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Show of strength
An eye on Singapore contemporary art
Marina Bay Sands
From now till June 28
ANYONE looking for a quick introduction to Singapore's contemporary art scene might wish to visit the Prudential Singapore Eye exhibition and purchase the accompanying coffee-table book Singapore Eye. Neither the exhibition nor the book can claim to be definitive.
The exhibition highlights works by only 17 artists, while the book features a wide but uneven range of 62 artists from the established to the very young.
But where the book and exhibition lack in authority, they make up for in sheer generosity. The 309-page book measures 24cm by 24cm and is filled with gorgeous eye candy.
Each artist has a four-page picture spread of their works with brief explanations about their practices, mostly written by the artists themselves.
Heavyweights such as Kumari Nahappan, Charles Lim, Zai Kuning and Lee Wen appear in its pages. But so do some very young practitioners such as Ashley Yeo who, at 24, has not yet had a major solo exhibition. For a longtime observer of the local scene, the book springs some surprises.
Meanwhile, the exhibition allows one to either discover or revisit iconic works by 17 artists, including Jane Lee, Adeline Kueh, Angela Chong, Gerald Leow and Donna Ong. In the cavernous rooms of the ArtScience Museum, the larger works seem to fare better; conceptually strong works that are smaller in scale appear dwarfed by the large walls and high ceilings.
The larger works include Jason Wee's Master Plan which is made up of huge, black, geometric woodblocks pressed against each other to evoke an anonymous urban dystopia; Ho Tzu Nyen's sly Bohemian Rhapsody video of a trial filmed in the former Supreme Court and whose dialogue comprises the full lyrics of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, and Lee Wen's ever-popular circular ping-pong table that reconfigures the rules of the game.
Prudential Singapore Eye is a collaboration among life insurance company Prudential, Saatchi Gallery and Parallel Contemporary Art, a non-profit organisation led by European husband-and-wife philanthropists David and Serenella Ciclitira.
The method of selection relied on judging the portfolios submitted by artists from an open call. Four curators drew the shortlist - and only one of them, in this case, is well-versed in Singapore art, namely ex-Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui.
While the method has lead to some curious omissions - where are Ming Wong, Amanda Heng or Tang Da Wu, for instance? - it also allows lesser-known artists with promising portfolios to gain recognition.
Prudential Singapore Eye runs until June 28 at the ArtScience Museum. There will be free entry for this exhibition every first Monday of each month starting Feb 2. The Singapore Eye book can also be purchased at the museum for S$99
Imagining a different version of Raffles
THE HISTORY OF JAVA
By Jimmy Ong
Fost Gallery, 1 Lock Road,
From now till March 1
THE sensuous drawing style of Jimmy Ong has now been applied to the myth and history of Sir Stamford Raffles in Java. Raffles, though well-known as the founder of Singapore, had lived in Java first.
Inspired by Raffles' own 1817 publication The History of Java, Ong imagines various scenarios of the Englishman interacting with the Javanese. In one charcoal drawing executed in his trademark curvy strokes, Raffles supervises the construction of a colonial building. In another, Raffles watches the Javanese trap a tiger.
In all of the drawings, Raffles appears reserved and unsure of himself, with his back facing us. He's an awkward, foreign presence surrounded by local men going about their work.
Ong says it's no coincidence: "In some ways, I feel like Raffles did - an outsider, an aggressor even, in a very hospitable country that is Java."
"Also, now that I am 50, I'm looking back a lot at my personal life, at all the vows I've broken, the lies I've told. I'm wondering if Raffles ever looked back and felt like a failure too."
The exhibition includes installation and video works. One installation consists of a textile effigy of Raffles lying flat in a mosquito net, surrounded by cushions.
"The only imagery I have of Raffles is the standing statue at Empress Place," says Ong. "So here, I've created a different version of him and put him down on the ground. He is soft and vulnerable, feminised even."
By casting Singapore's much-celebrated founding father in a different light, Ong has put a deliberately political spin on his art once again.
A hotel room? Not quite. Look up close
JOHN SCRIPPS, OR THE BUTCHER AND THE SURGEON
By Vertical Submarine
At Golden Mile Tower, 4th floor
From now till Feb 14
IN March 1995, Englishman and ex-convict John Martin Scripps murdered three tourists in Singapore and Thailand, and carved up his victims with the butchery skills he had picked up while behind bars.
