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
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
This is a continuation of What Happened at the Arts Engage Town Hall – Formal Presentations.
After the two speakers were done with their presentation, Tarn How asked all participants to form a circle. After much shuffling, the 50 or so attendants sat facing each other. Most remained silent throughout the discussion, which was informally moderated by Tarn How.
In the course of the evening, several cases involving the arts community, recent and ongoing, were raised. In March this year, licensed busker Roy Payamal was arrested mid-performance. He is currently out on bail but it remains unclear even today what was his crime was. In June this year, Function 8, a group of like-minded individuals who are looking to start difficult but important conversations, was arrested for a peaceful act, or “art installation,” on a train on the North East line. The blindfolded actors held on to a copy of 1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On at eye level as they travelled down the line. In July also this year, 17 people, including arts practitioners like journalist and filmmaker Kirsten Han, were arrested while holding a peaceful candlelit vigil for a man on death row, S Prabagaran, at Changi Prison, a vigil that was initially verbally approved by a member of the police.
Opinions toward such incidents are mixed. For Lee Wen, artist, an artist’s actions are understandably sometimes prickly and confusing. No one can be perfectly clear all the time and “it is our stupidity that makes us human.” He calls on the policing body to be more understanding and less dismissive of artistic expressions. Alvin Tan, artistic director of The Necessary Stage, opines that it is about natural justice. To him, the strict word of the law is blind to specific situations, which makes the law ineffective in situations like art, which deliberately wants to inhabit a subjective space. He also shares that while watching 32 Years, he overheard a policewoman describe Seelan’s performance as a “silent protest.” William, NAFA, considers it a matter of dexterity. We should learn to know where the boundaries lie and not to go too close to the edge, to learn to “siam” and accept losing the battle in order to win the war. Woon Tien Wei, Post-Museum, questions this position and asks how we could know where the boundaries lie and how much space we have to speak, and practice art, when it feels like the boundaries are not consistent. A verbally given approval could be retracted in the next moment in the Singapore context. Lee Wen agrees with this but also calls upon the community to continue speaking out and addressing these areas that we, as art practitioners, human beings and citizens of society, still feel are uncertain grounds and a source of fear. This is a reality echoed by situations Zheng Xi has encountered in his practice. Some of his clients tell him that when investigated by the police, the police do not tell them what law has been broken. Rather, they push the onus on his client to be “more forthcoming” with their information. This conundrum places such people under extended investigation, with the restrictions that come with an open investigation, creating an environment of fear and uncertainty. Kai Lam, artist, proposes that the community’s brushes with the law is a matter of regulation and censorship. “Moderation” is being imposed on all forms of expression. Moderation in this situation is viewed negatively, for the way it has been applied does not allow for textured landscape of voices and opinions.
Everyone have different experiences and relationships with the law but the point of the town hall, as the moderator Tarn How says, is to discuss “what can we do.” Citing the arrest of Josef Ng in 1994, Tarn How declared that our problems with the law are not new and that it may seem like our relationship with the law has gotten any better. He described the artistic community as “fed up” but also called on us to continue working to make things better.
To this end the attendants also voiced several options. In relation to the formal presentations, Heng Leun asked if legal clinics were something that we needed. Alvin felt that we should educate those policing on the ground to get them to understand performances like Seelan’s as more than just a “silent protest.” Kokila Annamalai, Function 8, pushed the community to ask the administration to grant more permits to perform, so that different types of performances and voices can be seen and begin to be understood by the public. She further acknowledged that needing a permit is itself an issue but that increasing the amount of permits is a step in the right direction. William asked if we could reframe our artistic statements so that they are more understandable to the public. In the case of 32 Years, he wondered if prefacing Seelan’s performance with one of his own in order to get the audience in the right mindset might be a possible way to avoid police persecution. Kai reasoned that if there are 50 or so different voices conducting “radical practice,” the community would be making a stand that “moderation” is problematic, forcing the administration to take the time to understand us rather than dismissing us all. Tarn How proposes that we lay out the “basic positions” within the artistic community so that Arts Engage can speak more clearly with Heng Leun to the parliament and civil society. Eugene Tan, drag queen, questioned how we could speak of a standard response when there is a possibility that being arrested and the processes of the state might be a part of the work. He further points out that many artists take the position of openness for their work, having no singular intent, narrative or meaning but instead asking for a multiplicity of responses from their audience. Kokila adds that while we might think that we are powerless in face of the administration, we are actually really powerful because the administration also need to the arts community to be alive and sustainable, especially if we were to remember that there is an expressed intent for Singapore to be a centre for the arts.
There were also calls for thinking about our problems more broadly to integrate with the concerns civil society. Thirunalan Sasitharan, theatre practice, points out that the issues raised during the town hall are not unique to the arts community. Rather, these are issues that impinge upon human rights and our citizenship and can be felt across civil society. He asks for us to express issues in art and as well as other means, as we are more than just artists or art practitioners. On this topic, Arts Engage pointed at community engagement initiatives, for instance the Manifesto for the Arts and The Artists Call to All to Reject MDA’s Self-Censorship Scheme, which have been successful in garnering support outside of the arts community and in making change happen.
Finally, Kai and Sasha Lim called for the community to be counted in support of Seelan’s freedom of expression, either through a reaction performance or attending to the on-going investigations.
The above serves as an independent record of the proceedings as experienced and understood by a single attendant. Arts Engage will also be releasing a video record of the Town Hall.