Category Archives: Singapore Biennale 2011

Gigi Scaria

By Beverly Koh

If a city’s infrastructure is the skeleton, and humans are the blood flowing through it, then we can consider urbanization, with all its complexity, as an organism driven by the dynamic migrations of people into, out of, and within the urban space. In the 1921 documentary film Manhatta by painter Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand, early 20th century Manhattan breathes with deep vitality and power as we see the awesome skyscrapers, smoking, powerful machinery and swirling crowds of people. In Manhatta, urbanization is celebrated.

And in Gigi Scaria’s works at the Singapore Biennale 2011, urbanization is also the underlying theme tying together his paintings, video and sculptural installations. Against the background of India’s accelerating economic growth and urbanization, Gigi Scaria constructs imagined cityscapes and addresses the impact of urbanization on India’s communities and social structures.

But unlike Manhatta, the cityscapes in Scaria’s work are void of anything forceful. Scaria’s body of work at the Biennale is ambitious, but for all that his works claim to be about, Scaria has fallen terribly short. His art, like virtually all the art displayed at the Biennale this year, is foremost conceptual, but not understanding his work this time is not due to having fallen into the rut of mistaking one’s inability to comprehend profound conceptual art as a flaw on the part of the artwork. Encountering his work is like facing a wall; it is dead, dull and inaccessible.

Open invitation 1 and 2 presents Scaria’s take on the future landscapes of our cities, and his is a vision where urbanization has expanded beyond our control and has consumed and trapped us within its confines. In his fictitious cityscapes, the buildings are homogenous, meticulously painted in uniform flat washes of color, dull and starkly bare. They are the mere empty skeletons of the urbanization as celebrated in Manhatta, devoid of anything alive which according to the description accompanying the artwork, is deliberate on Scaria’s part for it allows these imagined constructs to “exist for their own benefit” as opposed to “functioning as living environments”.

There is an obvious humorous irony intended, deliberate on Scaria’s part, by naming the paintings Open invitation 1 and 2. Nothing is inviting about the artwork and the sparse barren cityscapes it is presenting to the viewer, and Scaria perhaps intended his artwork to be cold and detached to show how they do not exist to serve as human habitats. And it is this insistence to portray this sterile and empty shell of futuristic urbanized spaces throughout his various artworks at the Biennale that is how the Scaria has managed to create the downfall of his art. The distilled imagery and forms of his artwork are lifeless and static. Scaria is so caught up with manifesting his artistic visions that somewhere along the artistic process he has lost sight of what he wants to say with his artwork. Whatever thought-provoking dialogue he is trying to engage with the viewer in his conceptual art is lost in translation.

His video installation is equally frustrating. I watch as a virtual book turns its pages on the video screen, carrying on the unfolding motif that we get from his paintings of the barren cityscapes; as the ‘book’ turns its pages, different landscapes are revealed to us in the same pop-out card effect of Open invitations 1 and 2. They are depictions of cramped congested urban cities, and similarly, devoid of the human. And as I stand there watching as the ‘book’ closes with an undecipherable phrase, I start to wonder about how I should react to this video work. Should I sniff disdainfully at the crude graphics and amateurish animation, worry that I am not feeling anything for the artwork or start looking around for the description card to reassure myself that there is something being portrayed here in this work that is worth pondering about but I had missed because Scaria’s work is yet again impenetrable and incomprehensible?

Yes, it is nice of him to include the sound of a turning page every time the page of the ‘book’ flipped, but it is a superfluous tidbit and nothing more. It does not serve to make the artwork anymore memorable or aid its aim, and that should be the consideration of anything an artist puts into a work.

With Steps of predicament, Scaria’s sculptural installation which is perhaps his most impressive work at the Biennale, Scaria is inspired by how architecture and city planning dictate social hierarchies. This sense of social structure is portrayed in how the triangular wedges of step-shaped apartment blocks revolve around a central axis, giving rise to a staircase winding from floor to ceiling. The abstract mimicry of windows and doors on the faces of the steps lend the entire sculpture a whimsical humor, which Scaria is fond of injecting into his work.

Displayed in the National Museum, boxed in all around by other Biennale works, Steps of predicament reminds me of a nice brightly colored piece of decoration. It was cheery to view at least, but again I was disappointed. Perhaps logistic issues restricted him in the placement of his sculpture, but ultimately it is only at the disadvantage of his art.

