Daily Archives: August 20, 2012

Singapore Survey 2012 – New Strange Faces

Making the familiar unfamiliar

Singapore Survey 2012 – New Strange Faces

In the fourth year running (the first in 2009), the Singapore Survey has become a signature exhibition staged beautifully by Valentine Willie Fine Art Gallery. The selection of artworks have become tighter, and we see some recurring artists, as well as an eclectic range of media and forms all befitting the debate of foreigners. For a country like Singapore, one can imagine the contradiction: a country made up of immigrants just two to three generations ago from China, India and Malayan-Indonesian Archipelago, is now xenophobic. Ultimately, this exhibition has successfully made the familiar unfamiliar, presenting, cropping, re-inventing different perspectives towards materials, identities, tabloid, and local politics.

From these range of works, I will like to pick on a few to comment on.

Near the entrance, Green Zeng’s Sign of the Times (2012) feature a familiar warning sign we would find at construction sites. Evident from recent government measures to curb the ‘foreign’ population – giving out fewer work permits across the board – the phrase “Danger – Keep Out” in the context of this exhibition, perhaps suggests an unspoken, extreme attitude towards foreigners to our tiny, fast overcrowding public transport networked island. Reading deeper, the clinical digital printout contrasts with the stenciled signs we find elsewhere, and everywhere. Perhaps this suggests a larger, global issue that isn’t just confined to Singapore. For instance, foreigners are sometimes called ‘aliens’ if they are not permanent residents. Because of the economic crisis in Greece, and Spain, we may find a larger proportion of emigrants moving to other parts of the European Union seeking employment.

Jimmy Ong’s A Sighting of Singa at Long Men Ya (2012) is an unusual interpretation of Sang Nila Utama’s legendary landing in Singapore. Instead of a chanced meeting with a lion (which we all know is not native to this part of South East Asia), the entourage encountered a native dressed to deter unwelcomed invaders. The drawing is segmented into three parts and well rendered with free flowing lines. The left, shows the prince standing proudly next to the landmark Long Men Ya (a landmark stone in the shape of a dragon’s tooth by Keppel Bay, which a fibreglass replica now stands because of past reclamation and widening works). The middle, the prince’s soldiers taming the struggling ‘beast’. The right, a boat carrying a bevy of women, looking at the capture. While tone and shading is not used to distinguished the background, middle and foreground, the distinct, concise charcoal lines worked magic to unravel the scene.

In a separate room, Ang Soo Koon’s Your Love is Like a Chuck of Gold (2011), shows salt crystal growing on a piece of (semolina) bread. Bread symbolises many things. At the most basic level, it represents food or survival, and hence the phrase, ‘breadwinner’. A breadwinner means “a person who earns money to support their family, typically the sole one” (oxford online dictionary). A marvel to see all round, I wished it was better lit to play with the possibility of glitter and reflection.

I thought the work reminded me of Singapore’s relentless reclamation efforts, and the pursuit of survival in this ever-changing world, by ‘innovating’, crystalling ideas (or cashing in ideas in a knowledge economy) into ‘gold’. The process is ingenious, but the product, a contradiction of beauty and dysfunction. In the context of the title of the exhibition, the crystals grow at the expense of the ‘host’, or so it seems. This, I felt, was the most unconventional and successful work in the exhibition.

7.0 of 10 Stars

10 Aug – 2 Sep 2012
Valentine Willie Fine Art Gallery, Helutrans Art Space.

For gallery location and exhibition details, click here.


Lyrical Abstractions: works by Jeremy Sharma and Yeo Shih Yun

well titled and punctuated

Lyrical Abstraction

Lyricism: an artist’s expression of emotion in an imaginative and beautiful way; the quality of being lyrical (oxford online dictionary)

To accompany the Credit Suisse (Innovation In Art Series) blockbuster Seeker of Hope: Works by Jia Aili (2012), the museum has decided to host this modest parallel exhibition featuring one work from Jeremy Sharma and Yeo Shih Yun respectively. The decision to commission these Singaporean artists, it seems, depended on a brief to create monumental scale paintings, in a style different to Chinese artist Jia Aili. Whether these new works are installations, would be debatable. Before we dismiss these as wall fillers for the blockbuster, I would like to discuss the merit of each work.

From my encounters with Jeremy’s work, his sensitivity for materials and processes of painting, rejection of figuration and philosophical inquiry into being, comes across strongly. While pouring enamel paint has been employed by other artists to varying effect–artists such as Ian Davenport or Damien Hirst–Jeremy’s effort is very different. This piece appears more film-like, suggested by the ‘cuts’ and ‘truncations’, like the transitions and edits we may find in a film. This interpretation is perhaps the result of the title, a homage to Akira Kurosawa, and his legendary black and white master pieces such as Ran or Seven Samurai. Staring at the panels longer, they remind me of wall stains caused by running rain water and the deposit of dust and dirt, only hundred of times more dense and concentrated. They also remind me of dense Indian ink or Chinese ink that served the purpose of making writing (and therefore ‘culture’ in an abstract sense) visible. Without ink, how else could we have recorded characters, words, or pictures? Could water served the same function, though more transient and fleeting? Thus, Kurosawa (2012) is a refreshing take on a meditative approach to make and view paintings, representing a different development to his other acrylic, chunky doodles on canvases. The only gripe I have is the siting of the piece: the distracting tiled floor mutes the powerful black and white contrast, like watching a cinema screen with the lights on.

Conversations with a Tree (2011-12) by Yeo Shih Yun complements and swings with equal lyricism. No doubt using digital technologies to enlarge, crop, repeat and enhance the marks made by brushes attached to strings that hang from a tree, these are transferred using silkscreen to create a convincing Chinese Ink painting. Like her earlier works, she is interested in mark making (as performance), the ‘flow’ (of ink, water, and the scroll format),  and these are played out in this multi-media trajectory, essentially a tangential and imaginative way to mark-make. The most valuable insight from this artistic exercise is scribbled in pencil on a test piece by the artist, on one of three framed boards.

Three things I learnt from trees:
1. it is important to have roots;
2. be flexible so you won’t break when rough wind blows; (and)
3. grow where you are planted.

The other two boards contained a video screen showing the tree in action, a portrait of the tree (as artist) depicted in multiple, oval-shape framed photographs.

An important feature of this exhibition is the explanation of the processes in which these works were made. For Jeremy, a small screen shows still images of the work in progress against the backdrop of a studio space; For Shih Yun, a large projection shows a close up of the brushes, dancing and scribbling the conversation the tree is having with the wind.

7.0 of 10 stars
6 July 2012 to 23 September 2012
Singapore Art Museum

Artists’ links: