Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perspectives from the Ideal City - Peter Chen (Post Museum, 24 Feb 2011)







Peter Chen's "Perspectives from the Ideal City" features some stunning panoramic prints documenting what seems like a systematic demolition of unbelievably iconic pieces of Singapore's Post-Independence architecture, deemed by various policies to be of architectural unimportance, or overridden by a competitive market driven by practicality and money.

From the Artist's Statement: "However, one occasionally sees a momentary rupture in the fabric of the city as it leaves in its wake a physical presence that reveals itself through the fissure in its arithmetical logic. It is the intention of this research to capture the momentary isolation of such 'reveals' - urban slippages that betray the conditions of the capitalism where progress was unable to erase or assimilate."

I enjoy the idea of these spots being a kind of "urban slippage" - the same way I relate to the Singapore River being some kind of psychogeographical faultline. Through the demolition of such sites which have already etched into people's hearts and memories, even the empty spots where they used to lie still remain haunted for those who find meaning in spaces and memories; it is the punctum of the image. I am also glad that someone has taken the pains to document these places before the connection becomes more and more faint and the dots can no longer be connected between memory and place.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shipwrecked (ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, 18 Feb 2011)

Three shows have opened at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, namely: "Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds", "Traveling the Silk Road", and "Genghis Khan".


"Shipwrecked" is a collection of over 400 items found in a shipwreck off the coast of Belitung island in the Gelasa Straits (Gaspar Straits). I was actually involved in some of the production work for the exhibition so it is probably not possible for me to give an objective account of it - naturally I really like the Shipwrecked show a lot more than the other two exhibitions (which were brought in from the US). I guess it also feels a lot more significant as these are the first time the artefacts are being exhibited here as an original Singaporean collection, whereas the other two shows (Silk Road, Genghis) are shows which were acquired from other collections and then adapted for the space.


Touchscreen map interactive I worked on.

As the story goes, the shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Belitung by sea-cucumber divers in shallow waters of just 20 metres, making it an incredibly rare find in recent times. Found in the coast of Indonesia, it was an arabic dhow that would have sailed from Tang China, to the Abbasid Empire near present day Iraq and Iran. In the course of its epic maritime journey, it would most likely have passed Singapore (Temasek) although there are speculations on the variations of routes ships would have taken around this area.


Octagonal Gold Cup with dancers and musicians on the sides.

Stem Cup (Nose Wine Glasses)

Stem Cup (Nose Wine Glasses)


Bronze Mirror

Despite what appears as a somewhat tenuous connection, Singapore took an interest in this shipwreck, and it was eventually bought over by Singapore Tourism Board & Sentosa. George Yeo's (Minister for Foreign Affairs) speech at the opening belies the metaphorical nature of this acquisition, citing this shipwreck as proof of Singapore's context as the networked city - and an opportunity for us to "relink Singapore to other places like China, Oman, etc."

One may ask what is the ostensible connection between these various things - Pottery from 9th century Tang China? Camels and spices from the Silk Road? Mongol warriors? So how are these related to art or science? At this point only the permanent collection at the ArtScience Museum directly deals with the intersection between art and science. It seems the only thread connecting the three exhibitions is TRADING AND CONQUERING! Perhaps over time (and under less pressurising circumstances) the exhibitions chosen for the space will have more direct relation to art/science; otherwise it should become a museum for exhibitions about maritime/overland trade and conquests! TRADE/CONQUEST MUSEUM? Uh, that might be apt for Marina Bay Sands? (I like it best when people are directly honest about what they are doing...)

Speaking of pottery collections, I was at NUS Museums recently where I found the most amazing display of broken pottery in their permanent collection! I LOVE THIS CABINET!


So, it's all broken into pieces, but we can't quite just throw it away, can we? But what happens to all the broken historical artefacts of the world? Do they still have collection value? And if they don't have collectors value, then what other value do they have?


I love how it looks like someone has lovingly tried to piece it together but the gaps are still so huge between the cracks. So endearingly earnest.


