Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Thing or Two about Beds

Nested intimacy, privacy, and dreams

A Thing or Two about the Bed

“The exhibition shocases 9 works, with accompanying programs such as artists’ talks and a storytelling session for adults, to explore the bed in its different perspectives and meanings—whether it is literal or figurative. The works, presented in drawing, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, installation and performance, examine the bed with respect to concerns such as private versus public spaces, the tangible and the intangible, human relationships, the state of consciousness and unconsciousness, rest and action; life and death, realities and memories. It goes beyond looking at the bed as a place for rest and intimacy. In short, bed matters.” (Curatorial text)

From the writeup alone, it goes without saying that the project is ambitious and bursting with good ideas that cannot be contained by the permissible space. Cramming multiple art forms into one gallery space tends to create visual chaos, unless one is championing an Ikea display aesthetics, where they “make space better”, with the aid of their furniture, of course. Perhaps the curtains, beds, office table and chairs oblige us to associate this exhibition to Ikea’s do-it-yourself homeliness. The spirit of experimentation is admirable, and the accompanying programmes suggest the curator’s eagerness to engage and share with the audience. The enthusiasm is perhaps fuelled by the Art enclave’s celebration of Gillman Barrack’s 1st anniversary, and the need to reach out to a larger crowd. However, if we are able to look past the visual clutter, and examine some of the works on show in greater detail, we will find works with compelling purpose surrounding bedding furniture (where we fall asleep on), notions of sleep, lack thereof, and the imaginative dreams we associate with this state of unconsciousness. The works are somewhat relational and not as disparate as they seem at a glance. One work is possibly nested in the interpretation of the next. For this review, I will mention some of these collective interpretations, and leave the rest for the reader and viewer to piece them together.

First, dreams, at least the ones I can recall,  are always nonsensical, whimsical and somewhat random. It would be possible to re-consider the works on show as uncoupled parts of a same dream. Second, the works could also be described as representing a void, filling a void, and creating a void. Third, they could also be interpreted as a critique of city living where isolation, congestion and overcrowding does strange things to the human psychic. The lack of physical space creates a sense of claustrophobia and the artists are either inventing ways to circumvent them, or dispel them through distractions and other ways to vent these pent up frustrations.

From Arron Teo’s enigmatic portraits of discarded sofas and armchairs, the dream-like stage is set. The void deck, and signs of HDB upgrading in progress are familiar to most Singaporeans. The lone furniture in the empty void deck appears desolate and lonely, perhaps  representative of the elderly who frequent and occupy these spaces, day and night. The photographs show absence, and in that absence, we place our own imagination/presence in those seats and think about their biographies. Our reflections caught on the surface of the photos draw us into the image too. The act of discarding furniture suggests that the previous owner had changed them, or threw them away because of a lack of space, suggesting domestic clutter and stockpile of knickknacks. Like the works of Chua Chye Teck, the question of consumerism lingers in the photos too. As consumers, do we demand our furniture to last, or does price and convenience of the shopping experience come first over form and function?

Janice Chin’s My Deathbeds (2013) lightboxes are paradoxes. They are pretty to look at, yet portray uninviting death. Like Arron’s images of discarded sofas, Janice’s images also show abandonment, but of a different nature. These dead animals and insects make me wonder about the reason of their death, our apathy to their demise in this urban jungle. The void created by these deaths are unmistakable: they are forgettable, inconsequential and unobjectionable. By thinking about their death, might lead us to wonder about our own position in the food chain of society. Do we stand by values, ethics and actions that define us? Or we let others define those for us?

Tang Kwok-hin’s installation shows an artist’s experiment in sleep deprivation and physical creative tension. The artist gives up a portion of his private space in this social experiment, and shares moments of his vulnerability with the viewer. In the video documentation, we see parks, abandoned stairways, and travel on Hong Kong’s public transport. Like Janice’s work, it questions our place in society in relation to our immediate environment. In his experiments, he has spent considerable time at one place, and documented his sleeping process,  drifting in and out of consciousness. The results are predictable, and unbearable to watch. The performative actions resemble that of Sophie Calle or to a lesser degree, that of Tehching Hsieh: provocative, subjective the person to an unusual routine, revealing an aspect of the human condition and society. While Tang’s installation lacks visual coherence between the text in picture frame, monitors and drawings, the incompleteness reminds me of how dreams are often cut off when we wake.