Steps of predicament carried on his work with sculptures that are created to exist within certain environments. Placed in the sprawling industrial landscapes of India, his previous works of his 2009 Settlement series are whimsical structures like the Steps of predicament, but their juxtaposition against the environment immediately establishes a humorous dialogue between the sculpture and their position and purpose. At the Biennale, Steps of predicament suffers as viewers of the artwork interpret the sculpture within its suffocating and unflattering museum space. It is as rousing as the hollow cityscapes Scaria is trying, but failing miserably, to entice the viewer into.

Yet, my main gripe with Gigi Scaria’s work here at the Biennale is not on whether it deserves to be shown or whether it is actually art or not, but on how there was nothing actually intuitive about his work for me. An experience with any form of art should be a rewarding experience for the viewer; it is not to say that we should always expect to leave from our time with any artwork with mini epiphanies, for that would be entirely utopian in ideal. We cannot always expect the artwork to be the active one in reaching out to us, but with his work at the Biennale, the artwork remained passive, unresponsive and made me wonder if all these tenuous connections I was attempting to make actually existed and when do I acknowledge that maybe I am the only one making the conversation in the dialogue between the artwork and the viewer.


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Filed under National Museum, Open House Notebook, Singapore Biennale 2011, Urbanization

The Open House Cleaning

By Muhammad Faisal


The sign before the Welcome To Hotel Munber by Simon Fujiwara, 2011, SB2011. Photo by Muhammaf Faisal


It’s Just A Bar!

I found myself extremely excited visiting SAM, one day. I was looking forward to see Simon Fujiwara’s Welcome to Hotel Munber in its censored entirety; never having a chance to see it unvandalized. Correction, I never had a chance to see it; full stop. I was hoping, also, to gain some explanation regarding this art-eration fiasco.

Welcome to Hotel Munber is… well… was an installation by a Japanese-British artist, Simon Fujiwara. It is an erotic novel set in 1970s Spain under the dominion of General Franco; in a reproduction of a bar at the hotel of the artist’s parents. He had realized this “novel” into an experiential installation where the stories are everywhere. Either hidden in subtle sexually connoted imagery or simply the explicit, he managed to imbibe eroticism; both the visual and literary. Sausages hanging in abundance. Penetrating bullhorns. Erotic literature pasted on succulent ham. Homoerotic photographs. Well, so I’ve heard and seen online; for, like I have said before, I have yet to see it. Displayed, also, was a genre of homosexual erotica we so easily brand as Pornography. Those were removed, of course. It was apparently SAM’s decision as stated in the 28 March 2011 Straits Times article, MUSEUM CENSORS EXPLICIT ART WORK.

Ask the artist first? Why should we? What does it matter that he spent sweat and blood to bring to life his possibly Magnum Opus, in which he invested both emotions and nostalgia. Why should we care? As long as the imaginary public is safe and laws are not broken. Ask the artist? Why should we. Apparently that was what SAM (without being too specific) felt.

I had to see it! I pasted my purple I AM MADE FOR SAM sticker and headed straight to the installation: EXHIBIT TEMPORARILY CLOSED

I enquired at the museum’s front desk. The bespectacled lady told me “… Under Maintenance… don’t know anything. It’s the Biennale curator’s decision.”

I continued interrogating this dubious docent. Where could I find out more? The Biennale’s Curator? Or his office? Surely he has people working for him. “He isn’t Singaporean,” she replied. Puzzled and unsure how that was even a reply, I requested on how I could find out when it would be reopened. She responded evasively, “It’s just a bar!”

Then why censor it.

And so I would have to write this piece of criticism without ever having seen the fabled installation.

I walked out, peeled the purple sticker, and trashed it.


Make War Not Sex: Fight Against Erotic Terrorism

It’s officially under maintenance and unofficially closed, while the artist and the museum figure things out. It is ironic how the action of maintenance should involve an attempt to keep things as they are; not changing them. And the fact that the dear docent had, on behalf of the museum, told me that it was closed and “under maintenance” after it had already been altered, is an excuse I can’t help but laugh at; wouldn’t you?

