Naima Morelli

Singaporean Contemporary Art in Milan and a mysterious lady

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Some time ago a friend of mine – Bietolone we will call him – told me that he was waiting at the clinic of venereal diseases in London (a banal candida, he quickly added). In the waiting room a tall slim bombshell from Russia struck up a conversation. She said she was sick of London and she wanted to move elsewhere. Like, in that very moment. She explained she was a sculptor, and England was no place to live for an artist anymore. When he heard that Bietolone gulped. He notoriously had a soft spot for artists. He would have already asked her out if only they wouldn’t have met at the clinic of venereal diseases.

She proclaimed that the future for the arts was in Asia, and she had already picked a city to live: Singapore. She threw her blonde hair behind her shoulders and asked Bietolone in a heavily accented English: “Do you want to come with me?”
“Let me think about it” he replied seriously.
She scribbled her number on a piece of paper, gave it to him and disappeared in the stairwell before even getting her diagnosis.

Now, there is one thing you must know about Bietolone. This Italian curly-haired dude in his early thirties has always been an hopeless dreamer. He walked home under the thin snow, overwhelmed by orientalists visions of sails at sunsets, pagodas, Russian blondes lounging at his side James Bond style and what not.

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In front of his apartment, he hesitated before putting the key in the lock. He knew behind that door was his lovely girlfriend waiting for him on the sofa. The dinner was probably on the table while his worn-out guitar was laying in a corner, ready to be played, like every evening. He looked once more at the piece of paper with the number. That was the possibility of a different, exciting life. Would he have been able to throw everything behind his shoulders and start anew in Singapore? He was feeling the kind of vertigo one has when deciding to jump from a very tall rock into the sea. You’re about to do it, but then fear stops you last minute and you’re left with that chill. When you finally give up and walk away the chill becomes relief and then regret.

Bietolone made his choice. He put the paper back in his pocket, unlocked the door and walked in. And there it was; the home he knew, the life he knew, his tender girlfriend on the sofa putting the book she was reading away to hug him.
The number was left in the pocket of his jeans until the jeans were washed a first and a second time, until the paper became a small unrecognizable white bundle, just like all the other bundles from supermarket receipts and metro tickets. Needless to say, he never went to Singapore.

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When I entered the gallery Primo Marella in Milan, I suddenly remembered that story. Strolling through the artworks, I thought how little Bietolone’s romantic idea of Singapore had to do with reality. A little romanticism never hurts in life – I’m hundred per cent guilty of it too. One thing are life decisions. When it comes to contemporary art though, you should abandon your Corto Maltese reveries. Whether it is a blonde gal or a comic book store owner in Via di Ripetta to sell them to you.

Truth is, the majority of the artists exhibiting at Primo were not even based in Singapore for the good part of the year. Although there is an interesting artists’ community over there, Singaporeans are travellers by nature. They are constantly seeking new stimuli and tendencies from around the world.
The exhibition Bright S’Pore proved that. Aside from nationality, the major link between the diverse outputs of these artists was unquestionably the use of a distinctive global language. Even though Singapore is a young country, local artists have an astounding knowledge of both Eastern and Western art. That makes their work accessible and engaging to a vast audience.

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Bright S’Pore presented five of the country’s most educated, multi-cultural and gifted artists. By selecting artists working across different mediums, the gallery aimed to give a glimpse of the variety of artistic techniques at play in the Lion City. The exhibition started with Robert Zhao Renhui’s science-based photographs and continued with the conceptual installations of Genevieve Chua. The minimalistic monochromes of Jeremy Sharma counterpointed the whimsical and expressionist paintings of Ruben Pang. The exhibition concluded with Donna Ong’s meticulous installations and enchanting light boxes.

“For us, Singapore represents one of the most lively and vibrant art scenes in Asia, on both a cultural and an economic level” stated Vincenzo, Primo Marella Gallery’s assistant. “Today whoever wants to start a discussion about Asian art must take Singapore into account.”

I had to acknowledge that once again Primo Marella had been far-sighted. Being the gallery which introduced Chinese and Indonesian artists to Italy, it still is the go-to gallery when it comes to presenting new art scenes.

The exhibition’s reception had been very good indeed, in both critical and commercial terms.
The Milanese public in particular could relate to artists coming from a country which has a lot in common with their city. “Singapore and Milan are both educational, financial and logistical centres as well as trading platforms – and they both have a strong interest in art. A mutual understanding just comes natural” explained me Vincenzo.

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By the way, I heard from Bietolone just recentely, and he’s now desperate to go to Singapore. He’s frantically trying to get in contact with the Russian girl. He even came back to the clinic of venereal diseases to ask if they remembered a blonde and tall patient of theirs. But nothing. You know how these English secretaries are – especially with pushy Italian dudes blatantly trying to charm the pants off secretaries. Perfectly cute English secretaries, actually. Single and available, if you really want to know. “What was so special with that Russian vixen anyways?” the clinic’s secretary grunted, feeling neglected.

Never ask the number of a girl to another girl, that’s the first takeaway. The second is: hop on that plane to Singapore whenever you have the chance. Both Primo Marella and the Russian girl were right. If you’re into contemporary art, right now the Lion City is the place to go.

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Img 1: ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI
Expedition #46, ‘The Glacier Study Group’, 2012
Archival pigment print
84 x 121 cm

Img 2: RUBEN PANG
Snake Juice, 2014
Oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminium composite panel
75 x 60 cm

Img 3: JEREMY SHARMA
Terra Faktura (black band), 2014
Poured enamel paint on double dibond and synthetic polymer (nylon) mounted on aluminium channel
24 x 17 x 5.08 cm

Img  4: DONNA ONG
Letters From a Forest, 2014
Wooden boxes, acrylic, cut illustrations, LED lights, found objects and furniture
150 x 160 x 100 cm

Img 5: GENEVIEVE CHUA
Swivel #2, Discretion, 2014
acrylic and screenprint with enamel on shaped canvas, steel bracket
42 x 31 x 4,5 cm

Img 6: JEREMY SHARMA
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