It is indeed a pleasure to hear that Sebastiao Salgado’s “Genesis” exhibition of black and white photographs on nature and tribal communities in the undeveloped world, currently held at the National Museum of Singapore, has been drawing such huge numbers of visitors that it has been extended by more than a month to 31 August.
This feeling of happiness is doubled by the similar response Stephen Wiltshire’s live drawing of “The Singapore Skyline” had drawn in July as his artwork is a basic black and white pen drawing on paper.
My double delight stems from the reality that we live in a technological world dominated by colour. Classic films originally shot in black and white have to be tinted over in multiple hues to stay appealing to contemporary audiences: the 1939 American musical fantasy film, “The Wizard of Oz” being 1 example.
As for the field of visual arts: though ukiyo-e started as black and white prints in the 1600s, its modern day artistic practitioners create in the full palette of colour. Even the founding father of modern Chinese brush painting, Wu Guanzhong, had evolved calligraphic works of abstract art in black ink liberally punctuated in sprightly splashes of colour, as exemplified by his ink and colour on paper “Birthplace” in Art Retreat’s private collection.
Yet there are artists today, like Salgado and Wiltshire, who still prefer to ingeniously fashion art that are essentially black and white. And this may well lead some of us to wonder why.
For Singaporean artist, Yeo Shih Yun, it stems from her admission to being, to a certain extent, a ‘basic’ person who dislikes having too much ‘noise’ in her world. She believes this clutter makes where she lives negative: ‘If I am a musician, I will create classical (and) not pop music. If I am a photographer, I will be a black and white film person, not digital.’
And that is because she ‘like(s) what is timeless’: ‘Beauty is timeless. You can look at a Kandinsky painted in 1910 and still be awestruck. (So) I seek to create art that is timeless. (And) black and white is basic’.
On the few occasions when she does use colour, it is very much done ‘in a controlled manner… in a small area on the canvas’ and in natural hues like earth and cool tones, like blue and green, as she believes that ‘colours have always been (to her) a supporting role and black and white is the main role’.
Hence, Chinese brush painting, in its very essence, has very much influenced this abstractionist: she feels that it has always had ‘a very good use of ‘negative space’’ and so her works of art keep this ‘negative space’ very much along the aesthetic lines of this time honoured Asian style of brushing ink onto xuan paper.
To distinguish her work from other similarly inspired artists, she started, during an artist residency in Fukuoka in 2010, to use toy robots to apply the black ink: as a result, her ‘works explore the mystic aspects of the drawing process – (its) accidental and impermanent manifestations’.
As such, her signature style has very much become 1 where ‘change and transience are important in (her) creative process: (she is) fascinated with random occurrences, improvisation, and the liberating qualities of non-traditional tools’ in her artistic process.
Unsurprisingly, toy robots are not the only unconventional artist equipment she uses to mark with ink. Her wide repertoire includes rollerblades, twigs, large cake knives, watering pots and even trees. Yes, trees!
And through them all, Yeo removes the artist’s signature strokes and idiosyncratic touches; and so surrenders authorial control to liberate drawing from all its enslavement to the artist’s hand. The results are bold and energetic uses of black ink that express movement, serving to emphasize her mark making as a performance.
Given Yeo’s creative new take on a well-established art form we begin to see why art makers continue to be motivated to delve into traditions espoused by black and white art. But in a world of vivid colour, why do some collectors enthusiastically buy and build a collection of them?
For Singapore’s highly regarded art collector and renowned Singaporean ballet doyenne, Goh Soo Khim, ‘black and white works come across just as bold and expressive as any other medium’ as all ‘artists are often highly individual people’. And so they ‘draw and arouse (her) into a contemplative mood of different sense and emotion’.
At the same time, she finds that monochromatic Chinese paintings and calligraphy are most able to ‘evoke these different emotions each time she views them’. Hence, she started out by collecting the black and white artworks of Chinese artist, Wang Lin Hai. These, in turn, ignited and nurtured her interest for Chinese art, motivating her to collect the works by other Chinese ink artists.
For Goh, ‘the rhythmic movement of Chinese ink’ finds ‘relevance to the essence of dance’; exploring the connection between it and the visual arts. As such, some of her collection investigates her professional form of performing arts; like her Hong Zhu An’s “Dance” and “Ink Dance” and Chua Ek Kay’s “The Dancers”.
It is a relevant form of investigation as ‘Chinese ink and calligraphy (have) rhythmic characteristic and flow within its brush stroke. Under the brush of an artist, ink is able to emulate the movement and stillness, which can also be found in the essence of dance’.
Those Goh has collected that do not relate directly to this exploration come in mediums that bridge between the visual arts and dance. For example, sound is an important aspect of dance as well. So she has acquired Zulkifle Mahmod’s “Sonically Exposed #001”, a sound sculpture, in a predominating black ground, that draws its inspiration from issues such as over-population and the social structure of a society: its wires and capacitors ‘produce rhythmic static resembling crowded cityscapes and the buzz of the human crowd… engaging (her) visual and audio sens(es)’.
Delve into the still magnetically enigmatic world of monochromatic art by viewing some of Yeo’s artwork and a few of Goh’s collection:
* Yeo Shih Yun’s “Choreographed Collisions” exhibition of artworks created with toy robots is held at Galerie Steph, Artspace@Helutrans, 39 Keppel Road, #01-05 Tanjong Pagar Distripark, Singapore 089065 till 30 August this year.
The artist walkthrough at Galerie Steph is on 2 August, from 2pm to 3 pm.
* The exhibition on “舞: A Goh Soo Khim Collection” is at The Private Museum, 51 Waterloo Street, #02-06, Singapore 187969 from 6 August to 28 September this year.
Besides the art created by Wang Lin Hai, Hong Zhu An and Zulkifle Mahmod, it includes highly acclaimed works by Chen Ke Zhan, Chua Ek Kay and Goh Beng Kwan.
Feature photo: Yeo Shih Yun’s “Against The Spring”. Photo credit: Galerie Steph
Right photo: Hong Zhu An’s “Ink Dance”. Photo credit: The Private Museum
If you had thoroughly enjoyed bathing in, touching, listening to, sniffing and playing with Jo Darvall’s “Sensorium – The Unfurling” when it was displayed at Sculpture Square Limited in July, you will be delighted to know that you can once again indulge in an artistic interaction with your different senses at the Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) latest exhibition; and it is 1 that definitely transcends any IMAX experience.
That is because “Sensorium 360O” carries a predominant number of fun artworks that invite you to actively explore, participate or create; and some even challenge you to detect movement, position and time, keep your balance, musically synergize, dabble in synesthesia and flow into spiritual contemplation – to ‘see’ the world through the lenses of your varied artistic, phenomenological, philosophical and psychological intelligences.
So you get your chance to ‘view’ Singaporean Alecia Neo’s “Unseen: Touch Field” with only your fingers and ears. Installed in an almost pitch black room are her braille drawings and sound recordings of the cityscapes of Taipei, created in collaboration with blind and sight-impaired participants at the Eden Social Welfare Foundation in Taiwan and Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School in Singapore.
Consequently, you gain a sense of the adaptation the visually challenged undergo to make sense of and negotiate their way through their surroundings and a fore-taste of a gastronomical experience offered by Dining In The Dark in Kuala Lumpur, where you savour every sound, movement, taste and breath during dinner in a totally darkened restaurant.
Testing your skill at coordinating your vision, positioning and movement is Tad Ermitano’s “Twinning Machine”. The Filipino artist’s installation plays upon and subverts the expectations of your mind with respect to your eye-hand and foot coordination by capturing you on video, projecting your image onto a screen after distorting it with a time-lag. His screen immediately becomes an ‘anti-mirror’ that ‘glitches’ and puts out-of-sync your visual cues and physical sensations.
In turn, the gaming fanatic in you will be over the moon with Eugene Soh’s “The Overview Installation” as you get the delicious choice of donning on 3 different sets of modified goggles that replace your normal viewpoint of a floor-drawn maze with an image of said labyrinth streamed from close-circuit televisions.
The 1st set of eye gear you put on gives you a CCTV feed from the 3rd-person perspective (the ‘god view’). The 2nd the 2nd-person’s (the ‘vice-versa’ image) and requires you to team up with a friend to successfully negotiate the convoluted lay of the Singaporean artist’s land, while the last gives you lateral vision, which simulates the way most 4-legged herbivores see their world.
Your capacity at overcoming initial disorientation to successfully cognitively adapt to the task of walking through the maze, against habitual action, will heighten your sense of body and spatial awareness.
You can next unwind your now heightened sense of triumph by literally plunging your body into the depths of Pinaree Sanpitak’s comforting “noon-nom”. Comprising a room full of round, soft sculptures covered in organza, the Thai artist has once again created physical and metaphorical representations of the human female breast. This time she aims to convey its nurturing, sensual and sacred nature, symbolizing its function as nourishment and comfort to a nursing baby.
And she hopes that your time nestled in her “noon-nom” will re-ignite your keen awareness that touching and feeling are vital means of re-connecting with people and firming up human relationships.
