“Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas” at SAM

playfully tactile; a little fun for different age groups

Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas

This ‘young at heart’ exhibition features seven works by artists from Asia. “Imaginarium” is an excuse to celebrate immersive, interactive art with young children, or those young at heart. The works were carefully chosen to represent the diverse practices that are trendy in Singapore, and recast in a way that enables the audience to ‘walk into the art’. The latin originated suffix “-arium” denotes a location or receptacle. Imaginarium thus suggests a place, or confined space, where one’s imagination takes flight. Like Sensorium (2014), the artworks engage viewers’  multiple senses.

In a campaign-like manner, Chiang Yu Xiang’s “We Built this Estate!” (2015) invites the viewer to participate in an imaginary urban planning exercise–positioning big building blocks to form towers, buildings and other structures, as if one was playing the role of a town planner. The other works are equally playful and literal. In Kumkum Dernando’s “Kiko’s Secrets” (2015) and Lee Jeeyoung’s “Dreamhouse” (2015) allow the audience to enter into a ‘space within a space’. The former, three imaginary worlds contained within three boxes big enough to walk into; the latter, a house that appears to be made of candy, which leads to a snowy white garden through the doorway.

To some extent, the works are only as successful if the audience responds by giving themselves a chance to interact with the objects within the artwork. This is not a passive, deep-thinking type of exhibition. It must be experienced, even if it means asking the gallery sitter how things work if the instructions and rules are not absolutely clear or well sign-posted. At first glance, the nationalistic tag, in association with Singapore’s jubilee celebrations, appears superficial and overtly chirpy.

The viewer would have to be familiar with the local subject matter, news and culture in order to interpret the works for their subtefuge undertones. These subject matter include: nature, greenery and affiliated ecological issues (Greenroom II and Trees), housing and land use constrained by Singapore’s small land mass (We Built this Estate!), maker culture (Let’s Make! Studio), the workforce’s alleged lack of imagination and innovation (Dreamhouse and Kiko’s Secrets)and local folklore and pragmatic envisioning for the future (Imagin-a-doodle).

I’m not being a cynic, but I think the elements of these works present an opportunity for the viewer to reflect more deeply about this nation-state. For instance, Takashi Kuribayashi’s mixed installation “Trees” (2015) reminds us of a terarium, and a dystopian segmented tree; a reminder of the nation’s status as a garden city, and the fragile balance between maintaining the balance between urbanisation for housing, industries and roads, with nature. Izziyana Suhaimi’s “Let’s Make! Studio” (2015), from a different angle, suggests the current lack of craft in our collective mindshare, and thus the need to re-introduce the importance of being able to make-create, to counter the consumption-only mentality. Vincent Twardzik Ching’s “Greenroom II” is a reminder of the nation’s promise to create more cycling paths, rising from the plague by congested roads and a growing demands on public transportation. Yet our obsession with gadgets (and the “air-conditioned Nation’s” inevitable consumption of electricity) might put carbon emissions into overdrive despite efforts to go green with new building standards, and promoting active means of transportaton, such as cycling.

Nonetheless, the exhibition deserves an applause for taking the bold move to shift this signature programme to a new slot–from June holidays to March holidays. The Singapore Art Museum’s curators obviously saw an opportunity to experiment, and I think it has achieved some success by challenging artists to make immersive, interactive works for children.

14 March – 19 July 2015 SAM at 8Q

You see me, I see you By Audrey Tan

The intricate relationship between photographers and their subjects/objects 

You see me, I see you By Audrey Tan

In this time and age, anyone equipped with an imaging device could be a photographer. We take selfies, or photographs of others with our cellphones; we take snapshots of parties or landscapes we want to remember. As photographers, we find inspiration from within (memory and imagination), or externally, a muse in the form of a situation, subject, or object.

The exhibition You see me, I see you demonstrates a line of photographic inquiry into the technical aspects of portraiture, representation, and presentation. It examines what the photographer and photographed, sees. The exhibition could also be described as an exercise defining how the photographer inspires the model, and vice versa.

The range of images presented in this exhibition showed an in-depth exploration of technical aspects of filmic portraiture. The artist had experimented with the decisive moment of releasing a double portrait blurring the line between model and photographer; proven her competency printing photographs masterfully with a show of exposure test prints; and layered photographic collages. In these ways, the artist has pushed technical limits of film-based photography (versus digital photography) beyond how they are conventionally, and commercially used; she had insisted on not using digital manipulation. Instead, she relied on tactile means to achieve the visual composites: multiple (print) exposures, or a photograph of a physically cut photograph, or a photograph of a print and a projected image. Each series carries something new and some continuity from before. Though this is not immediately apparent form the way the works were organised in the space. By experimenting and pushing the form of her photographs, Audrey’s photography borders on theatricalities, performance art, and installation art.

A photographer from a really good blog describes photography as:

symbols that collectively represent and remind us of our loved ones and our experiences.  They don’t need to be sharp on a screen or technically perfect, they only need to be clear in our minds and emotionally meaningful.