In Yang Jie and Mavis Seah’s If the Bed is a Machine, Does it Produce Sleep? (2013), a self-constructed device pulverises a pillow, hurling puffs of (synthetic/cotton) wool. On close inspection, they resemble sheep, and they remind the viewer of the old nursery rhyme ‘bah bah black sheep’, or the strange association that people count sheep to fall asleep.These puffs could refer to a physical representation of sleep, the Z-monster some of us might refer to. The title alludes to Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which got made into Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), only a lot less robotic. The slight resemblance to a torture device is not a coincidence. Relating these to advertisements about mattresses, we might as well be tortured or pampered by our beds, charging nests we return to every night. Our sedentary lifestyles, unaccompanied by exercise or regular physical activity, have rendered most of us very sensitive to our beddings. Though somewhat witty, this bed appears hurriedly constructed and less sharp in comparison to Vertical Submarine’s artwork.

In summary, the curation of these works came across like props to a play. There is an obvious direction the curator—the producer and director of this exhibition—wanted, but inadequate to achieve the desired effect, but the key message was muddled. Hazarding a guess, a strong narrative was possibly desired and faded in the attempt to give every work equal voice, space and attention. By revisiting Han’s Richter’s Dreams Money can Buy (1947), we might find a possible thread to weave these artistic voices together, nesting one work in the other, and challenging the audience’s appreciation of their beds altogether in order to learn more than just one or two things about beds.

A Thing or Two About the Bed
Curated by a Tang Ling Nah
6 Sep – 3 Nov 2013
FOST Gallery, 1 Lock Road, Gillman Barracks

Suggested links:

Click on the image below to see the events accompanying the exhibition.

Invite Card (EDM) FA 2608

Persistence of Vision by Urich Lau

Dislocated digital Text-ures

Persistence of Vision by Urich Lau

Persistence of Visions is an ambitious study of found images and the aesthetics of celluloid film, against the artist’s critique of contemporaneity in art. Like his earlier works, Lau is fascinated by how the moving image is constructed, and deconstructed. In Intersection: Video Diptych (2013) , a dual projection from a scene from French film noir, La Haine (1995) is slowed immensely, rendering the dialogue incomprehensible. On close observation, one screen advances in time, and the other is reversed, and the organic grain of 35mm film is replaced by harsh digital pixels. At the point where both linearity cross, presumably at the flash point, we might wish this was another clip altogether. As lead of this exhibition, it challenges our ‘persistence of vision’: first, as the foreword to the catalogue puts it, dislocates our comprehension of time-continuity, effectively reversing the visual effect of motion constituted by our eyes’ and mind’s retention of 24 still frames per second; second, confronts what we think we know from seeing.

The significance of the choice of the scene from La Haine is perhaps less important than the visual effect. Deliberately art house, and black and white to suggest nostalgia, the artist might have wanted the images to linger in our minds. For me, it failed to do so and it might just as well be an excerpt from any other movie. Extending an interpretation of the original film and in the context of contemporary world current affairs, we might say that the artist was referring to the idea of pointless violence. Violence persists, and images of brutality are easily available from the Internet if we searched hard enough. Violence exist in the world for various reasons. Youth violence is sometimes attributed to unemployment, disadvantaged backgrounds and gang affiliations; wars are fought on the basis of ‘a right point of view’ and rooted political impetus. In my view, violence persists, not because of the recurring violent images we make, but possibly because of poverty, distrust, ignorance, hate and utter lack of empathy. Returning to the choice of this La Haine moment, I would think that this choice limits the number of appreciative viewers; another clip might have related better with a Singapore audience. The relationship a Singapore audience might have to cinema, television or youtube, should be taken into consideration.

Dislocation could be said to describe the other pieces. In Stereoscopist:City Conjunction (2013), bodies are used as canvases for a diptych of moving trains, and the nipples “stare out boldly at us, like defiant eyes, doubly disrupting the spectacle” (Dixon, foreword to catalogue, 2013).  The viewer could end up distracted and confused by the juxtaposition of film on a bodily screen. In the age of high definition screens, the choice of using cathode ray tube screens are sentimental, raw, and industrial. Other than formalistic qualities, the artist might have intended for the body to be a symbol for, the site and residual of journeys and personal memories.

In the Orators: Monologues (2011-2013),  excerpts were taken film classics, Welle’s Citizen Kane (1941)  and Chaplin’s Great Dictator (1940). The work consists of two (unrelated) parts: the triptych monitors taking turns to lecture the viewer; and film stills, with film captions, from the videos. The monologues suggest that the absence of an audience, and the characters are speaking to themselves in the context of a play. It doesn’t take long to discover that the audio from the clip is different from the crisp subtitles, and the viewer becomes more attentive to the words that differ. Their subtitles are replaced by the artist’s own speech which critiques the politics surrounding contemporary art.  On analysis, these subtitles could be read as the artist’s statement, or any other artist’s proclamation of what art is or should be. From an art critic’s perspective, the subtitles is asking the viewer to think about the state of art criticism today. The text—referring to subtitles—is more important than the image for once.

