Naima Morelli

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Interview

KaminLertchaiprasert
The first article of my Thailand reportage is out on CoBo Social. This is an interview with the incredible Chiang-Mai based artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert.

I had encountered Kamin around the world many times before actually meeting him. The first time in the form of a hyper-realistic statue with eyes closed in a meditative position. This was part of his work “No Past, No Present, No Future”, a resin-cast sculpture with human hair exhibited at the Palais the Tokyo in Paris. I stumbled into the same work at Art Stage Singapore 2018 and just a few days before driving to his studio, I saw a young version of him in some early self portraits at MAIIAM. It was still difficult to know what to expect from a conversation with him.

Here is the link to the interview

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LeangSeckon
A few weeks ago, while I was trotting around Thailand for my new reportage on the local art scene, CoBo published my interview with Cambodian artist Leang Seckon. His work is incredible, multilayered and really a mirror of contemporary Cambodia.

I interviewed him last year as a part of my reportage on contemporary art in Cambodia, visited his studio and find him to be a generous soul and a humble and complex personality.

Here is the link to the interview

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Sarah Choo Jing

I love the work of Sarah Choo Jing. It is elegant and she clearly shares a passion for my favourite director, Hong Kar Wai. The artist herself gives me the impression of living in her own imaginary, which is something I can highly empathise with. At the 2017 Venice Biennale show, she was elegant as ever, wearing a blue cheongsam with a pair of silver shoes which looked as if they were right from Grace Kelly’s wardrobe. Her attire made her look like a noble Chinese woman on a visit to the West. Being in Venice, another celebrated city port, this looked like the possible start of a story.

When I interviewed her in Singapore at the end of 2015, she carved out a time to meet me amid the shots of the production of her new video piece called “Four Days”, set in a prestigious hotel near Chinatown. Actually, it was unclear to me if it was the lack of time to dictate the conditions for this meeting, or if it was rather a wise choice to allow me to participate in the production process and get some juice for the story. At one point the artist admitted that the circumstances were quite fortuitous.

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Vincent Leow

It is June 2018 as I’m writing these lines, and a few days ago, browsing through the internet, some news hit my eye. One drawing of Vincent Leow was removed from an exhibition the Esplanade, a popular alley for the arts in Singapore, with the accusation of “bestiality”. The censored sketch depicted a naked individual sitting astride a giant chicken. According to the conservative Facebook group “Singaporeans Defending Marriage and Family” the naked man was having sex with the animal. The general concern revolves around the fact that this was public area, with kids walking past the exhibition to go to the play centre. At first, the Esplanade took a neutral stance and said that everyone could “draw their own interpretations of a drawing that is not a realistic rendering.” Following a discussion with the artist, the art centre decided that it would be best to remove the piece from the exhibition and said that “This is solely Esplanade’s error of judgment”. This caused a big buzz in the artistic community in Singapore, and was seen as an episode of censorship and a sign of an increasingly conservative society.
The author of the sketch, Vincent Leow, would probably be discouraged to see that, since he first started with his provocative works and the society hasn’t opened up since. Quite the contrary. Vincent hailed, like Lee Wen and Amanda Heng, from The Artists Village, the arts collective spearheaded by Tang Da Wu and inspired by Western movements such as conceptual art and Fluxus, which emerged in New York in the ‘60s. The group detached from the idealist watercolours and academic realist style that preceded the late ‘80s, as being really contemporary and bringing international tendencies to the art world, while speaking of the conflicts and tensions of the society at the time.

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Amanda Heng

Taking a sip of tea in the courtyard sheltered by the white colonial walls of the Singapore Art Museum, I had no doubt. When I get older, I want to be cool like Amanda Heng. This double-braided lady sitting on the other end of the table is an inspiring and yet down-to-earth artist. Despite her friendly nature, she gave a huge contribution to the evolution of Singaporean contemporary art. In the Lion City, economic and technological progress are achieved thanks to a pragmatic government and toiling on the part of citizens. Amanda Heng witnessed the rapid transformation in both the art scene and the society art at large. Her work is a profound comment on this rapid modernisation and a compassionate observation about those who were left behind.

