Introduction

The Private Museum is pleased to present Echoing Fragments by Singaporean abstract collage artist and painter, Lim Tiong Ghee. This exhibition marks the first venture by the museum to send a Singaporean artist to Yogyakarta under its Artist-in-Residence programme. This two-week trip to Yogyakarta was part of an ‘Artist Visit’ supported by Cemeti – Institute for Art and Society.

In the course of Lim’s travels, he visited cultural monuments such as the famous sacred temples, Borobudur and Prambanan, now commemorated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. In addition, his sojourn in Yogyakarta’s thriving artist community yielded many exchanges with the artist studios and art spaces. The batik craft centres and museums in the cities of Solo and Yogyakarta were key locales during his short tarriance in Indonesia.

This exhibition features a body of collage paintings that is part of a decades-long exploration of imprinting his personal experiences into collages. In the brief two weeks of his visit, the collage artworks birthed from the journey emphasises on the batik elements’ interaction with floral motifs, weaving what appears to be the cultural and the physical into a realm of its own through the use of negative space never before seen in his works. The luminous projection of colours present in these works also reflects the envelopment of warmth in the Indonesian atmosphere.

Yogyakarta is known for its significance in Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, with Borobudur and Prambanan standing testament to the rich cultural narratives surrounding the province. Not disregarding the prolific symbolisms present in both beliefs, Lim’s works further expound on various forms, figures and textures commonly depicted as religious motifs in the two beliefs.

The body of works presented here is the culmination of Lim’s interactions with the culture and people of Yogyakarta and Solo as well as his own introspection of the differing essences between his homeland and its neighbour. Immersed in the social landscape of Indonesian culture, Lim melds his feelings in reciprocation to the aura of amiability encountered throughout the trip, expressing it as a continuum in Echoing Fragments.




Artist

Artist Biography

Lim Tiong Ghee (b. 1955, Singapore) began as a watercolourist before moving to acrylic and collage. A self-taught artist, he has exhibited extensively and views painting as a medium to portray the quotidian. He gained critical acclaim when his collage “From the Turtledove” won the top award in the 8th UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1989.

Artistic Career

Lim never had formal art training other than the art lessons he took at GCE A level. He started painting seriously only upon the encouragement of friends when he was enlisted in National Service. His profession as a senior graphic artist at the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation also spurred his interest in art.

Clinching the grand prize in the UOB Painting of the Year Competition in 1989 proved to be a major catalyst for Lim. Although he had won various prizes before that, it was this win that launched his career. His work was selected by a team of formidable judges, including the late Ismail Zain of Malaysia, Professor Jose Joya of the Philippines and Singapore artist Thomas Yeo. Along with a S$12,000 cash prize, Lim was accorded a solo exhibition the following year at the Empress Place Museum.

Stylistic Conventions

In the early days, Lim focused mainly on depicting landscapes using watercolour. He was adept with the medium and his brushstrokes were commended for being fluid and spontaneous. He frequently engaged in on-site painting and his subjects were often the familiar streets and scenes of Singapore.

Later, he shifted towards developing his paintings in the studio. He began to give critical attention to elements such as shape, form, space, perspective, colour and composition, and he utilised collage and acrylic paint to translate them into paintings.

Lim values the two-dimensional reality and purposefully flattens his shapes and forms as a way of creating abstractions of his subject matter without completely breaking them down.

His Seabreeze series depict the different nuances of the sea and land. In the series, yellows are contrasted with blues and reds with blacks. The waves are presented in a minimalist manner, as if to evoke an aural response from the audience.

Similarly, he prefers abstraction in his portrayal of landscapes and tropical flowers as he believes it can evoke a stronger reaction than purely figurative forms. The abstract imagery subsequently function as a creative starting point from which abstract rice-paper collages are constructed.

Source: National Library Board Singapore (eResources)

Solo Exhibitions
1981
 : National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1990 : Empress Place Museum, Singapore.
1992 : The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1996 : Art Salon, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
1998 : Goethe-Institut, Munich, Germany.
2000 : Tropical Contemplation, Damasak Asia, The Alchemy Gallery, United Kingdom.
2001 : Sun Rock, Karin Weber Gallery, Hong Kong.
2004 : Vermont Studio Centre, United States.

Group Exhibitions

1986
 : Two Man Show, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1986 : 12 Singapore Artists, Collectors Gallery, Raffles City, Singapore.
1987 : New Direction ’87, Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1987 : Centenary Art Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1989 : International Watercolour Exhibition, Thailand.
1991 : International Watercolour Exhibition, Korea.
1992 : International Watercolour Exhibition, Taiwan.
1996 : Singapore Arts Festival ’96, Atrium Gallery, Singapore.
1996 : Nine Artists in Bali, Art Forum, Fort Canning Hill Gallery, Singapore.
1996 : Taipei Art Fair, Taipei, Taiwan.
1997 : Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1998 : Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1998 : Special exhibition in Essen in China exhibition, Museum für Volkerkunde, Germany.
1999 : Abandoned Thoughts, Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
1999 : A Brave New World, Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore.
2001 : The Watch Has No Numbers, Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
2002 : Joint exhibition with Goh Beng Kwan, Wetterling Teo Gallery, Singapore.
2003 : Two Man Show, Art-2 Gallery, The Substation Gallery, Singapore.
2003 : Singapore Group Show, Karin Weber Gallery, Hong Kong.
2005 : 6th Face, MICA Building, Singapore.

Awards

1978
 : Special Award, National Day Art Exhibition, Singapore.
1980 : Special prize, Young Art in Asia Now competition, Hong Kong.
1984 : 1st prize in the representational category of the UOB Painting of the Year Competition, Singapore.
1989 : Top award in the UOB Painting of the Year Competition, Singapore.
2004 : VSC Freeman Fellowship 2004/2005, Vermont Studio Centre, United States.

Collections

Asian Business Press Singapore
Boeing International Corporation
Citibank Singapore
Defence Science & Technology Agency
Economic Development Board
International Enterprise Singapore
Janssen-Cilag
Orchard 290 Ltd
Singapore Airlines
Singapore Art Museum
United Overseas Bank






Essay

To and fro: Placing memory within a plane – Lim Tiong Ghee in conversation with Tamares Goh

Between 4-17 December 2017, The Private Museum sent artist Lim Tiong Ghee to Yogyakarta for their Artist-in-Residence programme1. This is the third time The Private Museum has contributed to an artist embarking on a residency programme. Throughout the two weeks, Tiong Ghee visited more than 20 artists’ studios, visited historical monument sites of cultural importance, and stayed at the artistically significant venue, Cemeti Art House2.

The visit itself had immediate implications on his new work demonstrated in this exhibition, ‘Echoing Fragments’. Two distinct sets of work exist within this solo exhibition: one entitled ‘Impressions of Yogyakarta’ and another, the ‘Tropical Plants’ series. ‘Impressions of Yogyakarta’ is a series of fleeting excerpts, deftly constructed. Importantly, for the first time in Lim’s compositional approach, there are spaces left untreated: a deliberate functioning void, and interstitial white spaces that conjure up the transitional stages of memories, the white spaces in the composition functioning both as a respite and transitions between elements. The viewer’s eye traverses the canvas, picking up motifs prompted by visual symbols, perhaps re-enacting Lim’s perception in a foreign land. Collage is an appropriate approach on the canvas, true to how images are collected and collated through visual memory, a loosening of conventional methods to recreate a snapshot of a dominant genius loci. The colours that he uses are deliberately bright and lively as they reinforce the trip’s ambience. Is this how memory work through the process of assembling through collage – retold and overlaid, multi-functioning and multi-tasking, weaving together an account of an event, that could both recount narratives and provoke feelings simultaneously.

The ‘readymade’ object is a constitution in itself with embedded connotations of culture, language and history. The ‘readymade’ is highly charged and artists are readily seduced as they inform their surrounds and histories. A consistent use of the ready-mades is evident in this series, whether in the form of rice paper or Batik. Lim is attracted to the found qualities of rice papers and Batik, and has amassed a collection of both over the years. However, this occasion calls for a stronger contextual approach. Batik is widely used as a clothing material and appears in everyday life, the symbolism of its motifs historically considered by the wearer for its relevance to tradition and ritual.  These materials form the foundation for his canvas, a first compositional layer of a series of subsequent superimpositions that culminate with hand-painted images of figures such as Ramayana dancers, faces of people he has encountered or the lily pods.

This is the tenth solo exhibition of Lim Tiong Ghee. A recurrent theme of looking towards nature is apparent in Lim’s practice, with works that attempt to capture atmospheric qualities of the sun, clouds, rain or stone. Leaves were largely featured in his last solo exhibition in 20103. The Bodhi leaf motif, subtle but ever-present in another series, is featured in this exhibition. It is not about relaying an approach to the Buddhist faith, but the embodiment of good deeds, essential but humbling, that lays the groundwork and his focus. The Bodhi leaves are featured as abstract shapes, as they are superimposed on one another. Yet they are fluid, as if fluttering in the wind; Lim suggests movement through the use of frayed edges and strands of rice paper as a language for continuum.

With the Chinese title of this exhibition “碎片的迴响 sui pian de hui xiang”, Lim expresses his particular fondness for the Chinese character “迴hui” (4) which suggests “rotation” or “curving”. As a pictogram, one side of the word appears as a beginning that has no end – a visual loop, an appropriate metaphor present in his approach. It is the continual reappraisal of experiences revisited through a non-linear memory, where a sense of place dominates the sequence of associated fragments collated. Within this process he re-evaluates, through memory, his previous journey and weaves together the components. It is perhaps in his studio, that the journey happens again and therefore “Echoing Fragments” offers the viewer the possibility to retrace, via the artist’s document, an experience of travelling within the canvas.

 

Lim Tiong Ghee (LTG) in conversation with Tamares Goh (TG)

 

TG: Many think of the Bodhi leaf as a symbol of Buddhism or a symbol of spirituality. Would you say that you use the symbol as a descriptor of your faith in the way you use Bodhi leaf as a staple in one of your series?

LTG: I use it because it is a common plant there in Yogyakarta. Once, the tour guide showed us a whole stretch of road with Bodhi trees. I am a believer of the virtues of Buddhism, although I am not indicating that I am a spiritual person here, so it is not my intention to be an advocator of the religion through my art. I used the Bodhi leaf in this series as a reflection because Java has its roots in Buddhism, followed by Hinduism. It is the richness of various cultural aspects that I am impressed by. So, as a form, I use the Bodhi leaf as a cultural symbol of Java being the melting pot of a few dominant religions, Buddhism and Hinduism being the two important ones from the past. So, in other words, the Bodhi leaf as a symbol acts as the constant backdrop of the whole experience. As well, visually, I like to use Bodhi leaf because as objects in nature, they introduce movement and fluidity in my work.

TG: I can see that there is movement suggested here.

LTG: I wanted to depict the fluttering of the leaf in the wind, in motion with the wind and air around it. The strands using rice paper are pieced together, composed to create a flow.

TG: You have a particular interest in Batik. You use it throughout the series “Impressions of Yogyakarta” by using cloths as the key collages. What particular aspect of Batik material are you drawn to and have you used any new findings from this trip in your work here?

LTG: They have beautiful motifs5 and I have always collected them, as with other kinds of fabrics and paper, using them as materials for collage from time to time. On this occasion I considered the choice of Batik more – there is a closer link as Batik is commonly worn as clothings in Yogyakarta. I visited a Batik studio, the Brahma Tirta Sari Studio6. The co-founder Ismoyo and myself conversed for a long time. This time, I was interested to learn about the dyes that the Batik craftsmen use. I realised that Batik dyes are not so easily used in paintings, mostly they need to be colour-fastened. Although it was on the last day of my stay, I managed to find some dyes. I have used them in this series.  One must understand and study pigments well in order to use them. Some colours will fade in the sun, but some colours will turn brighter. For instance, murky yellows can last longer while reds and indigos are sensitive to the sunlight.

TG: The exchange and learning from like-minded artists must be rewarding. What other interesting discoveries did you find about materials? Did you recount any other interesting artist exchanges?

LTG: I visited more than 30 artists and seen more than 20 artists’ studios during my stay. There seems to be an abundance of materials because artists there tend to be quite resourceful, using old furniture and objects as their immediate materials. For instance, a found old exercise book from an antique shop can be used with an overlap of painted images on it and a new work suddenly exists! I was impressed with Heri Dono’s studio (house) where he was surrounded by many old furniture and objects while his artwork, mostly sculptures and installation, co-existing with one another. The furniture and objects become the “canvas” of his artwork as he works on them.

TG: Is there a stark difference there in comparison with the artists practising in Singapore?

LTG: Yes definitely. Artists in Singapore tend to start anew on a blank canvas, or tend to purchase materials fresh from the shops. In comparison, artists in Yogyakarta tend to look around and use their immediate surroundings, whether through objects or culture, as their absolute starting points – these starting points have already a rich layer existing. I would say it is the construct of the place as well, one can feel the expanse of spaces. Generally, there are no issues of working spaces for artists in Yogyakarta. The impression is that people are still closer to nature, there’s a sense of community, despite Yogyakarta being a city with a dense population.

TG: What would a lasting impression of Yogyakarta be for you from this trip?

LTG: People are very open and friendly, and I remember the wide openness of the paddy fields while travelling for instance. This is a place with a lot of history, and an old sultanate. Importantly, it is the cultural aspect of the place that would linger.

-July 2018

 

End notes

1The Private Museum Artist-in-Residence programme started in 2015 with artist Hong Zhu An. Subsequently, Han Sai Por was appointed as the second artist in residence in 2016. Hong and Han went to Bali for their residencies. This is the first time an artist was sent to Yogyakarta on the programme.

2Cemeti Art House (Cemeti) was a key instrumentalist for many art activities and exhibitions in the late 1980s, right through the 1990s, with seminal artists, themes and artwork. The works were usually heavily charged with commentaries, especially during politically and socially unrest periods. Cemeti was co-founded by Nindityo Adipurnomo and Mella Jaarsma, and the space, till today, promotes communicating the works mostly Indonesian contemporary artists as well as forging ties with other contemporary artists, curators and researchers worldwide. The space is a multi-disciplinary space with intermediary purposes.

3Lim Tiong Ghee’s last solo exhibition “Sense At Play” was in 2010 at Art-2 Gallery.

4When the manager of The Private Museum Aaron Teo proposed for some key words leading to the exhibition’s title, Lim Tiong Ghee expressed that he liked the word “迴 hui” especially. Lim expressed his fondness and demonstrated in a calligraphy that Teo witnessed on-site. In a phone interview with Lim on 13 July 2018 by myself, Lim further expressed that he liked the pictorial form of the word, alluding to a kind of constant revolving.

5Batik motifs are divided into different families of designs, such as the Parang, Kawung, Semen or Lereng, each with meanings, the design in motifs amounting to hundreds of variations evolving through time. Once upon a time, only the royals or courtly ranks could wear some motifs. Now it has been adapted to more common and utilitarian functions. There are signature styles that sets Yogyakarta Batik motifs distinct from other places in Indonesia.

6Brahma Tirta Sari Studio is the leading Batik and fibre contemporary art studio in Yogyakarta, co-founded by Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam. They combine traditional craftsmanship with innovative contemporary approaches, resulting in genius workmanship in their products.

_____

Tamares Goh heads the Curatorial Programmes team at the National Gallery Singapore. In 2013, she was the co-curator of the Singapore Biennale and in 2017, appointed as the producer for the Singapore Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.


 



Documentation

Opening Reception

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Guest of Honour:
H.E. Ngurah Swajaya
Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to Singapore
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in the Republic of Singapore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Talk

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Lim Tiong Ghee discussed the themes presented in the exhibition and his experiences in the two-week ‘Artist Visit’ Trip to Yogyakarta. Accompanying the artist is art collector, Chen Onn Peng, who shared about Lim’s decades-long art practice.

For more information and documentation of the artist talk, click here.


 

 




Introduction

The Private Museum is pleased to present You, Other; I, Another, a group exhibition curated by Dr Susie Lingham. This marks The Private Museum’s new initiative in collaborating with Guest Curators to facilitate and support independent and experimental curatorial practice, and to present different perspectives on our world. The exhibition will feature works by nine artists including Regina De Rozario, Mithun Jayaram, Mumtaz Maricar, Siew Kee Liong, Leroy Sofyan, Vincent Twardzik Ching, Victor Emmanuel, Susie Wong and Yeo Chee Kiong.

Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it. […] Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity. *

To and from every I there is a You, a They, a We, an Us, an Other. To whom is another, Other? Or is it more precise to say: when is the other Other to another? Otherness is an oscillation; is in oscillation. The binary-dynamic of finding the self in the other has always been tipped at moments, and shifts to finding the other in the self—recognising difference within oneself is ongoing, and unnerving, for every ‘I’.

Within the structures of any society, how is the other conditioned into being ‘Other’? How is otherness represented? Who represents otherness? In what way do we feel ‘other’, and how do we feel for and with ‘the other’ who differs from our self-sensed otherness?

The Other demarcates the line of belonging; what we identify against. The Other fascinates; confounds; is feared and rejected; is reviled; is ignored, dismissed; is mistreated, marginalised, alienated; is tolerated. Then again, some specimens of otherness are denied even ‘existence’ because quite anomalous, and uncategorisable: perhaps the Other is a Hydra, not a community.

Otherness differentiates on a spectrum of ‘difference’—in kind, by degree, by decree, by choice, inevitably. In You, Other; I, Another, nine artists’ works diverge off various individual realities of lived Otherness, or concepts of difference—expressed in diverse materialities and modes. From the rhythms of the natural world to the measures of culture and custom, and stemming from the personal, the familial to societal—all manner of Other manifest here reciprocally, “inscrutably involved.”

______________________________________________________

* Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p 67.




Artists

Regina De Rozario (b. 1973, Singapore) is an artist and writer. Her practice and research interests include psychogeography and urban visual culture—specifically, how related strategies of walking, mapping, writing and image-making enable us to recognise, reflect on, and respond to notions of power and control in the shaping of the physical and narrative spaces we inhabit. Apart from her solo practice, De Rozario is active as one-half of Perception3, an interdisciplinary art duo established in 2007 with design practitioner Seah Sze Yunn. Their collaborative work is currently focused on exploring the notions of loss and memory through text, photography, digital video, and site-specific installation. Recent exhibitions include An Atlas of Mirrors, Singapore Biennale (SB2016), Singapore (2016), Urbanness: Contemplating the City, Dubai (2015), and Unearthed, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore (2014). She received her MA in Contemporary Practice, and a BA (Hons) in Fine Art with Contemporary Writing from the University of Huddersfield (U.K.) at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore in 2010 and 2008 respectively. She has lectured and facilitated workshops at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore Management University, National Library, and Singapore Art Museum.

 

Mithun Jayaram (b. 1980, Calicut, India) is a Dubai-raised, Bangalore-based artist whose interest lies in observing the transience, decay, and frailty of everyday materials and objects, which are then translated into segments of mental landscapes through process-intensive installations. These installations tend to follow a pattern where an intended object/material gets processed and then reconstructed to form a site-specific texture. Though this texture eventually becomes sculptural in form, Jayaram places prime importance on the making and the taking down of the work. His participations and exhibitions include Between Conversations, Yavuz Gallery, Singapore (2013); The Feeling Bubble of Forgetting, Gloria Jeans Coffees, Bangalore (2009); Photographing Everyday, Alliance Française de Bangalore, Bangalore (2008) and A Roomful of Old Ladies Clattering their Fingernails, TickleArt Series, CityLink Underground Shopping Mall, Singapore (2005). Jayaram received his BA (Hons) in Fine Art (First Class Honours) from RMIT University, Melbourne at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, where he was also presented the Winston Oh Award to travel to Romania for a research project.

 

Mumtaz Maricar (b. 1977, Singapore) is interested in thoughts, sensations, incidences and events that present the body as a site of transgression, negotiation, rebellion and potential revelation. Not reaching out merely for the comfort of well-demarcated areas in perception, she is far more intrigued by covert moments that shift with ease between the grey areas of observation and what appears more well-defined. These moments of sublimation are her focus. As a Synesthete, some of Maricar’s previous works have been explorations into the condition in relation to sound and the formation of memories. Maricar was an art director in the television and film industry in Singapore for 14 years before she decided in 2017 to bid it adieu, and pave her way back into the world of creating art.  Maricar received her BA (Hons) in Fine Art (First Class Honours) from RMIT University, Melbourne at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, in 2001. Her video installation piece Tragic Heroine Closet Series (2004) in the exhibition Exploring Memory & Self at Jendela (Visual Arts Space), The Esplanade,– Theatres on the Bay, Singapore (2004) explored cinema, feminine archetypes and the formation of early identity.