When it was only censored (not yet closed), the “Museum” had expressed that the work would not be appropriate for the public. Yet it was shown, porn and all, during private viewings. Who decides? “They” used the law as their gospel, yet if that is the case, should it not be the same for those private viewings? I mean, I know nothing about law, however, I find this double standard reminiscent of the Pompeii rediscovery and excavation in the 1800s. How the supposed scholars and gentlemen assumed that the lesser minded women and lower classes will not be able to view the erotic works objectively. So they hid all the penetration, penises and pudenda in the “Secret Museum” where only they, the educated, can “study” them. I do not wish for my wild and judgmental mind to fester on that thought; too unsettling. Note that these men eventually gave the word pornography its meaning as we now know it.

My point was to question, who gave them (SAM) the authority to choose for the public. What gives them (who obviously had to have seen the uncensored work first; thinking they have a moral distance from baseness) the right to indulge in unadulterated art and not the public?

And why is this prejudice against images of sexual nature not given also to images of violence? Louie Cordero’s pink murders too have warning signs to prepare viewers for the kitschy massacre. Yet still, it received no cleaning up from the public-conscious museum. And in a second floor gallery, I recall seeing photographs of people being murdered, lynched and hanged. I saw no warning signs for that. Hugh Heffner, the father of Playboy once said, “I think one of the great sadness is the fact that the very notion of obscenity is connected to sex, instead of to violence. Why (are) the most loving part of our nature and images related to them are considered obscene? (This) suggests very strongly that we a have a very cockeyed view of what is really moral.”

We have to protect the public; an argument I’ve heard before. Is Sex the new form of terrorism? Is Fujiwara’s Bar a threat? And I wonder, does the fact that it is gay in content (on top of being explicit) matter in why it was corrected?

Something tells me it does.


The Art Director As The Artist

It’s a strange concept where an art director has the power and control to change any artwork as He or She see fit; a scary notion to artists everywhere. I mean, art criticism is fine. But when the act of criticism involves corrections and possible changes to the work, the “museum” steals the role of the artist.

Guardians of our museums must remember their roles; respect the art, respect the artist. You are not the creator but the exhibitor; an equally and undeniably important responsibility. Put up your signs. Brand the works with warnings. Let people decide for themselves whether to love or hate the artwork.

There was clearly some fickleness as well, the fact that this issue did not happen from the very beginning, whatever the reason may be; morality or pressure. Should the museum have a clear stand from the start? Or is indecisiveness simply its virtue?


Open House Warming… Not Burning

Here, I implore anyone who cares to listen for a bit. Fujiwara, like many artists, invested his history into this one piece of work, in an attempt to tell us who he is; hoping that some people would connect with it. I am a student of the homosexual erotica genre; art and literature. I have been made to believe that it was immoral. Art that attacks us at the most basic of our nature, sexual arousal, I believe is wonderful. It is a direct connection to the viewer. Fujiwara’s work reminded me that sex is a beautiful human experience; we have forgotten that. The subtle and the explicit play together, letting your mind titillate itself in the process of decoding secret erotic messages; you are the naughty little child again.

And he was probably a child when he was at that bar in Spain. And before that, many other young men and women, while under General Franco’s reigned; told that sex and their sexuality were wrong. How many forms of erotic expression were condemned? And now, our youths, some of whom are scared being homosexuals and in need of self expression; reading and listening about how we so easily muzzle and burn what we effortlessly brand as indecent to the public. Think. Think before we allow them to hate their own voices.

They are listening.

We should listen too.


The Closed Open House

 Ironically, this very act of censorship seems to be publicity for the work. It is all everyone talks about when it comes to the Biennale; taking all the attention from the other works and, in a way, censoring them from the public subconsciously. I recently spoke to one of my professors who gave a lecture once regarding multimedia and alternative writing. I told her about Fujiwara’s approach to writing in his Hotel Munber. She admitted that, due to her lack of knowledge regarding the Arts scene, she had not heard of him or his works. Then I said, “He got censored though.”

And her eyes widened as she grinned, “Oh! That art work!”

Also, it is undeniably apt, for the Fujiwara exhibit to be censored, for it tells of a time when erotica was banned during the Fascist regime. And so, the censorship added a depth to the meaning of the work; the tyrannical act of suppression still lives… here. However, one could also argue: what if you do not know the work was censored and you see it in its altered form? The added meaning might have been lost to you.

