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’.

Blasphemous.

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

It’s Not What It Seems, Or Is It?

By Candice Choong

It was a sign that brought me to an abrupt halt. Not an avid reader when it comes to viewing art, I prefer to let the pictures or objects do the talking. However, this was an exception. Boldly lit in neon orange and in capitalised font, there was no way I could resist the attention this sign warranted. Not wanting to waste too much time on words, I hurriedly skimmed the phrase, half anticipating it to be information about the exhibit. But I was wrong.

“THE WORK YOU ARE ABOUT TO VIEW IS OF A SPIRITUAL NATURE AND MAY BE UNCOMFORTABLE FOR SOME VIEWERS”.

Irony clouded the scene as I tried to reread and digest the warning. It puzzled me to think which artist would risk a decline in visitors for his work after numerous hours of painstaking effort. Then again, it could be a gesture of kindness to preempt what lies ahead, which may pose discomfort to some, given the ‘unorthodox’ genre he decided to venture into.

Scepticism stirred within. For a moment, I tried deciphering the message embedded in the sign. Surely it was merely harmless teasing on the artist’s attempt to elicit unnecessary fear for his audience. Moreover, the bright blue sky outside made a clear note. Like in many movies, it was almost impossible for the dwelling of spiritual beings in such conditions. I strode forward, silently accepting the challenge proposed by the artist.

A little further down, hung another sign, similar to its predecessor. This time, the words read: “ENERGY HAS BEEN CHANNELLED. FOR BETTER RESULTS SPRAY FOREHEAD.”

Two transparent bottles intricately decorated with motifs of gold-silver combination stood below. As I internalized the image that greeted me, any remnants of doubt vanished. The tinge of confidence I initially clung onto had morphed into apprehension. Perhaps malevolent spirits can exist in broad daylight. I shudder at the thought and immediately heeded the advice before entering the room. At that time, I had strayed from my group of friends and there was nobody else around. Heaving a deep breath and ensuring I was properly covered in the ‘protective’ fluid, I slowly inched past the edge of the room. It was not an easy movement, especially having to bear the unsettledness of the prior advice. My eyes were opened to allow glimpses of light through. It was a pose of ‘flight’, lest I became the innocent brunt of any aggressive blows thrown by those supernatural forces. If there was anything I have learnt when it comes to dealing with creatures of non-human origins, they only attack when provoked or offended.

To my huge surprise, the room was radically different to my imagination. There were no floating species. Neither were there any decorations to make the place look like the ‘House of Horrors’. Instead, lying flatly on the ground was an angular structure supported with metal tubes. From an aerial angle, it was a map depicting the artist’s star sign. At a more distant area, a peculiarly shaped glass sculpture stood atop two thin wooden planks. A black stone was placed at the centre of the entire geometric construction. Outside the ornamental setup was 108 neatly arranged translucent plastic bottles, all filled with water hitting the three-quarter meniscus. Red thread was the tangible connection tying together the aforementioned items.

Dane Mitchell has indeed understood, and succeeded in manipulating the human psyche of his visitors. The human driving force behind this installation titled The Dragon, The Purple Forbidden Enclosure has also evidently reflected his calibre in the art of language. It was the whole emotional roller-coaster, the silent struggles between head and heart, and the anti-climactic finality that rendered his work memorable, and worthy of lauding. This was albeit the simplistic arrangement and his choice of engaging common, ordinary objects. I marvelled at the cleverly strung phrases. It was indeed a controversial method, unlike most typical works that angled towards explaining the rationale or the content itself. It dawned on me the essential quality of language in the presentation and ‘packaging’ of art works. Somehow, it cannot be secondary to the creation, although we are extremely familiar with the cliché the latter (the ‘picture’ if you will) equates to a thousand words.

In addition, the Kiwi artist’s ingeniously planned layout enforced a certain route for visitors. This enhanced the illusion that the room was rather cluttered despite the minimal object presence. Red thread, as applied in the bounding, held a symbolic connotation. It’s frequently associated with birth and death in Chinese traditions.

But in the installation’s context, it suggested a different intention in engaging the viewers to explore the paradigm of relationships between people and within self. And there was no better portrayal than Mitchell’s piece. His play on the idea of relationships was elucidated by the dilemma viewers were trapped in as they deliberated whether to approach or withdraw. It’s also illustrated in the artefacts where some are rigid and others are fluid. Lastly, the use of space toys with the contrast of emptiness and capacity.