 

Siew Kee Liong (b. 1962, Singapore) is a multimedia artist graduated from University of Miami, Coral Gables, with a BSC in Motion Pictures in 1989 and an MFA in Photography in 1991. Working mainly in the realms of photography and moving images in film/video, Siew works with both digital and analogue technology. Influenced by experimental films of the 1960s, he treats the film medium like a canvas where he alters it in an organic way: scratching, staining, burning, or sometimes, given the humid conditions of Southeast Asia,  allowing the inevitable mould and fungus that thrive on celluliod to interact with the emulsion organically. The manipulated film frames, negative or positive, are digitally processed and printed as large-format photographs. His work has been exhibited locally and internationally at Lien Ying Chow Library, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore (2016); The Art Gallery, National Institute of Education/NTU, Singapore (2003); 5th Passage, Singapore (1993); The Substation Gallery, Singapore (1993); Singapore Film Festival, Singapore (1993); the 5th Fukui International Video Biennale, Japan (1993); the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, U.S.A. (1993); Barbara Gillman Gallery, Miami (1991), and Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables (1991), Florida. Siew has been involved in teaching since 1991, and is currently teaching photography in the School of Film & Media Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore.

 

Leroy Sofyan (b. 1973, Singapore) is an artist and sculptor. His previous career as an Emergency Paramedic exposed him to the grit and grime of everyday living at its most basic, and often traumatic, levels. He is concerned with the struggles of the common person and the responsibility of choice. His sculptural practice includes carving wood and stone, and is centred on found objects and tools. His exhibitions include Some Things that Matter, Jendela (Visual Arts Space), Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore (2013); If the World Changed, Singapore Biennale (SB2013), Singapore (2013); Asia Contemporary Art: Space and Imagination, Chonnam Provincial Okgwa Museum, South Korea (2010) and Asia Contemporary Art: Now and Next, Gwangju National Museum, South Korea (2010). Sofyan received his BA (Hons) in Fine Art from the University of Huddersfield (U.K) at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, He is currently a Technical Officer at School of The Arts, Singapore.

 

Vincent Twardzik Ching (b. 1970, Canada) is an artist and educator who lives and works in Singapore. Through paintings, drawings and sculpture, Twardzik Ching investigates trauma, healing and various aspects of male identity, often through the genre of landscape. Within these charged mindscapes, he attempts to reconcile experiences of conflict while exploring their dynamics as spaces of action and possibility. An advocate for Arts education he completed an MEd in Visual Art at the National Institute of Education/NTU, Singapore, and holds a BA and an Academic Achievement Award from the University of Regina (Canada). He was awarded Honourable Mention in The Phillip Morris Singapore Asean Art Awards (2002 and 2003) and received a National Arts Council grant (2012) to attend the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, Canada, where he studied the oil painting techniques of Caravaggio. His sculpture will be presented at Multi-layered Surfaces, a survey of Canadian artists, NICA Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2018), and his work is included in the international travelling exhibition: The Fieldtrip Project (2015-present). Twardzik Ching is currently a part time Visual Arts Lecturer in drawing and painting at NIE (Singapore) and an Early Childhood Arts specialist at SEED Institute (Singapore).

 

Victor Emmanuel (b. 1979, Singapore) spent most of his youth in small local pockets of greenery in Singapore, observing and discovering different fauna in their natural habitats. Later in his teens, his nature-driven journeys were extended to parts of Southeast Asia.  More recently, he has been developing a deeper understanding of artistic techniques, including sculpture and casting, and wood carpentry as well. Victor received his Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2014. His recent exhibitions include Qi@art, Telok Kurau Studios, Singapore (2016); 50 Obsessions, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore (2015) and Telok Kurau Studios Exhibition, Telok Kurau Studios, Singapore (2013-2015).

 

Susie Wong (b. Singapore) began her arts practice in the late 1980s, in painting and art writing, complementing these with art education, teaching, and curatorial projects.  She has exhibited works of figurative paintings, portraits, landscapes, drawings, and installations. Central to her current work is the inquiry of the image/light as a medium that mediates between memory and loss, between documentation and nostalgia. Her work Trace, installations of drawings, was exhibited at The Substation (2008), which travelled to Valentine Willie FA Gallery, Kulau Lumpur. More recently, her works My Beautiful Indies, and After Image, were shown respectively at The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore (2013), and Space Cottonseed, Gillman Barracks, Singapore (2014). Her video installation Take Care of Me was part of the curated series Opening Day at Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, Singapore (2018).

 

Yeo Chee Kiong(b. 1970, Singapore) is a contemporary sculptor and installation artist who is fascinated with the language and spatial relationship between objects, space and authorship. His work destabilises the familiar notions of spatial proportions and perspectives, whilst examining the human condition in the construction of an extended surreal world. His recent exhibitions include Yeo Chee Kiong Solo Exhibition, Juming Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2017); 3rd FORMOSA, Sculpture Biennial 2017, Taiwan (2017); Personal Structures, parallel event of Venice Biennale 2017, Italy (2017); Art In The Forest, Flamingo, Dai Lai Resort, Hanoi, Vietnam (2017); Suide International Sculpture Symposium, China (2017) and International Sculpture Group – Tokyo & Seoul, Tokyo, Japan (2017). Yeo is an alumnus of the Glasgow School of Art (U.K.) and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Singapore), and his list of conferred awards includes the NAFA Distinguished Alumni Medal (2016); the Grand Prize for the Inaugural APB Foundation Signature Art Prize, Singapore Art Museum (2008); the Young Artist Award, National Arts Council (2006), and the Grand prize for the 2nd CDL Singapore Sculpture Award (2005). He is currently the President of the Sculpture Society (Singapore) and Visiting Assistant Professor at National Taiwan University of Arts.



Essay

A. A Meditation on Otherness & Belonging

Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it. […] Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity.1

I. The Human, Conditioned: Preconceptions

To and from every I there is a You, a They, a We, an Us, an Other. To whom is another, Other? Or is it more precise to say: When is the other Other to another? Otherness is an oscillation; is in oscillation. The binary-dynamic of finding the self in the other has always been tipped at moments, and shifts to finding the other in the self – recognising difference within oneself is ongoing, and unnerving, for every ‘I’.

Within the structures of any society, how is the other conditioned into being ‘Other’? How is otherness represented? Who represents otherness? In what way do we feel ‘other’, and how do we feel for and with ‘the other’ who differs from our self-sensed otherness? How is any ‘We’ held together? Who decides to let ‘Us’ be ‘Us’? Perhaps there is no immutable ‘Us’? What holds a ‘people’ together? What is it that magnetises the ‘core’ of a sense of civic or national identity? Does that actually override cultural-racial-religious identity? What value systems do ‘a people’ hold in common? And how have these arisen, if they have been allowed to rise? Preconception, conception and perception feed into each other in continuum, and given human nature, perhaps inevitably, the Other demarcates the line of belonging: what we identify against. So many ‘normalities’ are perpetuated by default, and justified as what the ‘majority’ accepts, and expects. As Foucault insightfully states:

In actuality, dialectics does not liberate differences; it guarantees, on the contrary, that they can always be recaptured. The dialectical sovereignty of similarity consists in permitting differences to exist, but always under the rule of the negative, as an instance of non-being.2

The scope of this subject is indeed perilously tortuous and unwieldy. This meditation sets adrift some thoughts for contemplation, in the hope that deeper understanding can find new moorings amidst some of the more discernible currents in the deepflow of the subject. ‘Otherness’, the experience of being perceived and treated differently within dominant society-specific norms – with varying degrees of acceptance – is that deeprooted part of the human condition with entangled anthropological genealogies buried deep in the ancient, fathomless darkness of the collective unconscious. Snarled in associative conditioning, encounters with capricious Nature, feelings of vulnerability, survival, familiarity, family, bloodties, kin, skin, limited resources, tribe, clan, caste, village, kingdom, power, recognition, powerlessness, exploitation, slavery, loyalty, trust, privilege, protection, ownership and legacy, all contribute to the wretched cycles of being human. Uniting through division, privilege – in a world of limited resources – is much sought after, and given that there is more desire and need for privilege than there is ‘enough’ to go around, the pecking order that emerges is often vicious.

Otherness, or the subject of ‘the Other’, as termed in various strands of Western critical thought, has been much studied as an ever-deepening aspect of the human condition. Nonetheless, it is embedded first, namelessly, in and within experience, and extended in-between embodied experiences. The named concept was, and remains necessary, and has spun and spiralled along in various analyses of accounts of historical experience, from the trauma of war, genocide, the holocaust, colonialism, civil disobedience, ethnic ‘cleansing’, human rights leaders’ ideals and their assassinations – analyses that continue to evolve through the ever-honed instruments of different modes of thinking. Indeed, many brilliant thinkers have pondered this much-knotted nodal point of the human condition, involving everything and everyone on the ‘other side’ of power and influence, throughout the history of human culture – any existence that has encountered power and privilege, been disempowered, and oppressed by turn. These explorations have been “negotiated” through phenomenology and existentialism (e.g., Hegel, Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Buber); psychoanalysis (e.g., Freud, Lacan, Irigaray), Marxism and feminisms (e.g., Wollenstonecraft, Steinem, de Beauvoir); postcolonial theory, including concepts of the “hybrid”, the “hyphen”, interculturalism, and more (e.g., Said, Bhabha), as well as gender studies and queer theory (e.g., de Lauretis, Butler, Munoz, Cixious). In fact, the study of the Other is necessarily highly interdisciplinary, given the subject’s scope and influence within human conditioning.

These are the Lethean depths where the forces of the unconscious, consciousness and that most human of traits – conscience – come into being; where power, politics, ethics, and aesthetics are inextricably entwined. Pre-wired, hardwired and constantly rewired within the sensitive realms of psychoneuroimmunology3, here be primordial phobias and drives: the treachery of darkness, dispelled by life-giving sunlight; friend or foe; win or lose; live or die; attract or repulse; survive or thrive; self-preservation and well-being. To be safe, to feel loved and protected and well, we all long to belong, but perhaps no belonging is unconditional. Any conditioned predisposition inherited and reinforced through preconceptions over aeons cannot easily be rationalised away. This is an unbearable, unscratchable itch, and is akin to being aware of the need to fathom the pain of a long-excised, now-phantom limb. It involves a proprioceptive sense of understanding your place in the world, while being aware of everything out there, or wherever whatever might be, or should be, in relation to you. At the microcosmic levels, pecking order patterning is cause-effect bound with preferential treatment within families – whether compelled by cultural norms, personal dispositions or merely echoing societal expectations – influenced by gender, by order of birth, by physical traits. Hence, the perennial paradox: if the ‘self-preserving’ family unit is at the root of all concepts of Otherness in human culture, the Other is [a] relative. Such conditionings simmer and seethe in the individual as well as extended, collective psyches – racial, cultural, gender-related, tribal, national – and get transmitted across generations as intensifying cause-and-effect impacts that sometimes reach the exponentially retaliatory horrors of Jacobean tragedy: shuddering, violent reciprocity resulting in irrevocable damage that takes generations to even contemplate reconciliation, let alone repair. Every new repression-expression accrues to what becomes experienced as insurmountable oppression – which ends, and ironically, begins anew in the catastrophe of war and bloodshed.

Embodiment conditions; conditioning is embodied. The fundamental difference across the human, animal and botanical worlds is between maleness and femaleness, biological distinction: the primal, generative polar-other pair, whose sexual consummation ensures genetic destinies are infinitely shuffled in the cycle of the survival of every species. Until recent advances in molecular biology, genetics and the chromosomal shuffle of each individual’s genetic destiny being equally bequeathed by both parents were relatively unknown, and patriarchal cultures and religions designated a secondary, inferior status to women in general, with childbearing and childrearing as their primary roles. Besides the asymmetry in literal biological costs involved in the reproductive cycle weighing heavily against the female of the species, oddly, oftimes because of it, cultural bias, taboos and prohibitions continue to dog women’s very existence. The many millennia of violence and inhumanity that has been perpetrated against women and girls in the name of the ‘natural order’, the law, tradition, religion and culture encompass female infanticide, female genital mutilation, subservience, silence, inequalities in human rights from citizenship to professions, the inability to represent anything other than themselves in female-centred roles, and even then, only with difficulty. From this discrimination, the practical and theoretical categorisation of the Other snowballs to include other perceived ‘imperfect’ manifestations of the human being, together with the coincident inequalities and social injustices endured. As explicated by Deleuze and Guattari, in their theory of “becoming”:

[T]he majority in the universe assumes as pregiven the right and power of man. In this sense women, children, but also animals, plants, and molecules, are minoritarian. It is perhaps the special situation of women in relation to the man-standard that accounts for the fact that becomings, being minoritarian, always pass through a becoming-woman.4

Women – by birth – can scarcely be called a minority as they make up nearly half of the world’s population, but they are classified collectively under the non-discrimination policy thus: “women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities”. With women as the emblematic Other, gender, race, ancestry, ethnicity, caste, class, religion, language, sexuality, national identity, political leaning, age, disability – any minority status at all – are collectively co-existent, parallel and intermingling live currents in this flow of Otherness.

Ironically, the ideals of Beauty and embodied ‘perfection’ have always been woven into evaluative categorical systems, which have been inadvertently tyrannical, intolerant, and self-sabotaging, even. Aesthetics and ethics are diabolically bound, and can confound our best intentions to remain unbiased. Eugenics, Nazi ‘Aryan race supremacy’, and once held ‘truths’ like phrenology, and the belief that “an organism’s “outer state” – its appearance – reflected its “inner state,” its moral or intellectual worth”5 are notions that subtly reinforce the phenomenological experience of appearance and physiognomic markers, and points of identification with, and deviation from such ideals. Hence from the start, Darwin’s insights provoked outrage, and evolutionary biology’s stance on humanity’s very animal beginnings continues to invoke horror and disbelief. Beauty may be truth and truth, beauty, at its most philosophical foundations, but it is probably more truthful to say that beauty is experienced as powerful; and by extension, the desire of, and for power is tied to this experience.

So. We perceive but the tip of the primordial iceberg: so much lies at subconscious levels, and, despite advancements in sociology, psychology and psychiatry, remains furtive – inscrutable, without purposeful unmooring from the safety of structures designed to maintain perceived ‘natural order’, and preestablished ‘superiority’ and power.

A sense of ‘belonging’ crystallises around culture, tradition, pride, resilience, and also pain and loss, and accretes generationally: at some point, responses get conditioned, and lines are drawn to keep some in, and others out. Retrospect far enough, those lines recede, fade, overlap, disappear: so much of any definitive, identifying legacy arises from shared influences – from belief systems to food sources and cuisine, to language. Not all ‘influence’ was, or is, benign, of course. We impress, and are impressed upon: these pivotal moments have complicated, double-edged beginnings. Indigeneity stakes the deepest claim on belonging, where landscapes are bound with mindscapes, and the blood, sweat and tears of the living, and the bodies of the dead, feed identification with ancient geographies and stories. Yet, like the settlers who arrive millennia later, even indigeneity has beginnings. Belonging has beginnings in endings.

 

II. Mutual Conditioning: Walking in Another’s Skin

“…the secret of happiness and virtue […]: making people like their unescapable social destiny.” 6

Aldous Huxley’s dystopian and prescient Brave New World scopes the pragmatic solutions of social conditioning mercilessly, with the “Hatchery and Conditioning Centre” where embryos get predestined into specific castes: from Alpha-Plus through Beta, Delta, Epsilon, Gamma, all carefully conditioned to be happy with their lots. Ringing Neo-Pavlovian bells, he imagines a future governed by what is reasonable-sounding: “The World State Motto: Community. Identity. Stability.” In Huxley’s world, a person from one caste could not possibly imagine being, or being with, someone else from another caste: that was disapproved of.

It takes empathy and imagination to experience Other perspectives, to “become-Other”, and some inescapable shared aspects of human experience (at least thus far) like pain and suffering certainly bring one person’s world closer to another. Literature, story, art and images, music – all grow empathy. At the Virtual Reality (VR)

Innovations at the Tribeca Film Festival 2018 in New York, the Virtual Arcade featured ‘storyscapes’, or what is called “immersive experiences” of the new genre of VR films. The BBC World Service Click programme host Gareth Mitchell spoke to the VR filmmakers about modes like “Embodiment” and “Social VR”, which allow anyone to “take on a role, go into somebody else’s shoes.” Mitchell, describing himself as a “white male”, donned his VR goggles and experienced the VR film 1,000 Cut Journey, “where the person undergoing the VR experience is teleported into the body of a VR character and is subject to that foreign character’s experience, such as police brutality and racism.” This is related to the concept of the ‘avatar’, of which many definitions now pertain, but the origins of the word come from Hindu mythology, referencing the incarnation of a god in some form. Here in immersive VR mode, it enables embodied, intersubjective experience. 1,000 Cut Journey is described thus:

In this immersive virtual-reality experience, the viewer becomes Michael Sterling, a black man, encountering racism as a young child, adolescent, and young adult. 1,000 Cut Journey highlights the social realities of racism, for understanding racism is the essential first step in promoting effective, collective social action and achieving racial justice.7

The instructions include being told to look in the mirror where Mitchell sees himself as a seven-year-old black boy looking back at him: he is Michael, on his first day at school, and experiences discrimination at each small ‘cut’ inflicted, through micro- aggressions – from being mocked, to being ignored, and through fully traumatic moments in the character’s life. Mitchell said he felt the weight of “assumptions made about you before you’ve had a chance to speak.” Just 10 minutes into the embodiment experience, sitting crosslegged on the floor as a child, waiting for an interview as a young adult, and later made to kneel, to “feel subjugated” under police control, and Mitchell says: “I was furious, I mean really, genuinely.”

Pre-avatar technology, in the late 1960s in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the American teacher Jane Elliott created the now-iconic “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes”8 experiential workshop, where the children in her class experienced what it felt like to be ‘othered’ – an experiment which “labels participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the color of their eyes and exposes them to the experience of being a minority.”

While some have, since then, critiqued her work as “sadistic”, etc., this “lesson of a lifetime” provides the same immersive experience that helps with identification and empathy. Similarly, experiential workshops where able-bodied people experience disability, e.g., undertake tasks while blindfolded, demonstrate the powerful way imagination is informed by experience, and vice versa. As Atticus Finch says to his daughter, Scout, in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”9

However, the ‘corrective’ pendulum has now swung into hyperdrive in the world of publishing fiction and literature, where “sensitivity readers” are now all the rage. Authors are often obliged to take on the services of these “sensitivity readers”10 who vet manuscripts for “stereotypes, biases and problematic language,” to which author Lionel Shriver responds that there is “a thin line between combing through manuscripts for anything potentially objectionable to particular subgroups and overt political censorship.” The claim is that this is not censorship, but “offering perspectives,” which might include suggestions to a writer that they “may not be the best person” to write from particular perspectives! This is tricky terrain: if one person’s freedom to express is another person’s experience of oppression, how does an evolving society balance these rights, i.e., the right to express, and the right to experience? And what of responsibilities on both sides? And aren’t writers worth their salt already their own first “sensitivity readers”, and aren’t their publishers there to work with them?

Writers imagine, that is critical to the profession, and good writers imagine experienceable worlds, however ‘unreal’. Literature is a wormhole: sit down with a book and in an instant, we are transported into worlds beyond the space of our own lives and time – we retreat into the past, and race far into the future; we climb into characters’ heads – men, women, children, animals, even inanimate objects – and understand – deeply understand – what it feels like to be other than ourselves, while, at the same time, recognising ourselves through these other perspectives. We feel the characters’ pain, shame, regret, exhilaration, despair. We identify with them, and so live a thousand lives in one lifetime. Literary devices or figures of speech are the most sophisticated instruments the human mind has created to conceptualise the world around us and our place in it – from simple and familiar similes to the mysterious metaphor and the meaningful allegory; through fiction and poetry, life becomes even more real. We are sensitised; we learn about the complexities of human nature; we become more accommodating and more compassionate when we read, write, make, and appreciate art. Conscience cannot be outsourced.

III. Conditional Representation; Obligatory Belonging

Difference can only be liberated through the invention of an acategorical thought.11

One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion.12

The Other fascinates; confounds; is feared and rejected; is reviled; is ignored, dismissed; is mistreated, marginalised, alienated; is tolerated. Then again, some specimens of otherness are denied even ‘existence’ because quite anomalous, and uncategorisable: perhaps the Other is a Hydra, not a community. Otherness differentiates on a spectrum of ‘difference’ – in kind, by degree, by decree, by choice, inevitably. So, how can otherness be represented? Who represents otherness? The socio-political-cultural arena still regulates by order of stereotype: ironically, it typecasts the ‘typical’ Other, yet views askance the atypical Other. The representation of the Other and the representative of Otherness further tighten stereotype, exacerbated by the ethics-aesthetics Gordian knot.