Your now relaxed frame of mind is ripe for Linda Solay’s “Continuum of Consciousness”. The German-born, Israel-based art maker entreats you to move into quiet contemplation by allowing your body to feel and absorb the divine connection Earth has with the heavens as she submerges you in a space filled with scents of soothing spices, low drones of Bani Haykal’s composition of sounds in audible and sub-sonic frequencies, and a hypnotic shimmering floor-to-ceiling column of crystal glasses – beloved heirlooms in Solay’s family.
Getting lost in her work of art locates your body and being within the continuum of sense experience and consciousness of energy fields that converge, overlap and intersect without beginnings or endings, lifting you into the extra-sensory realms.
This in turn primes you for perceiving 1 sense via another: Filipino Christina Poblador’s “There is a tree in the heart of death” plays with the idea that musical scores and perfumes are both described as comprising high, middle and low notes, as well as being powerful triggers in conjuring up feelings and memories. Hence, it comes in a selection of songs and musical arrangements that she feels deep personal and emotional resonance, each accompanied by a corresponding specially concocted scent composition.
When you have tasted her correlated sonic and perfumed notations, Poblador invites you to recreate a score sheet of scents on a strip of paper that corresponds with 1 she has crafted for this exhibition. After which, she liberates you to use the same ‘keyboard’ or ‘palette’ of 30 perfume notes to improvise a scent creation that corresponds to your very own favourite musical score.
While you are thus creatively set free, Li Hui’s “Cage” tests the extent you can sense that freedom. The mainland Chinese artist uses green laser beams to put in place 2 gigantic virtual coops that appear in alternation: 1 moment you find yourself anxiously ‘trapped’ within 1, the next you become psychologically ‘set free’ to muse over the imaginary boundaries that you have set for yourself, based on your perception of things and issues, rather than their reality.
Your mind’s ability to piece together disparate perceived stimuli to generate a synergized whole is tested next: Singaporean Mark Wong deliberately splits a recorded musical score played on the cello, violin, er hu and bass into single channels that play 1 instrument each, and broadcasts each part in a different location at SAM.
His “Memory Rifts” thus offers you chance and repeated encounters to unconsciously hear its melodies and motifs, rhythms and rifts, points and counterpoints. What musical patterns will your mind come to recognize? What synergized refrain will eventually begin to hum in your head?
While music feeds your soul, food entices the stomach – especially when trying new eateries is Singapore’s number 1 past time, and this cosmopolitan city thrives on adapting cuisines the world over to local tastes. Yet, Vietnamese artist, Bui Cong Khanh discovers that this culinary trait is shared in his country of birth – in particular, in relation to the evolution of Hoi An chicken rice. He has come to realise that Chinese immigrants to Vietnam had adapted the Hainanese chicken rice into 1 pleasing to Hoi An’s palettes. Thus evolving it into a uniquely local Vietnamese dish.
This evolution is documented in his “Chicken Rice in the Border” and you can get a taste of the genuine Hoi An fare at Food For Thought in 8Q at SAM, along Queen Street, and make comparisons to the local Hainanese version Singaporeans absolutely love.
The final artwork that ‘invites’ your participation is Lavender Chang’s “Transcendence”. To be created during the duration of the “Sensorium 360O” exhibition, the Taiwanese artist will photographically record you as you engage with and interact with the above mentioned artworks and condense all the activities at each work of art into a single print.
The resulting series of prints will document your sense of time as you perceive it – as highly subjective and often erratic; after all your perception of it depends on whether you enjoy, detest or are bored by the activities SAM offers in this newest exhibition.
Grab this chance of having your 15 minutes of fame captured to posterity by immersing in this highly eclectic selection of surround sensations at SAM at 71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555 while it runs from 31 July to 19 October this year.
Feature photo: Li Hui’s “Cage”
Right photo: Pinaree Sanpitak’s “noon-nom”
Photo credits: Singapore Art Museum
The endless troves of Singaporeans and permanent residents that streamed to Paragon Shopping Center to watch specially flown in autistic British artist, Stephen Wiltshire, draw “The Singapore Skyline” over 4 days from mid July is indeed a heartening sight for local proponents of this medium of art for the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) tends to uphold contemporary art that use unconventional mediums.
When SAM does exhibit a drawing, the artwork has to have some extra merit of being novel. Take the 3 displayed in SAM’s current “Medium at Large” exhibition: Singaporean Ian Woo’s “Lot Sees Salt” series are ‘drawings’ that play between pencil and paintbrush. While precise pencil lines detail the fine structures suggesting an organism, landscape or otherworldly terrain, the central portion sees that the graphite has been treated like paint – Woo had used a brush to pull marks across the paper’s surface to create vigorous brushstrokes that erase and distort the more delicate marks of the original penciled line.
And even though Filipino Renato Orara and Malaysian Nadiah Bamadhaj had drawn realistic representations with a ballpoint pen and charcoal respectively, the former’s “Bookwork: NIV Compact Thinline Bible (page 403)” drawing was done on 1 page in the Christians’ Holy Book while the latter’s “Quiet Rooms” is crafted as a collage that takes as it’s ‘ground’ an entire wall measuring 6 metres.
In total contrast, Wiltshire’s landscape is just a realistic representation, albeit an artistic 1, of Singapore’s cityscape, whose only moment of novelty is his ability to pen down purely from memory the country’s Marina Bay and financial district after just an hour’s helicopter ride over this terrain.
And it will go on display from September at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Singapore City Gallery at The URA Centre along Maxwell Road after the Singapore Press Holdings and the artist have presented the completed drawing to the island’s president, Mr Tony Tan Keng Yam, as an advance present for the nation’s 50th birthday in 2015.
If all this recent fanfare with Wiltshire has piqued your interest in what else Singapore has to offer in this artistically oldest of medium over this summer, pay Mulan Gallery Pte Ltd a visit. It’s current exhibition on local artist, Koh Hong Teng’s “Between Lines” showcases his original comic art pages from his books “Gone Case”, “Last Train from Tanjong Pagar” and “Ten Sticks and One Rice”.
The 1st adapts Koh’s award-winning novel of the same name into a comic book format. Told over 2 volumes, the story follows budding teenager Yong through the stresses he faces in the Singapore education system as his friendship with his best friend gets tested; all rolling into persistent reality after his grandmother has just passed away.
The 2nd gets set during 2011, when the Keretapi Tanah Melayu train that had run between Singapore and Malaysia for almost 80 years became rerouted to Woodlands Train Checkpoint after the closure of its Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and its preservation as a national monument. The story follows a group of heritage enthusiasts taking the final ride out of the Tanjong Pagar station, and blends fiction with facts based on real tours led by architecture historian Lai Chee Kien.
The last, but not least, won the bronze category of the 7th International Manga Award this year and follows protagonist Neo Hock Seng’s struggles to eke out a living as illegal bookie, triad member and street hawker, even as his old ways and values get increasingly challenged as Singapore transforms from a kampong to a cosmopolitan city.
Concurrently on show are the large-scale, figurative charcoal works on paper by a very well established Singaporean artist, Jimmy Ong. Now based in Vermont, USA, his solo exhibition at FOST Private Limited presents a selection of works from his more recent “Nassim Hill Revisited” suite, along with those from his previous series “Ancestors On The Beach” and “Beyond LKY”.
While Ong uses his suite of works, depicting flora and still life with vegetables and fruits, to reminisce on the time he had spent living and working in the Nassim Hill district during the 1990s, his signature figurative creations defining the latter of his 2 series are a result of being part of a Valentine Willie Fine Art Singapore’s display of its “Singapore Survey 2010: Beyond LKY” project, where Singaporeans were invited to imagine a future as their country moves forward without its Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
“Ancestors On The Beach” distills these separate takes on the personal and controversial into 1 as Ong aims to come to terms with his past in Singapore. It presents his wish that the country can see a day where differences in religion, race, gender and sexual orientation can be truly celebrated and respected.
Also narrating and commenting on the realities of his surroundings are the works of art by Indonesian artist Muhamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf. The 3 pen on paper representational drawings that devotedly adhere to his culture’s aesthetics, in his “Behind New World Order” exhibition at Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore, are created through avid observation coupled with vivid imagination.
1 keen study births the universally applicable “Wild Impact”, which discusses how art affects the way we live, drawing as analogy the immense effect the iconic series of 4 American “Rambo” films, produced in the 1980s and 2008, has significantly and lastingly made on the psychology manifested by child soldiers.
Equally astute scrutiny of Yusuf’s own Javanese origins yields “Little Cosmos” and “Time and Space”: 1 pictorially depicts his culture’s philosophical story on who the Javanese are and their ‘spiritual brothers’, along with the dimension they exist in in their universe. The other conjures up the difference their respect for time and space sometimes has with those from outside of Java and Indonesia.
If by now you are questioning whether a distinct dichotomy exists within what gets exhibited as drawings in SAM and the island’s commercial galleries, Yeo Workshop’s upcoming group exhibition “A Drawing Show” will put your unease at bay. It attempts to provide a concise take on what is presently displayed on this medium here and in Southeast Asia.
This view of the realities and possibilities of drawing ranges from pencil-on-paper works to structural interventions to conceptual approaches to mark-making, in addition to a progressive shift away from the object to the body, with a firm emphasis on the visually complex to the gestural force that animates it.
