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
The British Broadcasting Corporation has a highly popular science-fiction television programme, “Doctor Who”, that depicts a humanoid alien (a Time Lord) called the Doctor who explores the universe, from the past to the future, in his TARDIS, a sentient time travelling space ship with an exterior that appears as a blue British police box – a common sight in 1963 Britain, when the TV series first aired.
It gripped my imagination as a little girl and to this day I still faithfully follow the Doctor as he faces a variety of enemies in his bid to save humanity and alien civilisations by righting the world’s and galaxies’ wrongs.
Hence, it does not take much to make me fully comprehend Thai artist, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s persistent fascination with time travel and its equally persistent centrality in the themes that he has chosen to run through his artwork: for example, his masterpieces in his “Tomorrow Is Another Fine Day” London exhibition in 2005 were permeated with the motif highly popularized by the 1985 American comic science fiction film, “Back To The Future”.
In his current exhibition at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI), inspiringly titled “Time Travellers Chronicle (Doubt): 2014 – 802,701 AD”, Tiravanija’s explorations into this genre draws inspiration from a variety of vital sources.
Unsurprisingly, H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” is 1 central pillar: published in 1895, it coined and popularized the concept that a time machine is needed to travel purposefully and selectively into the past or the future. Only in Tiravanija’s case, the medium for travelling forwards or backwards in time is irrevocably tied to food and drink – both of which he 3D printed.
For one, he harks back to his early days as an artist – 1992 to be exact – where he offered visitors to his 1st solo exhibition in New York Thai food cooked on site. For another, he has been working on a science fiction novel of his own, where his protagonist goes through the wormhole by consuming a bowl of steaming hot Thai curry noodles.
For the 3rd, Tiravanija recalls an after-exhibition drinks session by fellow artists. Having lost count of the number of Nigrone cocktails they have sloshed down their jubilant throats, he found them slumped on the floor as bare as the day they were born. And with absolutely no recollection of how they had ended up in their birthday suits. It was as if the specific alcohol consumed had taken them through a wormhole at Star Trek-like warp speed too.
The 3rd medium through which Tiravanija wants STPI’s visitors to transverse through space and time is that of trusty chrome. That he derives after hearing his friend’s little son say to him, ‘Of course in the future, everything will be in chrome’ – a direct quote from an episode of the popular American TV cartoon “SpongeBob SquarePants” that had 1st aired in 1999.
In that particular series, the main character Squidwart gets locked in a freezer, from which he escapes 2000 years later and learns from his descendants that everything has indeed become chrome – and so, as have Tiravanija been inspired to flush over his futuristic mono prints and mixed media at STPI.
Yet the influence of Well’s “The Time Machine” does not end there: its Time Traveller goes roughly 30 million years into the future from his own time and witnesses 1st hand some of the last living things on a dying Earth – menacing reddish crab-like creatures slowly wandering the blood-red beaches chasing butterflies in a world covered in only lichen-like plant life.
Reading that synergizes in Tiravanija’s creative mind the unfolding of life through famed naturalist Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the evolution of his Tree of Life. And so this New York and Chiang Mai based artist chronicles in 8 “Chapters” of silvered mono prints, with accompanying chromed pedestals and 3D printed artifacts, the revolutionary changes in speciation from now to 802,701 AD – where the Tree of Life 1st drastically diversifies and grows in branching complexity (as we see mapped from results of the scientific Genome project); only to regress to Darwin’s simple drawing of the Tree of Life again at time’s ultimate end.
And through it all Tiravanija emphasizes that the laws of nature has to be completely obeyed in all of the essence of time. Life has always to be paternally arranged after the Fibonacci sequence of integral numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc. etc. etc… regardless of the simplicity or complexity of the species of life living at any point in finite time.
This belief draws sustenance from this fact: the sequence has always existed in nature since time memorial: it dictates the branching in trees, the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruitlets of a pineapple, the flowering of artichoke, an unfurling fern, the arrangement of a pine cone, the family tree of honeybees, and the list goes on. Some scientists have even claimed that Fibonacci’s numbers govern the breeding of rabbits, the seeds on a sunflower, the spiral of shells in all sorts of snails, and the curve of waves.
And Tiranvanija knows that this is accomplished always in obedience to time as attested by the constant rising and setting of the sun and the eclipse of the moon. The last he captures succinctly with “Moon Rise – Time Is Setting – Tomorrow Never Arrives” for “We Can Travel The Sun When It Is Setting”: imprinting Darwin’s and the Genome project’s Trees of Life onto some of the full blown circular faces of his many lunar creations.
Still how will our future really pan out? That he thinks will be written as the long mane of crowning glory continues to grow from his head: so we have to hope that it is as his artwork says, “(His) Hair… Can Predict The Past, The Present And The Future” – the way growth rings in the trunks of trees tell the type of summer or winter each towering plant has under gone for a particular year. Thus showing us the environmental conditions its exact location has experienced as well.
Yet can we patiently wait for this ever so gradual growth? Does this not make the future a fact of the present if viewed now? Or of the past if examined the next day?