The room, as Mitchell claims, was assembled under the assistance of a local spiritual medium. However, knowledge of this is delegated below a refreshing revelation involving language and concept of tapping into the spiritual realm. Upon a second glance, it does lead one to wonder if the so-called energies he forewarned harboured a figurative meaning. It’s nothing beyond the emotional conundrums and conflicts built on the prior conceived idea.

Through the adoption of this provocative approach, the exhibit achieved its attempt to interact with the viewers. Those who tended to exercise caution, like me, would pause to deliberate if it was wise to continue the journey albeit the preamble. Others of the braver calibre may be challenged to uncover the authenticity of the signs. It may be possible that they relish in the thought of living to tell their first-hand encounters with the spiritual realm. All these responses, unbeknownst to us, were a communication between the exhibit and ourselves, and within ourselves. Snippets of elucidation include our deliberation for retreat or advancement, to attain psychological security with the ‘holy water’ or left to our humanly devices for defence, as well as the sudden plunge after discovering the truth.

The Dragon, The Purple Forbidden Enclosure is also a protype in marrying images and language. As mentioned earlier, the atmosphere takes on a more mundane note in the absence of the two attention-seeking signs. Inside the seemingly dilapitated building of the Old Kallang Airport lies a treasure of creative works. Some may be more conspicuous, as they have the advantage of size, texture, interaction. Such elements would, in a way, make them hard to ignore. But there are those which lurk on corners, staircase edges and walls. These works can be found if the viewer metciulously notices them (they were by the artist Nedko Solakov, through his local ‘medium’ Liao Jiekai). And to erase any mistaken conceptions, they are not acts of vandalism, but scribblings coated with a sense of humour and puns. “Cable car for little people”, one might read, placed neatly below two ‘stick people’ perched on a slightly portruding surface.“The Noose”, another said, accompanied by a picture of a hanging man.

But there was only one I sincerely lauded with an immense burst of silent applause.

Written in black marker ink on the not-so-pristine surfaces was the phrase “Liquid containing many minerals you need”. If I could freeze time and dichotamise the reactions that bubbled upon registering the message, the first thought flitting past my mind began with the word “What?”. It was curiosity, on my part, to solve the mystery, to find out the nutritious liquid. There was a transient switch to the urge to perhaps, scour supermarkets and pharmacies for the beverage too (a desire I have innately as a health-conscious person).

My eyes peered up to the object seated majestically before the phrase and my lips curved to a smile. It was something available almost everywhere, accessible to almost everyone, and it may be considered the most economical fluid. Yet, the benefits swimming in the liquid cannot really stand as a contentious point. After all, it was a commodity we need it everyday, while taking it for granted at times too.

A plastic bottle of water.

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Filed under Dane Mitchell, Open House Notebook