Hence, it brings together established Singaporean abstractionist, Ian Woo (yes, it is he at SAM), with 3 emerging artists, being locals Wong Lip Chin and Boedi Widjaja, and Bangkok-based Jaitip Jaidee. And the gathering engages with the medium of drawing in visual, cerebral, considered and apropos ways.
Here Woo extends his investigation of shape, line and form into the graphic realm, producing tableaus that obliquely evoke scenes of cosmic cataclysm, all smoke and dissolution and chaos, while the pop-and-otaku-culturally-geared aesthetic sensibilities of Wong’s induce him to produce site-specific installations in the gallery by drawing on its columns motifs from 2 anime-style characters he has created – Lilou and Oomoo – his alter-egos of sorts.
On the other hand, Widjaja and Jaidee’s art are premised on an interest in the facts of materiality: while the Indonesian-born Singaporean’s installation comes in the form of rubbings that explore texture and history, the Thai’s drawings on wood represent a physical and conceptual engagement with her choice of material.
The former’s work results in 3-dimensional textures, with bits of the wall adhering to the inked paper, forming tactile patterns. The latter’s represents an experiment alive to the possibilities of materiality, of physical properties as well as broader social implications.
These are not the only art they have in store though: on the opening night of “A Drawing Show”, there will be a show for the public – a 2-man performance by Wong and Widjaja where they will engage in 2 different forms of drawing, 1 emphasizing ephemerality, the other permanence and so the difference between pencil and ink as well as paper and skin.
As such, their combined approaches, being conceptual, abstract, material, multi-medial, are as varied and wide ranging as they are fascinating.
And if by then you are hooked on the graphic art of drawing, and are wondering where it stands in the midst of a vast myriad of artworks that now dabble in photography, video, installation and participation, you will be heartened to know that Woo, Wong and Widjaja will be giving a talk in August on the status of this medium in contemporary Singapore.
Be drawn into a summer immersion in this traditional medium within its wide present-day contexts:
Artist: Koh Hong Teng
Exhibition: “Between Lines”
When: Till 19 August 2014
Where: Mulan Gallery Pte Ltd, 36 Armenian Street, #01-07, Singapore 179934
Artist: Jimmy Ong
Exhibition: Jimmy Ong
When: Till 31 August 2014
Where: FOST Private Limited, 1 Lock Road, #01-02 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108932
Artist: Muhamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf
Exhibition: “Behind New World Order”
When: Till 14 September 2014
Where: Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore, 47 Malan Road, #01-26 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 109444
Artists: Ian Woo, Wong Lip Chin, Boedi Widjaja & Jaitip Jaidee
Exhibition: “A Drawing Show”
When: 1 August – 14 September 2014
Where: Yeo Workshop, 1 Lock Road, #01-01 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108932
Event: Wong Lip Chin & Boedi Widjaja’s performance
Title: “My drawing is better than your drawing”
When: 7pm, 1 August 2014
Where: Yeo Workshop
Event: Artist Talk by Ian Woo, Wong Lip Chin & Boedi Widjaja
Subject: Drawing in contemporary Singapore
When: 4pm – 5.30pm, 23 August 2014
Where: Yeo Workshop
Feature photo: Boedi Widjaja’s “Wall Paper”. Photo credit: Yeo Workshop
Right photo: Muhamad ‘Ucup’ Yusuf’s “Wild Impact”. Photo credit: Tomio Koyama Gallery Singapore
They say that our eyes are the windows to our hearts and souls. For portrait artist Adriana Molder, they distill the essence into her drawings and paintings: ‘If you watch people’s eyes closely, you find a lot about them such as their traumas, sweetness and also detachment… presence is there. So it’s a part of painting that needs special care, special time and place in the composition.’
And nothing captures what she has just shared better than her “Face Cut”. Part of her new “Mystery” series, this small-scale ink drawing on water colour paper in characteristic black and white tones with a subtle note of red portrays a woman ‘either in a position of watching something or being (herself) the target of some kind of witnessing’.
The perplexity she is experiencing is succinctly mirrored in her enormous eyes – which Molder frames with austere black to the exclusion of almost everything else. Not even the touch of red on her lips distracts from the drama she seems compelled to keep watching.
The dumb-founded fixation with which she stares draws startling similarities to a scene from the 2001 American action-crime thriller film “15 Minutes”, where Daphne Handlova (played by Vera Farmiga) silently sees, through a pencil-slim crack in her slightly ajar door, her neighbours being murdered by 2 East Europeans in their own home in New York City.
It therefore does not in the least surprise us that Molder has actually drawn insight for this series of 6 drawings from 1940s’ suspense movies and the collages she had earlier created with photographs she had found in a collection of French film magazines that date back to the 1930s.
The focus Molder gives to the eyes is also evident in her other recently completed series “The Light in the Heart”, a phrase she has inspirationally taken from the end of Virginia Woolf’s short story, “A Haunted House”.
How does this Portuguese Berlin-based art maker fashion the eyes in ways that unfolds the iconic writer’s tale of a woman’s realization that her new home is haunted by a couple who had once lived there hundreds of years before?
In “The Host”, Molder captures Woolf’s storyteller’s anxious puzzlement through a portrait of her arrested in that finite moment set momentously apart by her set of perplexed eyes. Thus depicted as fixatedly vexed, but not afraid, the innovative equally adept painter imbues into her subject the sense that the ghosts are more intent on searching her house for something they had lost rather than harm her or her husband.
In those eyes, we hear the questions running through the narrator’s mind: Who are these ghosts? What are they looking for? Why does the pulse of the house quicken, as they seem on the verge of recovering whatever it is they have misplaced?
That the highly regarded authress’s protagonist finds resolution to this mystery is best reflected in Molder’s “Us Three”. Here her face is entwined with the ghostly couples’, with her eyes beaming with realization that what they have been restlessly searching for over the centuries is not something tangible. But that it is embodied in the love she shares with her husband; a loving relationship she has brought once again back to the dead couple’s house.
That look of dawning is enveloped by warmth revealed; while those of the dead man’s mirror the heart breaking void he had endured on the journey he had taken across the globe after his wife had suddenly died – 1 where he was unsuccessful at replacing the joy he formerly had of loving a wife who loved him in return.
That is till Woolf’s narrator had moved in, with her husband, to the home the dead man had once shared with his equally dead wife. With their arrival, the ghostly couple can at last bury their emotional treasure in the living love she has with her spouse.
Unquestionably, this very look of dawning signifies the climax of Woolf’s story; crystalizing her storyteller’s feeling of joy and love as the light in the heart.
And Molder’s creative trait of capturing this defining moment in her signature colours encapsulates its vibrantly surreal intensity: ‘when I (also) think about dreams and memories, what comes to mind is black and white…’
That, in turn, resonates with the imaginative artist’s continued quest to question the concept of recognition: ‘from when can we pretend to know someone?’
Surely the answer is ‘when it’s there in their eyes!’
Gaze deeply into the windows of Molder’s creative heart and soul at her solo exhibition at 3rd Floor – Art Plural Gallery, 38 Armenian Street, Singapore 179942.
Her 2 new series: “Mystery” and “The Light in the Heart” are currently on show till 10 July this year.
Top photo: Adriana Molder’s “Us Three” from the series “The Light in the Heart”
Right photo: Adriana Molder’s “Face Cut” from the series “Mystery”
Photo credit: Adriana Molder, courtesy of Art Plural Gallery
My first impressions of the humble rice paper is very much tied to the opening scenes of the early 1970s American TV series, “Kung Fu”, that starred David Carradine: the youthful protagonist, Kwai Chang Caine, had rolled out a long length of the paper and was walking on it, trying to leave behind no trace of his stroll across it. His success would signal his readiness to venture forth in search of his half-brother, Danny Caine.
As such, it is, to me, resolutely tied to the mulberry paper’s original function as a wrapper of rice in ancient East Asia. Called xuan paper in China, it has been used for writing, artwork and architecture as well since time memorial. Even to this day, its soft and fine texture remains truly ideal for conveying the artistic expression of both Chinese calligraphy and painting.
It, therefore, comes as no great surprise that contemporary artist, Zhu Jinshi, has chosen to create his “Work” using the paper that finds its origins in his homeland. It is after all steeped in inherited social and cultural associations.
What does surprise is in the how he has chosen to work with it: the 8000 sheets of xuan paper have been individually crumpled and rolled by hand before each is partially dipped in black ink. Once all the rolled paper have been sufficiently dried, Zhu stacks them into an arresting almost waist-high installation that stretches over 30 metres, simply snaking, ever so tranquilly, along a good part of the ground in Pearl Lam Galleries’ floor space.
Even more amazing is his source of inspiration: “Work” demonstrates Zhu’s engagement with the installation artworks he had encountered during his time in Germany in the 1980s, which were imbued with the cool, intellectual, industrial nature of minimalist sculpture. Yet it is an engagement that contrasts this minimalism with the delicacy of xuan paper: they still bear traces of his hand. Thus, insidiously engaging our fundamental emotions before our clinical intellect.
