immateriality of time and the essence of time
The exhibition Materialised Time resides within Singapore’s nostalgic theme park Haw Par Villa in a temporary exhibition venue named Latent Spaces. The theme park brings folklore (and superstition), and inconceivable imaginations alive and this must surely have attracted Latent Spaces founders. The exhibition is also an intent to intervene the touristic pulse of the theme park—bringing art to an unexpecting audience. The exhibition is rather abstract in nature, dealing with the artists’ relationship to, interpretation and representation of time: its immateriality and its essence . Materialised Time, to some extent, can be interpreted as a group show trying to give a bodily form to time. It does so in its own quirky way, so cliches like melting clocks, sand hour glasses and strict dichotomies of life and death are omitted. It is also an exhibition that examines materials from which things are made—industrial constructions, processed components fashioned by hand or banal readymades.
In relation to the title of the exhibition, I have singled out four unusual works of personal interest to respond to. I hope these scribblings will complement the personal, thoughtful curatorial text that accompanied the exhibition, and provide resonance or alternative interpretations of the works in question.
The Paper, Some Paper (2014) by Chun Kai Qun consists of suspended sheets of classified ads of a local newspapers, threaded loosely with pink raffia, and held together in the shape of a pillar. From far, it looks like pink rain piercing the newspaper sheets with deadly accuracy. From a middle distance, it resembles a dissected piece of muscle, with limp sinew attached to slices of cross section. Up close, it looks like a controlled chaos of newspaper sheets uncannily suspended in time. Classified ads are a peculiar choice: they could represent the consumeristic hankering or the materialism of a society’s dreams—be it a holiday travel, a dream car, or home. to others, classified ads could represent desperation. Selling a prized possession to tide financially difficult times. It could represent ultimate boredom: reading ads randomly to find peculiar things or useless trivial facts to marvel at. Since small and short classified ads in newspapers are often placed by individuals or small businesses, it could signify the place of small enterprising businesses amongst the larger consumer brands. Piecing the title, form, and subject matter together, the work possibly suggest a nostalgia for forlorn Karang Guni men with their upright metal carts, air horns, pink raffia string and bundles of newspapers on uncovered pickups, who still ply their trade within public housing estates. In the age where large recycling companies and throngs of students collect newspapers for profit or charity runs, is there still space for the traditional Karang Guni men? The work could possible suggest the distinction between a useful object (a set of classified ads), and its mere material form (as paper). From a romantic perspective, if we knew newspapers are recycled and often re-born as newspaper, it exemplifies to some extent, the concept of objectified immortality.
In Still Alive? (2013 – ongoing) short videos, Chun Kai Qun takes other everyday objects to absurd Dada-esque situations: a tube of Aqua Fresh toothpaste is squeezed in small pinches, battling between oozing out or being sucked back in, panting, breathing as if it was alive; two bottles of shampoo bottles are placed in front of a flickering screen, as if criticising brands for pandering to our desire to pamper outward appearances; a pan is thrown suddenly at a stack of sponge and cloth just when the viewer anticipates that nothing is happening. The curator aptly deemed these as emotional episodes that play out life’s expectation, tedium, disappointment, and euphoria through objects. To relate Kai Qun’s work to Dada might be a blessing and a curse. Dada, an art movement from the early 20th century, essentially rejects art’s traditional attitudes and techniques. It rebels intellectualisation of an art object, and prefers the interventions of chance in creating a situation or object worthy of contemplation. Life and art are indistinguishable by Dada. This description could sum up how we should approach Kai Qun’s new body of work, that departs from his known earlier, much loved, uncanny dioramas of miniatures, and psychedelic silkscreen prints. Like Dada, Kai Qun’s current work rejects formalism in art, or how art objects are created for their visual appeal. As a video work, it rejects objectification and ready sales. The burden of such an association means we cannot take his works too seriously. Like artist Erwin Wurm famed for 1-minute sculptures, Kai Qun’s works in this exhibition are direct, humorous forms of expression; fleeting and temporal. Then again, taking life too seriously isn’t necessarily always a virtue.
I Only Exist Because You Think of Me (2014) by Ang Soo Koon, continues her interests in metaphysics and material subterfuge. A pair of unlikely orbs made from light, pastel pink and green silicone are placed on the floor. They catch the daylight spilling in from the gallery entrance, and seemed to glow softly. On closer inspection, one is a cast of a basketball and the other a soccer ball. The title suggests the artist’s interest in the nature of reality and existentialism. Relating to her earlier works, sublimity, “preexisting tropes, shared visual memories and impressions” (Art Bahrain, 2012) might also be used to describe these these enigmatic orbs. The silicone material often suggest other things industrial or medical, rather than an immediate association to sports equipment. Singaporeans of a certain generation might relate these orbs to those found in the once popular Japanese comic Dragon Ball Z, or be reminded of other manga comic series related to basketball and soccer. This same generation might have fond memories of the original Haw Par Villa: before its extensive, some say miscalculated renovation.
Untitled (2014) by Chun Kai Feng is a curious sculpture that resembles a railing we might find inside and outside a MRT train station. It consists of a stainless steel and glass railing, joint at right angles to a raw, mild carbon steel one. As a sculpture, it stands proudly in the middle of the gallery space, rather than near a wall or protecting something. It seems to welcome scrutiny. The former is sleek and polished, while the latter is partially rusted. Relating this to the title of the exhibition, we might think about difference in durability of the two railings. We might in an off-tangent way think about conjoined twins, or twins, and relate what paired characteristics we know about twins and imagine how Chun Kai Feng and Chun Kai Qun must relate to each other. The odd material juxtaposition welcomes our thoughts on the function of steel in construction around us, inside and outside, public art versus sculptures built for gallery display and how we react and interact with these. For me, it seems to suggest what might appear as incompatible materials or ideas, might actually work if we abandon our mental models and initial assumptions.
It reminded me of Donald Judd’s minimalist Untitled sculptures that are also constructed using industrial processes and materials. Like how we might approach Judd’s sculptures, we could consider the geometry, lack of expressive features or overt metaphorical meaning as a statement (of some sorts) about urban spaces, and about the way we live in them. What you see is really what you get. But what you think will give you more than what you see.
The artistic value of this work lies in the artist’s criticality towards social issues we often miss or take for granted. Despite Singapore being a small city state with one of the world’s highest Gross Domestic Produce (GDP) per capital, according to a 2012 World Wealth Report by Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank, it has its fair share of first world problems. On a daily basis, Singaporeans complain about almost everything; lack of civic mindedness is demonstrated by litter, poor road manners and not giving up seats on public transport to those who need it more. On a larger international and political arena, Singapore is often criticised for its unyielding pragmatism, regulated democracy (or some say communitarianism), and uncritical, unimaginative, passive citizens. Kai Feng’s past works engages with these accusations through his constructed satirical sets, kitsch polymer sculptures of familiar public objects made unfamiliar, and fascination with all things grey (and grey-polished-shiny), provoking the local viewer to make their stand. If we define culture as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society” (Oxford Dictionaries), then Kai Feng’s work in essence deals with aspects of Singapore culture from his peculiar perspectives.
17 May to 15 June 2014
curated by Chun Kai Feng
LATENT SPACES at Haw Par Villa
262 Pasir Panjang Road Singapore 118628