He was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to death in Singapore.
A few years after that murder trial, a novel The Investigation by Juan Jose Saer was published, centering on a murder investigation (unrelated to Scripps' trial) and a literary investigation.
This work fired the imagination of art collective Vertical Submarine, comprising Joshua Yang, Justin Loke and Fiona Koh, who came up with the idea of blending fact and fiction to create a new artwork.
That work, an installation, is now on display in a makeshift gallery on the fourth floor of Golden Mile Tower, just next to the entrance of the cinema. The entire area has been made to look like a hotel room bearing an eerie resemblance to the River View Hotel room where Scripps killed Gerard Lowe.
The room looks fairly nondescript, but all is not as it seems. Squint into the keyhole, the cabinet louvres and even the mirror - and criminal dioramas appear.
Like Saer's novel, which revels in multiple perspectives, Vertical Submarine's installation overturns the scenario and opens up numerous readings.
Not only is the artwork a cognitive illusion, it also poses a judicial conundrum: Scripps' final letter to his mother, reprinted here, is rife with misspellings, pointing to his problems with reading and writing, which developed when he was nine, just after his father's suicide.
The work thus reminds us once again that every criminal act needs to be seen beyond the printed facts.
The secret life of buildings
ALONG THE GOLDEN MILE
By Darren Soh
At Objectifs, 56A Arab Street
From now till Feb 18
DARREN Soh has made a name for himself photographing the architectural landscape in Singapore for more than a decade. His straight-on shots of thousands of vernacular buildings - many of which have since been unceremoniously demolished - are striking mementos of a past too few mourn.
His latest series of photographs titled Along The Golden Mile attempts to capture the rich blend of architectural styles found within the dense vicinity of Beach Road and Jalan Sultan.
They include the shophouses from the colonial era, the HDB flats built in the 1970s and 1980s, the once-swanky development known as the Golden Mile Complex that has since fallen into disrepair, and more recent additions such as the Concourse designed by Paul Rudolf.
Instead of simply displaying these photos, however, Soh has enlarged them to the size of the walls of Objectifs third-floor gallery, so that "the viewer can go up close to the photographs, look into the windows of buildings, and see people hanging out with each other," he says.
"There's even one window where you can see a half-naked man and his red underwear," he half-jokes.
Meanwhile, on the rooftop of Objectifs, he's displayed 25 aerial images, some shot using a drone camera, that reveal the complex topography of the area.
He says: "It's interesting when you're looking top down on any place - it's not what you might imagine it to be. For instance, there's a playground whose floor design you wouldn't appreciate unless you have that bird's eye view."
Like any good photography, his images encourage you to look closer.
Upending the traditional ideas of printmaking
IMPRINT: NEW WORKS
By Suzann Victor
STPI, 41 Robertson Quay
From now until Feb 21
THE only woman to ever represent Singapore at the Venice Biennale, Suzann Victor has been living in Sydney for several years with her Australian partner.
Her first solo exhibition in Singapore in several years is a triumphant homecoming, not only because the works are splendid but also because they've been well-received by art lovers - some 70 per cent of them have been sold or are on reserve.
STPI's gallery space has taken on an almost ethereal quality with these works, which range from fluid abstract paintings to stunning decollages to modular wall sculptures.
Working with the print and paper media, STPI's specialty, Victor sought to upend the traditional ideas of printmaking. In Of We Cloud, she used pulp as pigment and applied it onto modular disks.
She then fixed dozens of them together in cloud-like configurations and hung them on the wall or from the ceiling.
For her gorgeously diaphanous paintings, she painted acid on copper plates and printed the image on paper. And for her decollages, she applied her own body weight to imprint on paper pulp, describing it as a "performance" on pulp. One result - a red, black and white decollage titled Imprint By Subtraction: Performance 1- is particularly stunning.
The beauty and precision of these works remind the long-time art observer in Singapore of what the country has missed since Victor moved to Australia.
But should one hanker for more, her installation of 12 swinging chandeliers, Contours Of A Rich Manoeuvre, is now on display at Art Stage Singapore. It was first commissioned in 2006 for the reopening of the National Museum of Singapore, where one version still hangs.