Amanda Heng was one of the early members of the seminal art collective ‘The Artist Village’ and experimented with performance art and installation. When she was a little girl in school, she was always performing on stage. In the school curriculum there were dances, songs, opera, and they were learning Italian songs. “I guess I already had this in me, and it allowed me to feel the beauty of certain things, although I didn’t know what art was about then.”

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Lee Wen
I first met Lee Wen in Rome, in the courtyard of my very first house in the Eternal City. The place was in the local Chinatown, called Piazza Vittorio. This is not a nice Chinatown. It doesn’t have the fancy portal to mark its main street, nor particularly good restaurants or shops. Indeed, Piazza Vittorio become the go-to establishment for Chinese immigrants only in the late ‘80s, where they set up bare shops selling cheap clothes, where no one ever goes buy anything.

The building where I used to live in had a large courtyard that led into different buildings, and in the middle of the courtyard there was a small gallery, called La Nube di Oort. One day I got an email from the gallery saying that in a few days there would have been a performance called “Un evento piccolo ma significativo” (A Small but Significant Event), featuring artists Lee Wen, Myriam Laplante, and Mike Cooper. The press release explained that Mike Cooper would have recreated a sound performance – which he didn’t attend. His performance was a personal sonic response to a short video clip of part of English musician David Toop’s performance posted on Facebook. Lee Wen would have responded to Mike Cooper’s response and Myriam Laplante would have responded to Lee Wen’s response to Mike Cooper’s response. I thought this process of osmosis, lost in translation and enrichment in translation was quite jarring. In my mind, the artistic device was similar to the American version of Singapore which was Madripoor and my Italian perception of Madripoor. And neither myself or Claremont had ever visited Singapore at that point. The press release went on to say a bit about the artist’s bio. I knew two of the three artists. Mike Cooper was a white-bearded English singer-guitarist forever wearing Hawaiian shirts and a straw hat even in winter. He rose to prominence by innovating the international scene with the explorations of avant-garde sound. Myriam Laplante was a Canadian artist who moved to Italy a while ago. Her work, consisting of performances, installations, sculptures, photographs, and drawings never lacked in dark humour and was heavily parodist, absurd, cynical, sad and disturbing. Being a vernissage-hopper I happened to have seen Cooper and LaPlante in action a few times already. But I had never met Lee Wen. I knew him for being a pioneer of performance art in Singapore since the ‘90s. The press release informed me that his multidisciplinary work, spanning from writing to song, was a constant reflection on society, motivated by strong idealism and a revolutionary impetus.

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AsiaticaItaloSpinelli

I’m forever passionate about the connections between Europe and Asia through culture. This time, we explore the power of cinematic language across continents with Italo Spinelli, director of Asiatica Film Festival in Rome, Italy, for Culture360.

Here is the link to the interview

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Just go to Thailand!

Back in Singapore after my first trip, I participated in a talk at the art space The Substation about the current exhibition in place. The idea of a book about Singapore contemporary art was starting to take shape in my mind. at the time, and I came back for another month-long research. This time around, I wanted to focus on capturing the spirit in which the artists were producing work, as well as understanding the core concerns of curators and art operators. In the long and narrow room of The Substation art space, I recognised a few people coming together to start the talk. One of these was The Substation director Alan Oei, one of the first people I interviewed in Singapore and the person who gave me a comprehensive vision of what was going on.

Alan Oei is the kind of person who attracts polarising feelings because of his clear-cut ideas, critical attitude and strong charisma. This is something quite common in the Italian art world, where art critics and curators like to challenge audiences – think of big personalities like Philippe Daverio, Achille Bonito Oliva or Vittorio Sgarbi – but in Singapore and Southeast Asia, where moderation is the norm and the art world is still too small to overtly create factions. This is quite uncommon. Perhaps because of my background, I personally liked Alan Oei’s attitude a lot (not that I necessarily agreed with his opinions). I liked him the way one can like romantic characters. Those who have real vigour in bringing forward their ideas, and a strong spirit to led them. Believing his own ideas to a fault.