Random Ubin Pottery


Complete & Unabridged, Part I (Lasalle, Institute of Contemporary Arts, 18 Feb 2011)

"In 2011, Mr. Roberto Chabet, one of the Philippines’ most influential contemporary artists, will be celebrating fifty years of his professional practice as an artist, curator and teacher. OAF, together with the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts (ICAS), and King Kong Art Projects Unlimited are presenting a series of exhibitions of works by Chabet and over 80 acclaimed and emerging Filipino artists whom he has taught and mentored."

[From Lasalle website]: "Complete & Unabridged, Part I presents 30 contemporary artists from the Philippines who studied under the guidance of pioneer Filipino conceptual artist, Roberto Chabet. As a driving force and mentor of several generations of Filipino artists, Chabet taught for over thirty years at the University of the Philippines – College of Fine Arts (UPCFA) and curated exhibitions at key artist-run spaces in Manila. Complete & Unabridged, Part I offers a spectrum of works including painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, installation, photography and video that reflects a diversity of interests and practices in art in the Philippines. While not all may follow the same trajectories and paths, they are connected by a continuing discussion around alternative forms and ways of thinking about art, which Chabet has consistently raised through his own art, curated exhibitions and teachings."

Selection of some works at the show:


Felix Bacolor - Terminal (2011)

This is the most striking piece, which can be seen even from outside the gallery.


Gaston Damag - Yes/No (1986)

Jonathan Olazo - Narratives of Exhaustion and Endings 1-3 (2008)

Jonathan Olazo - Narratives of Exhaustion and Endings 1-3 (2008)

Dan Raralio - Press Statement / Wet Dreams / Brain Drain (2009)

Dan Raralio - Press Statement / Wet Dreams / Brain Drain (2009)



Agnes Areliano - Haliya Bathing (1983)

Juan Alcazaren - Involuntary (2009) chopping boards

Juan Alcazaren - Involuntary (2009) chopping boards

Soler Santos - Fallen Tree (2010)

Soler Santos - Fallen Tree (2010)

Ronald Achacoso - Love in the Time of Velvet Painting (2009)

Ronald Achacoso - Love in the Time of Velvet Painting (2009)

"Complete & Unabridged Part I" is open till 26 March 2011 at Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chopping Play: Korean Contemporary Art Now (ION Art Gallery, 21 Feb 2011)


"The participants of "Chopping Play" [...] are all well-recognised contemporary Korean artists in their 30s and 40s who each epitomize the bold flair and creative vision that differentiates contemporary Korean art from their broad Asian peer group. Their evocative and dramatic works have been at the very epicenter of the transformation in Korean Contemporary art heralded by the epochal Gwangju Biennale in 1995, embracing diverse values, globalization and a determined assertion of self through conceptual art." [Kim Inseon - Curator]

A collection of accessible works embracing western pop culture references, collages of modern life. If you're here to find out what are the special Korean bits in Korean Contemporary art today, you might be disappointed that it is not apparent at all. The references in the works here are as global as any generic modern East Asian city - even Singapore also inadvertently feels like an east asian city because we are 78% chinese here.


Images of our animal friends from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dreamworks' Kungfu Panda as painted onto chinese watercolour scrolls may be a neat (or highly sellable) concept but it unfortunately felt like an oversimplification for me, especially without detail of brush strokes. To me, this reflected a shallow understanding of Chinese watercolour. Korea of all places is steeped in such traditional arts, and imbued with what I perceive to be a type of "Korean aesthetic" influenced by "Chinese aesthetics" and confucianism/daoism... In general maybe I hoped too much to see works which reflected or dealt with the question of modern Korea.



I quite liked the sculpture works in the show though. Facial expressions were all excellently done.


Chun Sungmyung - The window blows to you (2011)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Improvisations with Otomo Yoshihide (Lasalle Creative Cube, 19 Feb 2011)

otomo yoshihide



An awesome night of improvisations by Otomo Yoshihide (Guitar and Turntable), Leslie Low (Guitar), Brian O'Reilly (Upright Bass), Yuen Chee Wai (Electronic), Darren Moore (Drums), Tim O'Dwyer (Saxophone).