Are we not more inclined to take the leap through curry noodles, Nigrone cocktails and chrome wormholes into the vast galactic oceans in which our imaginations swim a la H.G. Wells? And work towards bringing our positively pictured futures into pristine reality.
What if our projections into the tomorrow of tomorrows are bleak? Well, surely we share Tiravanija’s ingenuity and with it, we will bring about a future far better than that pictured by Wells.
So gleefully hyper drive through time via Rirkrit Tiravanija’s works of art at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute at 41 Robertson Quay, Singapore 238236 before his more than sci-fi exhibition ends on 28 June this year.
Feature photo: Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “The Time Travelers Gage, (End)gauge”.
Right photo: Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “Third Chapter: Warp Drive Inn, Sextant To The Chrome Universe”
Photo credits: Rirkrit Tiravanija & Singapore Tyler Print Institute
The wonderful thing about being a volunteer docent with Friends of the Museums at the various public art galleries in Singapore is the great insight we get about the myriad of established artists and their works of art within the Asian region, and occasionally the rest of the great wide world.
Although, the down side is this: when we really fall head over heels in love with a piece of art, we know from the start that we will never be able to own it – the masterpiece belongs to a public or private institution’s permanent collection. So we console ourselves by getting the next best thing – the exhibition’s catalogue and snapping the beloved artwork with our iPhones.
Seldom does it ever happen that what gets displayed in a public art museum is concurrently on sale in a commercial gallery in town. But this is about to change: Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks will very shortly proudly display yet more of what is currently running as a special exhibition in the National Museum of Singapore.
This commercial gallery, with its primary base in New York, will be exhibiting in our little red dot under the sun yet even more of Sebastiao Salgado’s very much prized black and white photographs from not only his “Genesis” series – it will be bringing in works from this Brazilian photographer’s 2 earlier, but equally famous, collections: “Workers” and “Migrations” too.
This welcome news puts me over the moon: I can not only examine first hand the progression in the development of Salgado’s form of art through these 3 series, I can view them with the very real prospect of making 1 or 2 my very own – to take pride of place in my study where I lovingly labour over my Mac as I make preparations to guide an art exhibition.
But the ecstasy does not stop there this May and June: 3 other commercial galleries in Gillman Barracks are presently featuring established artists that the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) has showcased in previous exhibitions over the last 18 months.
I first came across Singaporean artist, Jeremy Sharma’s intriguing “Terra Sensa –Lovell” at SAM’s “Singapore Biennale 2013” and it was ranked within my top 10 highlights of must sees in my story for SingArt. That Michael Janssen Gallery is exhibiting a few from his series of dying star’s pulsar inspired works right now is literally catapulting me beyond the stars.
Called “Mode Change”, this exhibition includes, for stark contrast to his 3D rendition of the rhythmic undulations of the galactic signals, a number of Sharma’s intriguing grey paintings. By so doing, he succeeds in getting the 2 unique bodies of work to dialogue with each other and slyly, as well as convincingly, draws us into their candid conversation.
At the same time, Fost Gallery is luring my pen to my cheque book with its exhibition of Phi Phi Oanh’s “Palimpsest” series of sculptural light installations. These consist of layered ‘skins’ of lacquer paintings that are ingeniously projected through crystal clear glass slides.
Each a reminiscent image that appears to be seen when we peer through the lens of a telescope or microscope. Each view offering a rare glimpse of either a marco or micro view of the universe that has been projected onto translucent silk screens: each creating an atmospheric phantasmagorical space.
American Oanh has thus surpassed the work she had displayed at SAM’s “Singapore Biennale 2013”. Though I had included this “Specula” as 1 of the exhibition highlights in my SingArt story, her current works at Fost Gallery have taken her signature style of using an art form that dates back to her Vietnamese heritage into the 21st century.
Even then the potential that my spending spree may not end there is very real: you see, Arndt at Gillman Barracks has brought in Jumaldi Alfi’s newest specialization – a series of paintings collectively named “Melting Moments – Re-Reading Landscapes, Mool Indies”.
‘Mool Indie’ is Indonesian for the country’s Molek style of applying the artist’s paint brush – one that was popularized during the period of Indonesian history under Dutch colonial rule; hence exemplifying the nostalgic landscape visions of the Dutch East Indies.
By placing his primary focus on creating ‘Mool Indie’ brush strokes and artistic style, Indonesian Alfi succinctly captures his intense interrogation of the potential historical roots of the modern painting accomplished by natives in his home land.
This, in turn, effectively takes him a progressive step away from the signature style he is internationally renowned for – his string of “Blackboard” artworks; of which his “Life/Art #101: Never Ending Lesson” was displayed at SAM’s “The Collectors Show: Weight of History” in the 1st half of 2013.
Share my pleasurable dilemma of which artists’ works to choose by spending a leisurely weekend at Gillman Barracks drinking in the marvelous pieces of artistic merit offered by Sebastiao Salgado, Jeremy Sharma, Phi Phi Oanh and Jumaldi Alfi:
Where: Arndt, 22 Lock Road, #01-35, Singapore 108939
When : 10 May – 6 July 2014
Where: Fost Gallery, 1 Lock Road, #01-02, Singapore 108932
When : 10 May – 29 June 2014
Where: Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore, 5 Lock Road, #01-05, Singapore 108933
When : 20 May – 6 July 2014
Where: Michael Janssen Gallery, 9 Lock Road, #02-21, Singapore 108937
When : 10 May – 13 June 2014
And predict to whom and on what I would most likely open my purse strings.