Art for learning, more than appreciation

By Quek Jia Liang

Artists in the news by Koh Nguang How is one of the best pieces in the Singapore Biennale. Local in its origin, it highlights the state of art in Singapore, while challenging notions of where art exists. More than a pure appreciation of beauty Koh presents to us an art that is both an expression as well as a tool to highlight the knowledge that is forgotten in our world. Here is an art for learning, more than appreciation.
How can one understand this piece of work? Stepping into the exhibition one will be astounded by the spectacle before you, here is a room with newspaper lining every wall, stacked upon the floor, a bewildering amount of printed information which we mostly fail to confront in our daily routines. Showing how much our experience with the printed medium has dwindled in this digital age. The knowledge here is almost boundless and presented to us like a spectacle of our ignorance, of the things we throw away and only fragmentarily remember, to be left on print, permanently inscribed in the history of words printed, seen but forgotten.
On closer inspection one realizes that here presented before us is not just a barrage of fragmented ideas but specifically the many newspapers that mention art, from the 1980 to our current day. News of the art that coexists with news of poltical agendas, news of budgets, entertainment, news of an absurd tabloid nature, news that deserve a mention, news that doesn’t.
So art is not so foreign from life after all. But why do we know so little? Is it just entertainment? Or are there critical ideas and notions charting our growth as a nation? So much news was written about the art, but how little do we know? How much of our history of art in Singapore have we forgotten? To be buried in the incredible pace of life; though the media overwhelms us but how often can we see it being unraveled?
In this gallery space, in the form of an installation, Koh Nguang How presents to us an altar of his wish for us to learn and remember. We circumambulate it absorbing the words. Here is an expression of artistic obsession manifested through the relentless collection and archiving of news; not selectively chosen but raw newspaper left uncut.
He transforms the mundane found pieces of information into forms of personal expression; stepping deeper into his space, flowers bloom upon the floor, constructed of newspaper, pencils, markers, of all colours. Strange objects constructed of paper.  A mushroom cloud cascading as it falls upon the floor with news of disasters and earthquakes. A strange bipedal creature with a wheel for legs; surfing across the room, carrying news of animals and news of art upon its back. Leaves of paper falls in between cracks, growing with time, transforming.
Here is a utopian world, Koh’s personal garden of Eden, where the art and news flower and grow. He is not the master of this world, but its gardener, plucking and trimming the parts and pieces that are out of place, giving a purpose to these newspaper forms, lending them meaning for us to understand each creature’s form and purpose. The news are not just information but a source of deep historical knowledge that is so often forgotten. The preciousness of such knowledge is manifested into a visual form. We are but the invited guests to harvest this rich bounty that he has farmed. He shows us that in these words lies the signifiers and clues to understand not just the art objects he present to us, but also clues to understand our contemporary world in Singapore as well. He yearns to make art come alive. Art is like nature to him. A reflection of our need to speak not purely through words, but in a visual form
At the end of one wall lies an old steel rack, on it is an opened monthly publication; a page of a newspaper dated from the 1980 “Art for learning more than appreciation” is its headline, a piece about Tang Da Wu’s Earthworks. A work lost in the history of time. Beside the rack are two large Chinese letter “工 地”,  a flip of the original title to “work earth” or a construction site. This changes the whole context at which one understand this work, no longer are we but innocent harvesters of such knowledge but participants in a construction process of putting together knowledge into a cohesive whole with which one starts to ponder about the nature of art portrayed in the media. Is art truly seen as a tool for learning? Do we even try to learn something from works of art? How do we as viewers harvest this bounty and keep it growing?
This is a work of an intensely private nature, where the abundance of ideas are derived from the intricate details within the news. Here our naivety is made obvious, and so is our lacking of a cohesive canon in Singapore art. It critiques the media portrayal of art itself.  Such is the intricate web which Koh Nguang How has woven among the many pieces of information. Therefore it takes a viewer time and patience to unravel the many fragments of this work to see his underlying intentions, and meanings. For me I see his presence in the gallery space as being part of a performative act of art. He becomes part and parcel of his art object, where the depth of ideas and thought processes can only be further brought to light by the gardener of the space itself. Though one may not be able to unravel the meanings and significance, one can stand in awe at the amount and obsession his passion creates. The little signifiers he derives from the mundane words on paper, still does give the keen observer all the clues to make sense of the immensity of the spectacle.
One leaves this installation, half overwhelmed, half in awe, deeply pondering upon the little elements of our daily world that we take for granted, knowledge left forgotten amidst the piles sent to the karung guni. Koh has succeeded in many ways to provoke thought in us not just in the visual beauty that he has leant to mundane objects but in the idea that such mundane timeless knowledge deserves to be relooked and contemplated upon.

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Filed under Artists in the News, Open House Notebook

Construction

By Kiyoko Mori

One of the goals of the Biennale this year was to portray the different spaces in Singapore. Both SAM and 8Q contain works related to the constant urban development construction in Singapore. It was stated in the media release that with the ‘theme’ Open House, the Biennale intended to invite viewers to engage in otherwise guarded boundaries of private and public space. Although in Ceal Folyer’s incredibly absurd work Construction in 8Q, the drilling and hammering noises made it hard to engage with the space. The noise was distasteful and painful to the ears. At a glance I was unimpressed, and even a little bit insulted at the notion that I have to take this work seriously.