Two visible instances of anomalous events: Barack Obama, President of the USA (2008-2016), and Meghan Markle, married into British royalty (2018), both American, both hailing from mixed race – biracial – heritage. They are, at once, both black and white, and neither black, nor white. Yet how they are perceived, and what they choose to project – are significant. To state categorically that Obama was the first black president is inaccurate. He is the first mixed race, or biracial, president. Does that make a difference? Yes. And no, in a democracy, it should not. Yet, it does. Displaying a sense of belonging – whatever the motivation on choice of sides – was critical. Politically, it kept things ‘sided’, and he could fulfill obligations to represent the obvious Other. It addressed and also perpetuated difference via obvious polarisation, giving precedence to his father, and sidestepping his mother in the equation, as if pecking order rights needed to be observed first, and reversed. If he did identify as white, or biracial – neither side might have deemed him a worthy ‘representative’, as Obama is both more minoritarian than black, and ‘insufficiently’ white. What about all the other Others – the indigenous peoples, Hispanics, Asians, people of mixed races? Somehow, his being different did make a difference: poised as a fulcrum between worlds, Obama did stand up for Otherness, including the Hydra-Other. With Markle, the claim that she represents the black and biracial population in Britain also works on this principle – although care is taken to note that she is ‘biracial’. American and biracial, marrying into the British royal family is entering even more primordially sensitive terrain, given royalty’s very premise of bloodline and kingdom. This marriage is epochal.

Another set of issues much in the public eye now: gender, sexuality and sexual abuse. What began as the LGB ‘community’ has now become LGBTQ+, an increasingly unpronounceable acronym representing a very diverse collective. Transgender issues, the T in LGBTQ+, marks the transitional, crossers of lines of belonging that reflect the complexities of embodiment and identification most visibly. The hold on gender and sexuality has long been regulated by religion and continues to engender intolerances.

While collective identity and the extended sense of self are strategies now in practice, allowing distressed online communities to represent themselves via social media like the #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and even the #NotMyPresident movements, it is religion’s strategy that stands par excellence: hearts-and-minds forged in collective identification – beyond geopolitical, national, cultural, racial, or social and class boundaries – with timeless storyscapes that intimately include the extremely extended self, aligned directly to ultimate power. There are rules and regulations of course, yet this is a near-unconditional sense of belonging that does wonders in terms of psychoneuroimmunology.

How does a diversity of othernesses represent themselves? When can othernesses be represented with critical mass, ‘solidarity’? Group, gang, community, assembly, crowd, mob, horde? How held? The difference between and within othernesses could be even wider than the difference they might individually have with the relatively more homogenous majority. The adage: “The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend” is true, yet we often find, as Trinculo in Shakespeare’s The Tempest says, taking shelter with that great Other, Caliban, to escape a storm, that “misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” Discussing group psychology, the social psychologist Stephen Reicher cites an example of contingent identification: imagine all the individuals in a train, boarding as individuals with “no psychological commonality.” If the train breaks down (yet again) however, all these ‘Is’ become ‘One’ against the train company, as they become “aggrieved commuters,” and experience “the transition from the physical to a psychological group, where people have, if you like, that sense of ‘we’.”13 Riots, rituals, sports events and music festivals all have such fluid, yet highly regulated group dynamics, through “shared purpose.”

Declarations of equality and meritocracy, more often than not, fall short of lived realities. Tokenism will not cut it anymore: the much-managed anxiety of engineering optics-conscious, harmonious-seeming resolution, is no real resolution at all. Based on the core tenet of democracy, the majority wins: if the majority is constituted by race, as is the case in many nations, when can someone from the minority represent their country, within which everyone is supposedly an equal citizen? What does this imply for proportionally representative governments? Can the minority only ever represent themselves and their ‘minority issues’? When can minorities be represented with critical mass, or, the powers forbid, represent the critical mass? What is national identity, if it doesn’t override race, racial distribution, and ‘community’? When can we belong to each other, to our shared humanity? Quite an impasse. David Reich, Harvard University geneticist, states that with the advances made in molecular biology, we now know that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals had a common ancestor, about 500,000 years ago, and that “interbreeding may have occurred on more than one occasion.” With this shared history, “it should give us an alternative to the evils of racism and nationalism and make us realise that we are all entitled equally to our human heritage.”14

Animal, vegetable, mineral: since all life shares common ancestry, we should perhaps all shift from mere humanism to neo- enlightenment ‘Earthism’. And even as we gain new insights on how ethics and aesthetics concatenate, conscience might move us beyond ‘optics-diplomacy’: within, and between My You, and Your Me, we might just find each Other belonging.

 

B. The Works of Art: Living Realities & Shaping Perceptions

Art can transcend the constraints of culture. In You, Other; I, Another, all nine artists come from very dissimilar backgrounds, and their works diverge off various individual realities of lived Otherness, or concepts of difference – expressed in diverse materialities and modes. From the rhythms of the natural world to the measures of culture and custom, and stemming from the personal, the familial to the societal – all manner of Other manifest here reciprocally, “inscrutably involved.”

While not an ‘international’ exposition as far as convention goes, nonetheless the age-old thorny subject that all nine artists ponder is surfacing to the forefront of world attention: it is many-faceted and far from convenient to package and present, and inevitably so. The artworks, while very singular, resonate in subtle ways, and some come within range of each other’s territory, and some overlap. No, this isn’t about “harmony”. Instead, there are clear, unexpected overtones – sympathetic resonance – in the individual refrains: notes unstruck, tremble to each other’s presence. These can be discerned with keen listening.

Bewitched; Knotted; Guarded; Incorporated

Associations emerge between the works, and these first four all engage in their unique ways with gendered and self-conscious relations within the structures of romance, the family, the self and cultural heritage; how the sexes are socio-culturally conditioned and embodied – with subtle inversions of the male-female relational continuum – and how these relations are encountered personally.

Susie Wong’s three trace- drawings respond to the genre of romantic movies. Taking computer screen- grabs off certain scenes – stilling specific moments – from the iconic 1960s film The World of Suzie Wong, the artist remarks, dryly, that the Hong Kong heroine is her namesake, and that she made this choice for “a hoot and a laugh.” In any romantic relationship, as famously excavated in Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, his glossary-analysis of the agony and ecstasy of love and desire – there is the lover, and the beloved, and these roles are asymmetrical, and dynamically very differently charged. The lover suffers: compelled to demonstrate devotion, to perform, to make promises and overt gestures of reassurance; it is the lover who longs for the beloved ‘other’; it is the lover who is abandoned. The beloved is on the passive and receiving end of this performance of love. Barthes’ “I” is the lover, and the beloved is written of as the ‘other’. Frequently, though not always, this dynamic is mapped on typical male-female relations, in a game of pursuit and capture; endless waiting; loss; absence, etc. This in turn, as exemplified in The World of Suzie Wong, also maps against the power dynamics between East and West, the colonial and the colonised. Wong’s chosen-stolen moments show the male white protagonist in jacket and tie, but with mouth slightly agape as he pulls away, or where he is all ‘back’ – the figure is sentimental, protectively tender, but gingerly, and somewhat under siege, as evident from the man’s utterances in American-English off screen-grab, caught as subtitle- titles in Mandarin in the drawings, “a language in which I am neither conversant nor literate”, declares the artist. In the film, it is the man who beseeches his amour to stay, which echoes Barthes’ observations:

“Historically, the discourse of absence is carried on by the woman. […] Woman is faithful (she waits), man is fickle (he sails away, he cruises). […] It follows that in any man who utters the other’s absence something feminine is declared: this man who waits and who suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminized.”1

This power imbalance inherent in romantic relations and mirrored in romantic movies as well as East-West relations, where the ‘Oriental other’ is often further feminised, gives pause for thought. Yet, as Wong says: “We consume Romance, and it devours us.” Language still attests to the bias that reflects the state of hapless disempowerment of the role and status of women, where words like ‘emasculated’ and ‘effeminate’ are used to belittle men, or indeed, other cultures. Ultimately though, the love to be loved disarms, and renders individuals, female and male, vulnerable, as evident in the delicate watercolour drawings of Wong’s unhappy lovers.

Approaching a Mending Wall, a pair of heavy tapestry-like hanging works, is what Mithun Jayaram, who lives and works in Bangalore, India, calls “process-based sculpture”, made in response to the scope of this exhibition. It began with observing his Hindu father’s daily rituals: cleaning, trimming and lighting of the oil lamp at their home, which uses a cotton lamp-wick twine used in temples as well. The work presents a father-and-son portrait, hung and tenuously bound to each other. Both sides of the handknitted base are heavily textured: the ‘backs’ bristle with dangling knobbly knots; the ‘fronts’ are long- furred with frayed ends. At points, the frayed ends of each tapestry are pulled and tied to each other, tensioned in sections, and looser in others, like webbed tendons, stretched and forced to keep connected.

That the tapestries are knotted and woven from temple oil-lamp wicks, spins another dimensional backdrop of family traditions, religion, ritual, cultural contexts and heritage. The tapestry-portraits wick material is a by-product in the manufacture of cotton saris: this rather intriguingly alludes to a woman’s absence – the mother’s severed umbilical connection to son – being yet another hush in this ode to silence. Perhaps also another unknotting: what is extraneous to the clothing of women’s bodies umbilical-binds the relationship of father to divine Father, and son to father. In Hindu temples, oil- lamps are filled with different flammable fats: ghee, sesame seed oil, or coconut oil. The wick, when saturated in these oils and lit, draws up the flammable liquid in a capillary flow, and keeps the flame constant on a slow aromatic burn. The very material is metaphorically saturated in the latent potential of controlled flammability, and when repeatedly knotted, suggests an inhibited, snarled up ‘violence’. Knotting and knots usually serve a vital function of holding things together, but here, the separate knots are non-functional – these knots cannot be unravelled, they are deadknots, and it is pointless to unravel them, because each knot is knotted unto itself from a separate length of twine. We eavesdrop on the unconscious and subconscious convolution of repeating patterns; of unsaid, unheard emotions and thoughts. The string-ends of the knots in front are the frayed ties that bind, and evoke familial relations of the father and son as kin; as skins, touching, and touched, while tensed across the silent acknowledgement of circumscribed roles. This family portrait of father and son is one of estranged masculine interiorities – not quite looking at each other, but unavoidably aware of each other’s presence amidst furtive sidelong glances. The distance between father and son, both Other to each other, is measured in fidgety, Gordian- knotted silences; it is given skin, uneasy touchability.

The vulnerabilities of masculinity and the formation of male identity in relation to Nature and Culture pulse at the hidden heart of Vincent Twardzik Ching’s installation Eraphya, in which he invokes his ancestral lineage on his Canadian-Finnish mother’s side. Eraphya – meaning sacred wilderness – enshrines another hidden dimension of gender relations, and in the context of family, the artist constructs the space of fathers and sons, and of archetypal male coming-into-being, drawing on his own lived experience. The installation is constructed in a series of ‘screens’, nut-and-bolted together, of reclaimed wood panels, ‘distressed’, sanded, hammered at and painted upon, then deliberately set up at angles so that it is impossible to get a clear view from any particular point – except through peering and peeping – of the presence of a suggested interior. Reminiscent of a ‘kids’ fort’, a child’s hideout, or of a makeshift shelter of the homeless – it is fragile in its make-do mode – yet necessary. The painted surfaces on reclaimed panels bear abstract imagery, evocative of lichen and moss, and landscapes around which the viewer wanders. The ‘inner sanctum’ that one journeys towards, and even when one arrives within, is partly obscured by what the artist calls “three guardians” – vertical sculptures that seem to take on aspects of natural forces that collide, synthesise and incarnate as cultural-material shields, complete with the hiss of an untuned radio. Then, more veiling: a constructed ‘thorny bramble’ crowds protectively around the heart of the structure – a small oil painting featuring a man and an animal. This seems to also conjure the classic fairytale grove, where a charmed princess lies asleep, awaiting her kiss into womanhood – but this time, it’s a masculinity that is being ‘guarded’. The small, classically painted oil painting, enshrined on an easel, was inspired by a 1960s postcard, picturing a scene of the very site where the artist’s Finn ancestors migrated to in Northwest Ontario, Canada. This space also conjures a sense of an artist’s studio-sanctuary, where images are dreamt up and made manifest. One is granted a glimpse of a secret, quiet moment, a sacred moment, when a man is pictured nursing a baby moose with a bottle of milk: an archetypical manly man, coincident as a ‘mothering’ man, nurtured by Nature and nurturing Nature.

Male identity in relation to Nature – overcoming challenges of weather and wilderness, farming, the domestication of wild animals – and its vestigial associations with physical strength, is constructed around, as Twardzik Ching notes: “profound dichotomies where violence and industriousness, insecurity and self-reliance are juxtaposed in fragile and volatile relationships to each other.” The ancestral notion of ‘home’ – built for self and significant other, is still an issue today, when domestic duties are negotiated, and physical strength isn’t literally necessary in the corporate, urban city.

Intriguingly, Eraphya calls to mind Duchamp’s Étant donnés2 which can only be seen through two peepholes in a solid, sealed wooden door. Duchamp’s last work is riddled with visual and linguistic puns, alluding perhaps to Courbet’s infamous painting The Origin of the World. The hole through which one peeps, leads the eye to yet another ‘hole’, that is perceived as part of a whole but in actuality isn’t: the coming-into- being of what isn’t whole, as perceived through the peephole, is the eroticised space between the spread ‘legs’ of a three-dimensional not-quite-woman figure. It is a woman’s body in parts, headless, only barely assembled, just enough for the eye to make out the erotic-symbolic scene. Eraphya seems to be an inversion of Étant donnés in more ways than one: here, the largest peephole upfront is a violently smashed-in gash on plywood; elsewhere peepholes are frayed cracks between hinged panels, or drilled ‘bullet- holes’. The installation has a sense of secrecy, of ‘hoarding’, that suggests interior construction that must be shielded from view until completed. This is a space for the ‘becoming-self ’, backed against the wall, which will always have protective hoarding up at the deepest, most vulnerable moments – yet the work also has a ‘backstage-set’ effect. The perfect gem of an oil painting nestles within this space, only perceptible through the inconvenient, ‘culturally conditioned’ construction of manliness that is still the measure of desirability in all orientations, depending on who masculinises, and who feminises between relations. A relevant aside: Twardzik Ching and his Chinese artist wife, both of the Baha’i faith, take on each other’s surnames, deliberately unhyphenated, as a significant mark of mutual respect.

Mumtaz Maricar’s oil painting Laparoscopic wound, no wider than 1 – 2 cm, is named for the bodily site of an excision. This uncanny portrait of female embodiment, clad in the culturally-specific Indian sari, does reflect Indianness, yet what is not apparent is that the artist was raised in an Indian Muslim family, and cultural identity here is more convoluted than is visible. In this self-portrait, the artist’s hands are depicted, as expressed by the artist, “framing the site of the laparoscopic wound through which a uterine fibroid was removed”. At the painted re-opened incision just below the navel, the impression of a third hand presses up from beneath the painted skin, and fingertips seem to pry open the wound from within. This “colonisation of the body by an alien agency”, as Maricar describes, while viscerally referencing the abject, extraneous fleshly material produced when changes in the body sensitises it to high estrogen levels within the body itself, also grapples with the female body as a self-exceeding, autonomous Other, with its own will and desires, pregnant with her sense of self. The ground, against which the figure arises, blooms with cloud-like fibroid-forms, surrounding the woman. In the age of the Selfie, this self-portrait is a doppelganger who craves rebirth as another self, the female self who rebirths herself through a wound: as Maricar notes, it is her doppelganger who is the painter, struggling for existence. Resurfacing through the site of the laparoscopic wound as the “object of desire”, this artist-self, in Kristeva’s words, “bursts with the shattered mirror where the ego gives up its image in order to contemplate itself in the Other” and the abject becomes “simply a frontier, a repulsive gift that the Other, having become alter ego, drops so that “I” does not disappear in it but finds, in that sublime alienation, a forfeited existence.”3

Here, surrealist painting arises beyond the ‘truths’ of the abstract- painterly surface once again; as surface within surface, paint paints skin and skins apart painting: a representation of the psychological dimensions of human nature.

Captured; Commemorated; Escaped

The elemental forces and forms of Nature are what inspire the next three artists, although each work with very different materials: photographic print and its chemical capture of timed being and presence; found dead and treated specimens of fauna; a felled tree turned sculptural wave. Their works resonate on themes of transience and the transitional nature of existence and perception.

Siew Kee Liong’sSessa’s Dream and Vassal’s Glove are paired and juxtaposed photographic prints of photographs and negatives of people and objects that seem to symbolically hint at the shifting power dynamic between masculinity and femininity via the inverse relations of the moment as negative, and another instantiation in print. Sessa’s Dream features a broken chess piece – the King – and is paired with the furtive and anxious partial portrait of a man on negative film, an image obscured by a decade’s growth of dendritic mould and fungus, and burnt edges.

Beside this ‘internal’ pair, is another pair of images: Vassal’s Glove depicts a much-worn workman’s glove, and a negative image, less stained with fungus, of a woman curled up on the ground, and yet somehow afloat, perhaps asleep, perhaps huddled, post-trauma. There is a suggestion of lost time, touch, and non-touch, given that gloves protect a user from direct contact with any surface or object. Both works are symbolically linked, referencing the legendary Sessa, Indian inventor of chaturanga, the ancestor of chess, and the power dynamics between king and the ‘hand’ of the king, in relation to the ‘protection’ of the queen – here is a parable about roles, betrayal and broken trust. Yet, that is just one possible narrative: the artist reassures that “the pairing of the human subject and the object is an attempt to create a trigger that stirs the viewer to form their own narrative.” These enigmatic images, particularly the portraits, are each “sliced” moments of a life, as Siew states, and having been captured in an instant in traditional photography on acetate – the negative – remains “distinct and separate from the human being I photographed.” A separate life, a parting of ways post the capture, with the photographed person living on, aging with each day, away from their stilled image-in-time; each drifting further apart from one another over the years; each figuring thereafter in a different story. This is the ‘stilling’ of life itself, which estranges the ‘me now’ from every passing moment. You get asked, when sharing past photographs: Is that you? You may ask that of yourself, gazing at a surrogate that perpetuates a once-you. The sense of self continues under your very nose; your image once captured, separates from you – like Oscar Wilde’s dire tale The Picture of Dorian Gray, but in reverse – the once-you gets progressively differentiated in time from the continuing self. And upon the discontinuation of that self, others choose ‘their you’ from the images left behind to remember a once-you by.

Despite perhaps sharing ancestral lineage in the murkiest, archaic depths of our mutual coming-into-being, the animal is what humanity distinguishes itself from most keenly. We may love animals – our pets; the beauty and freedom of wild animals; as wrought works of art; as revered animal spirit guides, and animal-headed gods; as the grilled steak on our plate; our handsome leather shoes; the feathers in our caps. Yet we take pains not to ‘behave like animals’, implying wayward lack of morality, and strenuously object to being ‘treated like animals’, implying slavery, powerlessness and indignity – while, at the same time, we anthropomorphise and divinise all manner of creatures in our myths, morality tales and cartoons, and create soft animal-surrogates to provide comfort and companionship for our young. While the animal is seen as Other to the human being, death others us all, human and animal alike. Victor Emmanuel’sOsseous series of works are what he calls a “tribute” to Nature’s wondrous forms, in life and in death. Osseous Ivory is one set of carefully cleaned and re-assembled skeletons: a delicately-boned pigeon and two of the enigmatic Royal Pleco fish, with primordial-looking skeletons. Dead when the artist found or was given them, their now polished ivory skeletons belie the visceral processes Victor undertook to allow for the hidden sculptural beauty of their bones to be revealed. Another series, Osseous Crystallised, is a paean to life and lifeforms: rare creatures and insects, disappearing from our urbanised islandscape, found dead on his nature trails, e.g., the Carpenter Bee, are lovingly collected and transformed into works of art through a crystallisation process. From seahorse, sea- swallow, to wasp, these are ensconced in glass spheres and affixed within cast and carved resin skulls, representing how we might hold them precious in our minds, lest we forget, or should they go extinct in our lifetimes. Most poignantly, these works remind us that our human consciousness is on continuum with the animal world, as we co-exist on Mother Earth.

