Naima Morelli

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Godalisation

 

I reviewed for Cobo Teng Jee Hum’s second book on collecting, focused on history of Singapore. The book offers insight into the history of contemporary art in the city-state.

Here is the link to the review

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Funding Shaping the Work of Artists

Let’s go back to The Substation for a second. We mentioned that when the space started in 1990, it was the very first art space in Singapore, before SAM, before the Esplanade and much earlier than the National Gallery. In the narrative of the local art world, the existence of this place encouraged many people to gather to appreciate and make art, music or writing in a way that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Singapore. This was a sign for the government, who acknowledged the situation, observed a spontaneous surge of creativity and cultural momentum, and decided it was high time to open up an art museum five years later. “We were actually forcing to government to shape policies in some way last time,” said Alan Oei during our conversation: “But once they shaped the policies, we kind of have been sucked into their policies and we haven’t made them change anything for a long time.”

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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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Brother Cane and the Josef Ng Affair

Given the big scandal his case provoked, you would imagine Josef Ng holding resentment to his country Singapore in one way or another. This is not at all the case. After two decades of auto-exile, working as a curator in Bangkok and Shanghai as gallery director, in December 2015 the artist and curator went back to Singapore, hired by the gallery Pearl Lam. As a young man, Josef was part of the Artist Village. It was a time when, as we saw earlier, there was almost no funding for art, and artists were making art for their own pleasure, with a particular focus on performance. Over time, the performers started carving some space for self-expression, and became bolder and bolder, eliciting some reactions. A pioneer of subversion in Singapore was Vincent Leow, who made an operation à la Manzoni, without even knowing of the precent, bottling his urine.
However strange all of those performances looked for the Singaporean public at the time (and I suspect even today), the real deal happened during the performance “Brother Cane” by Josef Ng in 1994, at Parkway Parade. The performance was conceived as a protest against the arrest and caning of twelve homosexual men, and consisted of caning slabs of tofu. Then the artist turned his back to the audience and snipped off some pubic hair. Here is the recollection of Professor of Live Art and Performance Studies Ray Langenbach:

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Dinh Q. Lê’s Pure Land: Beauty in Everything

One of the most interesting, beautiful and disquieting shows I have visited in Bangkok was “Pure Land” at Tang Contemporary in Bangkok, a show by artist Dinh Q. Lê’s, curated by Loredana Paracciani. I have written about it for CoBo.

Here is the link to the review

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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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ThaiartistsPolitics

 

As I’m gearing up to leave for a reportage on contemporary art in Thailand in February, I’m gathering all the preliminary research in these pieces for Cobo. These encapsulate my core areas of interest (you might have read already 5 Thai Artists that Connect Us to Spirituality)

I really love to make those articles that gather artists by topic. I see them as so much more than simple listicles. I have the chance to research the practice of an artist in depth, and then distill the essence of their practice in a few paragraphs. In this way I’m also able to see how artists from the same country have different approaches to the same topic. By spotting similarities and differences, I can start grasping some sort of whole and overarching narrative.

Here is the link to the piece

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This end of the year post has been a tradition for many years, and it’s for me one of the most pleasurable things to write. This one is pretty long, so gear up, or perhaps skip to the section which is of most interest to you.

Looking back at this 2018, I feel bursting with gratitude. I do what I have always wanted to do since I was a child, and I have a huge freedom which I don’t take for granted. For this stage in my life, I’m fully self-actualized, I’m embodying all of my passions. And each one of them leads me to new paths, new learning, new discovering journeys. This unfolding is a beautiful story to tell, and I feel my life is like an artwork. And I can appreciate its dynamism fully, its ups and downs, its clarity and its drama, because I know it’s ultimately all a play. The comedy of life.

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Economic Agenda for the Arts

In the beginning, when people were talking to me about art in Singapore, I was hearing two parallel stories. In one of these two stories, the art was born from individuals who dared to go against the grain, challenge the status quo, coming together to build a community. The other story was that the government decided they needed art, and so they made it happen. I slowly realised that it wasn’t merely a different point of view. Contemporary art in Singapore was twice born.

The first time it was a natural birth. Grassroots. Tang Da Wu, Lee Wen, Amanda Heng, Vincent Leow, Suzanne Victor were among them. Names inextricably associated with the early days of The Artist Village. The second was more of cesarean section. My midwife housemates explained to me how differently these two worked. In the natural birth, it’s all up to the mother. There is a lot of suffering involved, but that suffering is good, because the mother instinctively knows where to push, which position to take to get the baby out. It’s her bodily knowing, no one else can tell her how to do it. It’s the most natural thing in the world, although it might be dangerous. Back in the day, giving birth could often result in the death of the mother or the baby, or both. But when it was done – my midwife housemates assured me – it was about the most beautiful feeling in the world. The mother could finally take in her arms that ugly purplish sticky thing which is a newborn baby and feel completely happy, serene, fulfilled and relieved on the most existential level. Well, that was The Artist Village. Little money from the government, all going forward with a day job and a lot of opposition from family and society. The first attempts might have looked ugly like a newborn baby, but the love was definitely there, and the satisfaction for creation too. They must have felt that they were really up to something. In hearing about people telling about those pioneer times, you’d feel the quiet heroism.

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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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