I entered the room shocked to find nothing visually interesting or engaging, but a square space defined by four white walls.  After a while, as I was about to step outside, noises of hammering started coming out from different sides followed by drilling and sanding noises. All that noise added to the frustration and irritation of the whole experience. Personally, I found it ridiculous to have a dedicated space that contained nothing but white blank slate walls. The noises of drilling definitely did not make the space more inviting. The walls were white almost certainly by choice, and not any other color, to suggest an ubiquitous appearance.

These were, indeed, my initial thoughts for the first few minutes of walking around the empty space. Annoyed, and yet, sufficiently provoked by such an installation, I decided to give it another chance. I stepped back out to check the description. Reading made me rethink my initial thoughts and I revisited the room, hoping to appreciate it with a fresh perspective.  This time, I realized I could relate, somewhat, to the installation. I had a personal experience of moving to a HDB flat four years ago and the most terrible, torturous moments during my stay were the construction noises I had to endure. The drillings, lasting several hours a stretch, would go on for days.  In some cases, the ruckus could drag on for weeks.  The furniture in our apartment would literally tremble as long as the construction took place in one of the units in our block.  Even the posters on my wall would fall off after a while.  The noise of drilling, hammering and sanding will always find their way into my sensitive ears and give me a thumping headache. It’s the closest experience to an earthquake I’ve had in Singapore. Everything about this installation reminded me of my past experiences with construction noise.  If this was the intended purpose, I applaud Floyer. Still hoping to be rewarded with something interesting, I stayed around longer, to see if I would finally acquire the taste for Floyer’s “art”.  Unfortunately, my ears could no longer tolerate the dreadful recording to its end. After a while, you realise that the only changes in the audio are an offbeat pause that lasts for about half a minute. However, the silence is short lived as the layers of noise abruptly return. It’s just a short recording repeating over and over again.  Utterly disappointed, I left the room feeling frustrated, miserable and barely sane.

In preparation for this exhibition at 8Q, Floyer recorded the noises generated during the process of setting up the space.  However, there is no dialogue or any hint of human generated audio in his exhibit, making it rather dry and hard to comprehend. Only the mechanical sounds of drilling and hammering on a loop.

It might be the artist’s intention to capture the state of being caught in the in-between – a work in progress presented as the finished work of the idea of a work in progress. The noise that the audience are exposed to churns thoughts, stirs and evokes emotions in their minds.  Much of the work, I believe, is left for the audience to imagine, interpret and decipher.  No absolute answer has been given.  Instead, we are left with rather puzzling questions.  The value of such a piece is debatable, depending on the viewer’s familiarity or unfamiliarity with the experience, space and sounds the artist is trying to simulate.  Questions such as, “What space is this supposed to represent?” or “What are these drilling sounds supposed to imply?” “How does this relate to me and society?” Much like the noise that goes in loop, these questions often lead to no end unless the viewers are willing to come to a conclusion after careful analysis.

Perhaps the Construction is an appropriate installation, which is related to the experience of staying in HDB flats. Although, not just subjected to people who are staying in HDB flats. I believe the majority of the people living in Singapore can identify with this experience, be it in a public or a private space. Overall, it was not a pleasant experience that I enjoy or appreciate but it was one that I could relate to.

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Re’Search Wait’S

BY DENISE YAP

A full-out embrace of the modern, technological world on hyper speed. That’s probably the best way to describe Ryan Trecartin’s Re’Search Wait’S. Others have described it as a sensory overload to the extreme of a visual assault. I like to think of it as a mass media horror movie. Trecartin’s videos, supposedly scripted, and bearing something of a plot, are pretty much non-linear. The greatest binding elements are the crazy colours of body paint and sets, the manipulated high pitched annoying chipmunk-sounding over emphasized American accent (and one pseudo British one!), and the ‘poor image’ created with over-done editing.

Re’Search Wait’S actually does bear some sort of a plot. In about the one and a half hours it takes to view all four videos, this plot must have missed me. UbuWeb fills us in: Able (played by Lizzie Fitch) searches for subjects to use as part of her (or his?) marketing research. The rest of the video is supposed to show these subjects trying to advance their careers, playing into the agenda of Able. One of these subjects is Wait, played by Trecartin himself, who eventually decides to quit his (or her?) career (I had no clue he/she was pursuing one), but at the end we see him/her in a degenerated state. Wait gives us a curator’s tour of the art pieces in his possession – boards with multiple copies of different constitutional acts, and also, a bucket of water with random bits floating about, attempting to justify them as artworks… not too different from the game played between artists and critics.