Still on Nature, but this time with a focus on natural phenomena as transient form, Malaysia-born sculptor Yeo Chee Kiong received his early art education in Singapore and has lived and worked in Singapore for decades. He now also works in Taiwan. Yeo’s practice, inspired by natural forms and forces, also works through allusion and paradox, giving sculptural permanence to what has no solid form, e.g., water and wind, and their interactions. This is seen in Tempted Mind, Shaking Tree, Running Water, where he carves a felled African Mahogany tree trunk, chars it, and with mallet and chisel, turns wood into a stylised form of moving water – a curve-faceted ‘wave’. In keeping with his use of epoxy ‘spills’ to ‘liquefy’ hard surfaces e.g., walls and other architectural features, this tree-wave casts a wet- looking black shadow that seems to flow away from it on the floor of the space. As a sculptural response to an anecdotal Zen question about the deceptive perception of cause and effect in the phenomenal world, Tempted Mind, Shaking Tree, Running Water is a simple yet startling reminder that perception is constantly shifting, and that all is in flux, as deeply held in Buddhist understanding. Wood becomes ‘water’; ‘water’ casts a solid-liquid ‘shadow’; ‘shadow’ becomes solid form that resembles water. The metaphorical here becomes material, and vice versa. Nothing is what it seems. Shift your point of view, and everything – including preconceptions of another – transforms.

Probed; Countered

The final two artists’ works are individual contemplations on their experience of being overtly made to feel Other in the very country they were born in, and how estrangement becomes internalised, slowly whittling away any sense of belonging from within.

Reflecting on her childhood growing up in Kampong Siglap, Singapore, as a Eurasian girl, Regina De Rozario’s work is a careful inventory of the questions she has been traumatised and bombarded with, and that have chipped and chiselled away at her sense of identity over the years. In her words, she has “never quite ‘fitted’ in, or found my ‘place’, either by my own volition or circumstance.” 101 questions form the core of her thinking around the subject of Otherness, and the work Faultlines (or, The questions you ask today will be the questions I ask tomorrow) is made manifest as a handwritten list of these questions on and around a pillar in the gallery, on which she also affixes photographs unearthed from her childhood photo albums. The non-word markings on the pillar are deliberately worked to extend the existing visible mended-cracks on the floor of the gallery right up the pillar, creating a sense of instantiated ‘faultlines’ – the very title of her work. There is irony here: architecturally, pillars uphold ceilings and roofs; metaphorically, pillars of society keep us feeling protected – we lean upon them; value systems and ideologies are spoken of as pillars too. This pillar-of-questions, instead, is a monument to estrangement; a whipping pillar.

Noticeably absent in these photographs is her father, who was a seaman, although she notes that she had, in the past, cut some family members out from certain photographs. The pencilled 101 questions, hammered out like statements, hang without question-marks; some asked repeatedly of her over the years, right until the present, include: “What is your name • Why is your name so hard to pronounce • Do you have a Chinese name • Are you Malay • Why are you so dark • What is a Eurasian • Are you Singaporean

Such questions have been experienced as “bruises” that continue to hurt – and they reveal much about dominant Singapore society, and the many crude prejudices and projections cast upon minority cultures and subcultures – people who appear Other, or who are simply perceived as being visibly not part of the majority, i.e., ‘not belonging’. As De Rozario says, she is “a minority within a minority within a minority.” Writing stories and drawing pictures on the walls of her home as a child, her mother never cleaned or painted over any of this accumulating ‘graffiti’. This background to her childhood remained until they had to move house when she was eight, and the house was left, with the marked walls still whispering.

Leroy Sofyan hails from a family of mixed ethnicities: half Minangkabau (his father, he says, was born in West Sumatra on a volcanic lake) and half Eurasian; and different faiths: Baha’i and Catholic. He worked as a paramedic for six years, before turning sculptor. Sofyan has had to suffer all manner of presumptuous interrogation and treatment that has left him somewhat resigned to the ongoing undermining of his sense of belonging in the country he was born in. His thoughtful wood sculpture is heavy with significance, which it carries with stoic, ironic dignity. Measure/ Measured is hewn and carved from one trunk of Tembusu wood, a species of tree indigenous to Singapore. It is shaped as two weighing scales, one upside down atop the other, and sits squarely on a tall grey granite plinth. Malt vinegar-stained a deep purple- brown, the grain and beautifully worked fractures of the wood surfaces appear fragile-yet-strong. There is an old, much-weathered axe with a worn wooden handle ‘wedged’ between one part of the base of the sculpture and the top surface of the granite plinth: a ‘counterbalance’. This is Sofyan’s recognisable hallmark, where he integrates readymade tools, objects and instruments of measure with his handshaped sculptures, such that they wittily ‘pry’ each other open into another dimension of thinking. The axe as art- object also calls to mind Tang Da Wu’s work ‘Untitled’ (1991), generally known as ‘Axe’,4 where the wooden handle of the axe- head seems to sprout new leafy growth, suggesting diabolically redemptive dialectics: that the very handle, shaped from the wood of a felled tree to become the agent of tree-destruction, will in time develop ‘self-consciousness’ and begin anew, as tree.

Referencing Hegel’s “master and slave hierarchy in our own minds,” Sofyan used “one block of wood,” with the aim, he says “to convey how inextricable the self is from the other”; “to make physical the struggle within ourselves” and “to invite thought about how the struggle between mutual identification and estrangement plays out in the field of social relations.”

Measure/Measured questions the societal standard of measure, set at an unspoken default, against which we are weighed and, inevitably, found ‘wanting’. We are prompted to ponder measurability: who is positioned to evaluate our worthiness to belong; how we appraise ourselves, or ‘measure up’; that we do indeed transact on the perceptual, and are at the mercy of appearances; how are we perceived, even as our appearances belie our sense of self, and – how might we counter the weights of social bias and injustice. The gentle irony of a symbolic counterweighted counterweight is both charming, and at once deeply unsettling: here, in hewn wood, perched on stone and axe-wedged, is some measure of Foucault’s difference-liberating “acategorical thought,”5 given heft.

NOTE: The essay You, Other; I, Another is written in two parts: A. A Meditation on Otherness & Belonging; B. The Works of Art: Living Realities & Shaping Perceptions. Part B, discusses the nine artworks in this exhibition.

 

Endnotes (to Part A of essay)

1Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p67.

2Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (New York: Cornell University Press, 1977), p184.

3https://academic.oup.com/ilarjournal/article/39/1/27/710062.
Robert Ader, ‘Psychoneuroimmunology’, ILAR Journal, Volume 39, Issue 1, 1 January 1998, Pages 27–29, https://doi.org/10.1093/ilar.39.1.27. Psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, is a relatively recent “convergence of disciplines” pioneered by Dr Robert Ader, who states: “Until recently, the immune system was considered an independent agency of defense that protected the organism against foreign material (i.e., proteins that were not part of one’s “self”). Indeed, the immune system is capable of considerable self-regulation. However, converging data from the behavioral and brain sciences now indicate that the brain plays a critical role in the regulation or modulation of immunity. This new research indicates that the nervous and immune systems, the two most complex systems that have evolved for the maintenance of homeostasis, represent an integrated mechanism for the adaptation of the individual and the species.”

4Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993/first published 1980), p 291.

5https://www.facinghistory.org/resource-library/ranking-humankind
In 1795, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, in his book, On the Natural Variety of Mankind, divided humanity into five varieties linked to geography: Negro (African), Mongolian (Asian), Malay (Southeast Asia), American Indian (American), and Caucasian (European). He introduced the word Caucasian for what he called the first and most beautiful race; other races represented “a degeneration from the original type.” Like Blumenbach, Dutch professor of anatomy Petrus Camper was also “preoccupied with the idea of beauty and order in the world.” He ranked human faces on degree of resemblance to the Enlightenment ideal – ancient Greek sculptures – believing that “an organism’s “outer state”—its appearance— reflected its “inner state,” its moral or intellectual worth.”

6Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, (first edition 2006), p16. First published by Harper & Brothers, 1932.

7https://www.tribecafilm.com/immersive The 12-minute VR film 1,000 Cut Journey – project creators: Courtney Cogburn, Elise Ogle, Jeremy Bailenson, Tobin Asher, Teff Nichols; project directors: Courtney Cogburn, Elise Ogle; key collaborators: Virtual Human Interaction Lab, Cogburn; research group producers: Jeremy Bailenson, Courtney Cogburn; writers: Courtney Cogburn, Cogburn Research Group; funded by: The Brown Institute for Media Innovation. (USA, 2018.) Other VR films at the Virtual Arcade included The Day the World Changed, “which brings to viewers the harrowing impressions of the victims and survivors of atomic bombings and nuclear arms testing through first-hand testimonies, data visualizations, and innovative use of 3-D scanning and photogrammetry”, and Hero which transports viewers to the present-day Syrian conflict.

8https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/lesson-of-a-lifetime-72754306/ “Jane Elliott, internationally known teacher, lecturer, diversity trainer, and recipient of the National Mental Health Association Award for Excellence in Education, exposes prejudice and bigotry for what it is, an irrational class system based upon purely arbitrary factors.”

9Harper Lee, To Kill a Mocking Bird (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1982 edition), p39.

10https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/27/vetting-for-stereotypes-meet- publishings-sensitivity-readers Alison Flood, Vetting for stereotypes: meet publishing’s ‘sensitivity readers’, Fri 27 Apr 2018.

11Foucault, p186.

12Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace Books, 2010), p224. First published 1969.

13https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2016/02/stephen-reicher-on-crowd-psychology/

14https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/apr/07/ever-evolving-story-humanity- david-reich-interview-neanderthals-denisovans-genome See also: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/reich-genetics- racism/558818/

 

Endnotes (to Part B of essay)

1Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (Penguin: England, 1990. Translation copyright Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, Inc. 1978), p14.

2http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/324.html “Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic assemblage Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) has been described by the artist Jasper Johns as “the strangest work of art in any museum.”” It has been permanently installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1969.

3Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p 9.

4Tang Da Wu’s Untitled (‘Axe’), 1991, is in the Singapore Art Museum collection. Interestingly, another work, Tang’s performance relic Montien and SAM, 2010 (performance at SAM’s inaugural exhibition Modernity and Beyond, 1996), features two weighing scales, separately: one inverted with the acronym SAM on its base, the other bearing stacked ceramic ware, referencing Thai artist Montien Boonma’s work. Both artists’ works are installed in the National Gallery Singapore’s exhibition Between Declarations and Dreams (2015 – 2019).

5Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (New York: Cornell University Press, 1977), p186.

_____

Dr Susie Lingham (b. Singapore) is an interdisciplinary and independent thinker, writer, educator, curator, and maker in the arts. Appointed Creative Director of An Atlas of Mirrors, Singapore Biennale (SB2016), Singapore (2016/17), Lingham was Director of the Singapore Art Museum from 2013 to 2016, shaping its new vision/mission, curatorial direction and acquisition strategy, and oversaw the development, organization and curating of 13 exhibitions, including After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore (2015) and 5 Stars: Art Reflects on Peace, Justice, Equality, Democracy and Progress, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore (2015/16). Prior to these appointments, Lingham was Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education/NTU, Singapore (2009-2013). Conferred the Distinguished Alumni Medal 2014 by Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Lingham has a DPhil in Literature, Religion and Philosophy (University of Sussex, U.K.); an MA (Hons) in Writing (University of Western Sydney, Australia); and a Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching Higher Education (NIE/NTU, Singapore), and has taught at universities and art colleges in Australia, Singapore and the U.K.




Documentation

Opening Reception

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Guest of Honour:Prof Kwok Kian Woon

Associate Provost (Student Life)

Professor of Sociology

Nanyang Technological University

 

Artist Talk

Saturday, 19 May 2018

For information and documentation of the artist talk, click here.


 




Introduction

In celebration of International Women’s Day and in conjunction with Singapore Design Week 2018, The Private Museum is pleased to present In Flux by New York-based Singaporean artist, Dr Wee Hong Ling, from 16 March to 6 May 2018. This solo exhibition follows the most recent development of Wee’s artistic practice, featuring three distinct series of ceramic works (Brooklyn, Moxie and My Family Portrait) and, importantly, the inaugural showcase of blacksmithing works by a Singaporean female artist.

Brooklyn is a series that acknowledges both Singapore and New York as Wee’s homes. From one island to another, Brooklyn references her mediation between continents and her abiding state of flux. By contrast, Moxie, a series of large vessels with daring cantilevers, engages the viewer to ruminate on the artist’s internal qualities of fortitude and persistence as requisites of creating sizable ceramic works.

In this exhibition, Wee also revisits My Family Portrait, the sole figurative sculpture from her body of work that has never been shown. In Flux presents her interpretations in clay and steel juxtaposed against the old childhood photograph.

For the second blacksmithing work, Heaven and Earth, Wee experiments with time and chance by exposing nine forged discs to the elements, including the first snow of winter in New York, to develop a skin of rust. Heaven and Earth, inspired by Chinese cosmology, can be seen as the artist paying homage to her mother tongue and heritage.

As a whole, In Flux is an artistic endeavour by Dr Wee Hong Ling to challenge perceptions and break social stereotypes. Personal and endearing, the works mirror her mindset regarding the continual state of uncertainty that she experiences in the physical, metaphysical and humanistic worlds.





Artist

Dr Wee Hong Ling is an award-winning ceramicist representing Singapore art and design internationally since 2003. Not only is Wee making an impact upon the field of ceramic arts, she is also committed to raising the visibility of Singaporean ceramics globally.

In 2011, she had a solo exhibition, No Place Like Home, at Sculpture Square in celebration of the 46th National Day. During the Olympic Games in London in 2012, she was invited to exhibit at the Pop-Up Singapore House. After that show, My Paper named Wee one of ten Singaporeans who make the nation proud. And in 2013, she received the prestigious Outstanding Achievements and Contribution to Community Empowerment Award from The Society of Foreign Consuls in New York City.

Wee’s work has also represented Singapore in competitions in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, China, Japan and Korea. Her accolades include the First Prize at Ceramics Biennial 2006 at The New Hampshire Institute of Art (New Hampshire, USA), an Award of Excellence at the Third China-ASEAN Youth Creativity Competition at the Guangxi National Art Centre (Nanning, China) and an Honourable Mention at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale (Cheongju-si, Korea).

Because Wee considers both Singapore and New York to be home, it is natural that she married the two by organising the first grassroots Singapore Arts Festival in New York to celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee in 2015. The 11-day presentation of Singapore arts and culture in downtown Manhattan drew 1500 attendees.

Last November, Wee was again flying the Singapore flag, this time at the Singapore Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. Her installation, Things That Matter, is her body of ceremonial objects and centerpieces that keeps her closely connected to her culture.

Wee’s ceramics can be found in the permanent collections of the National Gallery (Singapore), the Ministries of Law and Foreign Affairs (Singapore), the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (Japan), the Fule International Ceramic Art Museum (China) and the Guangxi National Art Center (China).



Essay

A Constant Inconstant: Dr Wee Hong Ling in conversation with Tamares Goh

To be in flux describes a state of non-constancy, a movement that fluctuates, a state of instability, an ongoing search that is unpredictable. This is the title of Dr Wee Hong Ling’s exhibition and it describes the state that she is constantly in. When Hong Ling first arrived in the United States in 1992 to pursue her studies, she never imagined that she would stay for more than two decades. The stay in itself saw some significant shifts in her life: from scientist to artist, from visitor to resident to becoming very much at home in New York City.

In the exhibition stand four distinct series of works: Brooklyn, Moxie, My Family Portrait and Heaven and Earth. The Brooklyn series comprises a set of bowls, named after the borough next to which Hong Ling currently resides. It is an example of a culturally rich, cosmopolitan area where a mixture of people from diverse communities and ethnicities have gathered. New York at large is a melting pot of cultures, where people and stories collide; Singapore – from which Hong Ling originates – is likewise both a port and an island of opportunities for work and living. Hong Ling acknowledges both Singapore and New York as her homes, a contradictory state that amplifies her feeling of flux. The word “Brooklyn” implies water, which links directly to her roots in Singapore, an island surrounded by water. It provides a distant yet constant background for her practice. In Brooklyn, the symmetrical forms have common cantilevered rims that subtly roll inwards and, where need be, securely hold the bowls’ contents. As a family of forms, they suggest a sense of protective comfort as an extension of containment, akin to the way a home both houses and protects its occupants.

In contrast to the openness of forms in Brooklyn, the Moxie series is marked by colourful pursed edges that hide and deny any access to the interior form; consequently the viewer is forced to imagine the internal surface. It is the qualities of internal strength and mental fortitude that the title alludes to. The colloquial expression “moxie” means to have courage or gumption. The measure of courage is also the measure of our willingness to embrace disappointment, and this underlines the qualities necessary for the continuous momentum in art-making.

The two versions of My Family Portrait series are separated by a long gap of 15 years. However, both are variants on the same theme, taking a common point of departure expressed in very different materials, and thus connected by a fundamental belief in the notion of family. Using an extremely rare practice, almost obsolete in Singapore, the recent series is a landmark presentation of forged steel works by a Singaporean artist.

Experimentation is further evident within the series Heaven and Earth, a reference to Chinese cosmology, where Hong Ling allows natural forces to act on the surface of nine steel disc-like plates. Pivotal to her approach is the idea that “Heaven” stands for the imaginary ideal, vis-à-vis the “Earth” as reality, the title evoking honesty in the description of the continuous ambition versus harsh reality-checks whilst making her work. Using factors such as time, weather and chance, as well as planned events versus coincidences, Hong Ling uses conditions as a means to inflict material changes, allowing a displaced creativity to act within the process but not in the physical making of the object. Time is another constant within her practice. In the absorption of this whole process, Hong Ling creates her own unit of measure for time. The alignment of experiment and risk also directly explores an interface between art and science. This methodical enquiry borrows from Hong Ling’s previous background as a scientist, allowing her to create experiments in pursuit of the next challenge, whether structural, material and/or aesthetic. These experiments are a constant that has an impact on the outcome of her ongoing practice.

Tamares Goh (TG): You were a scientist. Some people see science and art as two disparate extremes that belong to different worlds. On the contrary, being a ceramicist is not too different from being a scientist in a way. It involves stern discipline. There’s alchemy involved, there are tests, failures and unexpected outcomes. Could you tell us more about your process and how your previous training informs your current practice?

Dr Wee Hong Ling (WHL): Art and Science are commonly perceived as opposites. I used to think that until I encountered clay. It’s perhaps because as a student, you’re taught that problems in the sciences and mathematics have correct answers, whereas art is nebulous and subjective.

But in both art and science, problem-solving is the common denominator. Even though the skills involved in analysing a satellite image and creating a ceramic vase may seem very different, many are in fact transferable. I bring the same rigour to art-making. Being at ease with logical reasoning, materials science, calculations and glaze chemistry helped with my transition to ceramics.

Honing one’s craft is extremely important, especially if one wishes to do something well. It’s like playing the scales in music or preparing the rice in sushi-making. Practice is critical. I’ve witnessed great scientists and artists at work. All of them have devoted their lives to achieving mastery. Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell proclaimed that one needs to practise for at least 10,000 hours before achieving expertise in any skill. I’d add that practising with the intention of breaking through one’s own glass ceiling is even more important. Having the discipline to never settle for “good enough” is what separates excellence from mediocrity.

My process is simple: create fearlessly, edit critically, repeat tenaciously. From preparing the clay to cleaning the tools, I give every step heightened importance because sloppiness has a cumulative negative effect. Every little thing makes a difference with the final result, even if it isn’t immediately obvious. So I do everything within my power to make sure the piece is done to the best of my abilities, paying attention to all details. But once a ceramic piece goes into the kiln, especially with an atmospheric firing, I have to give up control and embrace the surprises.

For Heaven and Earth, time and chance played a significant role. Over a period of 8 weeks, I put the nine forged discs out on my fire escape and exposed them to the elements, including the first snow of winter in New York, to develop a skin of rust. There’s definitely alchemy involved. As the saying goes, “if you look for beauty, you’ll find it.”

 

TG: In this exhibition, you presented yourself with constant challenges, especially mass and scale. Can you tell us a bit more about these challenges that you impose on yourself? What is your philosophy?

WHL: My philosophy is: commit to something and give it everything you’ve got. A large component of the art process is self-discovery. With every project, I’d stretch myself a little beyond my comfort zone. If there is no struggle, I know I haven’t pushed myself or the material hard enough.

I usually begin by thinking about the constraints I am presented with, whether they are physical, structural, mental—and the ways I can overcome them. I’m methodical in my approach, so I’d carefully consider the parameters, how I can deal with the obstacles, and how I can create something meaningful within those limits.

In terms of challenging myself, my personality is such that I do not naturally choose an easy path. With age, I’ve developed a tolerance for failure. That’s how I grow, learn and expand my capacity. To quote Michelangelo, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark too easily.”

In 2007, I did a residency that allowed me to experiment and build large objects, which I couldn’t do at my studio in New York. That was where the first Moxie was born. In addition to size and mass, the biggest challenge in the Moxie series is the cantilevering top plane. Structurally, there is nothing supporting that material going out horizontally into space. The challenge is fighting gravity and making sure there is enough structural integrity. I failed multiple times. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I often think about Singapore in the early years of independence. We had few resources and our survival as a nation was questionable. If our forefathers had taken the path of least resistance, the last 50 years would have unfolded in a very different way. If no one had taken on work that was hard, where would we be today?