And consequentially, lending to Zhu’s installation the possibilities of understanding that ‘simplicity’ and ‘minimalism’ are naturally inter-linked. After all both emphasizes an extreme idea of subtraction and the use of an utmost economy of expression; especially when he does not consider ‘simplicity’ as an act of singularizing, but rather 1 that brings simple, uncomplicated objects into the scope of art, and so allows them to generate creativity through personal experience, sensory perception and emotional contact.
Robustly carrying us to the opposite end of the expressively moving and sensually physical spectrums is Jo Darvall’s even more unconventional use of the definitive rice paper: this artist from down under plans to saturate our senses with colour, sound and perfumes through an invigorating exhibition of kinetic sculpture and paintings.
Come mid July, her exhibition, “Sensorium – The Unfurling”, at Sculpture Square Limited, will subtly invite us to return to the thrill of feeling via a gentle immersion: her works of art will seductively entice us into bathing, touching, listening, sniffing and playing in a hues of colour within rich layering of soft rustling paper and even more lush exotic scents and specially commissioned poetically electronic Gemselector (aka Jonathan Gaboury, the American composer) soundscape – 1 that is synchronized to the light show that will illuminate her ceiling-suspended large rice paper sculpture.
As we immerse ourselves layers within layers of Darvall’s work of art, they curvaceously unfold to reveal within ourselves a reconnection with our innate sensual nature. We become transported into an enveloping lightness, a luxuriously flourishing escape from the routines that grips us from day to day.
Its success in this joyful escapade lies in her 3D rice paper sculpture’s ability to react to air and people moving through the exhibition space. Each movement, be it subtle or bold, enhances its hypnotic beauty; further drawing us to touch and play with it yet again and again.
Inspired by a study of moths, Darvall’s mille feuille mobile of crushed leaves of colourfully stained paper petals thus seductively responds ever so enthusiastically by delicately unfurling and turning full circle in space in perfect timing to the evocative musical score; as if the ungainly caterpillars she had studied have magically morphed into the fully fledged angelic creatures of the night bent on the hunt for sweet nectar nocturnal blossoms offer, fleetingly following a trail left by their flowery perfumes.
Leigh Robb, Curator of Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, is therefore, reminded of gesamtkunstwerk – a total artwork: ‘Originally a theatre term, it describes a production that engages all senses and disciplines, a synthesis of the arts. It goes back to German composer Richard Wagner who described his operas as a synthesis of music, drama, poetry, spectacle and dance to engage all of the artistic senses.’
With this senses-led emotionally-charged literal submersion, Darvall’s work has ingeniously transported an ancient East Asian invention into the epitome of cultured realms in contemporary western civilisation; making the rice paper even more seamlessly cross-cultural and globally relevant in the art world today.
Sip on new ways Asia is using its xuan paper: Zhu Jinshi’s “Work” is on show at his solo exhibition, “Simplicity: Zhu Jinshi!” till 13 July this year at Pearl Lam Galleries, 9 Lock Road, #03-22, Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108937.
Then savour how the west has crafted with it: Jo Darvall’s “Sensorium – The Unfurling” exhibition will run from 8 to 11 July this year at Sculpture Square Limited, 155 Middle Road, Singapore 188977.
Top & right photos: “Zhu Jinshi’s “Work”
Photo credit: Pearl Lam Galleries
Video: “Sensorium” – Edited by Cynthia White. Photography by Jo Darvall.
They say that travel changes a person. It some cases it makes us re-look at ourselves. In others it gives us new lenses with which we can explore yet another new destination. In Jieun Park’s instance, she becomes compelled to capture her indelible impressions lavishly in paint.
And in the resulting “A Little Talk” solo exhibition she currently has at Red Sea Gallery, she expresses her feelings of loneliness while lingering in the beautiful cities she has visited in Europe and Asia – a forlornness that can get ‘a little overwhelming’; inspiring her ‘to create a series of paintings where (she has) little conversations with (these municipalities)’.
To best reflect juxtaposing the sense of isolation in each city with its vast complexity, Park sweeps her calligraphic brushstrokes over the vast blank canvas of Korean paper, scantily marking it with an absolute abstraction of Chinese ink; within parts of which she painstakingly recreates its cityscape representationally in conventional acrylic.
A realistic detailed recreation that offers us just part of the night city scene; as if her painting has been covered with a virgin white wrapper that we have partially ripped as we roughly and randomly peeled away ragged strips of paper.
The ensuing partial reveal succinctly encapsulates what big city living is really all about: seas of people may constantly surround and swamp us but they are mainly faces of strangers with whom, strangely, we feel only an emotional disconnection and hence, never ever think of searching amongst them for our happiness and meaning to our daily existence.
At the same time, it reflects the reality that we have lived all our lives in 1 neighbourhood and yet have not seen its entire city; always missing that quaint café 5 bus stops away from our place of work, or never exploring the quiet corner in the Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve and that quirky boutique hidden in an odd corner on the other side of town.
Undoubtedly, life’s ironic paradox gracefully emotes from Park’s enterprising use of calligraphy as a pictorial support; giving her works of art dark and moody narratives that have captivated her enquiring mind; moving us to think of the Hong Kong, Singapore, Busan, Seoul, Paris, Lyon, Florence and Prague she has painted as places that are filled with tantalizing secrets as espoused by their convoluted histories and political, social and cultural intrigue.
Foretelling the conspiracy with which she casts a magical spell over her cities, she, therefore, entices us to see them as vital organic places shrouded in the universe’s cosmic darkness. And through them, Park becomes, in our vivid imagination, a mystical seer partly hidden in their glistering moonlight.
Her success at imbuing her paintings with such rich tapestries of emotional, psychological and mythical depths belies her recent emergence within and from Korea as an up and coming artist with a style distinctive enough to rapidly build her an international standing in the art world.
It also appears to contradict the deceptive simplicity that has inspired Park to artistically spread ink and acrylic on her canvases. Her artist statement concisely captures this minimalistic motivation: ‘the cityscapes in my works feel very dull. Yet there is something that shines through. There are no signs of people living in the beautiful cities in my works’.
‘Although the city is packed with so many different kinds of buildings, it arouses a feeling of loneliness when I look at the complex city… The dull feeling of the buildings… portrays the people in hectic daily life where only meaningless everyday conversation exist’.
So ‘I (am) emotionally overwhelmed and felt lonely by looking down at the city from on high… As I create relatively realistic images of the city within the abstract ink marks, I try to record ourselves in this fast changing city and its double sidedness where colourful impression coexists within loneliness’.
Her quest to capture this, additionally, transforms what we normally think as familiar destinations, with an embellished sense of traveller’s romanticism, into strangers ever so foreign to our daily perceptions of our global communes and their communities – taking us by utter surprise. And consequently, seductively entices us to embark on the very pleasant endeavour of paying each a visit to acquaint ourselves with the truisms embedded within the luxurious fabric of alleyways along which their residents go about their affairs for the day.
Catch more than mere glimpses of the cities Park has visited at Red Sea Gallery, at Block 9 Dempsey Road, #01-10 Dempsey Hill, Singapore 247697 before her exhibition ends on 29 June this year.
Top photo: Jieun Park’s “A Little Talk – Singapore”
Right photo: Jieun Park’s “A Little Talk – Florence”
Photo credits: Red Sea Gallery
Singaporeans who enjoy spotting public art installed across the nation will readily tell us that their little red dot under the sun has in its possession 3 of Ju Ming’s highly prized and eminently collectable massive sculptures; namely 2 from his “Tai Chi” series and 1 from that on his “Living World”. While the last still sits on the grounds of the National Museum of Singapore, the other 2 have been removed from public view in the early 2000s.
Fortunately for us, iPRECIATION Singapore regularly exhibits artworks from both these ranges, from life-sized to miniature forms, as well as being innovative-ly constructed in a variety of materials – from stainless steel to bronze to wood and stone. Therefore, the divergent aesthetics of both comprehensive collections in the gallery are worthy of the Taiwanese artist’s distinguished reputation in the international art world.
They reflect the name Ju has made for himself with his early sculptures: viz. a more naturalistic approach that admirably achieves a well balanced style – ‘not too painstakingly detailed and not too boringly simplistic’.
This simplicity has frequently coupled indigenous subjects from the rural regions of Ju’s homeland with a more abstracted, modernist and formalist style; with his technique matured to such a stage that ‘it (is) no longer… visible – everything will appear as though it was created naturally, giving the work a feeling of transcendence’ in the most profound way.
That is most apparent in bronze works belonging to his “Tai Chi” series: crafted with an electrically heated copper wire saw that initially cuts the styrofoam to form, they are stylistically almost non-representational, but with characteristic balance, symmetry and grace, and with evidence of his’ creative hand almost entirely absent.
Their source of graceful evocative inspiration comes from the tai chi Ju practices to sharpen his physical and mental discipline. The controlled movements required by this ancient Chinese martial arts technique had helped him realize, early in his artistic career, the relationship the body has with the mind, and the source of strength that needs to be brought into harmony; encapsulating the philosophy of man in unison with the universe and the importance of erasing boundaries between self and the other.