Top photo: Jeremy Sharma’s “Untitled (Herodiade)”.
Right photo: Jeremy Sharma’s “Nullius”.
Photo credits: Fareez Ahmad
Sebastiao Salgado’s “Genesis” results from an 8-year expedition, in epic proportions, of rediscovering, through painstaking photo realism, the commanding mountains, the sweeping deserts, the deepest oceans, the still abundant fauna and tribalistic peoples who have to this day escaped the conversion to modern society, as well as the seemingly endless stretches of land and ways of life harboured by the untouched still pristine portions of our planet.
This spectacular exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore is devoted to lovingly show the quintessential beauty of our natural world in obvious hope of reversing the insidious damage already done to it, and its whole-hearted preservation for the future of our children, their children and the countless generations that come there after.
Consequently, Salgado’s vividly striking photographs succeed in bringing very much into view the crystal clear reminder that only almost 46% of planet Earth is still as it was in the time of primordial genesis… and that we must, at all cost, preserve what remains in existence as God intended naturally from this day.
Therefore, through his telephoto lenses, we are invited to re-discover the diversity of animal life and equally diverse range of volcanoes of the Galapagos, the ever so quaint penguins, sea lions, cormorants and whales populating the vast South Atlantic, the menacing alligators and jaguars of Brazil, and the majestic African lions, leopards and elephants.
We are also taken on an extraordinary journey over gigantic icebergs in the remote Antarctic, the myriad of volcanoes dominating Central Africa, the splendid ravines traversing the Grand Canyon, the exotic Negro and Jurua rivers deep in the heart of the Amazon, and the sub-zero glaciers of wild Alaska.
Then we are brought face-to-face with the truly isolated Zo’e tribe in the very depths of the Amazon jungle, the remarkable unchanged Stone Age Korowai people of West Papua, the happily nomadic Nordic Dinka Cattle farmers in Sudan, the contented Nenets nomads and their equally happy herds of reindeer in the vast Arctic Circle, as well as the refreshingly different Metawai jungle communities on numerous islands doting west of Sumatra.
Captured over 30 trips travelled on humble foot, on air- and sea-going vessels – including canoes, and even balloons – and in spiraling high heat and bone-penetrating cold, and with more than a handful of times when conditions are frighteningly dangerous, Salgado’s extensive collection of gripping images offers us nature, animals and indigenous peoples in an array of such shockingly intense beauty we are equally drawn in to beholding each photo in complete awe and wonder.
It comes as no surprise that he moves us to view them not as just rare images: we are faced with the stark reality that they are intimate love letters Salgado has written to the planet… each waxing lyrical of a deep respect and devoted fondness for nature that hark back to his days growing up on a farm in Brazil.
Without a doubt, they are a natural extension of his earlier works in “Workers” and “Migration”. In these 2 provocative predecessors, Salgado’s photos reported on the plight of humanity and their population movements around the world as effected by their social-economic circumstances. In “Genesis”, he insidiously focuses our attention on what the world untouched by man’s modern social-economic situations can be like.
It becomes a homage to human communities that continue to live life in accordance to their ancient cultures and traditions, and to question whether we, embroidered into a consumerist culture in the developed world, are in any way better off. To me, that brings lucidly to mind the argument that we may well re-discover our Eden by reversing this ‘progression’ – by redefining our cities through a reforestation programme of our own. And hence, lead like all great leaders do – by example: systematically and whole-heartedly restoring what is left untouched by human hands in our natural world.
As such, these exquisitely reproduced large-format images Salgado deliberately arranged neither by theme nor region: they are brilliantly conceptualized as a breath-taking portfolio that takes us on a spell-blinding quest around our globe; beseechingly drawing us into his grand vision of the Earth’s mesmerizing beauty in its immense scale and order.
What will delight us even more is Salgado’s success in telling this new story through his time honoured professional photo tradition – shooting yet again in his preferred chiaroscuro palette of black-and-white images, each with very little colour. It clearly shows that he is a true master of the monochrome – very much in the same league as the renowned virtuoso Ansel Adams, as well as the signature tonal variations and contrasts of light and dark much treasured by painterly masters of old like Rembrandt and Georges de La Tour.
This, in turn, resoundingly confirms his decision to give up shooting in colour early in his photo-journalistic career: it is still very much a pure stroke of artistic genius – we will never be left to wonder whether his “Genesis” message will be more urgently earth-shattering in full colour.
Immerse in Salgado’s homage to the re-“Genesis” of all of Mother Earth at the National Museum of Singapore, at 93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897 before this rare exhibition ends on 27 July this year.
Top photo: Sebastiao Salgado’s “Genesis: Planet South”.
Right photo: Sebastiao Salgado’s “Genesis: Amazonia & Pantanal”.