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Deliberately shooting on impulse
THERE is nothing and nowhere unphotographed in this world, declares Song Tao, one half of the collective called Birdhead, from China. And because of that, photography is a way Song Tao, 37, and his creative partner, Ji Weiyu, 36, reflect on themselves, rather than record the world or their travels.
"We're not National Geographic photographers who photograph for documentary, nor do we deliberately look for exotic places to photograph. Travel and photography help us examine ourselves. It challenges us to capture what sticks to our minds and the changes we feel when we learn about other people, culture and places," says Song Tao.
Their works reflect this approach, he feels, as the duo have been working together since 2004, taking some 15,000 photographs a year.
Their modus operandi is that they each take photographs and come together to decide how to display and mount the works - constantly experimenting with collage techniques and other mixed media.
Their distinction is that they can shoot anything compulsively - so that the photographs don't necessarily show any thing or place distinctively - and then they are arranged and mounted to create this "Birdhead world".
This is their first time in South-east Asia, and the duo travelled through Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Singapore. They went without an itinerary or a plan. "We just generally picked a direction to walk every day, and most times we'd meander off. It's not a documentary or a film - that's not our working style."
"Neither did we look at the technical side of things - like the light or the time of day. Maybe at most, we'd pick up a travel book to understand the history and culture a little," recounts Song Tao. "But we took a lot of pictures. And we didn't plan to take a certain number of pictures, or to time our pictures or so on."
In Singapore, they stayed mainly in the city. They took the Singapore tourist bus, for example, and went for a ride up the Singapore Eye. They also went to Little India.
"But in itself, where we went isn't important. We're not doing a documentary or a travel book. We took pictures on reflex and whatever caught our eye or spoke to our heart."
In the final outcome, Singapore photos made up about an eighth of the photos the duo took, and in their display montages, the photographs are a document of an internal journey; a form of exploration of self.
Now in Italy, Song Tao notes that their South-east Asian travels was just completed about three months ago so it's still too early to realise how it impacted or changed them.
How will others react to their work and will the audience understand it? It's never bothered them much at all, says Song Tao. "Since everyone's background and experience is different ..."
This exhibition is the result of a series of South-east Asia residencies made possible by ShanghART with the support of the National Arts Council and the Economic Development Board of Singapore, exploring the potential of Singapore as a site for artistic practice and inspiration, in addition to its status as a hub for art exhibition and business.
- Welcome to Birdhead World Again - Singapore 2016, Dec 9-Jan 22, 11am-7pm, Tue-Sun. Birdhead artists and Singapore artist Robert Zhao will be in conversation with Shanghai-based curator of Asian art Biljana Ciric and collector Hallam Chow on Jan 13 at 3-4.30pm; Blk 6 Lock Road, #02-09, Gillman Barracks. Birdhead x Papacurry (Thailand) Performance will be on Jan 13, 5-8pm, ShanghART Singapore, 9 Lock Road, #02-22, Gillman Barracks.
Down memory lane with a twist
THE last tiger shot in Singapore; pieces of wood harvested from the aerial roots of a banyan tree chopped down in 2011; photographs of Singapore dating from the 1800s to the 1960s. Now, imagine walking into a home and seeing them as part of a treasure trove of flora and fauna, dating from colonial times. With no labels nor proper arrangement, would you feel that you're intruding into a very private space, or would you be very curious about the collection?
OH! Open House, which has the distinction of taking people to staged art sites in homes or other off-site venues, has organised The Bizarre Honour this year. Again, the venue is revealed only to those who have booked tickets for the event, but the website seems to hint at Chip Bee Gardens.
The Bizarre Honour will be an investigation into Singapore's relationship with its natural history. Again, with its tagline that art doesn't belong in a museum, this year's Open House onsite visit again represents the antithesis of the museum's approach to art, says Alan Oei, the organiser and founder of OH! Open House.
This year, as one of the commissioned projects of Singapore Art Week, what The Bizarre Honour does is to simulate a collection that's more like a cabinet of curiosities for the visitor who would be interested in Singaporeans' relationship with flora and fauna.
"We want to make site-specific projects which link to the history and memory of different neighbourhoods. We've worked with the artist to create something that's opposite of a museum - where there is no distinction between objects and art," says Mr Oei.
Museums present a coherent world to the visitor, where everything is properly arranged and "packaged".
"The Bizarre Honour represents a private collector's insatiable curiosity and a more esoteric view of the world, as opposed to academic," he explains.
Only two viewers would be allowed into the 2,000 square foot house at a time. For half an hour, they can wander around the house on their own, but they would not know each other and aren't allowed to talk to each other as well. Only a total of 500 spots are available. "This time, there are no actors, but the objects themselves would be the central characters," says Mr Oei.
The Bizarre Honour follows the self-searching path that Singapore has been on since celebrating its 50th anniversary, through objects.
One of the highlights is a photo album made by a Japanese general - who had gone around taking photos of himself with the "natives" during World War II.
There is also a series of photographs from a British traveller - who reveals his personal obsessions through his photography.
- The Bizarre Honour runs from Jan 14 to March 26. Admission fees apply. Please register at http://www.thebizarrehonour.com or call 8657 2013
Engaging the man in the street
GILLMAN Barracks will be looking quite different next week - when all 15 public installations, sculptures and murals will be unveiled in its grounds. Lock Route, curated by Khairuddin Hori, is the first project putting art out in the open in the contemporary arts cluster.
The title is inspired by a 24-km route march by National Service recruits, especially since Gillman Barracks used to be a military site. But beyond that, don't expect the art to follow a military theme, or any particular theme in fact. And far from being formal sculpture, expect to see a more contemporary, street art slant in the works.
The artists whose works are represented in Lock Route include Mel O'Callaghan (Australia/France); Cleon Peterson (US); Tianzhuo Chen (China); Benedetto Bufalino (France); Indieguerillas (Indonesia); Oanh Phi Phi (Vietnam); Kirsten Berg (US) and from Singapore, Acit Salbini, Sheryo+Yok and Stephanie Jane Burt.
"I had wanted the public sculptures on Lock Route to be familiar, engaging and to provoke more inquiries," says Mr Khairuddin. He notes that they are not necessarily contemporary for the sake of being contemporary, or as a differentiating point to public art that already dots the island republic.
"With Cleon Peterson's works for example, I know he is an idol to many familiar with street culture and I would like to bring his reality and presence closer to home through his art," says Mr Khairuddin.
Peterson used to work with a famous street artist in America, Shepard Fairey who created the Obama HOPE poster.
While some of the artists he invited to participate in Lock Route, such as Indonesia's Indieguerillas, are already exhibiting at galleries at Gillman Barracks, Mr Khairuddin says that he looked first at a list of artists working outside of South-east Asia. Peterson was one, and also Berg, who had participated in America's iconic Burning Man festival.
For Burt, she will be installing a sculpture that reflects her ongoing fascination with entrances and gateways. The metal door on a plinth will have a hole in the middle, and a cord running through it - much like an umbilical cord, describes the 28-year-old sculptor who will also have an exhibition at Objectifs Gallery and will be represented by Yeo's Workshop at Art Stage Singapore.
Then there's also the interactive element provided by Salbini, a pioneer of the "fixie" scene here which refers to fixed-gear, no-brake bikes. Mr Salbini was invited to create "crazy bikes", or sculptural bicycles that people could ride on.
"I was biking in the Himalayas when I got the call asking if I was interested to collaborate in Lock Route," shares the 40 year-old.
He was delighted too, of course, and this is his first time taking part in a contemporary art project. In the process, he's also asked a few artist friends to collaborate on the project by decorating the bikes.
Adds Mr Khairuddin: "I wanted an exhibition that is light, open and inspiring as Lock Route is after all directed towards the public, and not exclusive to contemporary arts."
- Lock Route sculptures will be unveiled on Jan 13, and will be at Gillman Barracks until June 30