Daily Archives: January 25, 2012

We Who Saw Signs

from vision to perception

We Who Saw Signs

We Who Saw Signs is a group exhibition that explores doubt by focusing on the transitional…The exhibition proposes the possibility of transversing the boundaries of signification and experience, of the real and the imagined amidst ambiguity and humour. It is an invitation to question authenticity and a declaration to favor uncertainty over coherence, fiction over truth” (curatorial text).

In Gombrich’s concluding remarks of his chapter ‘The Analysis of Vision in Art’ in Art and Illusion (1956, p.264), he suggested that ‘the world really looks like a flat picture, but because some flat pictures really look like the world’. Gombrich was pointing out the intricate relationship between representation in art – art that looks like something that exists – and the world around us;  we measure the beauty of our environment, not just by our personal experiences, but also by what is depicted in art. For example, a first visit to Stonehenge will allow a comparison with experiences of visits to historical ruins, but also images of Stonehenge on travel brochures and websites. To Gombrich, artists, conscious or not, make their art look like or relate to art that have been produced. In addition, we are attuned to seeing the world as constructed two dimensional images: we crop, view-find what we find interesting and more desirable. To traject Gombrich’s thoughts, we over rely on two dimensional images to gather visual information and see the world. Perhaps our insatiable desire and curiosity has led us to simplify experiences into postcard-like two dimensional images like a mental short-hand.

In a similar way, this exhibition suggests occasions and situations that question reality, and how seeing should not really be believing. This exhibitions succeeds in doing so and also stirs our curiosity for the artists’ varied subjects, but also concepts of aesthetics by which we can use to evaluate them.  For example, we may investigate the works against a theoretical concept of mimesis, or imitation of what is real or truthful. The arrangement of the artworks were thoughtful, giving each work the space they deserve; it also juxtaposes similarities and offers contrasts. For example, the works by Adad Hannah and Tan Wee Lit are common because they suggest momento mori – remember your mortality – by the suggestion of a skull image in Hannah’s and obituaries for unknown people in Wee Lit’s. As a result, the viewer may read the same suggestion in Nipan Oranniwesna’s monumental white ‘gravestone’ placed on the floor, or Ho Tzu Nyen’s dark, ambiguous, apocalyptic video. Or Yoca Muta’s video as an environmental warning of our over-stretched consumption of natural resources. Yet the artworks are different in medium and context and were made with very different intents.

The title of an exhibition determines the flavour of the exhibition. To explain the title We Who Saw Signs, we can relate it to the concept of semiotics in linguistics, and human beings’ desire to understand language and how it means what it means. Language, written or verbal, become carriers of meanings or signs in place of natural phenomena, objects and action. For meaning to be constructed, a sign consists of a signifier and signified – the form which the sign takes, and the concept the sign represents, respectively. A sign, say a written word ‘saw‘, may have more than one signified: it can have multiple meanings. This exhibition explores signifiers and the signified, or the suggestion of signs in its various guise: written language and pictograms (Nipan Oranniwesna’s Silent Voice) names (Tan Wee Lit’s The Missed), objects and photographs (Ola Vasiljeva’s Alchimie du Verbe), action (Ola Vasiljeva’s Alchimie du Verbe, Grieve Perspective’s The Heavens Belong To Everyone But The View Above Is Ours Alone) and images (Adad Hannah’s All Is Vanity, Ho Tzu Nyen’s Earth, Institute of Critical Zoologists’ The Great Pretenders, and Yoca Muta’s Mountain). To add to this, the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition can be regarded as the tenth artwork. Pursuing an explanation of semiotics, we can conclude that everything must be a sign, if we intend or read it as such.

The exhibition title suggests that the artists are observers, researchers and masters of signs. The title also encourages the reader/viewer to understand the works by carefully examining the ‘flaws’ or hints of deception; cut apart the visual elements to find meaning of the work. But reading signs, signified, and signifier in every work may be an overtly intellectual exercise, neglecting the aesthetic experience conveyed by the work. What is a sign without emotions and feelings? What is a sign without context or the spring of experiences for our rich imaginations to tap on? Therefore semiotics should be an optional seasoning, to supplement our sensory perception in the company of clever, great works of art.

ICA Gallery , LASALLE, 3 Aug – 4 Sep 2011
The limited edition catalogue might still be available from the ICA gallery. Do write to them directly for enquiries.


A crude example of how a sign/symbol is meaningful:
Signifier + Signified  = sign
Rose        + Passion     = Meaningful sign
Chandler, Daniel (2009). Semiotics for Beginners. Accessed 24 Jan 2012 from http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem02.html

Tan, Guoliang. (2011). We Who Saw Signs. Singapore: The Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore