Last chance to catch self-taught multidisciplinary artist LS James at his solo exhibition titled The Apocalyptic Ark – Christ of God and other Eschatological Motifs. James boasts an engaging and still evolving style that spans impressionism to pop art and covers themes close to the artist’s heart, such as music and religion. The exhibition is happening now until this Thursday, 21st December at the Visual Arts Centre at Dhoby Ghaut. Operating hours are from 11am to 8pm daily.
The increasingly well-defined contemporary art programme at Esplanade has already been receiving strong positive feedback from many art lovers. Despite the physically separated spaces for art, namely the Tunnel, Concourse, Jendela (Visual Art Space) and the Community Wall, the curatorial team has been successfully putting up conceptually coherent exhibitions that are noteworthy both in its parts and as a whole. Last week, the Esplanade team has successfully invited Artsembly, an artist-led business venture, to take up a space in the Esplanade mall. This venture, borne out of passion, optimism and the supportive Esplanade management, will be taking up the retail unit on a short term basis, with the possibility of extension in the future.
CLAY / PRINT, which opened on 1 December 2017, is Artsembly’s inaugural exhibition at the Esplanade. As implied by the exhibition title, this is an exhibition of works made of clay (ceramics, specifically) and printmaking techniques. Boo Sze Yang, who serves the role of Managing Partner for Artsembly, believes that “there is a lack human touch and craft in many contemporary arts today.” This observation drives Artsembly’s focus on “traditional art forms,” which is a valuation of both technical skill and conceptual ideas. Both are important, and it is Artsembly’s hope that they can be seen as partner strengths rather than mutually exclusive aspects of contemporary art.
Artsembly is probably distinct in the artistic landscape of Singapore because of its unabashed mission to make artistic practices sustainable and its artist leadership. While we have a growing number of exhibition spaces, whether commercial, institutional or experimental, the promotion and placement of works in collector homes have always out of the artist’s hands. The management of the space mediates between the collector and the artist to a greater or lesser extent. Artsembly does away with the middleman, giving artists a stronger voice in the presentation and trade of their work.
The artists behind Artsembly are familiar names: Boo Sze Yang, Chor Mui Ling, Chua Chon Hee, Chua Hee Lai, Loh Choi Ying, Ng Kiow Ngor April, Ng Siok Hoon, Oh Mei Lee, Oh Chai Hoo, Tan Seow Wei and Alvin Tan Yuan Kiat. These are artists with years of experience under their belt coming together to make the scene a better place. In coming outside of their comfortable studio zones and doing more than just further their own practices, they are taking responsibility for the scene that they work in. Artsembly is more than just a collective of eleven artists but also a sign of our artistic practitioners trying to change the climate of where they work differently.
I believed that for any community to move forward, the abled ones must try to help others to move along together.
Boo Sze Yang
New initiatives, collectives and spaces are constantly being formed in Singapore. New local-born galleries include 1961 and Supernormal. Exhibitions have been held both within artist studios, like Peninsular, and in civic spaces, like I_s_l_a_n_d_s. We have exhibitions that activate non-art spaces, like the current show at Upper Serangoon Road Shopping Centre and an upcoming exhibition at Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter. Artists are also actively promote social causes, like Guerrilla Art Hunt in Sungei Road Market. Unlike most of the above projects, however, Artsembly is providing support for mid-career artists. They are, indirectly, exploring the kind of attention and support that these artists need, an aspect that is still underdeveloped in Singapore’s art scene. For that alone, Artsembly and the efforts of the artists behind it should be something to watch.
Chng Seok Tin, Chor Mui Ling, Chua Chon Hee, Chua Hee Lai, Loh Choi Ying, Ng Kiow Ngor April, Ng Siok Hoon, Oh Chai Hoo, Oh Mei Lee, Tan Seow Wei, Tan Yuan Kiat Alvin
1 – 24 December 2017
8 Raffles Avenue
Esplanade Mall, #02-01 & 03
+65 6250 6792
Tuesdays to Sundays, noon-9pm
Closed on Mondays
Cinerama: Art and the Moving Image in Southeast Asia at SAM at 8Q probably ranks among of the ‘smallest’ shows in the museum’s history. Ten artists, presenting only a total of eleven works, is included in this show. The bold move is actually one of its greatest strengths, as the powerful and concise selection captures and does not weary the visitor. Each work is allowed to linger vividly in the mind’s eye long after leaving the exhibition.
The word ‘cinerama’ is a portmanteau of ‘cinema’ and ‘panorama’, and is the name of a trademarked curved projection method from 1950s America. Cinerama™ looks like an ancestor of our modern day curved screen televisions, except that technology then did not really achieve the seamless all-round effect that the creators imagined it to be. As expected from expensive and bulky technology from that period, that Cinerama™ was never really successful or widespread, unseen outside of America. Cinerama™ does not make an appearance in this exhibition, which explicitly looks at Southeast Asia. Rather, it appears in a de-materialised form, suggesting that some Southeast Asian artists are imagining a filmic and immersive experience in ways that resonate with the dreams of Cinerama technology.
Artists have been challenging the two-dimensional nature of the image even before phenakistiscopes (a kind of image windmill on paper that is used to produce GIFs controlled by hand) were around. Trompe l’oiel, for instance, is historically a marker of artistic distinction. Once the technology for moving images was invented, the battle toward three or more dimensions became more pronounced. The moving image emancipates visual illusion, allowing them to escape the frame. Through careful planning and imagination, it is possible to create illusions that escape the frame, like with IMAX 3D films.
At its simplest, the moving image is produced by flashing similar images in quick succession in front of the viewer, each with slightly displaced elements. The rate of change creates an illusion of movement. That is the basis for stop-motion film, a technique Victor Balanon employs in The Man Who. For part of the video component, scenes are painstakingly pieced together by hundreds of photographs that are carefully composed to suggest that objects can move on their own, cubes can melt into the floor and fantastical shapes can emerge from the walls. In another scene, concentric lines articulate the vision of a corridor as a figure runs down it, a clear nod to films like Thaïs (1917), which was made by Italian Futurist Antonio Giulio Bregaglia. In bombarding his viewer with feats of real impossibility and manipulating the visual field, Balanon’s installation is sometimes literally vertiginous. The undulations within the video seem to reach outward into the real world, integrating with the ostensibly static painted mural on the connecting wall and reflecting on the ground in front of it. Visual knowledge, historical research and painstaking labour come together in this work that might leave viewers with their sea legs.
The audience of cinema has always had to give it the benefit of the doubt, consciously suspending real life in order to join the world of make believe. A completely darkened space, oversized projections and a quality sound system are some of the ways that a film theatre has traditionally upgraded the audience experience.
But of course, the audience does most of the work. They must consciously decide to engage with the screen. These criterion become strange when stepping into Hayati Mokhtar’s Falim House: Observations. The set up of this ten-channel video installation is reminiscent of a real-life role playing game. Falim House, like any affluent mansion from the early twentieth-century, is full of nooks and crannies. Hayati recreates the maze in the gallery, burying projections in caverns, placing partition walls where they are not expected to be and misaligning the walls just enough to deny any line of sight across the whole installation. It is a mnemonic space that cannot be seen at once. However, there is a sense that Falim House can see its intruder. The superficial stillness in the video is shattered slightly with the passing breeze. The sound of a man whistling comes from a speaker that cannot be found. A shadow seen in one channel seems is fleetingly detected in a neighbouring one. The distance governed by the length of the camera’s shot cannot be traversed. But in moving, searching and listening, Hayati gives her audience a sense that it could be traversed, that we could have a physical relationship with what we see. This becomes an instrument of horror. In the search for Falim House’s centre, the low-hanging projectors, the source of the visitor’s voyeuristic gaze into the House, begin to look like instruments of surveillance, ready to enact a cold, mechanical turn that focuses their lens upon the criminal trespasser.
In coinciding the cinematic with the real, the work lingers in the mind’s eye, a fantastical dream. Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic’s installation, There’s a word I’m trying to remember, for a feeling I’m about to have (a distracted path towards extinction) extends the world depicted in their video into the gallery space. As the video progresses, different aspects of the installation is highlighted. The fur-clad walls when chewbacca-looking protagonist collapses in a barren land. The tar-coloured, trash-sprinkled flooring when the diver explores the sea floor. The bleached denim cushions when boy child treks through the dark urban landscape and dances. Simultaneity, already acknowledged in the title’s claim to ‘distraction’, stutters. The video becomes the key that unlocks the installation’s potential, which the visitor is free to explore. Perhaps more interestingly in this installation, the gallery space has been cleaved into two. A section of the gallery remains pristine, untouched by the installation. Three benches are placed in this space, allowing visitors to watch other visitors on the cushions watch the video. When, at one point, ‘Chewbacca’ talks about the emptiness that lies behind, cushion-visitors might feel tempted to look back at the physical void behind them and ponder about the cinema that the video had awakened them from and the cinerama they had been awakened to. Cinema, the fantastical and the dream are but mere categories that dissolve when the real begins to be regarded as an imitation of the cinematic.
Cinerama™ is a culmination of a certain set of ideals and desires that is also discernible in groups and communities outside of America. While some Americans had decided that Cinerama™ is an appropriate proposal, the specific place, space and perspective have allowed for a various and different proposals elsewhere. According to Cinerama, some Southeast Asians have seen the fourth dimension integral. The successful execution and intimate details of each work might also suggest that in our geography, the cinematic could be aligned with everyday life. They are infinitely absorbing and challenging, inviting deeper immersion and thoughtful contemplation of the everyday experience.
Cinerama: Art and the Moving Image in Southeast Asia
17 November 2017 – 18 March 2018
The Japan Creative Centre (JCC), off Orchard Road, is just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Its space, enclosed by gardens and well-placed trees, is surprisingly calm. Large windows look out to the gardens, which is currently playing host to artwork by Tetsuro Kano and Adeline Kueh. The artists are holding a two-person exhibition at JCC indoor and outdoor space titled A bird in the garden, a cat in the room.
The curatorial starting point is mitate (見立て), an untranslatable Japanese phrase that roughly describes the employment of metaphors in a variety of forms. In the case of this exhibition, objects are taken out of their known contexts and made into what Louis Ho, in his contributing essay, calls ‘things’. Having been emancipated, these things are re-contextualised and inflect upon the original objects. For Kano, branches, lines, candleholders, clothes hangers and other banal objects are his material, translated into works that express his passion for nature, especially birds. Kueh displaces objects ever so slightly, which she proves is sufficient transformation into thinginess.
The duo is linked and distinguished by their common manipulation of objects. Kano’s sculptures are reminiscent of natural structures that are inhabited by the animal world. In Bonsai Techniques (2017), Kano integrates timber into the landscape of the garden. While his intervention is visually distinct from the garden to the human eye, it is somewhat less distinct to the birds, who perch easily on his ‘bonsai’. Kueh’s work step parallel to several threads of everyday life. In Daily Conversations (2017), Kueh takes a white Japanese tea set out of the living room into the garden. The cups are replenished with fresh matcha tea every morning, subtly alluding to the more common spiritual ritual of food offering practiced in Singapore, and transforming the experience of the tea set from ceremony to renewal.
