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