6.0 of 10 stars

Persistence of Vision
Space Cottonseed, Gillman Barracks, 6 Sep – 6 Oct 2013

Painting in Singapore

Discovering painting in Singapore

Painting in Singapore

There are many painting exhibitions in Singapore, but few dare stick their necks out to do “Painting in Singapore” and do it so well. This exhibition is a lightweight roster of contemporary local painters, with works from Boo Sze Yang, Jane Lee, Lee Young Rim, Ng Joon Kiat, Milenko Prvacki, Jeremy Sharma, Guo-Liang Tan, Willie Tay, and Ian Woo. The curator Tony Godfrey, said this: ‘There are painters on this island (as there are elsewhere) who have both a good critical awareness of the various traditions of painting and the imagination and dexterity to make new things within those traditions”. That said, these paintings are ‘new commissions’, sized and minted for this unique exhibition. This exhibition I would argue is useful and important to art educators because it presents a range of painterly styles and nuances, and icons in Singapore’s painting community.

From a painter’s perspective, the paintings on exhibit show the necessity to paint. This exhibition contains both abstract and representational paintings which would illustrate the interests and drive of contemporary painters. Some painters might take painting as a ritual, as much as brushing one’s teeth is; some might connect the (painting) process to an innate desire to represent an emotion, thought, feeling about a place, person, subject or object. Some are obsessed by the materiality of paint (skin) or an equally befitting substance; others in the content and context of painting. Some are self-absorbed in stains and washes and surreptitious technical processes; while some are fervent about mixing colours precisely, achieving scientific exactitude and how visual perception of the given image is affected by changing light.

To the informed eye, the paintings on exhibit also soothes and refreshes the mind. As a curated collection, the shapes and sizes made sense, and they do not crowd the individual colours and meaning of each individual work. At a glance, the paintings depart from the necessity to depict likeness to deceive the eye; even the figurative objects and subjects do so with deft and illusionistic brush strokes. Rather, they arrive collectively at depicting a painterly experience. The paintings are arranged with an intended circular visual flow, from plain block pastel colours near the entrance to sculpted paint on canvas, to streaks and back. Changing interest and changing ways of seeing allow artists and viewers today to appreciate abstract shapes, patterns, marks, symbols and color that are not mimetic. If painters could depict something new to the eye, they can catch our attention. If that something new stirs us positively, then it deserves a second look. Paintings, abstract or not, grow on you.

In Gombrich’s text The Image and the Eye (1999), he said that the human eye is selective. The mind sees what it wants to see. Being able to recall and recognize elements in our surrounding is an innate instinct and reaction. We see something associated with danger, our senses are heightened and our physical bodies are primed to react. Our visual perception of art, how we feel about it, is related to our prior experiences. From a psychological perspective, it is possible to explain and test why people are stirred by pictorial representations, other than experiencing something first hand. Seeing another person cry, tingles our eyes. Watching a moving scene in a movie might trigger the same emotions and tear glands if we let them. Our senses, all of it, are wired to our emotions and memories. Seeing something, recognising a personal connection or prior experience could trigger an emotion if we chose so. From this, we could speculate that viewers are uncomfortable with abstract art because they lack the prior experiential reference point.

In my case, I have had the good fortune of recognising the painterly styles and nuances. The exhibition is soothing to me because the paintings are largely cool and earthly and neutral, conveying a sense of bleakness if not for the accents of warm colours. That neutrality, sea of pastel colours, remind me of reflection time, quietness and solitude. Individually, the paintings are attractive because they playfully reminded me of other works of art, or because the artist had used an unusual painterly devices. Here, I will cite two examples.

In Lee Young Rim’s Untitled (2013), we might be fooled by the irregular shape to think it is an irregularly shaped canvas. Instead, it consists of two panels, held together by two pieces of wood that separate it. From far, the space between the two panels becomes a part of a whole piece of canvas. The space is like a rift in the painting, creating a visual effect similar to Lucio Fontana’s slash paintings: they draw attention to the space in front, and behind the painting. Examining the piece closer, the immaculate gallery wall, framed by the piece becomes as much part of the painting. The gestural brushstrokes form a light textured surface that obliges the eye to roam, before settling on an conspicuous blemish. As a piece to meditate on life, why do we gravitate towards the void and blemishes?