Human design is just that: For humans. It is socially conditioned and inexplicable to the animal world. Wildlife do not differentiate between the object and the thing. These are human divisions for stuff in the environment. In their higher wisdom, non-humans prioritise the harmony and discordance that our human interventions cause to their space over designed intent. For Kano and Kueh, the objects may have been made into things, but only so in the human eye. Animals instead view that these not-objects have not been made into not-things. While there is a possibility for shifts and displacements, they are irrelevant in this context, a double entendre that fits fleetingly and harmoniously. The underlying potential to read them as transformation while experiencing them as untransformed creates a poetic tension that maybe, possibly, is what mitate is all about.
A bird in the garden, a cat in the room
Tetsuro Kano, Adeline Kueh
28 October – 18 November
Japan Creative Centre
4 Nassim Road
+65 6737 0434
Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am – 6pm
Fiction of Precision is a group show in two ways. One, it is an exhibition of works by different artists. Two, it is an exhibition of works held by seventeen different galleries. This remarkable exhibition is the result of the Art Galleries Association Singapore (AGAS), a non-profit organisation founded in 1996. AGAS has been successfully bringing galleries together since then. The society had also spearheaded ArtSingapore, the art fair that preceded Art Stage Singapore.
Not all of AGAS members are represented in this show. The participants are: Art Seasons Gallery, Art-2 Gallery, Chan+Hori Contemporary, Element Art Space, FOST Gallery, Gajah Gallery, Intersections Gallery, Mizuma Gallery, Ota Fine Arts, Pearl Lam Galleries, STPI, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Tokyo Gallery, Wetterling Teo Gallery, Yavuz Gallery and Yeo Workshop. They have brought with them a total of 29 artists, namely: Agan Harahap, Matthew Allen, Laila Azra, Rina Banerjee, Hélène de Chatelier, Golnaz Fathi, Kayleigh Goh, Masanori Handa, David Stanley Hewitt, Hong Sek Chern, Ichi, Indieguerillas, Khai Rahim, Sam Leach, Loke Hong Seng, Kenny Low, Firoz Mahmud, Nhawfal Juma’at, Alvin Ong, PHUNK, Antonio Puri, Qamarul Asyraf, Ren Ri, Taishin Saigawa, Jeremy Sharma, Speak Cryptic, Sinta Tantra, Komkrit Tepthian, and Suzann Victor.
According to the press release, “the exhibition showcases artists who have a profound mastery of their chosen mediums beyond the orthodox.” Each work shown in this exhibition is an example of the artists’ skill and ability to manipulate the material. Komkrit Tepthian completes antique sculptures with lego blocks, Agan Harahap presents photographic proof of scenes that have never existed outside of Photoshop while Ren Ri works with bees to create wax forms of countries around the world. The multiplicity of scales a viewer needs to wield in order to measure each artist’s merits gives a sense of contemporaneity. Many artists today take on the persona of another, be it conservator, designer, beekeeper or something else and dip into the skill set of their chosen alternatives. Superficially speaking, appropriation may seem like a lazy act. However, technical skill and visual impact can easily overcome this perspective and challenge the precise measurement of skill we used to use for art before the contemporary.
Unlike a fair, there are no huge name signs built into the partition walls. It is unclear which artist is represented by which gallery from afar unless the visitor is already familiar with the gallery’s portfolio. This is a strength, for galleries have a chance to make a second first impression upon their potential clients: By carefully selecting only a few artwork by two or three artists in their portfolio, they can define themselves differently from what they are commonly thought to be, perhaps reaching out to a new clientele. This is in line with AGAS’s desire to increase the appreciation of art in Singapore.
Beyond the exhibition itself, Fiction of Precision is a quietly significant exhibition because it has successfully brought private galleries together. In today’s society, where we are often only concerned about ourselves and our own businesses, it is a political feat, and a sign of camaraderie among the galleries, for AGAS to have gotten seventeen galleries to come together for a one-month show. Its last joint exhibition happened in 2014. Hopefully, we would not have to wait another three years for the next joint show.
Fiction of Precision
1 – 30 November 2017
#02-57, 9 Raffles Boulevard
Open daily, 11.30am-8.30pm