Yet, the sculptures are ‘harmonious and alive, (with) the texture of each part… flow(ing) in a way that serves (their) inner energy and sense of motion… present(ing) an overall shape that possesses natural rhythm. This kind of vitality is transmitted when the inner qualities achieve outer effects’. Evidently, as he carries out the spiritual practice of making art, the appropriately imaginative vocabulary naturally bursts into bloom – that of the timeless tai chi concept of yin and yang and emotive continuity.
Impressively, the “Tai Chi” series distinctively becomes an inner exploration of his own unique inventive language while simultaneously preserving the values steeply inherent in traditional symbols of China within the new-fangled and abstract movement each sculpture fluidly displays.
In total contrast, the time Ju had spent in New York birthed his series on the “Living World”, after having gamely experimented with new materials of every form, including sponges, wood and rope. Inspired by the everyday life of New Yorkers, from the young to the elderly, at home and out at work or play, the life-sized painted wooden figures, effected by reconciling the traditional woodcarver’s technique with a more contemporary and abstract inclination, often appear emotionally detached from their surroundings, indifferent and withdrawn.
Later creations, in metal and glass, penetratingly focused on new groups of people, like those in the military service. Yet, in each instance, Ju further broadens the sensitive subject matter of human nature, in its dripping rich diversities; slyly satirizing the nonchalant, mundane lives of individuals forever trapped in a dubiously tainted society.
When Ju welds with a self-made machine of 150-ton power, the stainless steel becomes twisted into life-like shapes that effortlessly fit the persistent ideals of his imagined people; making the cool tranquil metal appear even more human: the consequential works of art have an endless energy and captivating dynamism hidden beneath the externally visible serenity.
His recent return to working with wood signals a gigantic leap from the first fruits plucked from his series of the “Living World”. It yields sculptures that are starkly white with a hint of black, to pare down form and movement while enhancing the material’s naturally luxuriant texture and flavour.
Ju believes that this new perspective best captures his awareness of social values and the nuances of urban life. The monochromatic colours, along with the coarse surfaces and rough inundations, impress with the simple notion that he has utilized mother earth as a vital constituent as man stays locked in an inner struggle with his self.
In all these cases in point, Ju succeeds in conveying his expressive concerns for mankind and their differing natures; all encapsulated within his inherited spirit of Confucianism and Daoism. With it, we can see his unwavering Chinese cultural disposition; conveyed in his signature modernist formal language, and the seamless continuity he achieves with each creative and stylistic change.
Be entranced by Ju’s hypnotically philosophical artistry at iPRECIATION Singapore, at 50 Cuscaden Road, HPL House, #01-01, Singapore 249724.
Top photo: Ju Ming’s “Living World Series – Wood, LW250”
Right photo: Ju Ming’s “Taichi Series”
Photo credits: iPRECIATION Singapore
Having given, in a nutshell, what STPI’s coming summer show “Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints” entails in my SingArt post, “Japan In Creative Focus”, lets move onto the historical development of ukiyo-e to better appreciate what this exhibition will display.
So what are ukiyo-e prints? And how has it progressed to the exemplary contemporary art we will see at STPI?
Ukiyo-e is an established field of woodblock prints and paintings that arose and gained prominence in Japan between the 1600s and 1800s, a time frame known as the Edo period in Japanese history. Edo, or modern day Tokyo, was the seat of government for the military dictatorship; under which the city’s economy grew at bullet train speed.
The boom’s main beneficiaries were a class at the bottom of Japan’s social order – the merchants (or chonin). With bulging purse strings, they were able to indulge in entertainments, like kabuki theatre, courtesans and geishas populating the Yoshiwara ‘pleasure districts’.
Hence ukiyo-e first started primarily on subject matter revolving round beautiful women, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers and erotica. The term ‘ukiyo-e’ itself means ‘pictures of the floating or buoyant world’, definitely an apt description of the euphorically hedonistic lifestyles it depicted.
This singular focus on what to paint or print was further cemented by its popularity with the chonin, who had become wealthy enough to lavish what they had earned on these works of Japanese art, with which they decorated their homes.
Expectantly, ukiyo-e evolved to further serve its aesthetic function: the early popularity of Hishikawa Moronobu’s paintings and monochromatic prints of beautiful women inevitably gave way to colour ones, which began as commissioned works pricy enough for a myriad of hues to be added by hand.
As the mid 18th century approached, artists such as Okumura Masanobu started using multiple woodblocks to print separate areas of an ukiyo-e with differing colours. Come the 1760s, Suzuki Harunobu pioneered the production of full colour ukiyo-e prints (nishiki-e or ‘brocade pictures’), which spelt the end of existing techniques that produced only 2- and 3-coloured versions.
With nishiki-e becoming the only acceptable standard, the use of 10 to as many as 20 woodblocks transformed ukiyo-e to the multi-hues they are still renowned for to this day.
Even then the defining feature of most early ukiyo-e monochromatic prints remained – that of the distinctive flat line. In those initial forms, it was the only printed element.
With the advent of colour, this typical line continued to dominate as ukiyo-e’s composition remained noted for the arrangement of forms in flat spaces: the human figures were characteristically arranged devoid of depth – the well-prized focus was on vertical and horizontal relationships, as well as minute details such as flowing lines, perfect shapes, and classic patterns that, for example, decorate elaborate clothing adorning the geishas or kabuki actors.
In nishiki-e, the contours of most coloured areas are still sharply delineated by these fluidly distinct lines. In this way, the aesthetics of flat areas of colour definitively differed from the modulated ones expected in Western artistic traditions, and from other prominent then-current practices in Japanese art patronized by the upper classes; namely the subtle monochrome ink brushstrokes of the Zen Buddhist zenga brush painting or the tonal colours of the Chinese-influenced Kano schools’.
Given the number of colours that were needed to produce 1 edition of nishiki-e, artists rarely carved their own woodblocks. They would only apply their artistry in their design while a carver would undertake the labourous task of cutting the blocks of wood and a printer meticulously inked and pressed the woodblocks onto handmade paper. This symbiotic collaboration was totally financed by a publisher; who, in turn, promoted and distributed the prints as well.
Moreover, as all printing was completed only by hand, the print makers were able to achieve effects unattainable with the printing machines existing back then, such as the blending or gradation of colours on the printing block.
Yet public credit was given only to the artist and the publisher in this collaborative endeavour: their seals alone marked a published piece of ukiyo-e print.
Having reached the pinnacle of technical development, the evolution of this art form shifted to changing its subject of focus: while grand masters like Torii Kiyonaga, Kitagawa Utamaro and Toshisai Sharaku created countless portraits of beauties and actors right to the late 1700s, this was supplanted by artistic depictions of Japanese landscapes in the 1800s; of which Katsushika Hokusai’s “Under The Wave Off Kanagawa” and Utagawa Hiroshige’s “53 Stations of the Tokaido Road” series are works still best known internationally today.
This shift to representations of landscapes, as well as travel scenes and pictures of nature, especially of birds and flowers, along with stories from history and folklore, was a direct response to the introduction of the Tenpo Reforms in Japan from 1841 to 1843.
The array of economic policies, which the Tokugawa Shogunate presented and implemented, resolved problems in military, agricultural, financial and religious systems in its country; as well as placed restrictions on entertainment – the reformation sought to suppress outward displays of luxury too, including the depictions of courtesans and erotica in ukiyo-e.
From then onwards, ukiyo-e prints must bear the censor’s seal of approval as well!
The landscape prints that, hence, evolved mirrored the way Chinese ink brush painters composed their paintings: the ukiyo-e masters similarly relied heavily on imagination, composition and atmosphere; rather than the strict observance of nature favoured by the Western artistic practices of the time. An ukiyo-e artist need not sit before the scenic spot that had ignited his fancy to creatively design its print.
Following Hokusai and Hiroshige’s deaths was the Meiji Restoration of 1868 – a chain of events that restored practical imperial rule of Japan under Emperor Meiji. The resulting technological and social modernization of the country catalyzed Japan’s emergence as a contemporary nation in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, it spelt the significant decline in ukiyo-e production, both in quantity and quality.
With rapid Westernization of the Meiji period and fierce competition from photography, woodblock printing resorted to serving journalism. Consequently, ukiyo-e as an art form was extremely endangered, and became seen by modernized Japanese as a remnant of an obsolete era – they resolutely turned their discerning tastes away from it. By the 1890s, this more than 200 year-old tradition was well and truly dying in Japan.
Yet, when ukiyo-e was at its peak, it was 1 of the West’s central perception of Japanese art. As of the 1870s, it and its culture and aesthetics had tremendous impact on art in Europe: Japonaiserie was inspirational to impressionists, like Degas, Manet and Monet, and post-impressionists, including van Gogh, as well as cubists and art nouveau artists – Toulose-Lautrec being a prime example. Its influence is even remarkably obvious in more modern works; as illustrated by Roy Lichtenstein’s “Drowning Girl” and David Hockney’s “The Weather” series.
From the early 20th century, avid Western interest in prints of traditional Japanese scenes fortuitously revived print-making in the land of the rising sun: shin-hanga refers to new wood block prints that maintained the time-honoured ukiyo-e collaborative system needed in their creation, printing and distribution; while sosaku-hanga promotes the drawing, carving and inking of a printed artwork by 1 artist; with the over-arching aim of guaranteeing self-expression.
