We remember Sam Lo, who placed stickers like “PRESS TO STOP TIME” and “PRESS FOR GOOD LUCK” at pedestrian crossings. And, undeterred by the government’s persecution in 2012, Sam came back with stickers that warns you “DON’T ANYHOW STICK OK” and “ANYHOW PASTE KENA FINE”. It comes as no surprise that this witty urban interventionist has caught the attention of the residents of Melbourne, one of the world’s best place for the street artist. Her solo exhibition will be opening on 3 October at Besser Space in the Collingwood area.
Slightly lesser known are Sam’s interventions in places like buses, where she tells commuters that there is “NO NEED TO PAT SEAT BEFORE SITTING” and her re-appropriation of garbage chutes in the HDBs as “SUGGESTION BOX”. These slightly less politically charged works, which were not mentioned by sensationalist press, gives us a more comprehensive idea of her wit. Taken together, stickers, cards and all, Sam demonstrates her sharp observations on Singapore’s society. Our habits of pressing the button repeatedly when waiting for the green man, or patting the seat before sitting down in the bus are so ingrained, everyday and insignificant that we do not realise their absurdity. In pointing them out, Sam encourages us to laugh while not passing judgement on the correctness of these actions – surely that is the best kind of lighthearted humour.
While Sam had made her fame through site-specific interventions, her also includes canvas based wall work. A recent painting, which will be presented in Melbourne, is her 2017 Self Portrait. A grey mouse runs on an exercise wheel. The wheel is lit from the back in shades of orange, reminiscent of the flames in an oven or mine. The idea of a rat race comes into mind here: we are constantly racing to keep up, exercising to remain competitive (fit), but the restrictions of the wheel keeps us stationary. We are still exactly where we started no matter how fast we run.
The mouse’s every action merely keeps the larger machine running. The wheel is connected to other wheels, shaped like gears around it. Its every stride forward clinks and moves the other wheels. While it furiously strides forward in vain, its kinetic force is being stolen by the wheel itself, affixed with spikes that engage with other wheels.
While the gears may look solid, their shape suggests that there may be other mice running within. So we gain another layer of understanding for this grey mouse – perhaps it is not really moving of its own volition. If it stops moving in a moving wheel, the mouse will be propelled forward by sheer velocity, possibly injuring itself. So it continues to run, so that it will not be tripped up by the gear-wheel it is trapped in.
This metaphor of ‘corporate’ Singapore is not new. Many of us have casually commented on Singapore working like clockwork with friends and family, or on the brutal systems that we navigate for our daily lives, issues that are inexplicable to the foreigner. As part of her ‘condemnation’ for ‘mischief’ with her stickers in 2012, Sam had to complete 240 hours of community service – a mind numbing procedure that drives home to the people that they were mere cogs in the larger machine.
With Self Portrait, Sam is picking up on what she has done best thus far, the tenor of the Singaporean consciousness, and translating it in lighthearted visual form. While the story of the little grey mouse is industrial, brutal and dehumanising, its romantic colouration, dark red, tonal greys and orange-yellows, reminds us of the colour palette in game fantasy worlds, a make believe space where dreams could come true and your character never actually dies (you just respawn and try again). Sam’s world is part reality and part fantastical, a world that is full of hope that you find, rather than hope that is given.
For Better, For Worse is Sam Lo’s third solo exhibition to date and her first showing in Australia. In addition to a plethora of photographs that we know her for, including Our Grandfather Road, seven new paintings, including Self Portrait, will be included in the 11-day show. If in Australia, this is an exhibition not to be missed.
Sam Lo: Ai Wu Ji Wu 爱屋及乌, For Better, For Worse
3-14 October 2017