 

TG: Do you consider your works complete once they are finished or do you revisit them?

WHL: I work only in series, because there is much to learn from repeating a process and from creating multiples. If I make a group of ceramic houses, at a certain point, I would have developed sufficient muscle memory that I don’t need to think about what I’m doing. Ironically, that for me, is also the stopping point. Because the autopilot mode, to be unthinking, is the antithesis of my giving every step and every detail heightened importance. If the artist is not investing herself, the work, no matter how skillfully executed, is as good as dead.

If I notice my mind drifting while at work, I stop and move on to something else where I need to solve new problems. I may revisit a series at a later time when I can again think critically about that work… when it’s fresh again.

Also, stopping doesn’t mean quitting. It simply means that I’m taking a break to prevent developing a “blindness” to what I’m doing. That is my practice, to ensure that my attention is always acute when I am working.

 

TG: Tell us more about why you wanted to be involved in International Women’s Day, and your wanting to rethink what’s conventionally perceived of a woman art practitioner?

WHL: I looked at many archival images of old factories, studios and schools. The prevalent division of labour, at least in the field of ceramics, is women as decorators while their male counterparts perform the role as makers because the latter’s tasks are physically more demanding. For this exhibition, I saw an opportunity to counter the perception that women can only make small and “pretty” things. If everyone adheres to stereotypes, how can a society progress?

For the last five years, I have been keeping my work to a smaller scale, nothing large or heavy, due to a neck injury… until this exhibition. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I wanted to challenge myself.

In addition to ceramics, I went to learn blacksmithing, and I am including my steel works in this exhibition. It is no wonder that 95% of blacksmiths are men because that work is extremely demanding on the body. But what I wish to convey with this exhibition is that what we may lack in experience, skill and strength, we can make up for it with moxie, tenacity and heart. This body of work is about conquering fears, overcoming obstacles, expanding capacities and shaking off shackles. How else do we break new ground and turn what seemed impossible into reality?

 

TG: The title of this exhibition, In Flux, relates to a constant movement, a transitory action, migration both literal and also metaphysical. Would you like to elaborate more about this and how you see your own place in the midst of these movements?

WHL: When I first came to New York, I thought my stay would only last four to five years. I never imagined I would live here for 25 years. Now, home is both Singapore and New York—two continents, two time zones, opposite ends of the world.

But besides moving physically between places, I’m also constantly vacillating between left- and right-brain, restraint and indulgence, functional and sculptural work, my Asian heritage and my Western education, being a native/insider versus being a visitor/outsider.

I question why we have to be so dogmatic about needing to choose a direction, a type, a label. To me, “in flux” implies never being stagnant. I value all these different influences in my life, and I work with all these facets of me. Uncertainty and ambiguity leave room for imagination and growth.

And just like me, my creations never fit neatly in one category. While most of my ceramics could be used, they are also sculptural objects serving a decorative purpose. I find things which are difficult to define more interesting. I love objects that make the viewer ponder about their multiple roles…objects of contemplation.

 

TG: Despite the state of flux in various situations, you present a family series that you refer to as a constant. Tell us more.

WHL: Though it was never my intention to make abstract representations of my family, the subconscious works in mysterious ways. When I made that first abstract figurative clay sculpture in 2003, I didn’t know why I had made it. It was unlike my other work; until one day, I found my childhood family portraits and it all made sense.

When I was a child, families would go to professional studios to get a portrait taken during Chinese New Year. The black and white photographs all have the same configuration—my parents in the back, my two older brothers to each side and me, in the middle. Those childhood family portraits must have left an impression on my psyche, and that is where the work came from!

Last year, as I was learning blacksmithing, I found myself building these steel structures that have windows in them, just like my ceramic houses. When I put the pieces together, I recognised the arrangement as my family portrait once again. These two personal artworks created 15 years apart, both titled My Family Portrait, are included in this exhibition because these sculptures show that while I can be in an abiding state of flux, my family lies at the core, unwavering. In my life’s journey, they are my true north.

Tamares Goh is an artist who currently heads the Adult Learning team at the National Gallery Singapore. She is a part-time lecturer at the School of Art Design Media at Nanyang Technological University teaching the Cultural and Creative Industries module. As a former Head of Visual Arts at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, she has been curating exhibitions at the arts centre since 2003. In 2013, she was the co-curator for the Singapore Biennale and in 2017, she was appointed as the producer for the Singapore Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale.




Documentation

Opening Reception

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Guest of Honour:
Tan Su Shan
Managing Director and Group Head
Consumer Banking and Wealth Management, DBS Group

 

Artist Talk

Saturday, 17 March 2018

For more information and documentation of the artist talk, click here.

 

School Talks

As part of the exhibition, Dr Wee Hong Ling visited 20 Singapore schools to share with students about her studio practice and themes presented in the exhibition.

For more information and documentation of the school talks, click here.





Introduction

In conjunction with Singapore Art Week 2018, The Private Museum and Richard Koh Fine Art are pleased to co-present the exhibition, Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces by leading contemporary Thai visual artist, Natee Utarit.

The exhibition features a selection of 7 artworks from the artist’s Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces series, which began in 2012 and has been featured in various galleries and museums in Asia. Consisting of a total of 12 works, these works are composed of multiple panels forming a diptych, triptych, or polyptych, following the tradition of classical religious paintings with elaborate frames and settings.

The body of works takes its inspiration from paintings that have traditionally adorned the altars of Christian churches. The Altarpieces is Utarit’s critique of Western modernism; a satire of modernism and capitalism addressing its seduction of local customs and traditions.

After its debut at Ayala Museum in February 2017 and its second stop at National Gallery of Indonesia in October 2017, the travelling exhibition finds a third new home in the intimate space of The Private Museum.





Artist

Natee Utarit (b. 1970, Bangkok) studied at the College of Fine Art in 1987 and graduated in Graphic Arts at the Painting and Sculpture Faculty at Silpakorn University, both in Bangkok, Thailand in 1991. Solo exhibitions include Optimism Is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces, Ayala Museum, Manila, Philippines (2017), Illustration of the Crisis, Bangkok University Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand (2013), After Painting, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore (2010) and The Amusement of Dreams, Hope and Perfection, Art Center of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (2007).

Recent group exhibitions include The New Frontiers of Painting, Foundation Stelline, Milan (2017), Thai Eye, BACC, Bangkok, Thailand and Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2016/2015), Art of ASEAN, Bank Negara Museum and Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (2015), Time of Others, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan (2015) and Asian Art Biennale 2013: Everyday Life, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan (2013).

His work is part of many renowned collections, such the Bangkok University, Bangkok, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, British Council, Bangkok, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, Thailand, Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, Fine Art Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia, Burger Collection, Hong Kong and Switzerland as well as private collections in Europe and Asia. Utarit’s multifaceted practice focuses on the exploration of the medium of painting connecting it with photography and classical Western art. Light and perspective are some of the elements the artist chose to work with, focusing on painting as a means to explore image making. His complex pictures, juggle wide-ranging metaphors usually in the format of the traditional still life, allude to Thailand’s current social and political landscapes.






Documentation

Opening Reception

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Guest of Honour:
Tan Boon Hui
Director of Asia Society Museum, New York

 

Artist Talk

Saturday, 27 January 2018

 


 




Introduction

TAKUJI KOGO
*CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS 2017

In collaboration with
Mike Bode
Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries
Charles Lim Yi Yong
John Miller
Keiichi Miyagawa
Aura Rosenberg

The Private Museum is proud to present Takuji Kogo: *CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS 2017.
*CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS is a Japanese-based platform for international collaborative art projects led by visual artist and curator, Takuji Kogo. It is mobile; continuously relocating its office into different institutions, organising curatorial projects, exhibitions, web projects and publications.

The exhibition features a selection of video works and sculptural installations by internationally acclaimed artists including Takuji Kogo (Japan), Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries (South Korea), Mike Bode (Sweden), John Miller (USA), Charles Lim Yi Yong (Singapore), Keiichi Miyagawa (Japan) and Aura Rosenberg (USA). The artists’ research probed into the relationship and consequentiality of nation borders across different countries.

During Kogo’s one-month artist visit in Singapore, his latest work titled, Singaporean Arcade will see new development and will be introduced at the exhibition’s screening event. The new work is an exploration into the multi-linguistic environment of Singapore through the artist’s perspective. From 2016-2019, *CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS will be touring different venues in Asia and Europe including the Aichi Triennial (Japan), The Private Museum (Singapore), the ZKU (Berlin) and more.





Artist

Artists Bio

古郷卓司 Takuji Kogo (b. 1965, Japan)

Takuji Kogo is a visual artist, director for the Kitakyushu Biennial and organizer for *CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS, a Japanese based platform for international collaborative art projects. Kogo has produced a large body of work both as a solo artist and in collaborations under *CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS and have been presented them at Media Scope-MoMA/The Museum of Modern Art New York, Seoul Museum of Art, MAAP Multimedia Art Asian Pacific Nam June Paik Art Centre Seoul, and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Takuji Kogo lives in Fukuoka, Japan.

Charles Lim (b. 1973, Singapore)

Charles Lim is a Singaporean visual artist. He is the co-founder of the net-art collective tusnamii.net, which was critically acclaimed and featured at Documenta 11 in Kassel in 2002. His works have also been featured in the Singapore Biennale, Tribeca Film Festival and the Rotterdam Film Festival in 2011 and the Shanghai Biennale in 2008. He is currently working on a series of works called “seastories Sea State”, which blends the ideas of borders by reversing the geography of the sea and land. In 2011, one of his works “All lines flow out” was premiered in the 68th Venice Film Festival and it won a “special mention award”, making him the first Singapore to ever win an award there.

Mike Bode (b. 1964, Sweden)

Mike Bode is a visual artist engaged in collaborative practices together with theorists, curators, filmmakers and other artists. He has worked with large-scale research based visual/architectural interventions and with the incorporation of photography into research driven explorative projects. His works has been exhibited at KunstWeke in Berlin, The Center of Contemporary Art in Vilnius, The Yokohama Triennial and The Nobel Museum in Stockholm. Mike has been a *CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS collaborator since 2000.

John Miller (b. 1954, United States of America)

John Miller is an artist based in New York and Berlin. He was the first guest artist for Candy Factory’s original gallery space in Yokihama in 1998. Since then, he has collaborated with TakujiKogo on various works under the rubric Candy Factory Projects. His works includes painting, sculptures, installations, photography, video, music and writing. His artwork has been presented at the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Kunsthalle Zurich; Magasin-Centre National d’ArtContemporain and the ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany. John is a Professor of Professional Practice in the Art History Department at Barnard College, Columbia University.

 Young-hae Chang Heavy Industries (since 2001, South Korea)

YHCHI have produced work in 16 different languages and have presented their text based work at: Tate, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Whitney Museum, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Getty Center, Los Angeles, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris to name a few.
YHCHI have been working with *CANDY FACTORY PROJECTS since 2001.

Keiichi Miyagawa (Curator/Artist)

Keiichi Miyagawa has been running an artist-run-space called GALLERY SOAP since 1997 in Kitakyushu, Japan and has organized many curatorial projects and music events including The Kitakyushu Biennial, co-curated with Takuji Kogo, he is also running an online-based candy factory project internationally, and Yoshitaka Mouri, sociologist, an associate professor of Tokyo University of Arts, and has been organizing another project called “HOTEL ASIA” started in Kitkayushu 2011. And he also have curated solo show of following artists: Dan Graham (USA), Peter Halley (USA), Philip Horst (Germany), Federico Baronello (Italy), Jesper Alvaer (Norway), candy factory (Japan), Hiroshi Fuji (Japan) and so forth. Keiichi Miyagawa is also a member of an artist collective named SECOND PLANET. His works have been presented at Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong 2014, The Kitakyusuh Biennial 2013, The Taegu Photo Biennial 2012, ZK/U Berlin 2012, Hotel Asia Project at Organhaus Chongqing 2012, Maebashi Media Festival 2012, International Curators Forum YOKOHAMA 2011.

Aura Rosenberg (1949, United States of America)

Aura Rosenberg’s art is concerned with themes of the body, sexuality, and gender. In the late-1980s, for instance, she crafted provocative sculptures, photographs, and paintings based on images culled from pornographic magazines. Though Rosenberg turned away from incorporating porn in her art in the mid-90s, when she became a mother, she returned to the source in the 2010s. The industry had drastically changed, and Rosenberg was challenged to reconcile her past approach to the subject with the new digitized products of the 21st century. Rosenberg’s interest in the corporeal is also evinced by her collection of body paintings, which she often executes by covering herself in acrylic paint and then imprinting the canvas with her figure, an action that emphasizes the artist’s literal presence in her work.

Rosenberg lives and works in New York and Berlin. Her work has been shown in venues including the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, MoMA PS1 in New York, White Columns in New York, the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the Pera Museum in Istanbul, and the Macro Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, among others. Rosenberg has published three volumes of photography: Headshots (Stop Over Press), Berlin Childhood (Steidl Verlag/D.A.A.D.), and Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I? (Hatje Cantz Verlag).


 



Documentation

Opening Reception






Introduction

In celebration of Singapore’s 52nd anniversary of independence, The Private Museum is proud to present Benny Ong: Walking the Thought. This solo exhibition marks the first showcase of works by the renowned fashion designer and textile artist, Benny Ong at The Private Museum.

Along with other textile works centred on Buddhist themes, the exhibition revisits a series of Ong’s older works from his inaugural textile exhibition titled, Re-woven: A Celebration of Lives opened at the Singapore Arts Museum a decade ago. Ong’s artistic practice traces back to the roots of his spiritual. The body of textile works is a reflection of the artist’s interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings based on inner contemplation, peace, dualism, compassion and meditation.

Although the series of textile works was inspired by the values and teachings of Buddhism, the exhibition reveals a deeper layer of Ong’s artistic practice. Through the use of succinct imagery, Ong bridges his spiritual beliefs with art making— compelling the viewer to get a closer glimpse of the thought process behind his artistic practice.





Artist

Benny Ong (b.1949, Singapore) is a Singaporean fashion designer and textile artist. His fashion work is produced under his own label, The Ong, which is sold in Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, and throughout Europe. Ong has also designed uniforms for the British Airports Authority, British Telecom, Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and he has remodelled the clothes of security staff at leading hotels in Beijing, ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. His private clients have included Princess Diana, the Duchess of Kent, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Shakira Caine. Ong is a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins and is a founding member of the London Designer Collections.

In the early 2000s, Ong made the switch from fashion designing to contemporary textile art. In 2007, he presented the exhibition, Re-woven at the Singapore Art Museum. It comprised 46 pieces of silk textiles based on the art of Lao weaving. In 2015, Ong received the Singapore Design Golden Jubilee Award. In January 2016, Ong, in collaboration with a family of master Laotian weavers, presented The Pioneering Spirit at Raffles Hotel, an exhibition of 21 woven textiles, including the S$10,000 “The Shirt”, featuring Lee Kuan Yew in his iconic white shirt in the shape of Singapore.


 



Documentation

Opening Reception





Essay

Benny Ong: Minefield

By Kang Siew Kheng

Benny Ong is a couture designer turned artist. From adorning the fashionable and the royal in wearable works of art, he has geared his talent towards making contemporary art pieces that are as appropriate in dressing the home as they would temples.

This exhibition comprises the works that mark the transition. Created in September 2006, and first shown at the Singapore Art Museum in 2007, these pieces speak of Benny’s exploration of Buddhist philosophy and the practice of insight meditation. Hence the Buddha images of heads, faces and silhouettes take centre stage.

Yet Benny’s employ of this unmistakable dominant motif of a spiritual tradition is interesting, not only because it underscores the spiritual pursuit, but because it hints of a certain confluence, arguably even divergence, of the spiritual with the creative. The artist must somehow reconcile the two.

As he tells it, for Benny the artist, the human mind is a playing field of ideas. Whether as couture designer or artist, the creative process starts with the observer. He sees the cacophony of thoughts and ideas that bubble for his attention. As an artist, he crystallizes them into concepts, and confronts and hones them into a singular idea. He then executes the idea through a chosen form or medium, in this case, the weave. Through working with a community of weavers, the swathe of silk threads, interspersed with space and colour, are brought together into coherent materiality. Thus we see the outcomes now before us that represent the “mind- field” of the creator. Heads with lips sealed, mindful of speech. The characteristic long ear lobes and the lotus leaf, suggestive of the Buddha’s longevity and serenity. Masks upon faces. Cosmic journeys. Contemplation. Expressions of compassion. Finally, Enlightenment. The process seems complete.

For Benny the spiritual practitioner, the meditating mind is playful, often uncontrollable. The body can be brought into stillness, but the meditator finds that the very mind he directs to create has a life of its own: Out of the reaches of its nooks and crannies arise all manner of mental objects, of the regrets of years past, forgotten faces of yesterday, and the yearnings and fears of the morrow. The meditator’s mind slowly, if it is skillful, watches patiently without commentary. Only then will it glimpse insights into the true nature of reality. It is that simple, yet that difficult.

Both processes take the same trajectory, but must surely fork for the intentions cannot be the same. The mediating mind only observes. The creative mind must observe, yet it must ultimately direct, which begs at least the question of whether there is only one mind. Or are there really two, or 10 or more? Or is the process of directing merely an illusion? Has the artist created these heads and faces, these Buddha silhouettes? Is the artist “merely” interpreting what the meditator sees?

Must the process of meditation exclude the act of creation? Or is it a different consciousness that the artist awakens to create, from the consciousness that becomes quiet in order to observe? Perhaps these questions are superfluous. After all, not all Buddhas could teach. In the same vein, the divergence between the meditator and the artist is perhaps more concept than real. Indeed, we are fortunate that the meditator in Benny can both practise and create, indeed more powerfully so, with the practice lifting the creation.

Take the contrasting faces in the series which suggest the human ego’s search for an identity. The Buddha was a human, and prior to Enlightenment, he too wore masks. They are nothing more than our multiple identities because the ego lands itself in different situations, and gets repulsed or attracted to different people, to different things. Varied, they reflect the sums of what we are, ever-changing, depending on where we are, who we were, and what we become, and what we want or long to be. Then, weary with this myriad of faces and identities, we search valiantly for a core, and hopes for peace and some truth that is inherently us. Hence, the practice of contemplation which Benny, the artist turned seeker, undertakes is reflected in two of the four postures in the series, those of sitting and standing. But we also walk and we lie down in repose. These are all things we do naturally in our daily lives. And it is these same, seemingly mundane everyday postures that when applied with mindfulness, can bring us to the real truth, wherein real happiness reside, free of the very dialectic that puts us on the path in the first place.

Almost unbeknownst to us, perhaps even incomprehensible to those of us not of a creative turn of mind, the many-mask self that gardens and yet observes is possible because of the dualistic mind that understands phenomena only in contrast. Where there is hard, we can know soft; when there is darkness, can we see light; because there is evil, we can realize good. From our groundedness, we become part of the cosmic; and through the awareness of suffering, can we grope for enlightenment. This suggests that the dialectic that aids is the dialectic that can obstruct. The creative artist must somehow maneuver and play along this spectrum if he is to produce thoughtful works of art. This, Benny certainly has achieved, as he transitions, in both his career and pathway, from one to the other. Creating in one’s mind, guiding one’s hand is one thing. To ask weavers in a different language to take the ideas from the garden to the market is quite something else. This must be where his experience as the couture designer steps in. What we see are not just the Buddha images in all its varied postures on woven silk, but the meditative journey of an artist.

———————————————————–

Siew Kheng is a fellow walker on Benny’s path. Formerly the Singapore Ambassador to Laos, she has many masks that need discarding.


Press

Artist Talk

Artist Talk

Please enquire at mail@theprivatemuseum [dot] org for the full




Introduction

The Private Museum is proud to present LINES, a group exhibition which celebrates the museum’s new initiative, the emerging artist platform to support and encourage the development of emerging artistic talents in Singapore.

A manifestation of ongoing conversations between the 8 emerging artists and the curators, LINES features painting, print-making, photography, video art and installation. While exploring the idea of distinctions, the spoken exchanges probe into themes of cultural ideologies, social landscapes, identities and the human psyche. The exhibition encapsulates the nuances of the artists’ thoughts and processes through their works.

Featuring new works by Ben Yap, Brenn Tan, Izzy Tan, Jackson Kang, Odelia Tang, Quinn Lum, Rafi Abdullah and Tristan Lim.





