This was my first visit to Yavuz Fine Art Gallery, on the 3rd floor of the former Catholic High School building on Waterloo Street, near the Singapore Art Museum. Singapore has more than one instance of converting former school buildings into art spaces. For example, Telok Kurau Studios, The Singapore Art Museum (SAM), Asian Civilisation Museum on Armenian Street, Old School at Mount Sophia Road, and SAM at 8Q on Queen Street. Perhaps these conversions are viable for economic reasons and urban regeneration. Additionally, the aura and connotations of a school suggest an ambient of learning, respect and authority – useful qualities for art spaces to inherit.
The title and theme of the exhibition is intimacy. Featuring 9 artists, the works range from video, photography, paintings, drawings, assemblages and ceramics. Judging from the year of production, it is very likely that the works were identified or made first, and then curated together. Despite the diverse art forms, the theme and title holds the show well, if not brilliantly. The placement of the works were thoughtful, ensuring that visual elements were echoed or bounced off neighboring artworks; they were well spaced to allow sufficient viewing distance to ‘take in’ the work as it extends, and expand in meaning.
I shall extend in writing my thoughts on three artworks which intrigued me in relation to an expanded definition of ‘intimacy’. Intimacy, most commonly refers to familiarity, closeness, private, an euphemism for a sexual relationship and detailed and thorough knowledge. From the last definition, and the latin root words, intimate or intimare, it also means ‘to tell’, or ‘make known’.
Tang Ling Nah’s Study for Contemplating Waterloo Scene (2011) expresses ‘familiarity and closeness’ through ordinary buildings, rendered beautifully in charcoal. One may not usually associate public spaces as intimate because they are often portrayed as uniform, ugly, cold, corporate, or distant. Ambiguity and ubiquity of public and private spaces are often depicted in her iconic, black and white drawings. Even though they usually represent actual architectural spaces, Tang Ling Nah often tricks our mind, altering and inventing some – they are really her mindscapes – an ordinary vacant scene reprised and immortalized. The psychological effects of space on us, is illustrated and made known in Tang’s work: this artwork lightly captures the bizarre and mixed-feeling we have for arts spaces1.
Stellah Lim’s Never (2010-2011) consists of miniature portraits. Successfully arranged and placed in antique-like cast iron (or plastic imitation?) frames, they resemble pairs of earrings on display. From far, they resemble rorschach ink drawings, inviting the viewer to analyze and interpret them. The small-scale, and choice of material compels the viewer to examine them closely. On closer inspection, hair is used like thread in embroidery, to create an image; the missing facial features suggest hair is an unyielding material and its inflexibility to be used on small details is unresolved. Nonetheless, the faceless portraits – never identified, never completed – suggests that platonic relationships are sometimes vague, and the character and actions of people are never fully understood. On the other hand, the facelessness may symbolize that the people depicted, or their relationships to the artist, were never intimate. A warning perhaps, of the vulnerability of human relationships.
Taking metaphors to another extreme, Sia Hua Kuan’s arc of multi-plugs resemble a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy, but with very different found-objects. Like a rainbow, the multi-plugs spill and extend from a socket on the floor. Interpreting the work using the theme of the exhibition, the work could suggest the intimate relationships electrical appliances have with each other. If we have read Philip K. Dick’s (1968) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or seen Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie adaptation, Blade Runner, we may sympathize with this interpretation. Seeing the work in another light, we may also say we are over over-sold on electricity and gadgetry, that we are bending our backs from the humble, simple uses of appliances. Read anti-aesthetically, the artist has found a pretty way to display and store those unwanted multi-plugs which have yet found themselves recycled.
On balance, the works in the exhibition illustrated various definitions of intimacy, and artists’ diverse interests in materials and subject matter. While not particularly racy, sensational or controversial, the exhibition is sensible and the artworks here genuinely deserve to be collected and appreciated by their befitting, tasteful aficionado.
6.0 of 10 stars.
Yavuz Fine Art Gallery, 2 – 25 Sep 2011
Note: If anyone is visiting the gallery for the first time, enter from Waterloo Street. Even though it appears to be a singular compound for the former Catholic High School, it is divided into two parts, with separate entrances from Queen Street and Waterloo Street.
The Wall Street Journal Blog, Singapore Artists Fight for ‘Old School’ Landmark, http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2011/11/23/singapore-artists-fight-for-old-school-landmark/
1. Art spaces is used loosely in this review, to mean a space where artists work and show art. In the text Study of Art Spaces, Chang and Lee suggests arts spaces adopt “ideological rather than (mere) material manifestations”. They elaborate:“‘Spaces with the arts’ refers to spaces that not only accommodate the arts but also embrace them. Within such an environment, the arts are supported and encouraged to develop organically. Simply put, ‘spaces with the arts’ refers to socioscapes wherein the arts reside… ‘spaces of the arts’ are more private, exclusive and individualistic. These are places where ideas are conceived and germinated – the mindscapes of the artists limited only by their imagination and socio-political restrictions.” Chang, T.C. and Lee, W.K. (2003). Renaissance City Singapore: A Study of Arts Spaces. Area, 35(2), (Jun., 2003), 128-141