Set 1: Otomo Yoshihide, Leslie Low, Brian O'Reilly, Yuen Chee Wai, Tim O'Dwyer

Set 2: Otomo Yoshihide, Darren Moore, Tim O'Dwyer

Set 3: Otomo Yoshihide, Leslie Low, Brian O'Reilly, Yuen Chee Wai, Darren Moore, Tim O'Dwyer


There is something almost classic about the arrangement of the second set, which was simply saxophone + drum kit + guitar/turntable (if one can even speak of "classic" combinations of sounds where experimental music is concerned!). The highlight for me was the second half of the second set; a kind of ecstatic free jazz frenzy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cigondewah - Tisna Sanjaya (NUS Museum, 17 Feb 2011)


"Where a clean river once flowed, it is now filled with waste. Clear water has now been replaced with a rainbow of colours reminiscent of the moi indie paintings - red, yellow, green, brown, and sometimes even black, depending on the toxic discharge from the factories upstream." (Artist's statement)


Indonesian artist Tisna Sanjaya purchased a plot of land in his hometown Cigondewah which had been adversely affected by rapid industrialisation and turned into a plastic waste dump, and built the Cigondewah Cultural Centre over it. The work of the centre is to rejuvenate the area and community, providing spaces for pigeon lovers to have races, football fields, and to engage and solve the environmental problems in Cigondewah. By contexualising social action as art, this erosion between "art" and "life" is posited as a metaphor for the need for the erosion of the boundaries between disclipines, ownership of works (art market), and local bureaucracies/social networks - in order to get things done.


Official opening speeches in Singapore are often crammed with pep rally platitudes, reiteration of mission statements, and upper management truisms. The very mention of the words "global city for the arts" is enough to induce teeth gnashing in those sensitive to bureaucratic speak.

But this time I was amused to hear the provost say that NUS takes an interest in art because (and i quote verbatim) "art is that distinguishing factor that will make Singapore a vibrant place to live, work and play".

Standing in front of Tisna Sanjaya's Cigondewah project, one wonders whether he actively realises that he's talking about the "qualities" which make Singapore more "livable" (what does Singapore have to do with it? why is he bringing up Singapore now?) in front of a show conceptualizing social changes / collective action to make Cigondewah more "livable" as art itself.


"seni sebagai jalan hidup" (art as a way of life)


ART = KAPITAL (Joseph Beuys)

i am often glad that I studied literature instead of fine art because i feel like writing is the most basic way to articulate an abstract idea. and art is just one scaffold that represents that abstract concept. yesterday I read Ban Kah Choon's essay "Narrating Imagination" - about the strength of metaphors/similes especially in the context of places with insufficient physical space (such as in Singapore). Where space (or lack thereof) needs to be de-emphasised, it is useful to speak of psychological spaces and to use abstract thought to divert attention away from the development of space. One doesn't even have to look to art for inspiration, for this is a common tactic used in Singapore politics!

From a post I made in 2007:

PM Lee, on the Gardens by the Bay: It is “far more impressive and convincing than any sales pitch by a minister, or a Powerpoint presentation by EDB. A potential investor who arrives in Singapore sees the greenery on the way from the airport to the city centre. He notices not just neatly manicured areas, but also patches of thick vegetation left undisturbed to be bird sanctuaries. He senses the planning, organisation and execution that has made this happen, the social discipline and the public standards that extend to all aspects of life in Singapore”.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan: "We have good infrastructure. You know that we've got a very business friendly environment; we have a favourable tax regime. But at the end of the day, the decision to locate and where to do business is also dependent on individual, how people live, how their family lives, how do they feel here. Do they feel safe here; do they have a good quality of life here? This is where the garden and greenery play a part. They are part and parcel of the whole total lifestyle package”.

I think we're pretty advanced with inventing metaphors here. After all, we're an entire nation built on imaginary constructs of what we want to be. Now, to follow in that tradition...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

House & Memory / Apartment Project - ruru & friends (Galeri Nasional Indonesia, Jakarta, 28 Dec 2010)

Last December, I made a short trip to Jakarta which incidentally coincided with the opening of the ruangrupa "Decompression 10th Anniversary" exhibition at Galeri Nasional Indonesia. A whole month of exhibitions, talks, shows, and performances spread out over various locations in jakarta (and scattered over numerous buildings within the Galeri Nasional compound), this exhibition was huge! so vast! it was like art/information overload for the visitor who might not be so well acquainted with Jakarta or the art scene in Indonesia.