The latter soon surpassed the former in terms of sustained innovative interest and today, sosaku-hanga artists like Korishiro Onchi, Unichi Hiratsuka, Sadao Watanabe and Maki Haku are well known the world over.
Since the late 20th century, many Japanese artists, as well as artistic foreigners, like Emily Allchurch, make works of art on contemporary or still relevant subject matter inspirationally in the Edo ukiyo-e fashion, with antiqued techniques married to those imported from the West, be it perspective or screen-printing, etching, mezzotint and mixed media.
Truly, this unique style, once endemic to just Japan, is here to stay.
Feast on the sumptuous selection of Edo period ukiyo-e, along with an array of ukiyo-e inspired contemporary art, which STPI will showcase from 12 July to 13 September this year.
The Singapore Tyler Print Institute is at 41 Robertson Quay, Singapore 238236.
Feature photo: Katsushika Hokusai’s “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa” from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji”
Right photo: Utagawa Hiroshige’s “Shono – Driving Rain” from the series “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road”
Photo credits: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
If Aiko Tezuka’s current “Certainty/Entropy” exhibition at 3rd Floor – Hermes and Ikkan Art Gallery’s display of TeamLab’s “Universe of Water Particles” in April have wetted your appetite for all things Japanese, it will be well satiated this summer: 5 other galleries will be or have just started exhibiting an eclectic assortment of artworks either by artists from Japan or that have taken artistic inspiration from this land of the rising sun.
Kicking off this extravagant bonanza is Gillman Barracks-positioned Yeo Workshop’s “New Sensibilities in Sculpture & Painting”. Presently running till 27 July, its predominant Japanese segment features contemporary works of art by Atsushi Koyama, Taisuka Mohri and Haruki Ogawa; all of whom are renowned for their use of empirical experimentation and cutting edge techniques to challenge today’s digital and static images and push the boundaries of what we understand as painting and sculpture.
Close on its heels is Raffles Hotel Arcade-situated Kato Art Duo’s “Avant-Garde Japan” exhibition. On show till 25 July, it features masterpieces by leading Japanese abstract artists Kazuo Shiraga, Toshikatsu Endo, Toshiuiki Tanaka, Kumi Sugai, Chiyu Uemae, Masaaki Yamada and Yayoi Kusama; all avid members of the unconventional Gutai Group which Jiro Yoshihara founded in 1951.
Its well established reputation of focusing on the inner life an object has and thus its beauty that arises when it is damaged has enjoyed a recent renaissance; thanks to the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York for holding, between 2012 and 2013, a Gutai retrospective.
Extending this creatively artistic emphasis on damage to things found specifically in Japan are the upcoming exhibitions by yet another 2 galleries at Gillman Barracks; namely The Drawing Room and Ota Fine Arts.
The former’s month-long “Discordant” exhibition, starting on 27 June, will feature works of art by Filipino artist, Miguel Aquilizar. They draw incidental stimulus from this fact: since the 2011 tsunami, flooding and collapse of the Fukushima nuclear reactor, that resulted from a massive earthquake, the amount of 2nd hand trade between Japan and the Philippines has dramatically risen.
Rumour has it that the resulting ephemera arose from a mixture of sources – deceased estates, distraught families and the subsequent general debris; with a few of these items brought to Aquilizar’s homeland being suspected of holding vestiges of radiation.
Yet, his realization that these 2nd hand objects become rebranded as vintage in the Philippines drives him to collect a phalanx of 40 traditional-style Japanese figures – the geisha, the samurai and the nobleman as examples; and tweak each with equally Japanese accouterments or accessories – including paper umbrellas and floral bells – in deliberate over abundance.
Each artwork that arises from his strokes of extravaganza appears burdened by its cultural transition between its origin in East Asia and its new found home in South East Asia – almost trapped between 2 cultural oversimplifications; with Japan as a minimal, elegant society rooted in its traditions and the Philippines as a brash, maximalist conglomeration of island cultures and tribal groups.
Soon to be showcased by Ota Fine Arts, the solo exhibition, “We Are Home & Everywhere” is by renowned Singaporean artist, Zai Kuning; and where the survivors of the 2011 Fukushima natural and nuclear disaster become 1 vital source of empathetic musing.
Thus compelling Zai to creatively capture their heart-wrenching plight; of being dictated by external circumstances beyond their control – where losing a place to call home has driven them to insistently search for another: 1 that will give them a renewed sense of rest as they plough deeply to resolutely rebuild their shattered lives.
Scheduled to open from 27 June to 10 August, the show on Zai’s works resonates with his own personal journey as well – to attain artistic nirvana he has had to spend time living intermittently between Tokyo, Singapore and Riau. The consequential constant uprooting and moving from 1 place to another finds solace in his thought provoking creations: his works, thus, simultaneously reflect upon seamlessly personal and Japan’s still persistent issues of displacement and rupture.
Encapsulating this poetically and allegorically is Zai’s ingenious choice of crafting his to-be-exhibited art from bee wax – a material that has been perfected by nature to create a safe haven for ever industrious honeybees since time memorial.
Drawing snapshots from Japanese history will be STPI’s 2-months’ long “Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints” exhibition, commencing from 12 July. Juxtaposing classic ukiyo-e prints from master print makers, like Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige, Okumura Masanobu, Suzuki Harunobu, Torii Kiyonaga, Kitagawa Utamaro, Eishosai Choki, Keisai Eisen, Toril Kiyonobu, Okumura Toshinobu and Katsukawa Shunsho, with contemporary works that are inspired by the very same historic artists and their equally historical works, we will be seductively invited to delve deep into alluring works created by the power of the Edo period, as well as contemporary popular culture where continual change is the only lasting constant.
Spanning the 1700s and 1800s, the traditional ukiyo-e prints reveal Japan’s treasured obsessions of the period – from the myriad of luxuriant natural landscapes the grand masters have imaginatively captured, while travelling from one scenic spot to the next, to the charmingly beautiful women and exuberantly serious kabuki actors they had encountered on their journeys to the diversity of indulgent pleasures and pastimes each local commune had graciously afforded them.
In sharp contrast are the contemporary Edo pop redux created from the late 1900s to this present day by not only those born and bred in Japan: British Emily Allchurch’s transparencies on light boxes, in a rainbow of colours, succinctly capture the melding of the time honoured with the spanking new in modern day Japan while Hong Kong contemporary artist, Wilson Shieh, borrows the Edo style to humorously compose “Musical Families” – all of whom are obliviously in the nude.
Not to be outdone by outsiders, Masami Teraoka captures hilarious intimate moments where the Japanese today are confronted with mind blowing culture shock – all brought by them vacationing abroad; while Biduo Yamaguchi borrows heavily from the Edo pop style to lovingly sculpt ever so pliable wood into poignant masks that resonate with the cryptic emotions fleeting across the faces of kabuki actors.
During this lazy summer in tropical Singapore, bask in the sizzling heat kindled by all things quintessentially Japanese and that roused to artistic reality by exotic Japan:
A. Exhibition : “New Sensibilities in Sculpture & Painting”
Where : Yeo Workshop, 1 Lock Road, #01-01 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108932
When : Till 27 July this year
B. Exhibition : “Avant-Garde Japan”
Where : Kato Art Duo, 328 North Bridge Road, #02-28 Raffles Hotel Arcade, Singapore 188719
When : Till 25 July this year
C. Exhibition : “Discordant”
Where : The Drawing Room, 5 Lock Road, #01-06 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108933
When : 27 June – 27 July this year
D. Exhibition : “We Are Home & Everywhere”
Where : Ota Fine Arts, 7 Lock Road, #02-13 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108935
When : 27 June – 10 August this year
E. Exhibition: “Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints”
Where : STPI, 41 Robertson Quay, Singapore 238236
When : 12 July – 13 September this year
Feature photo: Haruki Ogawa’s “Correlation III”
Right photo: Taisuke Mohri’s “The Cracked Portrait #3″
Photo credits: Yeo Workshop
My first exposure to contemporary art was in the early 1990s in New Zealand, where I chanced upon Kiwi sculptor, Chris Booth’s “Pumice From The Mountains”, and hence, my introduction to the use of everyday objects to make art. ‘Everyday’ in this instance are pieces of natural rock Booth had picked up, drilled and threaded to pile up into high columns that resemble the 12 Apostles doting the coast along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.
Booth was motivated by his instinctive affinity for the natural environment, especially its history and sustainability: his other works are an amalgamation of gathered manuka sticks, huge tree stumps, boulders, slate slabs, basalt columns, lumps of pumice and scoria. He has even used sand and cow dung to make impressed moulds for in-ground bronze casting of nikau fronds, sticks and other everyday objects a la nature’s own.
This incidental induction has left me panting for more works of novel art created from what we commonly use or view in our day-to-day living. Little wonder then that I am over the moon with the current new exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum: a good number of artworks displayed in “Medium At Large” have been creatively crafted from items commonly found in the societies the various artists live in.
Besides Sopheap Pich’s “Cycle”, which I had previously featured in my post: “Cambodia: Deeply Rooted in Rattan”, there are a few amongst these that have captured my artistic imagination, and which I now consider as firm favourites.
