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.

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