Well, of course, that was when it was simply censored. Now it had been totally closed and this development would undoubtedly “transform” the work. As someone who has yet to see it, I can admit that I am unsure of how the work is “truly” like; only second hand whispers and glimpses. The artist might have decided to close the work till a conclusion to this issue is found; an attempt to save his darling. Yet, this Invisible Work seems to have evolved; almost mythologized.  It becomes infused with so much meaning and significance, even the political; me writing this is evidence enough. And all because it cannot be seen. When something is barred from the public, a fantasy will gild the work; like a Biennale Martyrdom. Whether that was the effect originally intended when the action was taken, does not seem to make difference. The work had still “grown” behind its closed doors.

The Hotel Munber by Simon Fujiwara is still closed. I called to check… everyday. That same “It’s-Just-A-Bar” lady picks up every time. However, I have been assured that it will be resolved soon; whether a green or red light is a different matter. Still doubting it, though.

Still, I’ve sadly yet to see it.

I am starting to think, for an Open House, it’s pretty Closed.


Post Cleaning: An Afterword

Writing this piece has been a little complicated for me. The main problem lies in discussing an art work I have not even seen. The closing of the Hotel Munber left a vacuum; a nothingness that saps attention away from the entire Biennale. And in its absence, people still address it. An irony, I have yet to settle.

It also makes you ponder on the transformative nature of an artwork; capable of changes over time and, of course, with actions acted upon it. This could probably be the only saving grace of what has happened.

 So yes, how does one address the mentioned artwork when it has disappeared from access and from the Biennale? And in my case, how do you do it when you have not even seen it, censored or otherwise? Are the limitless libraries of photographs online sufficient? I tried to do it. I found myself investing my thoughts on what was happening to the work, instead of the work itself. Then, after laboriously writing “OPEN HOUSE CLEANING” I found myself asking, “Do I really like the Hotel Munber?” I couldn’t answer this. My affections for the piece, it seemed, stem from my disapproval of the injustice that it had been submitted to; not the work itself. I laughed at that notion. Could this absent artwork or any other censored, banned or “temporarily closed” work be at risk, being valued for what happened to them and, dare I say it, their scandal? And that it is less about the direct emotional reaction to the works and their meanings?

It made me think about whether we can criticise art that we have not seen in person; that the being in the presence of the work is a necessity. And if we focus too much attention on fighting censorship with pen on paper, we might not be fair to the work. We too might be glazing over it.

 The open house might be closed. However, talking about the iron fences is not nearly close enough to talking about the masterpieces they protect us from.

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Filed under Censorship, Open House Notebook, Simon Fujiwara, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore Biennale 2011

All Lines Flow Out, in more ways than one

By Fareez Ahmad

As a child, I grew up in Sunset Way and attended Henry Park Primary School on Holland Grove Road. I had adventurous friends who liked to explore the maze of drains from Clementi to Buona Vista, simply because we were young and hungry to discover the world around us. For my friends and I, the network of waterways were a kind of alternate reality, a mysterious underground world.

Surprised at having these childhood memories bubble to the surface upon having encountered Charles Lim’s commissioned work for the Singapore Biennale 2011 at the Old Kallang Airport, I decided once again to explore this world, this time through the artwork entitled ‘All Lines Flow Out’, which comprises a video installation as well as an installation of two drainage ‘socks’ suspended from the ceiling of the space. The work takes the form of an urban exploratory adventure which examines the political, geographical and environmental dimensions of water in the Singaporean context.

Drainage socks, I imagine, are installed in various parts of the waterways and act as filters which trap rubbish and debris. The ones on display in the space, each about three meters in length, have accumulated pieces of refuse, but mostly brown leaves, giving them the bulging, organic appearance of Eva Hesse sculptures. The video, looped on a panoramic three-part screen roughly two and a half meters wide and half a meter from top to bottom, features a narrative which explores the drainage waterways as well as the aquatic periphery of Singapore. We see from a first-person perspective different points on Singapore’s waterways, most likely to have been filmed from aboard a vessel, as we occasionally hear the gentle splashes of the paddle as it propels the boat gently on its course.

