Naima Morelli

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Shubigi Rao
When it comes to the power of imagination, Shubigi Rao is an artist that masters it. Shubigi has the capacity of completely drawing you into her world and work, which is complex, multidisciplinary and deeply entrenching. However, she also touched upon the other polarity of this chapter: the bureaucratic aspect of life. Indeed, in her critically-acclaimed 2016 book called “Pulp: A Short Biography Of The Banished Book, Vol I” , she addressed censorship, book destruction and other forms of repression, as well as looking at books as a symbols of resistance. The project is being developed over 10 years, in which time the artist is investigating the destruction of books and libraries around the world, collecting video testimonials from people involved in saving or destroying books, such as firefighters who tried to save the burning national library of Sarajevo during the civil unrest in the 1990s, or others who smuggled books and paintings to safety during times of cultural unrest.

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Gerald Leow

“Why should the government pay you to have fun?”

Yeah, right, why? Gerald Leow was the first person who phrased the question in this way. It shows that the kind of questions you ask, and the way you ask it, can result in overturning an entire vision, or perhaps making some hidden dynamics come to the surface.

This very simple question is one which artists from other countries would have asked themselves visiting Singapore, but a question that perhaps not many Singaporeans are asking themselves, perhaps not in this way. Gerald is aware of it: “I have very controversial views. I think as an artist…”, he hesitates as he ponders the words. “That’s the only thing that makes you special. It’s your mojo, you know? And then instead of protecting this thing and having full autonomy over it, you give it to someone else and say, “Here: how about you dictate what kind of work should I do?” To me it sounds ridiculous.”

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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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Zihan Loo

At the end of 2015, I was wandering around SAM8Q looking for the proverbial exit through the gift shop — as Banksy would put it. I wanted to buy some books to bring back home with me. At the ground floor of the building there was something that appeared to be what I was looking for. Shelves of interesting books, and a few on exhibition. I was thrilled. When I walked in, something was not quite right. I asked the person at the desk: “I’m sorry, this is not the museum bookshop, it is an artwork.”

Damn! This is precisely what I’m talking about when I speak of the problem with contemporary art. The work, he explained, was done by artist Zihan Loo, and was called “Of Public Interest: The Singapore Art Museum Resource Room”. The artist moved 4,500 volumes from the Singapore Art Museum’s resource room — currently not available to public — into the space of a gallery. The public were invited to shape the collection for the duration of the exhibition from August 2015 to March 2016. The conditions were that each visitor was allowed to withdraw one book from the collection, restricting the public access to this book for the duration of the exhibition. These books were shrink-wrapped and placed in a separate area of the installation.

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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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Lim Tzay-Chuen’s elliptical approach

It’s a matter of fact that when a concept is so deeply embedded in a society, often artists tackle it not as a separate topic, but in its many manifestations. As Tan Boon Hui Calvin, Vice President, Global Arts & Cultural Programs and Director, Asia Society Museum, NY, à Asia Society, puts it : “The best work engaging with the concept of bureaucracy is the elliptical in approach. I honestly do not think it will be as blunt as ‘bureaucracy’.” One example of this elliptical approach is the work of Lim Tzay Chuen.

The artist describes his work as being concerned with “offering” solutions to possible problems, becoming about administration and organisation – aspects that are an integral part of the art world, but are usually left out from the official narrative. For the Biennale of Sydney, he designed and coordinated an open proposition to the public: “Enterprising” persons who got hold of certain pages from the 2004 Biennale catalogues would enjoy the privilege of using the Artspace Gallery 1, AUD $4000, 4 nights of hotel accommodation and official inclusion as one of the invited “artists” to the Biennale.

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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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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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Take a guess: what is the opposite of artwork? It is paperwork. Whereas the artwork is open-ended, a spreadsheet is self-contained. In other words, the artwork is an object that dispels the notion of identity of objects; a notion which nonetheless is so useful for us to go around the world. We think about a bottle based on its function of containing and pouring liquid. But try to go to Swanston Street, Melbourne on Saturday night, and you’ll see how that a bottle can become a dangerous weapon. For the same reason, we are always very careful to not let kids pick up objects that are potentially dangerous, because children are oblivious to the categories that us adults create for objects and things.
While living outside the categories in everyday life is potentially dangerous – you’d be called a crazy person – the blurring and crossing over of categories is what allows creativity and imagination to happen. Kids are imaginative because they are ultimately approaching things as they are. Infinite. The truth is that things do offer themselves to ambiguity. Contemporary art is particularly apt to prove that.

While ambiguity is inherent in all objects within our reality, we have countless examples of artists that emphasize that notion in their work. To remain in contemporary Southeast Asia, think about Indonesian artist Wiyoga Muhardanto, whose entire process consists of combining two contrasting meanings – for example merging an Apple computer design to an old typewriter, or fusing a fashionable bag with old saggy skin – thus opening up multiple interpretations for the object. We have of course other examples in the milestones of art history, such as Duchamps’ upside-down urinal or Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”. Not by chance, Magritte was part of the surrealist movement, which was all about playing around with objects, subverting their meaning. Surrealists were also very keen on studying dreams – that door to our psyche where things happen outside of logic and the rational realm. In that world, the categories crumble. Our way of thinking about things by free association becomes the reality that happens before our eyes, which is a form of truth – as often madness is.

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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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