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 singaporefest.com)

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

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