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Hans Haacke's Blue Sail (1965).

Anne Veronica Janssens' Freak Star N°2 (2005).

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's Repulse Bay (1999) reflect the dematerialisation of art.

Immaterial world

Oct 7, 2016 5:50 AM

MATTER and materiality are at the heart of the National Museum of Singapore's new contemporary art exhibition. Though the museum isn't typically associated with contemporary art - that's the job of its cousins, the Singapore Art Museum and the National Gallery Singapore - it has partnered with Platform, a network of French Regional Collections of Contemporary Art (FRAC), to present What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible, a selection of eye-catching works dealing with the imaginary and temporary.

Among the 34 artworks on display is Hans Haacke's famous 1965 work Blue Sail. It comprises nothing more than a small fan placed underneath a blue chiffon silk tethered at its four corners. The effect of the fan blowing into the centre of the cloth turns the latter into a floating UFO-like object with a beautifully rippling surface. Haacke has effectively created a sculptural artwork out of simple things. But would it cease to be an artwork if the fan was switched off?

The question of materiality and immateriality becomes more pressing when considering Anne Veronica Janssens' FreakStar N°2 (2005). Here, five strong beams of light intersect at the centre to create a star. A nearby fog machine helps define the shape of the star more visibly. But, like the previous artwork, the star would vanish in the instant of a power trip.

Conversely, other works force you to make up for what's missing. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster calls her large installation work Repulse Bay (1999) after the famous beach in Hong Kong. The work, in effect, is a blue-lit room with three beach towels laid out next to one another. You enter the room by climbing down a ladder. Once in, you are immersed in a cool, dark world that looks nothing like the bright and warm stretch of beach in Hong Kong. The natural variety and disorderliness one finds on the beach have been drastically simplified into repetitive, anonymous forms. Only one's imagination can complete it.

Notably, about a quarter of the works here are video-based. The best among them is Michel Francois' Deja Vu (2003) which features a pair of hands manipulating a sheet of aluminium foil. The image is presented as a split screen, with one half of it appearing like a mirror image in the other half - very much like a Rorschach inkblot. But unlike the inkblot, which is stationary, Francois' aluminium foil is always shape-shifting like the images of a child's kaleidoscope. You find yourself constantly free-associating with what you're seeing before you - which is really more thrilling than it sounds.

Other notable works in the exhibition include those by well-known artists such as Julien Discrit, Martin Creed, Philippe Parreno and Anthony McCall.

The exhibition is co-curated by France's Laurence Gateau and Anne-Claire Duprat, as well as Singapore's Angelita Teo and Iman Ismail. It is a parallel project of the Singapore Biennale 2016, which opens in late-October.

  • What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible is now on at the National Museum of Singapore till Feb 19, 2017