Each sequence in the video is like a living photograph. In most scenes, the camera makes only gentle movements, allowing the viewers to immerse themselves in the visuals. Beautifully composed, they cast a mundane subject matter in poetic light. Its lingering pace allows one to meditate on the associations conjured up by the images.

The act of navigating a vessel on water alludes to the discovery of Singapore by Sang Nila Utama, who arrived via sea after a tropical storm and soon (re)named the island Singapura. The founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company too, undoubtedly arrived by ship. It was also he who noted that Singapore was surrounded by very deep waters, and decided that it would make an ideal port for ships travelling from Europe to the Far East. This geographical feature continues to play a major role in shaping the island’s economic prosperity as well as its social landscape.

A bridge appears in each of the film’s ‘navigating’ scenes. It is a deliberate and significant symbol alluding to the massive bridges linking Singapore and Malaysia, the country which the island state used to be a part of and from which it gets a significant portion of its drinking water supply. The Johor-Singapore Causeway, which is a road, rail and pedestrian link also serves as a water pipeline. It is ironic that while tropical Singapore is surrounded by water and receives heavy annual rainfall, its quest for water self-sufficiency persists till the present. Indeed, as the video suggests, the waterways eventually lead to the aquatic periphery of Singapore. In one scene, we are presented with a panoramic vista dotted with kelongs – wooden dwellings built out in the sea for the purpose of rearing fish for commercial consumption. In the distance we gaze upon a familiar landscape which betrays an odd detail, a large white cylindrical structure, which is indeed a water containment tank. Then from behind one of the kelongs, a Singapore Coast Guard patrol boat casually reverses into view, drawing an imaginary line demarcating the boundaries between two territories on the water’s surface.

If each landscape presents a piece of a large puzzle, the people in the video serve to compound the mystery, being referred to as ‘immigrant workers’ whose individual identities are not made known to us. Their motivations are also shrouded in ambiguity as they appear alone or in groups clad in diaphanous raincoats, exploring the aquatic passages, at times appearing in unexpected places and unusual situations, and often we struggle to determine their political or moral affiliation. Having been attributed neither individual identities nor speech, their bodily gestures and movements acquire an enigmatic gestural and performative quality, and even in the scenes when several of them seem to be engaging with the debris accumulated in a canal, one questions whether they truly accomplish anything at all.

The vividly coloured guppies, with their bodily movements echoing the gentle swaying of the aquatic plants with the water currents, suggest a commentary on an environmental issue. Then in one of the most poignant scenes in the narrative, one of the men stands still in the stream of ankle-deep water with his back towards the camera, as an unexpected fluid cloud of white emanates from his feet and soon permeates the water, in a magic-realist act of cleansing. It must surprise viewers who are well acquainted with the popular notion of prosperous Singapore as a clean and green ‘Garden City’ to observe how much rubbish is present floating along its waterways, evident in the video as well as the drain socks in the space.

In contrast to the rich content of the video, the drain socks however, appear to be a rather perfunctory element. But perhaps an artist proficient at teasing our minds into thought by means of suggestion included it as a compass in directing our interpretation of the video and the installation as a whole. They are particularly symptomatic of the postmodern contemporary art condition, being nondescript, utilitarian ‘everyday’ objects removed from their usual context to be displayed in the art space in its unadulterated form, with leaves and pieces of garbage intact and discernible through the netting.

In a city of residents who complain endlessly about the boredom of inhabiting a small island-city state, it is refreshing to witness a Singaporean artist addressing aspects of the local landscape in an attempt to deepen our understanding of it by looking at it through historical, political, geographical, and environmentalist paradigms. And as a photographer who is interested in exploring the Singaporean landscape, I identify with Charles Lim’s situation of living in a cosmopolitan city, the landscape of which is constantly and aggressively changing. Old buildings, for instance, even those of historical significance, often do not survive the onslaught of progress. The Singapore Biennale 2011 is itself partly staged at one of these old buildings, radically transforming its former utilitarian purpose. Not far away, the colossal magnificence of the former National Stadium has been recently retired from existence.