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DanaLanglois
It was February last year that I embarked on a month-long journey to Cambodia for a reportage on the local contemporary art scene. During that time on the field I realized 20 interviews in Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh, meet incredible people, and had the privilege to visit artist’s studio and local art spaces.

Among these, Java Arts in Phnom Penh is certainly one of the most important, and the name of its founder and director Dana Langlois was one of the first on my list of the must-interview. A powerhouse in her own right, Dana gave me her perspectives on the Cambodian art scene. CoBo has just published our conversation.

It took one year to publish most of the material, article by article, mostly on CoBo, but also on Culture360 and Art Republik. I love this methodology of work I have established, from gathering the seeds (aka researching on the field), sowing and watering (working on the material and reflecting on it throughout the year) and harvesting (seeing the pieces published on magazines.) It’s a thing of beauty, and I try to be present to each phase of this process. Hopefully, throughout this year I manage to share what I have learned about Cambodian contemporary art, and highlight what’s interesting with it.

And now to Dana’s interview on CoBo, hope you will enjoy it:

Here is the link to the interview

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Sherman Ong: Motherland

In 2013 the now defunct gallery Chan Hampe hosted an important collective show analysing the effect of segregation in the Lion City. This was called ‘Motherland’ and was curated by Christina Arum Sok. The show examined Singapore as the home to people as different as the first generation of coolies arriving to find work, all the way to today’s foreign executives and migrant workers. In the press release, the curator mentioned how Singapore has become home to a wide array of people looking for opportunities and how they tend to not blend as naturally as the state propaganda would led to believe:

“ […] foreigners have largely embraced elements of ‘Singaporeaness,’ adapting or re-inventing themselves like chameleons to wear different hats that embody both their native culture and that of their adopted home. It is not so much assimilating or integrating into a ‘Singaporeaness’, but rather a celebration of multiplicity and a fusion of differences that should be emphasised. Instead of the xenophobic attitudes that shun the ‘infiltration’ of foreigners as well as the preoccupation with a sterilized racial harmony that only gives room for Chinese, Malay, Indian and the ambiguous or all-encompassing ‘Other,’ perhaps it is now the time to unlock the door for the ‘Others’ and adopt a broader, more accepting approach to differences. It is this element of ultra-diversity that gives Singapore the edge, making it a competitive city-state that attracts people from all walks of life.”

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Fyerool Darma: destructing and reconstructing regional history

Fyerool Darma’s world is black and white, sleek and genuine; conceptual yet tied to the peculiarity of materials. If you were in Singapore at the beginning of 2017, you couldn’t help encountering his work everywhere – in very different sectors of the art world. At Art Stage Singapore 2017, he was part of the Yeo Workshop booth with his works ‘After Babelfish (of Shank series)’ and ‘Portrait No. 11 (Puan Saleha, Zaliha or Salihat)’. We saw him performing in the art space Objectifs for the collective show ‘Fantasy Islands’. And if that wasn’t enough, at the Singapore Biennale you can also encounter his work ‘The Most Mild Mannered Man’ – a bust of Sir Stamford Raffles and a bustless pedestal inscribed with the name of Sultan Hussein. His interest in bridging the memory-deprived Singapore of today with the wider history of the region and the many possible narratives that have shaped the island’s past, and continue to shape the island’s future.

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Ho Tzu Nyen: representing the global collective imaginary

There are artists who make objects, and are pretty damn good at their craft. Then there are artists whose production allow them to live and work in the art system. There are also artists whose work is autobiographical and very much tied to their lives. And finally, there are artists whose art is a direct continuation of their philosophical grasp on the world. Technique for them is an extension of their thought.

Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen belongs to the latter category. In his first solo exhibition in Berlin at the gallery Michael Janssen called “No Man II”, he presented a new multimedia installation. This whimsical, interactive, compelling, yet mysterious work looks like a museum of popular imagination of the human figure. We can find here clichéd representation from pop culture, from American soldiers, to characters similar to the movie Tron, all the way to mythology.

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