However one thing I wanted to write down was that there were two things which were quite interesting to me at that show - Arjan van Helmond's House and Memory, and ruangrupa's "Apartment Project". During that trip to Jakarta, we also happened to be coincidentally staying at a friend of a friend's place at Taman Rasuna, one of the residences discussed in the works.

Taman Rasuna

The view from the balcony of Taman Rasuna (Tower 9)

A staggeringly massive condominium development by Bakrie Group consisting of 15 highrise towers, landscaped gardens, multiple swimming pools and other luxury facilities, Taman Rasuna towers over the adjacent low-rise area which is seperated from "Bakrieland" by a high wall and barbed wires. the 4th floor features an "open sky podium" which is said to be one of the few of its kind in Indonesia (but this type of condo development will probably look quite familiar to Singaporeans).


A narrow hole in the wall is the gateway between the two worlds. On one side, in the shadow of the 214m tall Bakrie Tower and in walking distance from international embassies and Jakarta's CBD, you'll find 45000rp coffees at Starbucks, the organic "farmer's market", and the other predictably glossy accoutrements of commercialism and modernity. But not more than a 10 minutes walk away, behind the fence, it is the typical Jakarta urban sprawl, teeming with muezzins wailing, ramshackle houses scattered in all directions, speeding bajajs, rubbish dumps, and parts of the cemetery upon which Towers 1-4 of Taman Rasuna is said to have been also built over.




Mountain of Rubbish

Arjan van Helmond's House and Memory is a collection of sketches in which residents were asked to draw where they used to live based entirely on memory, which naturally allowed people some freedom of imagination where their self-drawn maps and floorplans were concerned. Some of the sketches were by people who previously lived in the areas which had been bought over and redeveloped to build Taman Rasuna, some others were by people who were currently living in Taman Rasuna, and some others were residents in other types of housing.

In the accompanying book for the Apartment Project, they write that in Indonesia, land is seen as the source of life and power; houses occupy space and land and are also representations of power. the most obvious spatial difference between the rich/modernised areas and the less developed areas is that apartment housing is vertical whereas the dense urban sprawl of jakarta develops horizontally. when we draw maps we draw them on a flat plane, but highrise buildings do not have the same relation to the ground as the simple single-storey houses found in jakarta. so even when we try to draw our maps, the normal orientation and notion of space is altered.

The question that would be interesting for me is whether/how this spatial difference between horizontal and vertical housing affects the perceptions of social relations.

For a land-scarce country like Singapore, landed property retains its position as the ultimate symbol of power because of its scarcity and cost as compared to vertical housing such as the public HDB flats. yet in Jakarta where land is much more plentiful, it is the vertical housing developments such the Taman Rasuna which are the symbols of economic power as opposed to the rabble of small landed houses on the other side of the fence.

As a casual and transient observer, I wonder if the highrise flats have the effect of instilling the notion of social motility (or perhaps even aspirations of upward social mobility). i almost want to relate this back to the indonesian concept of "nongkrong" - which is to hang out to do absolutely nothing except hang out and sit around. one will frequently observe that labour is so cheap in indonesia that even say the bakso stall in a fancy mall can afford to hire ridiculous numbers of staff to man a simple stall - resulting in what looks to me like a massive nongkrong of bored 20-something year olds sitting behind the counter. (in this case they are supposed to be working, so it is not quite nongkrong, but it certainly seems to echo with this sense of life having come to a standstill. from my perspective as an insufferable workaholic (and perhaps also partly from my upbringing in Singapore), i find that the concept of staying still in one place (and not doing anything in particular) smacks of boredom, but perhaps boredom is not the case for people there, coming from completely different perspective; from a land where houses simply take up space on land and aren't always piled up in stacks, with every stack of houses fighting to be taller than the next.


Jakarta City Map