The artwork can be seen as the artist’s attempt to engage with the local landscape in a deeper manner, to quench his thirst for exploration and enhancing his understanding of the subject matter. The process of making the artwork becomes a mode of learning, thinking, and sharing one’s findings and is done out of a need to form a kind of psychological affinity and security about one’s grounding in an ever-shifting external world. The beauty of ‘All Lines Flow Out’ lies in its ability to raise questions and associations, conjuring a certain joy in its artistic yet ambiguous nature and in neither being too direct nor allowing only a constrained, singular interpretation of the artwork. Indeed, beginning with those childhood memories of exploring the mysterious underground world of drains and canals, I found that it was in fact my lines of thought which were flowing out.

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Filed under Charles Lim, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook, Singapore Biennale 2011

A Roof and Four Walls

By Guo Yixiu and Choo Jing Sarah


“When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story’s voice makes everything its own. “ John Berger

Because this morning, someone told me how “blasphemous” it was.

Inexplicably awesome is what it is.

I walked into a room filled with these videos projected on all sides. “Kitsch!” I thought; the graphics seemed awful at first. There were furniture laid around the room; each piece (a sofa, a dining area and a bed), facing a particular video.

I wanted to walk away. I was not ready to sit myself through what seemed like a disappointment. As I attempted to brisk walk across the room, I could not help but have my eyes fixed upon the fast moving images, and their frequent bursts of neon colors.

Eventually, I sat down, willing for a chance to be surprised. I skipped the bed, (it felt too personal), and sat on the sofa instead. I put on the headpiece and started listening. High pitched sounds flowed into my ears; reminding me of that horrible Akon song, “Lonely”.  The voices were half singing, half speaking. I realized that I was in some teenage girl’s room. ‘Yikes’. There was no central character. Just these girls in conversation (they were often scolding one another or were upset about something). It was like watching one of those Korean dramas mother watches, fused together with an ‘MTV’ video. Everyone within the video wore face paint or a costume of some kind. Graphics were often used to juxtapose to the videos. Basically, Trecartin used almost all and any kinds of graphics possible to obtain. They come in an array of shapes and sizes. They overlay, move and often included texts; sometimes internet lingos if necessary. Metaphors were aplenty! The act of smashing glasses, mirrors, and expelling their anger, wearing wigs, painting their faces, swearing, dancing and pretending.

Basically, all I am attempting to show here is that it is not at all easy to know what he is talking about. And like me, you would probably have forgotten (given a week or two) what the video was about in the first place. However, apart from most of the works in the Biennale, you’ll find yourself reminded of this, frequently.

The truth is, Trecartin is one of the few artists who understands and utilizes the media language amazingly. (Forget Pop Art and Andy Warhol; those are now high art). He is able to create a language that is current and relatable to our current day.  His video utilizes the strength of current music, and are highly kinetic; bombarding the viewers with a frenzy of images in a rhythmic fashion. What is so significant is that the visuals work so well with the sounds. It works! It works because this is exactly the kind of environment which people relate to today, as we all lead our fast paced lifes. Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times once wrote an article entitled “At Louvre, Many Stop to Snap but Few Stay to Focus” . As the title suggests, Kimmelman noticed the trend where the experience of going to a museum, has been transformed into a quick, snap and go. Whether this is good or bad is not important to our discussion of the artwork here. But in relevance to Trecartin’s work, it definitely supports his work with the demand of a new language that speaks to the people.

In being able to connect to a viewer through the language of the medium (see how I sat down, though I had intended to move on). The viewer then begins to absorb certain parts of the work. Trecartin again, succeeds here by ensuring that metaphors stand out more than the storyline itself, so the first and most important thing you’ll leave with are those metaphors. In doing so, one does not simply absorb the visuals, but rather, easily retains them as well.

I could be discussing Trecartin’s work in greater depth here. But I do not think it is important to refer to those ideas here (family, society, individualism mass media etc.) After all, how much can anyone ever know about a work? How much time would an average person, holding a full time job etc., be able to look into it? Has the Biennale not always been about “impressions”? If the artist were to be able to implant strong impressions, would it not thus be more effective? Trecartin had said himself “time is altered to enhance and encourage felt experience”. People need not get his work. Perhaps he could be the only person in this “Whole Wide World” to really understand it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Works can and should be personal. Yet to be able to leave a room, feeling as though you had an immensely tense, but queer experience that leaves you lingering thinking about it for days; now that’s something.