For instance, Singaporean Ye Shufang’s “Project: Honey Sticks (6,425)” is literally an installation of sticks of sweet bee-harvested nectar in that very number – albeit coloured with natural food dyes; making her masterpiece as multi-hued as multiple rainbows cresting the sky after a thunderous shower.
Numbered to the 6,425 registered births in 1941 – the year that Ye’s parents were born – she invites each of us to take a stick and drink up the silky smooth golden liquid within. As more do so, the level of slimly packaged honey will gradually fall and the vibrant colours of her work will slowly drain away; until all that is left is an empty dispenser, standing solitarily like an epitaph.
It is an inscription that reminds us that with every new birth and the beginning of new life is the attendant notion of the passage of time. And that death, in its unpleasantness and discomfort, is a reality we seldom freely wish to contemplate or acknowledge.
The notion of passing on and being buried 10 feet underground is given a religious slant by Renato Orara’s “Bookwork: NIV Compact Thinline Bible (page 403)”. As the title suggests, the Filipino artist has used a black-ink filled ballpoint pen to draw a succulent lamb chop onto an actual published copy of the holy book Christians use to study the Word of their God.
Drawn ever so realistically, the cut of tender meat evokes the religious art of the past and so is aptly chosen to allude to Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God; reiterating the sacred blood sacrifice made by Him for all of mankind. The impact of its significance is weighted down with its placement within the holy bible; encouraging us to view Orara’s art in a modus of reverent contemplation.
Contemplating the medieval takes on a literal twist with Gerardo Tan’s “thisisthatisthis” and “thatisthisisthat” as the artist (also from the Philippines) has collected the dust taken off the historically significant paintings “Entrance to the Grand Canal from the Molo, Venice” and “Tampuhan”. The 1st was painted in the 1740s by the virtuoso of the Venetian landscape, Canaletto, the 2nd by the Philippines’ master artist and national hero, Juan Luna in 1892.
The grime off the 2 antiqued paintings was obtained from an art restorer friend and in its raw form is as usual anathema in any museum setting. For Tan, however, the particles, ever so fine, are a metaphor for the passage of time as well as literal accretions that hold accumulations of reverent history and even more treasured memory.
Placing the dirt off “Tampuhan” within a gilded gold painted frame with almost medieval-like embellishments and that off Canaletto’s masterpiece in a crucible; each replete with their own brass work artwork labels and down lights, draw us into infinitesimal reflections of the very work of a museum and Tan’s artworks own ontological status as Christie’s auction worthy pieces of prized art.
Should we consider them as originals? Or are they still a copy? Should they be considered authentic? What about their representation? And so, what is art? Leading us to ask ever so insistently, ‘What are its metaphysical states as well?’
Our musings are next turned towards the cycles of life and learning and Indonesia’s colonial legacy by its artist Titarubi’s “Shadow of Surrender” – an installation with austere wooden benches and chairs, books and framed charcoal drawings.
Charred wood taken from railroad tracks, that previously transported sugar and other commodities during the difficult years under foreign rule, was used to make the benches. Thus begging us to ask if that period of colonial history has in any way influenced the way the people of Indonesia view learning.
At the same time, the huge opened books reveal page after page of sheer emptiness; suggesting that, indeed, there is a driven desire to re-write, re-learn and re-assess the values and lessons that have been passed on through Islam’s culture, religion and history; inviting us to construct our own personal ‘lessons’ and observations that will give us our own cycle of life as well – each with its own turn of civilization, through growth, death and rebirth.
Culture reflective of Javanese women’s obsession with hair grips our attention next with Mella Jaarsma’s “Shaggy”. Made from volumes of real human hair, some of which are set in enormous vividly coloured curlers, the Holland-born Indonesian artist’s work dwells on our crowning glory as a symbol of womanhood, and all its attendant associations with eroticism, gender stereotypes and identity.
Its inspiration? Jaarsma’s observation that impressionable young girls in rural Java used to go to the hair salon requesting the once trendy ‘shaggy’ haircut; compelling her to comment on how we can lose our individuality to a dehumanizing same-ness. Thus, transforming something conventionally ‘feminine’ and alluring into the monstrous proportions she has literally imbued into her tongue-in-cheek structure of hairy art.
Raising the hairs on the back of our necks is Singaporean Zulkifle Mahmod’s “Sonic Encounter”. Created by suspending numerous plastic orbs and speakers to fill a spacious room with audio recordings from the industrial cities in Suzhou, in Eastern China, and Singapore, it instantaneously transforms the entire space into a sound installation.
Simultaneously played, the overlapping soundscapes conjure an ambience of societies in a constant state of construction, melded with tourist chatter and human traffic that effaces the traces of the diverse social and cultural contexts of these Asian cities; symbolizing the cacophonous chaos that envelop urban conditions in today’s globalized world.
On a literal softer note, Song-Ming Ang’s “You and I” artwork comprises framed letters and music compilations in CD-R. The numerous mail he had received are from art audiences and visitors to his website, all sent at the invitation of the Singaporean artist over a period of 3 monumental years. Every penned note shares with him what they might consider to be significantly personal.
In reply, Ang avidly compiles an equally personalized mix tape of songs from his own vast collection of music, in the form of an audio CD – making his unique returned response a musical bathed in the transforming power of empathetic solidarity.
Taking yet more interaction with us to another realm is The Artists Village’s “Public Art Library” – a mobile library of compiled artist books we can take a loan on through standard borrowing and return procedures. The objective of the Singapore artist collective is the promotion of art through the cultivation of art appreciation; which takes the form of caring for and returning the artistic publications we have borrowed.
If you are now wondering yet again, ‘Is this art?’ you will be pleased to know that Filipino Gary-Ross Pastrana’s “Ecolalia” has a similar primary aim – that of raising the very same crucial question. Encompassing ‘mundane’ objects like a picture frame, a book, a ladder rung, a 33 rmp record and cassette tape, a corner of a mattress, a tiny pair of boots in a mound of snow and a replica of a thumb, his eclectic collection of curios are common in the daily life in the Philippines; though often discarded without a thought once they have served their useful purpose.
But a closer examination reveals greater insights – that they are only replicate likeness to the ‘real thing’. Every ‘found’ object is an ingenious counterfeit, a little fiction and a refracted copy of reality as they are actually made of sawdust and glue or wood filler, or the ‘lahar’ ash fall from Mount Pinatubo’s eruption: together in totality, they are raising the fundamental question more insistently than answering it. That, Pastrana has slyly decided, we should be left to come to a resolute conclusion of our own.
Therefore, dwell deeply on this philosophical issue about some contemporary art at the Singapore Art Museum, at 71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555 before the “Medium At Large” exhibition ends in April 2015.
Feature photo: Titarubi”s “Shadow of Surrender”. Photo credit: Titarubi
Right photo: Mella Jaarsma’s “Shaggy”. Photo credit: Mie Cornoedus
I fondly remember the rattan armchairs my grandmother used to grace her living room with when I was a little girl. It was indeed the ideal furniture for the tropics as the gentle breeze freely flowed through the generous gaps between the weave of resilient and yet ever so pliable strips of wicker. And it still never ceases to amaze me how strong these thin and fine slivers of equatorial wood are: they are quite capable of bearing the weight of the mightiest of men.
Unfortunately, the choice of using rattan to furnish a home has long gone out of fashion in Singapore. To capture the centrality this humble tropical plant still plays in the lives of the people in Asia, I go to Cambodia.
There, Cambodians take pride in their heavy reliance on rattan to achieve the country’s goal of living sustainably in this modern day: besides being weaved into furniture, all 21 species of their climbing palm are used to build rural houses and make handicrafts. The resin exuded by its fruit is still turned into a dye for violins and accepted by some as medicine.
The easy accessibility of this evergreen crop to even the poorest in Cambodia makes it an economical choice for getting on with day to day living. And a logical choice for a struggling painter with the aim of creating an underlying frame on which he would layer over with his painted collage.
That was artist Sopheap Pich’s only intent when he turned to this humble organic material. Yet, ‘it turned into a 3-dimensional thing – an image of a pair of lungs which (he) named “Silence”’.
His decision never to cover it with the thousands of cigarette packages he had earlier collected from the streets to make the collage was truly by divine intervention. The Director of the French Cultural Center, Guy Issanjou, while on a mission to discover Cambodian artists whom he could support in 2004, had this to say to Pich, when he chanced upon the artist’s rattan support structure: ‘Interesting… it is the first modern art sculpture in Cambodia I have ever seen!’
This seed of artistic affirmation and the inherent happiness Pich had felt when he was cutting and slicing the rattan and then binding all the strips together became his salvation – they gave him hope that there was indeed a way to permanently move away from the sinking realization that painting for him was ‘always such a struggle’.
In gratitude to Issanjou’s proposal that Pich should make rattan sculptures for a solo show at the French Cultural Center, the Cambodian artist gave the Frenchman a farewell gift when he left Pich’s homeland – “Silence”.
