Kudos to the President’s Young Talents

Grace Tan’s “Refuge”. Photo credit: Ogilvy Public Relations for Singapore Art Museum

Grace Tan’s “Refuge”. Photo credit: Ogilvy Public Relations for Singapore Art Museum

Contentious issues that grip most Singaporeans’ very hearts, minds, soul and conscience radiated heavily from most of the art works the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) commissioned for this year’s President’s Young Talents (PYT) exhibition.

One hot potato concerns the Land Transport Authority’s 2012 decision to exhume almost 4000 graves in the Bukit Brown cemetery for the development of a new dual 4-lane road and the adverse public reaction it received as multi-generational Singaporeans poignantly pointed out that this graveyard, opened in 1922, house the remains of many of the country’s earliest forebears and is the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China.

This controversy of losing yet another piece of Singapore’s history inspired Boo Junfeng to create his 2-channel high-definition video art, “Mirror”. One screen shows a present-day Singapore Armed Forces soldier doing his military training in this graveyard while the other depicts a recruit of the Malayan Communist Party resisting Japanese rule during World War II.

By juxtaposing Singapore’s significant past with its here and now at the same site, Boo cleverly and effectively expounds the salient fact that our country’s present and future cannot be extracted from our history. It then becomes tantamount that we conscientiously enshrine it.

Continuing this heated debate on historical conservation is Liao Jiekai’s “Brothers’ Quarters” – inspired by his realization that the preservation of the former St Joseph Institution building into the present day SAM did not exclude the destruction of the La Salle brothers’ residential wing – housed at the back of the former school grounds along Bras Basah Road.

As Liao keenly desired his artwork to investigate which buildings, and so which memories, are deemed worthy of preserving, his exhibit includes filming old boys of the Catholic school fondly sharing all facets of their school life in the heart of town.

Resistance by animal activists to the National Parks Board’s decision to selectively cull the wild boars to keep their population numbers down to preserve our precious nature reserves inspired Robert Zhao to submit his disturbing “The Quieting and the Alarming”.

His submission passionately calls for a multi-voiced dialogue beside the parks board’s rhetoric that it is taking the only recourse to prevent the boars from digging up and consuming too many of the large seeds, rhizomes and bulbs our native floral throw up to regenerate the forestry surrounding our natural water catchments. This, Zhao fervently believes, will yield innovative solutions that allow these precious herbivores to harmoniously proliferate along side our native forests.

Also calling for innovative approaches to be taken is Zaki Razak’s “Revising Art: The Ten Year Series” – this time by creating teaching pedagogies that make learning art fun and yet inspirationally relevant to the young. And he gamely shows the way by conducting ingenious art related workshops and performances in the conspicuous white tent he pitches on the front lawn of SAM.

In contrast, Ryf Zaini’s “Unveil the Curtain to the Window with No Ledge” sounds a word of caution to what already grips the imagination of Singapore’s youth – namely, our almost national obsession with every new and fangled technology. Not surprisingly, he positions an extremely long, red-cabled three pin plug like a deadly cobra about to strike and blinds a university lecture theatre student’s seat with a blaze of flashing glaring lights.

The lone white lamb in this artistic gathering of wooly black is Grace Tan’s “Refuge” – literally pure white endless fluffy clusters of polypropylene loop pins tirelessly looped together, comfortingly motivated into being by fleeting clouds in an azure sky, or evergreen trees with sturdy branches weighed down by lushly dense foliage and numerous dainty flowers in full bloom. This is truly a wondrously aesthetic piece where art is practiced for art’s sake.

Yet, it seems that an indelible impression on this year’s PYT series’ selection committee (made up by independent local art professionals) is made by historical concerns that grip our young nation. It resoundingly decides to award Boo Junfeng and Liao Jiekai with further commissions to fashion a new work – each worthy of inclusion in SAM’s Singapore Biennale for the coming October.

Decide for yourselves if Boo and Liao’s entries deserve the added kudos: visit the Singapore Art Museum at 71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555 before this exhibition ends on 15 September 2013.

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