On top of that, like many other great works out there, it utilizes the strategy of subjectivity. You cannot be objective with his work. It is so personal to an extent that you would either love or hate his work. Either way, you leave with a thought and a feeling.


Because this morning, someone told me it was ‘inexplicably awesome’.


I was jolted awake by rapidly moving images and bizarre characters attacking from all four corners of the room. Watching from the doorway, reflections from several pairs of glazed eyes exposed Ghoulish characters trapped within a mass of static and blurs. Their faces stained; their bodies distorted. The thick application of dirty white and gawdy pink paints was smeared on their faces; like that of Picasso’s unwashed palette. Like ‘oh-my-god-save-me-now’. I was trying hard not to look at the screen.  Strained and exhausted, I focused on getting past this room filled with flashes of neon pink and dirty yellow. The subtle yet lingering nag of the repetitive musical instrumental aggravated the intense throbbing in my head. Hysteria.

The only thing inviting amidst this disorientated cluster of moving images was represented in the form of furniture. Yes, couches, chairs and even a bed. Succumbing to the enticing and possible satisfaction which this couch could bring, I acceded to watch this visual mass in hope of finding some form of epiphany which might change my perception of what seemed to be a self indulgent film. And yet, the minute I put on my headphones and looked ahead, I was confronted with a sensory assault.

It is the theatre of the absurd and cruelty. Not my cup of tea.

By now, I had forced myself to watch the disturbing, and “visually narrative time sculptures”, at least three times. And whilst I felt as if I had been run over by about 40 trucks, hammered on the head 27 times and stabbed in the stomach 12 times; I am no where nearer to understanding the reason behind such a disconcerting production.

Gaudy pinks and greens were discomforting.  It was perhaps the combination of such De Kooning hued makeup on attention-demanding youths that leads one to relate his work to that of an amateur. The experimental nature of Trecartin’s works puts one’s opinions to the extreme. I cannot deny that there might have been moments of illusive proficiency; where the peculiarity of his cast and their improvisatory abilities made for utter brilliance. However, there were just as many, if not more moments that came off as mannered and exasperating; like the persistent and jarring antics of an overindulged and over stimulated child.

Throughout the repetitive videos, I saw the same motifs and style present in all of them. Perhaps this dread and revulsion one experiences is the desired effect; to exemplify contemporary culture’s ludicrous aspects through the combination, into one “loathsome beast”.  I’d rather, however, Trecartin tell me something which I don’t already know.

About a third into the second video, it finally dawned upon me that the type of seating complimented the length of his video works. Indeed, the furniture brings about different intensities of comfort according to the duration of suffering which one has to endure. From bleachers in front of the shortest film to a consoling Queen Sized bed in front of a 40 minute video.

Sprawled across the bed, I found this all too familiar. One’s begging mind and struggling limbs desperately trying to break free amidst this fully conscious experience. Like my first encounter with sleep paralysis.

Whilst I appreciate the subtle nuances in the layering of his videos, I was rather appalled by the display of Trecartin’s films in a museum. The overlaying tunes and distorted, fast paced voices speaking what might be interpreted as Gibberish, served to be entertaining on a certain level; like that of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” which proved to be a big hit.  Yet, I find myself questioning the value of art in his videos. Perhaps his works should remain on online spaces such as Youtube, instead of being brought to an exhibition space. In addition, one observes that a rather spacious area has been dedicated for these jittering moving images accompanied by shrill voices and high pitched laughter. This unique combination of Duchamp and Warhol taking up such a generous amount of space thus provokes much controversy.

Indeed Trecartin’s work tests the boundaries of creative practice. I am sure he applies a dense and precise focus on editing and the meaning generated by those edits. Hence, I shall not compare his work with fellow video artists Kalup Linzy  and Pipilotti Rist. Trecartin’s intent for his work to have a ‘lack of distinction in binary terms’ , certainly proved to be successful. The ‘ride-like digestion of the story’(according to Mr Trecartin himself) exemplifies his ability in achieving his intent. Yet in effectively conveying his message, I would say his language ‘so does not work for me’. It is really not all that fantastic and I am only relieved to not have to go through this experience all over again.

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Filed under Artists in the News, Open House Notebook, Ryan Trecartin, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore Biennale 2011