Artist

Ben Yap (b.1985, Singapore)

Graduated with a Diploma in Fine Art from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2011, and received his Bachelor’s (Hons) Fine Art from NAFA in partnership with Loughborough University, U.K in 2017. He works predominantly in the photography medium, but utilises appropriation methods and a mixed media approach in his installations. He has participated in several group exhibitions in Singapore at Art Apart Fair (2013), 8Q SAM (2013), and Lim Hak Tai Gallery (2016). Ben was a finalist for the Cliftons Art Prize 2016, and recently exhibited in the Chiang Mai Photo Festival 2017, Young Eyes Edition.

 
Brenn Tan (b. 1990, Singapore
)

A visual artist currently pursuing a (BA) Hons in Design Communication at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore. They have always questioned the line between Illustration and Design being primarily an illustrator. Heavily inspired by dreams and the subconscious, their works interweaves the surreal with narratives and aims to question or critique the real with the use of symbolism, metaphors and fiction. Brenn primary works in digital mediums and aims to explore all its iterations of image making. They have exhibited at 8Q SAM (2013) and PHUNK (2014).

 
Izzy Tan (b. 1992, Singapore)

A graphic designer and artist. His practice is informed by the pursuit of clarity, purity and simplicity. Izzy works with familiar forms and imagery with intent to create a universal understanding of the subject matter. His approach is expressed through an exercise of restraint, working across a medium of design, typography and illustration. He has exhibited at Goodman Art Centre (2012), National Museum of Singapore (2013), PHUNK (2014), Art Seasons (2015), Foothills Gallery (2015).

 
Jackson Kang (b.1991, Malaysia)

A Singapore-based visual artist from Johor, Malaysia—graduated from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts with a Diploma in Illustration Design in 2012. He works in mixed media and installations to fabricate religious iconography in an artificial site. Creating the term “Post-relic”, his area of interest aims to re-evaluate our ritualistic relationship with these artefacts, stripped of its monumental and contextual values. He engaged the medium of drawing and painting for many years before making a shift towards his current self-taught practice. He has exhibited at 8Q SAM (2013) and Kult Gallery (2013, 2016).

 
Odelia Tang (b.1993, Singapore)

A visual artist currently pursuing a (BA) Hons in Fine Art at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore. Her art practice circulates around emotionally visceral concepts influenced by her interests in psychotherapy. Working primarily in traditional medium such as oil painting, printmaking and graphite, she believes in the unity of art and the frameworks of the brain in pursuit of a better living, and seeks to define and pursue ideas of the subconscious as a form of observation and question. Her works have been exhibited at PHUNK (2014), Art Seasons (2015) and Mulan Gallery (2016) which were featured on intersections.sg, The Straits’ Times, Channel News Asia, Telegraph UK and buro247.

Quinn Lum Fu Loong (b.1993, Singapore)

Constantly explores the idea of control and imposed expectations as a way of understanding his personal identity and social environment. Raised in a result oriented childhood, he aims to express his deep desire for freedom while being the voice for those in silence. His recent works have been exhibited in various exhibitions including China International Photo Festival (2015), Auckland International Photo Festival (2016), IN RELATION: ND81 Photographic Exhibition (2016) and Noise Singapore (2016). Quinn’s works have been awarded with the Most Promising Young Artist Award in UOB Painting 2010 and Gold with Honours in the Singapore Youth Festival Arts and Crafts Exhibition 2012.


Rafi Abdullah (b.1991, Singapore)

A former visual communication graduate from Nanyang Polytechnic’s, School of Design and is currently pursuing a (BA) Hons in Arts Management at Lasalle College of the Arts. He works predominantly in the digital media and print medium, and his current interests are in the intersections of art and design, text-based art and navigating the contemporary society. His recent works were exhibited in a group exhibition entitled, Cernunnos presented by fine-art graphic print gallery, Ludo Gallery (2015).

Tristan Lim (b.1993, Singapore)

A visual artist currently pursuing a (BA) Hons in Fine Arts at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore. His art practice examines the interactions among digital, physical and pictorial spaces, resulting in imagery that reflect the dialogues and tensions during these interactions, along with their allure. Influenced by contemporary visual culture, he has explored this notion through drawing, video, animation, and is currently focused on exploring painting and the artist’s physical engagement with the medium. He has participated in exhibitions at 8Q SAM (2013), The Arts House (2013) and Kult Gallery (2016).




Documentation

Opening Reception





Essay

Lines

By Shawn Lim

From wherever it is I urge these words

To find their subtle vents, the northern dazzle

Of silence cranes to watch. Footprint on foot

Print, word on word and each on a fool’s errand.[1]

The perennial struggle of artistic creation finds its consummate expression in lines from W. S. Graham’s ‘Malcolm Mooney’s Land’, where writing becomes a difficult hike through the treacherous arctic “white-out” of the blank page.[2] Such lines carved out in the thick snow reminds us that the creative act is foremost a physical act, where the strokes of pen or brush always recall the materiality of the artistic medium. They ground the electric exuberance of artistic creation to the gritty earth, and forces one to negotiate the thick growth of lines that spring forth from the written page. Writing and reading is truly treading on thin ice, an endeavor that prompts the speaker to ask: “Have I not been trying to use the obstacle / Of language well? It freezes around us all”.[3]

The sense of compromise here suggests a few things. Generalised as an axiomatic claim for artistic creation, the act of making, or poesis, is admittedly always a “fool’s errand”. The artist is the archetypal fool, overreaching in the attempt to play god by separating a firmament from the undistinguished waters of creation with lines of ink and paint. Yet, the artist’s venture into this terra incognita of art is invariably accompanied by romantic fantasies, utopic imaginings that also explain the artist’s bravado. Graham displays this ambivalence in the plaintive cry for “these words / To find their subtle vents”. Snaking in the cool air, his words tremble with trepidation and excitement.

Additionally, as mentioned above, this ambivalence is coupled also with the recognition of the final fallibility of the artist’s medium; in this case, language is an “obstacle” that “freezes round us all”. At once both necessity and adversity, communication as conveyed through the written word is never straightforward. It is always made with the wager that, as Graham writes in ‘The Constructed Space’, “somehow something may move across / The caught habits of language to you and me”.[4] The poet is thus haunted by the spectre of failure, the possibility that words may always mean otherwise. Here medium mediates, and its mediation tempers the impulse to create. Nevertheless, to create, the artist must remain seduced by the potentiality of art, whereby lines communicate a desire for connectivity between two, the joining of word with word, flesh on flesh.

Lines hence primarily articulate an attempt to bridge all that were assumed isolated, in the same manner in which the contours of the human body are delineated in fleshly union. Two points connected through Euclid’s first postulate, the line of human thought extends through history and into the age of the Internet, where the utopia of a freely interconnected world flourishes now in webs of infinitely branching lines: train lines, electric lines, lines of emojis. Here infinite complexity is simplified, a bewildering concept tamed in the clarity of two-dimensionality, mastered in strokes that even the coddled infant is capable of tracing out, crayon in hand. And so lines represent an abiding dream to transcend and apprehend, to traverse all space and time, and so transform and generate ever-newer systems and structures, banishing all frontiers and hearts of darkness in the light of new knowledge.

Yet, the image of Marlow sailing down his Congo River recalls the argument that lines always function as ambivalent things. Indeed, the waters divide the adventurer cruising downstream from the land ashore. His gaze condescends from on deck, his vision becoming an echo of solipsistic indifference. Lines then divide as much as they join. To ‘draw the line’ is to identify limit, to make other that which is different: a line of refusal, abjected as refuse.

Certainly, borders and thresholds erected in the name of identity and solidarity destabilize ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the very identification of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Identifying ‘us’ espouses an etymological fantasy of identicality, so eliding the oft-violent processes of integration in its painful erasure of difference to guarantee homogeneity. If ‘us’ is necessarily contingent on ‘them’, it follows then that identifying ‘them’ is also fraught with antagonism, wherefore the line drawn between the two conjoins and separates, establishing a mutually constitutive, yet destructively oppositional, Manichean relation of irreconcilable binaries.

Consequently, art can no longer afford naïve lines. Reflecting on art as medium, the artist can no longer treat lines as uncompromising paths reaching out towards an unfathomable transcendence or truth. These are lost forever. What remains for the artist then are other, more discomforting, because more sobering, lines. Lines that bridge and break. Lines that enfold and unfold. Lines that distort and contort. Lines that blur lines among lines. Lines that precipitate lines of questioning with no end. Lines that spiral forever in the semblance of a persistent question mark.

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.

.

.

Here, in this space, some lines emerge as nebulous clouds or harsh distortions. They generate an opacity that obfuscates, yet also profess a profound honesty, a transparent reflection of human nature: that memory is helplessly fallible, that the lines of interpretation we choose to take regiment identity. With no guidelines, lines wind sinuously, or else intersect and diverge abruptly, moving in a series of starts and stops, stuttering and stumbling along. Even so, this disquiet is potentially an end in itself, eliciting tranquility through endless movements and repetitions.

Other lines celebrate the everyday through the purity of their simplicity, presenting the quotidian in all its stark necessity. But if they veer dangerously towards an abstract, formal order, it is only to question head-on the ritualistic propensity for us to seek personal transcendence. In this vein, they guide us to yet other lines that vacillate between the sacred and profane. They question individual autonomy in the face of ubiquitous social control, discerning the mysterious hand that motivates and influences behavior — the lines that shackle us as confused creatures.

Ultimately, these lines function as mere suggestions, lines you may choose to reject, authoritative as lines may be. For, if anything, these works exhibited here strike a deft balance on the tightrope of public commentary. Falling on neither side of the line, they instead invite you to participate and tussle with your own lines: storylines, lines of reasoning and lines of thought… and

Lines that ———— interrupt /

Lines that strike through

Lineslineslineslineslines

————

[1] W. S. Graham, W. S. Graham: New Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), p. 153.

[2] Graham, ‘New’, p. 155.

[3] Graham, ‘New’, p. 155

[4] Graham, ‘New’, p. 162

———————————————————–

Shawn Lim is currently a final-year undergraduate pursuing B.A. (Honours) in English Literature and minor in Philosophy at the National University of Singapore (NUS).


Artist Talk

Artist Talk

To be updated shortly!




Introduction

In celebration of International Women’s Day, The Private Museum is proud to present Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta). This solo exhibition marks the second showcase of works by Singapore based photographer Oh Soon-Hwa at The Private Museum and a return to her running series exploring the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

The series of photographs is an investigation into the impacts of the recent climate changes affecting the landscape of the coastal regions: An Giang, Kien Giang, Ca Mau, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang, Ben Tre and Can Tho; where drought, salt intrusions, soil erosion and a rise of sea level have been observed. The imagery of changing landscapes and portraits of the people in the community encapsulates the intricacy of the situation in the Delta.

Soon-Hwa’s introspection leaves room to mull over how men’s seemingly altruistic desire to control nature, in a bid to ensure their livelihoods, can be overturned by the unpredictable course of nature; resulting in the communities facing the challenges of an uncertain environmental landscape instead. The resilience of the residents in enduring the shocks and stresses of the changes—both on an individual and state level—are brought to light in her documentation of the transforming land and lives.





Artist

Oh Soon-Hwa is a photographer, curator, and lecturer in the photography and digital imaging program at the School of Art, Design & Media (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore). She holds an MFA from School of Visual Arts, and a doctorate degree (EdD) from Columbia University in New York. She has participated in nearly 70 exhibitions internationally; to name a few, the Noorderlicht Photo Festival in the Netherlands, the Lucca Photo Festival in Italy, The National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Houston FotoFest.

She is a recipient of Ohio Arts Council Fellowship, Korea Arts Council Fellowship, Aaron Siskind Memorial Scholarship and UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries. She is also a member of several academic associations and an editorial board member and reviewer for the Photographies Journal, Routledge, United Kingdom.

Education

2004     EdD Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, USA
2002     MFA, School of Visual Arts, New York, USA
1998     MA Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, USA
1996     BFA (Art & Design), Pratt Institute, New York, USA

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2014    Women in Asia, Jeonju International Photo Festival, Korea
2013    Quiet Dream and Steep Price, Alliance Francaise de Singapour, Singapore
2011    Looking East, Lucca Photo Festival, Tuscany, Italy
2010    Photo Space Gallery, National University of Australia, Canberra, Australia
2010    India International Centre, New Delhi, India
2009    Singapore Private Banking Gallery, Alliance Francaise, Singapore
2006    Macy Gallery, Columbia University, New York, USA
2002    New Image Gallery, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA
2001    Visual Arts Gallery, SoHo, New York, USA

Selected Group Exhibitions

2016    Asia Contemporary Photography, Seoul Photo COEX, Seoul, Korea
2016    Eyes on the Main Street, Wilson Outdoor Photo Festival, North Carolina, USA
2016    Asia Contemporary Photography, Lotte Gallery, Daejeon, Korea
2015    Asia Contemporary Photography, COEX P&I PRO, Seoul, Korea
2015    Asia Contemporary Photography, Lotte Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2015    Asia Contemporary Photography, Lotte Gallery, Gwangju, Korea
2014    Gyeongnam International Photo Festival, 315 Art Center, Changwon, Korea
2014    Eyes on the Main Street, Wilson Outdoor Photo Festival, North Carolina, USA
2014    Postmodern Documentary Photography, ADM Gallery, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2014    Postmodern Documentary Photography, SYO Gallery, Korea
2014    Postmodern Documentary Photography, East Gallery, Purdue University, USA
2014    Her Image, The Private Museum, Singapore
2012    Returning Exceeding, Pingyao International Photography Festival, China
2011    Pumping Eyes, Goodman Art Center, Singapore
2011    Pingyao International Photography Festival, China
2011    Faculty Exhibition, ADM Gallery, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological
University, Singapore
2011     Angsana (Fringe Event of Art Stage), 2902 Gallery, Singapore
2010    In Transition (Curated by Susan Baik and Adnrew Shire), ION Art Gallery, Singapore
2010    One Exhibition by Phase One Inc. International Photography Festival, ION Art Gallery, Singapore
2010    Forest and People, Annual Festival of Arts, India International Center, New Delhi, India
2010    Women in Asia, 10th International Conference: Women in Asia, Australia National University,
Canberra, Australia
2010    Housing Memories: The Eclipse of a Hainan Tribe, Asian Civilization Museum, Singapore
2010    Housing Memories: The Eclipse of a Hainan Tribe, National Library of Singapore, Singapore
2009   The Pursuit of Happiness, Noorderlicht Photo Festival (Curated by Wim Melis), Former Nature Museum, Groningen, The Netherlands
2009    Portfolio Gallery, Les Rencontres D’Arles Photographie, Arles, France
2008    International Juried Travel Exhibition, Calumet Photo Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA, USA,
2008    International Juried Travel Exhibition, Calumet Photo Art Gallery, New York, USA,
2008    International Juried Travel Exhibition, Fotofest in Houston, Texas, USA
2007    International Juried Travel Exhibition, St. Edward’s University Art Gallery, Austin, USA
2007    International Juried Travel Exhibition, The Center for Contemporary Art, Abilene, USA
2007    Pochoen Asia Art Biennale (Curated by Oh Sae-Kwon), BanWol Art Hall, Kyongido, South
Korea
2007    6th Sense, UV House, Haeiri Art Village, Kyongido, South Korea
2005    M_A_P (Curated by Romy Achituv), SSAMZI Art Space, Seoul, South Korea
2004    Faculty Show, Invitational, Macy Gallery, Columbia University, New York, USA
2003    Provocations: The 13th Annual Exhibition, Asian American Art Center, New York, USA
2002    Celebrities (Best Shots), Invitational Society or Contemporary Photography, Kansas City, MO, USA
2002    The Gallery at the Dodds Hall, West Haven, CO, USA
2002    Korean Cultural Center: Parallel Connections, Los Angeles, CA, USA
2002    John Kobal Portrait Photography Award Exhibition, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham,
England
2001    International Competition, The Robert & Mary Montgomery Armory Art Center, West Palm
Beach, Fl
2001    Rockaway Artist Alliance, Rockaway Theatre Company, New York
2001    Portraits (Curated by Joyce Culver), Macy Gallery, Teachers College, Columbia University,
New York, USA
2001    The John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London, England
2001    Society for Contemporary Photography, Kansas City, MO, USA
2001    Small Works: 24th National Exhibition, Art Center, Harper College, Palatine, USA

Selected Curatorial Exhibitions

2016    Future Projections (Indian Photo Festival Director), Hyderabad, India
2016    Future Projections, Auckland Festival of Photography, Studio One Top Tu, New Zealand
2014    Unseen Light, The Gallery of Art & Technology Explorations (GATE), NTU Museum,
SPMS, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2014    Her Image, The Private Museum, Singapore
2013    Li Shui Photo Festival, China
2013    Bandung International Photography Festival, Bandung, Indonesia
2013    Pingyao International Photography Festival, China
2013    Korea Photographic Society, Seoul, Korea
2012    Fantastic City and Fantastic People, Pingyao International Photography Festival, China
2011    A Crisis of Confidence (Exhibition for winners of Kwek Len Joo Award of Excellence in Still
Photography 2011), 2902 Gallery, Singapore
2011    NTU ADM Student Show, NTU ADM Student Section, Pingyao International Photography
Festival, China
2011    Artificial Paradise (Exhibition for winners of Kwek Len Joo Award of Excellence in Still
Photography 2010), Singapore Private Banking Gallery, Alliance Francaise, Singapore
2010    Human Faces: Contemporary Portrait Photography from Singapore and South Korea,
Singapore International Photography Festival and Korea Festival, National Museum of
Singapore, Singapore
2010    Variegated Realities, Singapore Private Banking Gallery, Alliance Francaise, Singapore
2010    Mind Factory, Jody Monroe Gallery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
2010    Vending Machine, Zoolook Gallery, Soho, New York, USA




Documentation

Opening Reception





Essay

Altered Landscapes in the Mekong Delta

By Carla Bianpoen

At a time of profound environmental and social upheaval, climate change has become one of the world’s greatest challenges with extreme weather situations, storms and droughts affecting livelihoods in many parts of the world. Yet for many people climate change has remained a distant concept, and catastrophic happenings remain a distant affair, something that has so far remained outside their personal domain.

Oh Soon-Hwa’s photographs are timely reminders that climate change is actually happening not far from us. In fact, it is a daily reality in the Mekong Delta, which lies in the southern part of Vietnam.

The photographer, with the help of various experts on the challenges faced by the Mekong Delta (i.e., scientists, academics, local government agencies, etc.) and through interviews with locals dependent on the Mekong River for their livelihood, as well as through her exploration of the places; investigates the environmental transformation of the Mekong Delta caused by the climate change, and provides a narrative on its effects on both the landscapes and the people.

The Mekong Delta lies in Southwestern Vietnam. It is the most southern part of the Mekong River, which flows from China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and lastly Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the Mekong Delta has been intensively developed for agriculture, which is a major contributor to the Vietnamese export of rice. After Thailand, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of rice in the world. Hence, the impact of climate change in this area does not only affect the residents here but the other countries in the region that are dependent on the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta as well.

Normally, fishing was a major activity of the people during the wet season. During the dry season they would farm rice. But such activities to sustain their livelihoods have changed in the past few years due to changing climate patterns, which impacted the weather, the water and the seas.

Rising seas pushed seawater into the land causing a growing risk to agricultural production. Being a major contributor to Vietnam’s rice export, agricultural produce suffered an enormous backlash when surging sea levels pushed sea water into the land, destroying paddy fields and rice grains that were unable to stand the incoming salinity levels.

As a result, farmers fell into great financial debts. The same can be said of fishery as fish was not salinity resilient and fishermen had to move from fishery to shrimp farming.

Sometimes, even intervention for betterment in the Delta has had a counter effect. That was the case with the hydropower dam construction that was meant to make the Mekong River as the battery of Southeast Asia and to supply the high demands for energy required by the rapidly developing cities such as Bangkok. However, this multi-nations and multi-states project attained a reverse effect.

While during the wet seasons, water was indeed released from the constructed dams in the upper stream, and during the dry season, the dams did contain the water, which generated a shortage in fresh water flowing down to the stream. But unfortunately, the seawater flew backwards to the land and incurred the salinity intrusion, which caused destruction in rice farming and soil erosion. These have transformed the land and have altered the ways people live in the coastal regions.

To overcome the salinity of rice grains, the government had provided genetically developed rice grains that are salinity resilient, and has made other efforts to improve the situation. Yet, during her recent visits along the coastline areas towards the end of 2016, Soon-Hwa found the locals struggling to cope with these changes and trying to find alternative incomes to make ends meet. They were compelled to switch from agriculture to aquaculture.

Also, the water from the river, once the source of people’s drinking water, was not fit to drink anymore and they had to resort to buying potable water, not only for human consumption, but also to feed animal livestock. To buy imported fresh water became a heavy economic burden.

On top of that, less water in the soil has promulgated the growth of insects, supported the spread of pesticides, and increased serious chemical contamination of the soil.

