be subdued by growing, inculcating a greater sense of respect for public art and what public art stands for and means. Easier said or blogged than done, that begins by commissioning more public sculptures and exhibitions on sculptures. Commissioning artworks, is like research and development is to medical or scientific fields. The exciting art seen at Art Stage and Collectors’ Stage suggest that collectors are at the forefront of supporting the arts, more so than government bodies can match with public money. However, in the art world that is questioning the validity of segregating art forms – when contemporary artists resist labeling their art forms – commissioning sculptures that are only in bronze or stainless steel may be limiting. The challenge for the audience is recognising when good art happens, it’s aesthetic value becomes the function and purpose of the object.

And that’s my 2 cents worth.

6.0 of 10 stars

Site Specific Works – Sculpture in the Park,
11 Jun – 11 Sep 2011, Sculpture Society (Singapore), Fort Canning Park, free admission

Sculpture in the Park

Sculpturing Singapore: 10 years on,
Exhibition Area Level 10, National Library Building, free admission

Sculpturing Singapore – 10 Years On

Sculpture Society, Singapore

Singapore Public Art Database, by Peter Schoppert:

Aung Ko’s Village

A distant village life

Aung Ko’s Village

“Multimedia artist Aung Ko’s oeuvre revolves around the communitarian aspect of village/indigenous life. Aware of the huge changes that have affected rural societies in Myanmar and wider Southeast Asia in recent decades, Aung Ko uses the village and its rituals as starting points for a thoughtful examination of contemporary existence in our region.” (lifted from

A recent dinner conversation agreed that Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s installation, a German barn house created in a dis-used hangar at Kallang Old Airport for Singapore Biennale 2011 was difficult to understand for many. Part performance, with 4 strapping young men in Lederhosen, hoisting hay or reading farming classics, the work stirred different emotions. Some thought it was a joke; others thought it was a good intervention, to surprise and provoke the audience for different reasons. Like the Elmgreen and Dragset installation, Aung Ko’s Village is perhaps intended to surprise and provoke city dwellers to reconsider our relationship with a provincial, distant village – something familiar to Singapore half a century ago.

The work has two parts, an installation consisting of village houses made of bamboo in the concourse, and a gallery of photos and a bicycle-like assemblage. The first, an installation at the concourse had taxidermy-like effigy dogs, frozen in an awkward position. Likewise, the levitating bamboo houses, remind one of a scene from a dream. Visually, this helps fill up the space, but is lost in the grandeur of the esplanade concourse’ interior – the magic of imagination doesn’t hold long against all the lights and concrete. Like the German barn house, the work  suggests a strong sense of longing or nostalgia. Metaphorically, this sentimentality results from the displacement of people, either within Myanmar due to urban migration, or a larger global trend of migration.  The absence of ‘villagers’ also suggests this. As an empty, ghostly village, it perhaps exists only as a symbol for the migrants to keep in their hearts and minds, even in a concrete jungle like Singapore.

The second part of the work has a very different feel.  It feels more clinical, as repetitive photographs are displayed in sets, flanked by a scaled model impression of a village, a curious assemblage made from bicycle parts, and a video showing the assemblage strolling through a certain rural landscape. If you have heard of a tandem bicycle sitting 2 riders, this assemblage, the star of this exhibition, appears to sit 3! For visitors who have been to Myanmar, they will recall that vehicles are often cannibalised to create cars with larger or taller axles; different coloured doors or engine hoods. Similarly, this bicycle bears the same desire to keep a whole, by taking spare parts from others.  As an analogy for contemporary (village) life, It is not entirely clear what is sacrificed or preserved.

Given the close proximity of this exhibition to Peninsula Plaza, a hangout place for many Myanmar Nationals, this exhibition works on many layers of meaning. On a personal level, the artist’s observation and reaction to the transformation of his own village; the village as a metaphor for the political and social issues that are complex and alien to outsiders; the desire to remind emigrants of their homeland. On a global level, a critique of unregulated urbanisation and globalisation. To the art world, it suggests installations require strong contexts, or installations create contexts. It suggests economics shadow the kind of materials artists use. This exhibit suggests an openness and some degree of artistic and curatorial freedom, perhaps only because the works do not directly provoke the rule of the Golden Land.

6.0 of 10 stars

Co-curated by Iola Lenzi, and this exhibition is part of the Singapore Arts Festival (2011), “I Will Remember”.

13 May- 3 July, 2011, Jendela (Visual Arts Space) & Concourse, Esplanade