Ian Woo’s Bubble and the Egg (2013) reminded by of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase No. 2 (1912). The sharp angular forms are a slight departure from his usual raw, organic shapes. The angles, remind one of cubism, and its affiliated distortion of perspective and pictorial representation. In Bubble and the Egg (2013) a lot more negative space is depicted, where the layers beneath begin to show as our eyes begin to comb the painting. The layers of the painting become apparent, just as how we make judgement of character, if we look beyond the surface and into the depth.


Painting in Singapore
Curated by Tony Godfrey
2 August – 8 September 2013, Equator Arts Project, Gillman Barracks, Singapore

Gombrich, E. H. (1999). The Image and the Eye. (reprinted from 1982 volume) London: Phaidon.

The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days by Heman Chong

Impetuous accounts: a Haiku collage of images, texts, and signs

The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days

At the back of the gallery, a red movie poster is torn neatly in half. Possibly a punny play on the title of the movie, happy together, the two halves are better off together. An instructional text states that the artist has joint the two equal halves with masking tape, and the work (together with a signed certificate proving the work’s existence and legitimacy) will be exchanged for the exact same poster in an unripped condition. Understanding the significance of the gesture of selection, proclamation, and possible (unrequited) exchange requires the viewer to understand and accept conceptualism in contemporary art; or they must like things torn nicely in two equal halves. The poster, an identified ready-made has become a prop for a performance: excitement, exchange of narratives culminating in a transaction. As a ready made, the poster reminds us of the movie narrative, and our own relations to and interpretations of the movie. We could read the artist’s gesture like a metaphor for contemporary art and its aesthetics: it is an enacted performance that embodies excitement, exchange of narratives, culminating in a transaction of money for art. Not accepting the premise of conceptualism and the aesthetics of conceptualism might render the whole viewing experience futile, uneventful and rather pointless. Chong’s work cannot be liked or appreciated by everyone. As an artist with a designer background, the design decisions he made in his paintings and ‘text’ are obvious and somewhat enjoyable. Admittedly, his works plug into a larger fashionable movement and international trend of conceptualism and art writing in contemporary art, their appeal is likely as respectfully received as minimalism was to the American audience in the 1960s and 1970s.

In another part of the gallery, Monument for A Mystical Reality (2013) is a part document, part performance piece where the artist completed a short story by reflecting on 3 artworks by Redza Piyadasa and Sulaiman Esa. The ‘monument’ could refer to Chong’s short story, or by his action, a homage to this seminal 1974 exhibition, Towards a Mystical Reality. In the same vein, Chong has constructed a mystery surrounding this work which consists of 7 printed black and white sheets mounted in a frame.

In the main space of the gallery, grids of photographs adorn two walls. In Wong Kar Wai Film, Happy Together (1997), a moving waterfall picture is a recurring prop. Symbolically, a moving waterfall suggests abundant flow of good luck and wealth. The Singapore seen through the eyes of the artist is also a recurring prop in Chong’s body of work, evident in these grids. Grids, and orderliness are often characteristics used to described the sunny island of Singapore, glazing over what’s left behind by our relentless progress, urban redevelopment and economic boom. Representing snapshots of events, places and people pulled from an idiosyncratic stash of photographs, the images form an encrypted display of personal memories. We all have these personal stashes, in the form of abandoned negatives, unsorted photo folders or a mix of both. Non-linear yet somewhat ordered, the grid presentation of snapshot photographs become a collage of Singaporean-ness. We can relate to the Singaporean-ness because we probably have taken similar, seemingly uneventful photographic snapshots. Part performative and part narrative, they represent events and moments that might have been plainly banal, simply ‘cool’ or epic. I get the sense that the photographs are not accessible on their own, but as a voluminous collection. Like Walter Benjamin, Chong is a collector of images, texts and signs. Like Benjamin, Chong is trying to reveal and review a correspondence between his past, and a larger unstoppable contemporary moment. A Haiku collage of images as texts, and signs of some sorts. A waterfall picture, alluring and bafflingly kitsch.

The short story in Monument, along with the other works, demand a lot from the reader. Chong’s works here can best be described as impetuous but controlled short stories that remain difficult to re-tell. I suspect a lot more needs to be done and curate in order to deliver a designed viewer experience. While an exhibition might be read like a book, our expectations are not quite the same for a book and an art exhibition. With that perspective, we are better off thinking this exhibition was part of an elaborate book launch, and the meaning and message is adequately contained in The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days (2013), published by ArtAsiaPacific.

Future Perfect, Gillman Barracks, 26 Jul – 30 Aug 2013


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