Beyond the appearance of peacefulness, a closer and more detailed examination of Soon-Hwa’s photographic landscapes denote the inter-connection of climate change and social landscape in these areas. The image of a house appearing as if built within the waters, for instance, is actually a house and the land it was built on, drowned by the rising sea. A picture of what appears like a field with agricultural crops actually documents how farmers discharge water and pesticide that were previously used in the fields into rivers and channels, implicating the poisonous impact on birds and animals that take in the chemical substances accumulated in their food chain as the contaminated water reaches other parts of the land.

On a fairly optimistic note, Soon Hwa also shows the tenacious struggle to overcome the perils of climate change. There is the sunshine recorder in Hydro-meteorological station in Chau Doc, An Giang that records the total direct solar radiation by measuring the weight of paper burnt on the blue steel in a day, the tents with apparatus used for recording daily humidity and temperature data, and image of the man at the station exudes patience and resilience as he has been accurately recording the movement of rain, wind, temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity at certain times of the day. These data were needed by the Center that should allow adequate steps to reduce or alter the impact of a changing climate.

Mangrove forests in the Mekong Delta have reportedly decreased by around 80% in the last 60 years. Against this fact, the photographs of the dense mangrove forests stand out; the more so as it has existed for 15 years (according to annotation). Mangroves have a special role to fulfill, as they naturally form important coastal ecotones (a region of transition between two biological communities), occupying the boundary between land and sea, and providing a number of services to coastal ecosystems.

Oh Soon-Hwa’s photography is driven by passion and compassion. Her exploration into the impact of climate change in the Mekong Delta takes its focus on the plight for the lives and livelihoods of the people along the coastal areas of the Mekong. In this, her third eye—the camera—has allowed her to clearly ‘see’ beyond the vision of the natural eye.

———————-

*) Carla Bianpoen is an international arts journalist based in Jakarta. She was the Senior Editor of the international C-Arts Magazine, as well as Artistic Director and Co-Curator for the Indonesia Pavilion in the Venice Biennale Arte, in 2013 and 2015. She is a juror for the Bandung Contemporary Art Awards, and for the 2016 Akademi Jakarta Award.


 



Press

Video Interviews

Oh Soon-Hwa, produced by Asia 361, April 2017

Reviews

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Eco-Business – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Candid Magazine – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Arts Asia Pacific Magazine – May 2017

Listings

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – City Nomads  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – All Events In  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Expat Living  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Anglo Info  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Art Rabbit  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – The A List  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Artitute  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Arts Republic  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Art  Hop  – February 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Prestige  – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Art Republik  – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 1/3 – 8 Days  – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 2/3 – 8 Days  – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 3/3 – 8 Days  – March 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – The Honeycombers  – April 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 1/4 – 8 Days  – April 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 2/4 – 8 Days  – April 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 3/4 – 8 Days  – April 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) 4/4 – 8 Days  – April 2017

Oh Soon-Hwa: Coastal Regions (Delta) – Straits Times  – April 2017

Artist Talk

Read the full transcript here.

Please enquire at mail [at] theprivatemuseum [dot] org for the full video.


 




Introduction

In conjunction with Singapore Art Week 2017, The Private Museum is proud to present 21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection. The exhibition features 19 Chinese calligraphy works from 5 established Chinese calligraphers such as Wang Dongling, Sun Xiaoyun, Wang Tiande, Wei Ligang, and Guan Jun.

Wang Dongling’s artworks illuminate the essence of gestural abstraction through his bold experimentations of embodied action and performance in Chinese calligraphy. Wang Tiande’s artistic practice explores the ambivalent relation between contemporaneity and the traditional. Wei Ligang’s background in mathematics contributes to his unique approach of the deconstruction and re-construction of Chinese characters in his artworks. Sun Xiaoyun’s emphasis on her brushstrokes and aesthetics, along with Guan Jun’s neoclassical style, portray distinctive interpretations of historical transcripts by renowned Chinese poets such as Du Fu and Su Dong Po.

Viewers will gain the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the wide array of calligraphy styles-reflective of their various artistic development and practices in breaking the conventional approach of Chinese calligraphy-displayed through this collection.

 


 



 



Artist

 

Artist Bio

Wang Dongling (b.1945)

Born in Jiangsu Province, China, Wang is highly regarded as the most prolific, modern Chinese calligrapher of his generation. He plays a key figure in the ’90s experimental ink movement which saw the significant rise of gestural markings over content in Chinese calligraphy. Graduated in 1966, and subsequently in year 1981 from Nanjing Normal University in arts, after which he pursued a Masters Degree from China Academy of Art. Wang has also achieved the largest piece (4.95m in height and 37.5m in width) of his calligraphy piece at the stadium of China Academy of Art in 2007. Wang is internationally recognised for his impressive performances which focus on the act of writing as an expression of the relationship between art and the body. He experiments with his use of brush, and the movements of his fingertips, wrists, arms, and his entire body. His recent works are exhibited at Brooklyn Museum, Gus Fisher Gallery, and Art Museum of China Academy of Art.

Sun Xiaoyun (b.1955)

Born in Nanjing, Jiangsu, Sun is presently the vice-chair of Jiangsu Calligrapher Association. She is also a professor at the Calligraphy Research Institute of China and the Calligraphy Training Centre of China. In 2006, she was appointed as the vice-director of the Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum. Sun’s calligraphy practice is an integration of ancient calligraphy style and modern aesthetic concept. A National First-grade Artist, she received Specialist Allowance from the State Council of China. In 2012, she was awarded the honorary title of Top 10 Chinese Cultural Figure.

Wang Tiande (b.1960)

Born in Shanghai, China, a prominent figure in the development of modern calligraphy, Wang graduated from the Chinese Paintings Department of China Academy of Art in 1988 and obtained his doctorate degree from the Calligraphy Department later on. At present, he is a professor of art at Fudan University in Shanghai. His works are in the collections of both East and West Institutions such as the National Art Museum of China, Shanghai Art Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, UC Berkeley Art Museum, as well as many other major private collections around the world.

Guan Jun (b.1964)

Born in Jiangsu Binhai County, China, Guan graduated from Nanjing Arts Institute China in professional painting. Now the president of Chinese Calligraphy Institute at the Chinese National Academy of Arts, he is regarded as a National First-grade artist. Along with other prominent Chinese artists, he was awarded the honorary title of Top 10 Chinese Cultural Figure in 2012. His works had been exhibited in the fifth, sixth, and seventh sessions of National Calligraphy Exhibition. His most recent works of calligraphy were exhibited at the National Art Museum of China in 2016. 

Wei Ligang (b.1964)

Born in Datong, Shanxi Province, China, Wei is widely known as a maverick among China’s contemporary abstract calligraphers. He graduated from Nankai University, Tianjin, with a major in mathematics in 1985 before studying the Fushan style cursive calligraphy four years later. After settling in Beijing and furthering his education in the United States of America, he is now the vice president of the Modern Calligraphy Art Association of China and Member of the Beijing Art Committee of China Democratic League. His works have been collected in major museums internationally, which include the Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, British Museum, National Art Museum of China, and Today Art Museum.

 

ARTIST PROFILE PIC




Essay

 

Private Pleasure and Public Enjoyment

Exhibition of 21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection

 by Teo Han Wue

 

Regarded as China’s highest form of artistic expression, Chinese calligraphy has an uninterrupted history going back several millennia. To this day it remains particularly appreciated both for its semantic content and aesthetic significance.

It is an art based on the Chinese writing system, which is unique in the world due to its extraordinary evolution as a set of linguistic notations characterised by its formal-phonetic rather than purely phonetic nature.

According to sinologist Jao Tsung-I, the earliest known writing in China is found in incised marks on pottery unearthed at a late Neolithic archaeological site in Banpo, Xi’an dated about 4000 BC. By the time Chinese writing developed into oracle bone inscriptions during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1064 BC), it had become a mature, sophisticated system with great aesthetic quality. Jao calls it a miracle that Chinese writing had not gone completely phonetic like other languages of the world, but instead retained its picto-phonetic character. Otherwise, he says, the art of Chinese calligraphy as we know it today would not have developed at all.

Other scholars have also pointed out the visual nature of the Chinese written language. “An educated Chinese thinks in Chinese characters rather than the Chinese language (in its spoken form),” writer Wang Zengqi argues. “Chinese culture stresses the written form and the study of the written language is at the core of the more profound level of Chinese culture,” philosopher Ye Xiushan asserts. Another philosopher Li Zehou also highlights the characteristic of the Chinese language in its written rather than spoken form as an important means of forming and unifying a society and community.

Given this historical background, it is easy to see why calligraphy has come to represent the very quintessence of Chinese culture. Besides, it would be hard to conceive how Chinese painting would have looked without calligraphy.

Interestingly, Sun Xiaoyun (孙晓云), one of the calligraphers featured in this exhibition, suggests in an essay that calligraphy be taken as the symbol of Chinese civilisation instead of silk and china, which she feels may no longer be as appropriate for the purpose in the present day.

This exhibition, which presents a selection of fine calligraphic works by five new-generation artists from China in the 21st century, reflects to a great extent how this ancient art is still very much alive today whether in terms of the study of its classical tradition or bold experimentations as contemporary expressions.

Traditionally, calligraphy has always been inseparable from literature, poetry and painting. Very often the classical scholar takes the art of writing more as a private pleasure, which explains the format for a piece of work to be displayed and viewed. The way in which calligraphy as well as brush painting is usually presented in a hanging scroll, hand scroll or album rather than in a heavy frame has its origin in personal connoisseurship instead of public display. The scroll or album is usually rolled up again and put away after it is viewed by a small group of friends, quite unlike an oil painting, which has to be framed and openly displayed prominently. In the modern-day, however, context calligraphic works may also be done on a large scale and framed for display in a public place in the way oil paintings are. In this exhibition scrolls and albums have therefore to be accordingly adapted for special public display.

In Guan Jun’s (管峻) album of Su Shi’s essays and hand scroll of Yuan Mei’s Suiyuan Shihua (Poetry Talks in the Garden of Accord), the viewer can enjoy not only the lyricism and rhythmic flow of the sparkling prose but also savour the firm and well-balanced structure of the slender-stroked characters written in the regular formal script. These pieces by Guan are exemplary models of an excellent regular script.

The texts chosen for calligraphy usually reflect the artist’s great admiration for the ideals and spirit of the scholars who wrote them. In this case, Su Shi (1037-1101), also known as Su Dongpo, was one of China’s most outstanding literary figures in the 11th century. He and his father Su Xun and younger brother Su Zhe were ranked among the greatest writers of prose during Tang and Song dynasties. An accomplished poet, essayist, painter, calligrapher and gastronome; his writings and calligraphy have been highly influential and widely celebrated as among the best-loved works of the classical tradition.

Similarly, the choice of extracts from Yuan Mei’s Suiyuan Shihua, one of the most important works on poetry criticism of Qing dynasty, shows the same sentiments in the calligrapher. Though highly regarded as a poet and critic, Yuan Mei (1716-1797) is also well known as a gastronome for his work Suiyuan Shidan 随园食单(The Garden of Accord Food Book). Many Chinese restaurants have chosen to name themselves Suiyuan because of this.

Born in 1964 to a poor family in a farming village in Suzhou, Guan Jun was so fascinated by dazibao大字报 (big character poster) during the Cultural Revolution as a boy of eight or nine that he joined adult villagers to write it too. Despite his keen interest his family was too poor to buy him paper and brushes to learn to write until he got an opportunity when he joined the army. The move became a turning point in his life because that was where he got to learn painting from an artist and calligraphy from a calligrapher.

In 2012, Guan’s works in regular script were selected to be a standard of Chinese character fonts for a computer software in China. He himself had initially some reservations about having his calligraphy used in this way because he felt it ran contrary to the spirit of calligraphic art. But he was eventually persuaded.

Sun Xiaoyun, the only female calligrapher in this exhibition, displays much of her intimate and finely nuanced style in the xingshu, running script, particularly in the hand scroll Lidai Mingren Yong Jinling Cichao 历代名人咏金陵词抄 (Poems in praise of Jinling by notable poets from various periods). She believes as a female calligrapher, she is able to practice the art with her natural gift of needlework. The sense of poetic rhythm of the ci lyric is echoed here by the graceful fluency in the uneven length of line and irregular rhythmic patterns accentuating the melodious and lyrical character of this form of poetry. Ci is a form of poetry taken from the ancient court and popular songs with irregular lengths and rhyming patterns based upon the original tune. It reached its peak during the Song dynasty; though these songs or tunes were lost when the poets wrote them, only filling in the lyrics according to the original tunes as patterns.

In this work, also worthy of note what is, Sun’s choice of paper in the style of personal stationery for letter writing, which is in dark beige as though yellowed with age. It enhances the look of classical elegance that matches the overall tone of the text.

Jinling (present-day Nanjing), one of the four ancient cities of China, is of particular interest to Sun. She was born there in 1955 and that is where she currently works, as the director of Jiangsu Art Museum and holding leading positions in various art organisations. Born to a scholarly family who valued highly the art of writing, Sun’s interest in calligraphy began when she was only three. With her family support she grew up to dedicate herself totally to the study of calligraphy. Having researched thoroughly into the works of ancient masters such as Wang Xizhi (303-361), Yan Zhenqing (709-785), Mi Fu (1051-1107), Xu Wei (1521-1593) and Wang Duo (1592-1652), particularly their styles of running and cursive scripts, she has successfully distilled from them a distinctive character of her own. One of very few outstanding female calligraphers in China today, Sun has won numerous accolades and has exhibited frequently at home and abroad.

In the album of Autumn Poems by Du Fu’s (712-770), one of Tang’s greatest poets in the 11th Century, known for his deep concern about the poor, these eight poems were written after he moved to Sichuan from the capital Chang’an (now Xi’an) in 760 anxious about the weakening empire. His expression of lament became even more poignant during autumn when he was feeling sick and lonely.

Sun wrote one poem on each album leaf in her exquisitely elegant and intimate running script. Sun’s hanging scroll of Su Shi’s poem betrays a touch of irrepressible boldness in the rhythmic flow of swift running-script echoing the modulated tone in this song in praise of the mid-Autumn moon, an all-time favourite among calligraphers.

There has been much debate as to how a present-day calligrapher should meet the challenge of rendering this ancient art form into a modern and contemporary expression.

An artist could perpetuate it by drawing extensively from the wealth of traditional sources to create his or her individual style and injecting into it a new spirit and vision. On the other hand, he or she could choose to experiment and search for possibilities of new expressions through the old form by tapping into an even a wider variety of sources within and beyond the tradition.

These two approaches are reflected in the exhibition. The works by Sun Xiaoyun and Guan Jun are juxtaposed with those of Wang Dongling (王冬龄), Wang Tiande (王天德) and Wei Ligang (魏立刚), which are distinctly different due to their more experimental and exploratory directions.

Viewers get to see some of the smaller pieces by Wang Dongling, who is known for wild cursive works of exceptionally large sizes. The oldest artist in the group featured here, he is a good example of how a Chinese calligrapher is taking on the challenge of modernising the old art form.

Born in Jiangsu in 1945, Wang is director of the Modern Calligraphy Study Centre at the now China National Academy of Arts, Hangzhou, where he graduated in 1981 and teaches calligraphy. Considered one of China’s greatest living calligraphers, Wang got into trouble due to his great passion for calligraphy during the Cultural Revolution, when the art was condemned as feudal, capitalist and revisionist. Ironically it was his skills in writing the “big-character posters” that saved him from being a target of abuses and attacks. The irony was even greater that he was able to salvage large numbers of calligraphy works from destruction in the wake of Red Guards’ rampage. It was also during this time that he joined a group of students studying calligraphy under Lin Sanzhi, one of China’s greatest calligraphers, under the guise of promoting proletariat culture.

Later, when he enrolled at the China Academy of Art, he was fortunate to study under Lu Weizhao and Sha Menghai, both accomplished calligraphy scholars.

In the choice of texts, whereas Guan and Sun show a strong preference and deep appreciation for classical literature in their works, Wang is more inclined towards ancient philosophies, especially Buddhism and Daoism besides poetry with philosophical reflections. The brush gesture in Hua Fei Hua (flower and yet not flower) from a Bai Juyi (772-846) poem on the ambiguity and transience of reality is a swift swirling single-stroke that reminds one of the title of a book on his work: Shu Fei Shu (书非书 writing and non-writing).

Taking another line from Bai Juyi, Wang wrote this in his rapid robust cursive strokes: “A distant journey begins with taking the first step. A lofty mountain rises from specks of dust. This is my motto, which I carry out each day with a new spirit.”

Also shown here are two highly experimental works that Wang produced in a dark room. He uses the photosensitive materials of silver-salt solution and photographic paper to create richly layered and textured calligraphic works with unique and unexpected effects. Taking advantage of the process, he achieves a binary negative/positive juxtaposition made up of two characters wu (nothingness) and you (being) in reverse white. The idea of duality is suitably stressed through the stolid and compact structure of “nothingness” in regular script against the amorphous and ambiguous “being” in wild cursive script.

Though Wang’s art is steeped in traditional practice descended from a distinguished lineage, he was also influenced by art that he encountered in the United States and Japan during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The combination of what he had learnt from the two cultures with his staunch traditional roots became a formidable blend of East and West as well as old and new. Apparently he learnt how modern concepts could be applied to calligraphy in America; it was in Japan where he came to realise how important it was to be deeply rooted in one’s own tradition. Wang is a great admirer of Picasso, Klee, Miro and Matisse. Besides he also loves the works of Japanese artist Inoue Yuichi who was known for his modern calligraphy.

Because of his bold experiments, some critics see Wang more as a contemporary artist who creates with calligraphy rather than a mere calligrapher. He has completed a series of giant works of exceptional sizes with the expressionist gestures of his wild cursive script that many would consider good examples of modern calligraphy. To execute these pieces the very act of writing needs to go beyond the private studio into a public space, where the artist “performs” the work, which when finished will most certainly go on a spectacular public display due to the scale. A good example is his largest work Xiaoyao Yio (逍遥游 Free and easy wandering), a philosophical extract from the Daoist classic Zhuang Zi 庄子(circa 3rd century BC) done in 2003, and measuring 7.5 x 12.5 m. A special project to commemorate the 75th anniversary of China National Academy of Art at Hangzhou, the monumental piece written at one of the buildings at the academy took him about two hours to complete. A huge crowd watched him write as though it was a performance and applauded whenever he finished a line they appreciated, which made him feel that such interaction had made a difference to the work.

Experiments in modern ink art need not be restricted to painting or writing entirely with a brush, as Wang Tiande seems to suggest in his works. In addition to a brush he also applies a most unusual technique of burning with lit incense sticks to create the lines from a rubbing of a stele inscription or writing inspired by an old master. In an unlikely combination of fire and water (with ink), both layers are seamlessly merged into an integrated work. While the two works shown here are calligraphic pieces, Wang sometimes works with inspiration from old paintings too. With this mix, he seems to suggest his own way of addressing the obvious question of how the old can be combined with the new, even though they are like fire and water apparently incompatible.

Born in Shanghai in 1960, Wang graduated with a doctorate degree in calligraphy from the China National Academy of Art in Hangzhou in 1988 and is now a professor at the Fudan University in Shanghai. His works are widely collected in major art museums in China and abroad.

Another renowned calligrapher of the modern ink movement from the 1980s, Wei Ligang creates works that examine the aesthetic patterns and forms of Chinese writing, and the transition between chaos and order. He focuses on the written forms, which he deconstructs and re-forms paying close attention to their structures and strokes. This is why the viewer sees recognisable characters sometimes but only strokes and lines otherwise. His works in wild cursive script often morph into structures that look as though they are distortions and abstractions of the written forms, which in essence remain deeply rooted in the Chinese tradition.

Born in Datong, Shanxi in 1964, Wei is trained as a mathematician having graduated in 1985 from the Nankai University where he had become familiar with modern Japanese calligraphy. He noticed that the Japanese were doing much better than the Chinese in the area of modern calligraphy and decided to delve deeper into the art himself. His mathematical training led him to devise a special series which he calls “Wei’s squares”, something he considers fundamental in terms of returning to the elemental structure consisting of lines that precede the contents of the character. Among his bold experiments to create modern calligraphy is the application of colour to writing as well as materials such as acrylic and lacquer to ink.

Despite its relatively modest scale, this exhibition presents a few salient features of the state of calligraphy in China today. Firstly, Chinese calligraphy has a deeply profound tradition that is inseparable from its literary and painting traditions, which require the artist’s full commitment before he or she can achieve excellence and then break through, as in the case of Guan Jun and Sun Xiaoyun. Secondly, the artist can choose to experiment by exploring the rich possibilities of contemporary ink practice from the solid foundation he or she has built on the great calligraphic tradition. The latter is evident in the works of Wang Dongling, Wang Tiande and Wei Ligang.