Peter/Prosophos (http://photographsbypeter.com)

Photographs serve as symbols, notations we make in this visual world. As symbols, they are laden with personal, societal, culture and context specific meanings. Photographs could serve as a repository for our fond memories. Photographs tell the world how we want to be seen, and how we see. A photograph’s poor technical execution, such as an out of focus image, could still be valued because of the personal meaning invested by the photographer, model and viewer. This is examined in one of Audrey’s video work showing her painstakingly process of photographing a blow up doll in a studio setting, and the resulting ‘blurred’ image shown on a television monitor, and a large inkjet print in the extreme corner of the gallery. The blurred image is unspectacular on visual counts. As a recollection of how the photographer sees and works, it is worth pondering the means and ends photography serves. Additionally, this work also exemplifies the rhetoric of the male gaze in feminist theory. By this, the viewer is (almost) always assumed to be male, and any female representation is objectified: the male watches while the female is watched. This work perhaps highlights the aesthetics power play we so often see in advertising photography. According to John Berger, because the female model is often put on display and they are influenced by stereotypes put on display, they could be conditioned to view themselves as objects (of desire) too. The female model is seen as a sex symbol, and sex sells. By choosing a blow up doll, an object rather than a human model, the aesthetic stereotype is abruptly disrupted for the viewer.

The photographic image is perhaps the most malleable popular art form today, especially in ways of presenting it. It could be printed analogously or digitally, projected, strung to create moving images (in Audrey’s case, an experiment with Super 8 film), or even re-created as a holographic projection. In the cut out series by Audrey, she examines the minimal surface an image can still be deemed a portrait, or a photograph at all.

The intensity and singularity of exploration by the artist might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some viewers might prefer a broader, diverse body of work and interests than a deconstruction of en-gendered ways of seeing. From a cursory glance, it is easy to mistaken the works as repetitive and monologic in nature. In the age of Instagram and Facebook where we are bombarded with different types of photographs, other viewers may favour such concentration and purposeful investigation into how and why we see photographic portraits the way we do, and why we are so obsessed with our self-image and the image of others around us. Only by so doing, we become might become better photographers and readers.

Curated by Yanda
Substation Gallery, 29 May to 1 June 2014

Materialised Time

immateriality of time and the essence of time

Materialised 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


2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Artists Village Show (2013)

At best, eclectic

The Artists Village Show (2013)

The Artists Village had never quite been pinned to a specific style or agenda. The recent group show might just endorse this view. It might disappoint the ardent art buff because it resembles a degree show in terms of scale, derivative ideas, style, taste, artistic methodology, media or technical completeness. In contrast to that, a fan of the Artists Village might be intrigued by the fluidity, flux of new ideas and media, and how these interlace and influence contemporary artists living and working in Singapore. The Artists Village is perhaps one of the best cases to understand Singapore Art and the ground issues faced by practitioners in Singapore. With sufficient grit, a would-be Singapore Art historian might find enough material to write a substantive tome from the Artists Village archives to shed light on individuals, and collectives that operate loosely within Singapore’s contexts. Yet this phoenix-like organisation also has the historical burden to constantly surprise and continue to make history. Like any other organisations in the 21st century, not just art groups, the Artists Village faces challenges from within and outside: Evolving leadership and membership; issues of competition, support, relevancy, and obsolesce in the face of new media.

The motivation behind the exhibition began with the inward thinking, exploration and interpretations of the word ‘show’. This could have been further exploited if the exhibition’s title, site, display and texts could have been pushed further. Not in the gimmicky sense, but in a thoughtful and meaningful manner.

The exhibition title might be described as lacklustre, just the same it sums up what the show is about. The curatorial slant might have stirred more dialogue and debate if it did engage with notions about and surrounding degree shows and how they relate to the ‘art world’.  It might be the lack of lead-time, or remiss of communication between the curators and artists, the curatorial dimension failed to resonate the potential dialogue between the artists and artworks, or harness the power of collectives or utilise the art institution site to its full potential. The use of wall texts would then play a more important role to highlight the curatorial intent, supporting the individual artist’s intent or collective statement, perhaps.

In sum, the show might best be described as varied, not in the miscellaneous sense, but in a misdirected sense. Having typed that, it doesn’t mean that individual works failed to deliver the brief. Notably, Cheng Guangfeng’s Show tune: irritability (2013) is quite a buzz. It nails what the art world might appear to the uninitiated, or how art, or beauty, is to the eye of the beholder. An unassuming wooden box sits on a plinth, an irritable familiar fly buzzing sound emanates from the box. The box resembles both a prototype speaker, a humble means to transmit a sound, tune or voice. The box also resembles a light bulb holder, ready to be used as a prop for something perfectly banal and ordinary. Instead of just seeing the artwork, the viewer has to make sense of all this through hearing and quite bit of imagination and interpretation.  As I write this, I am humbled by Chen’s artwork again. The ambiguity and simplicity of the work truly invites us to ponder what the arts are all about, and why they must be experienced in person then merely reading about it. The arts have the potential to inspire, inform, educate and in some instances entertain. Besides depending on the curator and artists to do all these, and surely not equally on all fronts, the viewer can take pride and initiative to make meaning too.

Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore (ICAS) (specifically Project Space and Praxis Space, Blocks G and H, Level 1, G101, H101) LASALLE College of the Arts.
28 Nov – 10 Dec 2013.

The Artists Village website: http://www.tav.org.sg/

Read another review by Helmi Yusof here: What’s become of the Artist Village? (BT, 2013)

To search for other formally registered art societies in Singapore, or for information on Singapore’s Registry of Societies, see: http://www.ros.gov.sg