A series of “Silence” and “Cycle” became a few of many uniquely rattan crafted sculptures Pich went on to artistically create that drew inspiration from the uncompleted medical degree he had taken as a young adult in the United States of America; from the days prior to his training as an artist there.
Even then, the “Cycle” series went layers beyond the initial basis of weaving 2 conjoint rattan stomachs together. Its connection reminded Pich of the ties that bind a family together – of a mother to her child, or the young with the old, or even the interconnectedness of Cambodia.
Moreover, ‘a major issue in Cambodia, as (he) knew it, has always been the stomach. It was either that everyone’s concern was to fill it or to cure its diseases’. Conjoining 2 such organs together conjures up a society that is fragile; permeated with ‘controlled chaos, movement and ambiguity of the interior and the exterior. So there (becomes) questions about identity: am I inside? or outside?’
Consequently, “Cycle” ‘appears both strong and tragic at the same time’. It is ‘monumental (and) yet… easily shaken by a slight gust of wind’; making it a work that ‘changed (Pich’s) understanding about what it takes to make (art) and what it means to be an artist’.
Version 1 of “Cycle” is now in the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection, and is currently exhibited in this gallery’s “Medium at Large” show. Its acquisition from an exhibition held in a new hotel saved it from being totally consumed by fire – a fire Pich deliberately lighted in his home in sheer frustration of still remaining poor as a rattan sculptor; so impoverished that he had to burn all his unsold large sculpted artworks to make room for him to do more sculpting in his extremely tiny apartment.
A fire he did put out in order to save some rattan sculptures for this show at the new hotel. Yet it was a fire that had put a great hole in the middle of “Cycle” – a hole he patched up with yet more rattan. But patched only partially, as the hole yielded an aesthetic charm Pich intuitively decided should forever remain.
He has not looked back since, being driven to craft yet more “Cycles”; each more beautiful than the last. This ethereal quest for beauty has over the years enabled him to weave together objects far larger and far lovelier than any of his “Cycles”.
The “Morning Glory” Pich completed in 2011 is one fine example of the magnitude of finesse he has come to command in bending the humble rattan to bear the plush ripe fruit of his creative mind.
Currently exhibited in the Center for Contemporary Art in Singapore, as part of the “No Country” exhibition put together by The Guggenheim Museum in New York, it lifts a large blooming flower towards the sun while another rests delicately on the floor; each fold of all its closed wicker petals Pich has constructed with the utmost care.
Whether this 2nd flower is a new bud ready to open or 1 that has withered and died, it provides a perfect physical and metaphorical foil to the exploding joy of the larger one bursting in full bloom.
Its gentle magnificence belies the severity that had inspired Pich to present yet another aspect of Cambodia’s social culture and political history to the world: the morning glory is a weed that grows so easily in his country that it became an extremely cheap crop to feed the poor in the communal camps set up by the Khmer Rouge.
As a child, Pich remembered having morning glory soup every other day, as the Cambodian government then ensured that all vegetables of marketable value would be exported. Yet, in spite of this persistent memory of excruciating hardship, the people in Cambodia today still rejoice over the close ties of kinship they still enjoy by continuing the tradition of frequently serving the morning glory to close friends and equally treasured family.
Therein lies the crux of Pich’s artistry: his intuitive ability to infuse splendor into his artwork and so too to this South East Asian country he calls home. They ring with his resolve to hold on to optimism in his turbulent past. This persistence that stays as pliable as rattan will steer him and his country to a promising future.
And given the artistic mastery with which Pich has plied this modest climbing palm with the noble quest of sharing his cherished messages to the world, it should not in any way surprise us that he is internationally considered as Cambodia’s eminent contemporary artist today.
Witness Pich’s phenomenal growth as a sculptor with a uniquely tropical material by comparatively viewing “Cycle” and “Morning Glory” – both of which are presently exhibited in Singapore.
“Cycle” is part of the “Medium At Large” exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum, at 71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555 till April 2015.
“Morning Glory” is displayed at the Centre for Contemporary Art, at Block 43 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks, Singapore 109443 as The Guggenheim Museum’s “No Country” exhibition till 20 July this year.
Feature photo: Sopheap Pich’s “Morning Glory”. Photo credit: The Guggenheim Museum
Right photo: Sopheap Pich’s “Cycle”. Photo credit: Singapore Art Museum
While the producers of the 2010 British-American science fiction heist thriller “Inception” may want their film to be remembered for the intricacies of Leonardo DiCarprio’s character’s commitment to corporate espionage through the infiltration of his targets’ subconscious, its mind blowing moment for me was actually his team’s and victim’s submersion into a dream within a dream within a dream that is within yet another layer of dreams.
And I have since remained doubtful of whether I would ever come across another creative work that would seize my consciousness in quite the same mind boggling way. Well, that day has come: Aiko Tezuka’s exhibition of mentally and spiritually depth defying textiles has arrived in Singapore.
Grippingly titled “Certainty/Entropy”, this Germany based Japanese lady’s tales of the social, emotional, psychological and artistic histories of civilizations are mystically yet intricately inter-woven into and unwoven along seemingly endless expanses of luxurious yarn.
On the apparently fundamental level Tezuka ‘endeavour(s) to weave the fabric of our time into (hers) with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, (she) hope(s) the presence of (her) piece (will) be felt far beyond our time’.
Why? Well, Tezuka is absolutely ‘fixated on fabrics (that precede) the 17th century and the ancient eras. When (she) visit(s) fabric museums, (she) often wonder(s) how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity (as she knows full well that it is) now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost’.
But we have just touched the surface enveloping this truly inspirational artist. When she is ‘in the museums, (she) feel(s the) ghosts (behind the fabric) speaking to her: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict work conditions (as they) aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. (Yet) the greater the display of wealth… the more (she) feel(s their) fear of losing power and control (over) their workers’.
As a result, Tezuka feels compelled to ‘loosen… up these invisible narratives (by) unravel(ing) forgotten histories or discover(ing) new plotlines. This she intuitively does by ‘pervading (her) creative processes (with) techniques and rules that (she has) developed over time: (including) untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place’.
Moreover, she strives to do it all by not cutting or pasting, or adding or subtracting matter: her primary aim is to maintain continuity within the cloths she has selected to work on.
Yet ‘by unraveling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material she has chosen to work with, (Tezuka tries) to capture… the subjective nature of… overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis’.
When she seamlessly succeeds in this endeavor (she) ‘hear(s) the ghosts of the fabric whispering within (her in ways where she) could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and pleasure (as her) ego melt(s) away’.
Yet this timeless moment cannot sustain Tezuka in perpetuity forever. ‘Inevitably, (she) must return to the present day in (her) studio and continue to think about what to create with (her) hands under electric lights’.
Spatially intertwined into this almost spiritual level of emotive pysche is her almost primeval propulsion to ‘deconstruct everyday material in the context of history of painting’ to reach her realization as objects and installations.
Why? Well, Tezuka had been deeply perturbed that she ‘could not find a new way to work painting, the discipline that she (had) trained in (in) Japan’ and so wondered ‘what if, Japan’s history of painting had chosen another way’. This mind shifting ability to think out of the Japanese box wonderfully liberated her to dream up other avenues on how, not only she, but all of us should look to the future.
This freedom has propelled her to deconstruct existing pieces of organic textiles, which she either finds or designs. A deconstruction that selflessly manifests itself through a making and destroying via an unpicking of portions of her chosen fabric to ‘reveal the warp and the weft of the original looming process’ and a ‘weaving into her final works the symbols she downloads from the internet’.
The resulting deconstructed reconstruction is something new that she uses to prompt us ‘to think about deconstructing (our) own lives (at our) turning point (s)’. Like, when we reach our mid-life crisis, as an example.
How? Tezuka’s works suggest ‘think(ing) about (our) own history and mak(ing) something new from that… so (that we, too) may find (our) own (new) way (forward)’.
To help us maneuver our way through her intricate maze of woven, unwoven and re-woven threads that she suggests we drape over ours, Tezuka has chosen to use for her solo exhibition in our little red dot under the tropical sun ancient Japanese, Indian, Indonesian and English fabrics with an integration of pineapples, dragonflies and other Asian and even Singaporean symbols with contemporary ones of modern Western life; like the Visa card, as well as peace emblems and images of radioactive waste.
In so doing, Tezuka attempts to transform the way we look at the world in yet another level: the portions of these quaintly juxtaposed cosmopolitan fabrics she has left unraveled seem to be raising a great red flag over the present world’s whole hearted embrace of a multi-cultural psyche of governance, putting squarely into our individual minds this indelible question: ‘Who am I?’
Undoubtedly, arising ever so insistently from this convoluted tangle of artistic web is this: a genuine need, of historic proportions, of forging a new direction with an even newer chapter of our lives with a crystal clear sense of secure self identity.
Be seductively drawn into Tezuka’s multi-faceted yarn at Third Floor – Hermes, at 541 Orchard Road, Liat Towers Level One, #01-02A, Singapore 238881 before her intriguingly soul-searching exhibition ends on 27 July this year.
Feature photo: Aiko Tezuka’s “Lessons for Restoration”.
Right photo: Aiko Tezuka’s “Loosening Fabric”.
Photo credit: Aiko Tezuka