The selection shows how these contemporary artists endeavor to bring out the great potential in Chinese calligraphy for creative expressions and experiments on ink aesthetics. The works presented by the five artists here, in their different approaches, reflect the tensions between the past and the present, the traditional and the modern, as well as the possibilities in the contemporary practice of ink art. Whatever approach the artist takes, he or she must face the challenge of making a contemporary expression out of a highly matured art form that had become fully developed almost 2000 years ago with a history boasting of numerous masters from various periods.

Calligraphy has enjoyed a revival since the 1980s after the Cultural Revolution ended. Various organizations were formed all over China to promote and popularize the art of writing including the field of education where calligraphy was offered as a subject leading to post-graduate degrees in universities.

We are grateful that Singaporean collector and connoisseur of calligraphic art, Mr Whang Shang Ying has generously offered to share with us his enjoyment of some of the best examples of modern calligraphy created in China today.

 

2,979 words



 



Press

Interviews

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Business Times Weekend – Feb 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Business Times – Feb 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Lianhe Zaobao – Feb 2017

Reviews

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – ZaoBao Online – Feb 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – 新加坡中华书法 – Feb 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Lianhe Wanbao – Feb 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – ShinMin Daily News – Feb 2017

21st Century Calligraphy – Talk by Master Calligrapher Wang Dongling – NAHMJ – Jan 2017

 

Listings

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Art Republic – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Nookmag – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Artitude – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – The A List – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Art Rabbit – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Anglo Info – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy Exhibition – Expat Living – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – All Events In – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Artist – Dec 2016

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Straits Times – Jan 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Art Hop – Jan 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Straits Times Online – Jan 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Today Online – Jan 2017

21st Century Calligraphy: Selections from the Nanshun Shanfang Collection – Honey Combers – Jan 2017


 




Introduction

In conjunction with the Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors, The Private Museum is proud to present Ahmad Abu Bakar & Suriani Suratman: Tanah Air (Homeland)—the first collaboration between visual artist Ahmad Abu Bakar and ceramic artist Suriani Suratman, in which they explore the theme of Tanah (Land) & Air (Water) and its significance to the notion of homeland. The exhibition features a new body of clay works where the artists share a dialogue on the prominence of the natural elements, Tanah and Air.

Ahmad explores the nuances of homeland, expressing his relationship with the land as a component of his identity and embracing it as an inherited gift. His series of three distinct bodies of works, fittingly titled Tanah Ku Sayang, hints at his affection for his adopted motherland where he looks into the complexity of identifying with land in relation to nationality. Suriani addresses the importance and necessity of water in the form of rain and river—the primary source of life and creation. Her works interpret the expression tadah tangan—to cup the hand and contain—and examines expression in movement as a symbolic suggestion of one rejoicing when the rain comes.

Their probe into the interplay of Tanah and Air is an attempt to uncover the allure of the semantic duality of homeland. Through the use of clay as a unified medium of artistic expression, the exhibition reflects the artists’ exploration of the shared historical origins of the region and the conception of Homeland as a mirror to their identities drawing parallel with An Atlas of Mirrors.




Artist

 

Artist Bio

Ahmad Abu Bakar

Ahmad Abu Bakar (b. 1963) is a Singapore-based installation artist originally from Malacca, Malaysia. A graduate from Lasalle College of the Arts (1989), Ahmad furthered his studies at the University of Tasmania, Australia under the study grant from the National Arts Council (1995). Upon his return, Ahmad pursued his Master of Fine Arts with RMIT/Lasalle (2001). Ahmad has exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions internationally which includes China, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea and Australia. His accolades include Merit Award of the IBM Art Award (1990), Arts Award of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1998), Outstanding Artistic Creativity, Singapore Turf Club Art Competition (1999).

Education

2001 (RMIT) – LaSalle-SIA of the Arts, Singapore) Master of Fine Arts
1995 Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts
1989 East Ham College of Art, United Kingdom

Solo Exhibitions

2015 Siri OBJEK & OBJEKTIF, Chan Hampe Galleries, Singapore
2012 Tanah ini Aku Punya, Jendela Visual Art Space Esplanade, Singapore

Selected Group Exhibitions

2015 Secret Archipelago, Palais De Tokyo, Paris, France  These Sacred Things, Jendela Visual Art Space Esplanade, Singapore
2014 Budi Daya, Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore
Jakarta Contemporary Ceramics Biennale #3, Gallery National Indonesia, Jakarta
2013 Singapore Biennale 2013, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
2012 Nami Island International Pottery Festival, Seoul, Korea
2011 Singapore Sculpture Society 10th Anniversary Exhibition, National Library, Singapore
2010 Mungyeong Tea Bowl Festival, Mungyeong, Korea
2009 Passion in Clay, the Artrium, MICA Building, Singapore
2008 8Q-Rate: School, 8Q Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
2007 3rd Asian Ceramics Network and Selius 2007, National Art Gallery Malaysia
Passion in Clay, Shanghai, China
2006 2nd Asian Ceramics Network Exhibition, Silpakorn University, Bangkok Thailand
2005 The WAHANA, Vargas Gallery, University of Philippines, Philippines
1st Asian Ceramics Network, Craft Culture Design Innovation Center, Korea
2003 Sculpture Biennale Symposium, Plastic Kinetic Worms Gallery and NIE, NTU, Singapore
Work in Progress – The Power Show, Singapore Sculpture Society, The Substation, Singapore
2002 PAST, PRESENT, BEYOND: Re-nascence of an Art Collection, NUS Museum, Singapore
New Sculpture Millennium: The First International Miniature Sculpture Exhibition, National Museum of History, Taiwan
2001 Nokia Singapore Art 2001, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
1999 Provocative Things – A 3-Dimensional Experience in Singapore, Sculpture Square, Singapore
Cartblanche, Alliance Grancais’ Gallery, Singapore
1998 Perak Arts Festival, Perak Malaysia
1996 Modernity and Beyond, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
1995 From Another Place, University of Tasmania Gallery, Australia
1994 Prefx Point Travelling Show, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore and Creative Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1992 Vision IV, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
Bread and Butter Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1991 National Sculpture Seminar, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore
1990 Australian Art Award, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore

Awards

2010 Very Special Award, 2010 Ulsan International Onggi Competition
1999 Outstanding Artistic Creativity, Singapore Turf Club Art Competition
1998 Arts Award, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI)
1990 Merit Award, IBM Art Award

 

Suriani Suratman

Dr. Suriani Suratman (b. 1959) is a Singaporean potter and an active member of the Jalan Behar Clay Studios. Suratman received the tutelage of master ceramist, Iskandar Jalil since 2001 and has held her first solo exhibition in 2013. Her works have been showcased in numerous group exhibitions at local institutions such as the Japanese Creative Centre (2013), National Technology University Museum (2013) and the Malay Heritage Centre (2008). Suratman’s works has also been commissioned by various governmental and corporate organizations which include Ministry of Law (2012), Singapore International Foundation (2009), National Heritage Board – Patron of the Year Award (2007) and Temasek Holdings (2003).

Solo Exhibition

2013 Alam – a pottery exhibition by Suriani Suratman, ART2 Gallery, Singapore

Selected Group Exhibitions

2015 Tribute to Local Clay: A Pottery Exhibition, Maya Gallery, Singapore
2013 Iskandar Jalil Ceramics Exhibition – A lifelong Passion for his craft and his teaching, Japan Creative Centre, Singapore
Bank Art Fair, with Maya Gallery, Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong
éncore! (Maya Gallery’s 1st Anniversary), Maya Gallery, Singapore
Firing a passion: History and Pottery Practices in Singapore, NTU Museum, Singapore
2008 Inspirations from Kampung Gelam, Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore
2007 Pots, Pipes and other Pieces, in conjunction with the Singapore Art Show, National Library, Singapore
2006 Starting with Clay …, ART2 Gallery, Singapore
3rd Ngee Ann 3D Art Exhibition, Ngee Ann Cultural Centre, Singapore
Opening of Jalan Bahar Clay Studios Exhibition, Singapore
2005 Ceramivitiy – The Third Statement, NUS Centre for the Arts, Singapore
2nd Ngee Ann 3D Art Exhibition, Ngee Ann Cultural Centre, Singapore
2003 Discovery Phase, ART2 Gallery, Singapore
2002 Ceramitivity – The Second Statement, NUS Centre for the Arts, Singapore

Commisions

2015 National Technology University, Singapore
2012 Ministry of Law, Singapore
2009 Singapore International Foundation
2007 National Heritage Board, Patron of the Year Award, Singapore
2006 The Sentosa Resort and Spa, Singapore
2003 Temasek Holdings, Singapore

ARTIST PROFILE PIC




Essay

Thoughts on an Exhibition of Recent Works in Clay by

Ahmad Abu Bakar and Suriani Suratman

by T.K.Sabapathy

 

I

Preparations for writing this brief account of an exhibition of recent works by Ahmad Abu Bakar and Suriani Suratman commenced with visits to their studios. This is to look at works they have been producing, seeing especially pottery or ceramic productions created for the present show and to talk about what they do and make.

Such visits are not unusual. They are made by those wishing to examine creative practices closely and as they are developed in spaces and habitats that are especially set aside. In these respects artists are hospitable. They may not say and reveal all one might wish to hear and know; but, having extended a trusting hand, they are generous in permitting access to their work places, in conveying information, in showing what they do and in dealing with their thoughts.

The visits entailed conversations that are published (citations are from pages as they are numbered here). Readers who are familiar with my writing will recognise this as a trait or feature in publications bearing my involvement. Why do this? It is useful to pause over this question and propose answers for it.

Chiefly it is to deepen foundations for furnishing frames or generating approaches for appraising art and art practices, and to do so continuously. Lives of artists, circumstances in which they develop and publicise their art, their thoughts, the make up of their art works, what may have been said of what an artists does, are formative building blocks for interpretive enterprises. In Singapore and Southeast Asia we know little of these matters; and when we are acquainted with them, we know them fitfully, occasionally and tend to leave somewhat content with bits-and-pieces picked up from here-and-there. Yet, as matters they are significant for explicating art deeply and enduringly.

Knowledge of art stems, partly, from such wellsprings that are channeled into forming resources and stored as archives capable of yielding varying interpretive principles and strategies. In situations where archives and archiving are advanced, resources such as these enable formation of discourses. As resources they are internalized, woven into the fabric of discourses to extents where they are no longer recognizable in their founding states. They have assumed different, other configurations. Some of these discourses are historically or critically or theoretically accented; some others are fueled by subjective or political or pedagogical or populist ambitions. And so on.

In Singapore and Southeast Asia, materials on the modern and the contemporary in art are not sufficiently secured as resources and not adequately stored as archives that are accessible. Consequently, the material base for advancing knowledge on art is unstable, even unreliable. The effects of this on constituencies that make up spheres of art here are immense. This is an enormously complicated situation. For the present I mention it and go on dealing with matters related to publishing conversations with artists.

They are aimed at shoring up the material base for developing any number of interpretive interests. They are published as textual material, laid out as running parallel with historical profiles of individual art practices and critical accounts of art works; at times the two intersect, without one overwhelming the other. As with all texts, these published conversations are not neutral; neither are they privileged on account of them relaying voices of artists – hence, voices bearing unquestioned authority and authenticity. They may provide information that is historically salient and of psychological interest; they may spur insights into subjective currents and motivations. Such outcomes are not given or self-evident; salience, interest, insights are brought to light only when these conversations-as-texts are scrutinized intently; such texts bear interpretive pertinence when they are read with purpose.

It is in this vein that what Ahmad Abu Bakar and Suriani Suratman say in conversations with this writer are published. We encounter at once an added complication in the make up of these conversations, namely: the voice of this writer as an interviewer and interlocutor. The voices are no longer only of the artists; there is a third voice. Yes, the situation is wonderfully entangled – as are most situations.

 

II

The impetus for a joint exhibition sprang from Ahmad and Suriani wishing to show together; it is the first twinning exposition for the two. Their lives have intersected on a number of occasions; not intentionally in all instances, though. That is to say, their paths have crossed not necessarily of their bidding and not congruently; yet they have crossed. For instance, let us consider the following, which is of immense significance for the two of them although in dramatically different, even opposite ways.

Ahmad and Suriani have been closely linked with Iskandar Jalil.

Ahmad Abu Bakar completed undergraduate and graduate studies in studio ceramics in institutions in Australia. Additionally, he worked with Iskandar, aspiring to be an assistant to “the master potter”. This did not materialize; there was, subsequently, a falling out between them, an effective parting of the ways. Ahmad recalls what transpired; let us listen to his account.

“I had the opportunity to understudy with Iskandar for a couple of years. I appreciate that I have experienced quite a lot under his guidance. I was hoping to be his assistant. But on that day he said it is now time for me to move on. He told me that I had to go out and find my way. I was quite upset as I was hoping to be an assistant. I immediately went out of his studio for coffee nearby and thought to myself that I had to move on. So of course I did find my way.” (p.21)

To move on, to strike out along a way of one’s choosing are injunctions that teachers/gurus/masters enjoin, insist of those who study with them. In themselves they are not new; and Ahmad is not the only one that Iskandar has advised among many individuals who have studied and apprenticed with him, to do so. Suriani says as much, although differently and we will hear from her a little later. What might we make of this recollection besides reading it for information? I speculate on ramifications along two routes.

Along one, we discern Ahmad’s deep disappointment, his dejection and a sense of loss. He esteemed prospects of working with Iskandar in his studio highly, fervently, as it provided facilities as well as professional and social milieus. So much so, to be denied entry into and a position it them, to be told to move on, is to be cast into a kind of wilderness, akin to be disowned.

He says he mixed around a lot; he connected with those in the newly formed Artist Village. “That’s where my journey began”, he declared exultantly. He dealt with materials other than clay and mediums other than ceramics. “That was the beginning when I started narrating my story with non-ceramic materials. I just flowed.” (p.21) He no longer regarded himself as a potter or a ceramist; he is an artist, a visual artist who employs clay. Even as clay is his primary and preferred material, even as the wheel is a defining apparatus, he also steps outside and beyond these spheres when conceptualizing and producing his work. He transfers clay from its customary sites and from having its conventional appearances to unorthodox locations and into behaving surprisingly. In his studio, what he produces are not, ostensibly, pots or vessels.

Along a second route, speculation springs from thinking on Iskandar. In saying to Ahmad that he should leave to chart his own way, he is acting on an age-old principle binding masters and apprentices, teachers and students and sundering these bonds. Could it also be the case that Iskandar says what he says because he discerns in Ahmad tendencies or proclivities that are somewhat unusual and that may not neatly fit into being a conventional studio potter? Even as such a prospect is filled with anxiety for setting out on one’s own way does not translate as doing your own thing!

At the time when Ahmad was exploring new materials and medium, when he was expanding the base for his creative practice, Iskandar met with him. “He saw my work evolving as non-ceramic and he was disappointed. He talked to me about ‘bread and butter’ issues. By then I had already developed my own opinions and we talked. I told him that it does not necessarily relate to art making. The whole journey is about the thinking process, of making and executing what I wanted to show and narrate. Eventually it will sell. Somehow this led me to be very different from Iskandar.” (p.21)

What Ahmad says is compelling as testimony; even so, it needs to be verified by, say, hearing Iskandar as he recalls these encounters and substantiated by examining milieus in which Ahmad was recasting his practice and consolidating his thoughts, closely. For the present we note a decisive parting of ways and an emphatic declaration marking a practice in art (and clay!) that is different; “this led me to be very different from Iskandar”.

Suriani Suratman began her study of pottery with Iskandar Jalil and has remained largely within his creative compass; she is regarded as his exemplary student. Suriani has maintained and cherished her affiliation with her teacher until the present. So much so she refers to Iskandar as “still chegu, the teacher”, a status bestowed as a life-long distinction (p.26). The Jalan Bahar Clay Studios in which she has her pottery studio is also home to Iskandar who was among those who secured the precinct as a creative locus. The two of them, along with others who practice there, seek to safeguard the premises and its environment in the face of tides of redevelopment by publicly and prominently voicing their demands and requirements.  They are holding on, somewhat precariously.

The following matter needs to be noted. The Jalan Bahar Clay Studios is a communal space even as everyone practicing in it has her/his studio. Many other salient facilities are shared; schedules for their use have to be agreed upon and drawn up. Spaces are commonly utilized; there is a gallery with displays of clay objects. The public has unimpeded access to the precinct. Suriani pursues her studio pottery in such an environment.

In contrast Ahmad works from home. He has converted a room in his public housing board premises into a ceramic studio in which are installed a wheel and a kiln. Pottery studios are perennially dusty and choked with materials. In Ahmad’s flatted dwelling (his family resides in it) a room is set aside as a container for special use; its door is mostly shut and he holds paramount access to it. He retreats into it. Domestic spaces are not public spaces; one enters them by bearing familial relationships and by invitation. Ahmad’s studio nestles in such a domain.

The privacy sanctioned within domestic spheres affects Ahmad’s creative practice. He safeguards and protects it; he discloses and shows discreetly. This is not to say that he shuns public exposure and engagements. He is a teacher; he is a mentor for individuals in prison and their families.

For the present I draw attention to differences between practicing in Jalan Bahar Clay Studios and in a room in one’s residence. These differences need to be examined closely in order to ascertain their impact on Suriani’s and Ahmad’s respective studio practices, beyond what is hinted here. It is not possible to do so in this essay and I leave the matter to researchers/writers to deal with it as a topic.

When underlining Suriani’s affiliation with and sustained esteem of Iskandar, I am not insinuating that she is a clone. As with Ahmad, she too points out that chegu reminds his students that each has to set out along individual creative routes, to “find your own identity” and that pottery “should come from within” one’s self (p.26). Creatively she sets herself apart. Yet, like Iskandar, Suriani too adopts a moral stance when propagating the value of pottery and when advocating for safeguarding its endangered status. In this respect the lineage is clear; she says unequivocally, “I know his expectations for his students and for pottery in Singapore. So in that sense, I feel that there’s a certain responsibility that I have, in terms of making pottery gain more space in Singapore’s arts sphere.”  (p.26) Suriani’s relationship with Iskandar continues complicatedly and is entangled.

III

I round off this account by briefly talking about the exhibition in The Private Museum. The topic for the show is Tanah Air, translated from Malay into English as land and water, respectively. It has greater significance and potency than merely naming two elements in nature. As a compound it signifies primordial claims to territory and territoriality; to ownership and to inalienable sense of belonging. As undercurrents these are lived and recalled differently by Suriani and Ahmad; they are vividly represented in the conversations. I refer readers to what they say.

Suriani frames her thoughts lyrically, at times nostalgically, and through the filters of childhood memory. Ahmad wrestles with acute tensions precipitated by, on the one hand claims of ownership through inheritance and on the other hand actualities of displacement through his long residence in Singapore which is not his birthplace and where owning land is virtually impossible. The works do not, of course, illustrate these thoughts and situations. They are transformed subtly and discreetly into assuming forms that are new (in the case of Suriani) and representations that emerge from an evolving practice (in the case of Ahmad).

During visits to their studios I have seen works that are in varying states of completion; hence my remarks are tentative and impressionistic. Readers are urged to view the display closely and form their opinions of the productions.

I was struck by a group of forms created by Suriani that are largely sculptural in their disposition. In each of them we discern a vessel as a nuclear entity; it does not, however, remain as a vessel as its rendering determines volume and mass in each object, expansively. These attributes are pulled upwards where they taper and assume wafer-thin shapes, curling and twining in space. The transition from one set of configuration to another is abrupt, sudden. It is possible that as Suriani develops greater capacities for dealing with sculptural principles, she is able to choreograph passages of transition from one formation to another, coherently. The potential to realize such outcomes is promising in these forms. They display Suriani’s endeavours to expand her pottery practice so that it reaches beyond the conventional scope of the vessel or pot. This is not to imply that she is abandoning the vessel or the pot!

While visiting Ahmad’s residence and studio, I have seen a group of objects with svelte profiles and measured forms; even as each is wheel thrown, it is precisely shaped and configured. Here too, the vessel is a primary formative entity; it bears a distinct neck on which is placed a pointed top. Each is elaborately pigmented with bands of colour circling the object; the bands are varied in breadth but each one is laid out exactly and meticulously. When seeing these, we are drawn into vertiginous orbits. Even as these are shaped and formed by hand, Ahmad brings to bear perceptions of geometry as ordering principles in his work. Each one of them is stamped by clarity, precision and firmness. He intends to assemble them in the exhibition so as to simulate the viewing of a cityscape, as in Singapore.

The approximate sculptural forms in Suriani’s works are seen as counterpoints to Ahmad’s finitely shaped productions. There are, of course, other kinds of relationships discernible in the works by them in this exposition.

 

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Documentation


Opening Reception

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