Various slower interludes punctuate the videos, perhaps as prevention against heart attacks. In one there is a dream sequence, in another the video tells you outright to stop and take a break, and in the last video, we get song and dance. Ariel the Little Mermaid makes a guest performance as well, singing about the world where we walk, talk and stay in the sun while she spins a globe, dressed in a long red wig, a dry-fit sports top and some shorts. Sorry, no mermaid tail here.

Jessica has an imaginary friend who is her muse, yet bears a sinister control over her, calling her his “Jessica project”. When she tells him to go away, we are treated to the sight of what must be G-cup breasts jiggling about as their carrier laughs and wriggles about on the floor, and also she uses threats, giving the appearance of a relationship similar to The Phantom of the Opera tension between muse and artist.

The room where we watch these videos is filled mostly with Ikea furniture, except for some bleachers at the first video. There is a desk with mismatched chairs, and then a bare bed, and finally some sofas. None of these are actually comfortable for the length of the videos. Perhaps it is meant to provide a fake comfort – in the same way that Trecartin’s videos provide entertainment in an assaultive manner. Trecartin has often mentioned that he uses IKEA furniture for most of his sets, citing their “their ubiquity and faux-designery corporate blandness”.

Trecartin has said that his works are mainly about language. In some ways, it is the creation of a new language in the visual and audio sense. Voices no longer have any gender or individual personalities. They are blended into sameness. The dialogue, while grammatically sound for the most part, is disjointed and at times extremely hateful.

Different actors play the same character at different points. At one point, there is a switch between a male actor and a female actor playing the same character, wearing the same clothes and bearing similarly coloured hair (this is where Little Mermaid makes an appearance). In the credits, there were three different actors for the character of Jimmy (not that I really noticed).

Yet the strongest experience you take away from Trecartin’s work is the visuals. It is one that a generation that has no memory of a world without the internet can identify with, the language with which they experience information. Non-linear, over-saturated, over-balanced, over-done. In Rosemary Heather’s writing on Trecartin, she identifies the web as the hub where cultural activity takes place. This energy, present in our homes in the form of our computers, was lacking in the galleries, that is, until Trecartin cross-bred these opposite spheres of existence into artwork. Irony and sincerity, high-low and in-out. Trecartin sees himself as a transitional figure, and aims for a world where “people start seeing technology as us, as humanity, [then] our whole idea of what existence is, is going to shift.” YouTube is in the ‘hood of the galleries, yo.

The exchange of energy seems to go only one way, however. For an artwork that is made as a commentary on home-made video aesthetics, it seems ironic that other than stills, Re’Search Wait’S cannot be found online in any form (although there are other Trecartin works online). Even Elizabeth Dee Gallery, which represents Trecartin, lacks a downloadable press release about the work. It continues to exist within the traditional institutional walls of the gallery, not the free-flowing accessibility and mobility of the internet. It seems like a convenient overlook.

For an artist mainly dealing with the aesthetics of our virtual reality, the lack of a strong online persona is surprising. Other than a semi-updated Vimeo page and a YouTube account, there isn’t much else. It does come off as a betrayal of his message. But what exactly is his message? He definitely jumps right into the visuals, barrages us with an information overload in the same way that the internet does. He takes us to the extremes, and the result is entertaining and memorable, but not a pretty one. Perhaps the lack of an online persona is the result of his decision to remain disconnected from the virtual world as a critical statement on the substitution of physical communication virtualisation has led to.

Walking away from the installation, I am unsure what to feel. Besides having to take some time to recover from the sensory assault, I wonder if the length of the videos was necessary. Knowing the attention-deficit impatience of the cyber-generation, evidenced by the fact that I was the only one who stayed to view all videos in their entirety that day, one would expect shorter videos. If this fear of the overload is what he wanted to trigger, perhaps a room with projections on all four walls would be more effective, creating a sense of claustrophobia. At the end of it, does this installation even matter? It is likely that one day we’ll just be watching it at home on our computers. That is, if he finally decides to expand its existence to the internet.

Trecartin’s work leaves an impression, but not a very lasting one. Looking at A Family Finds Entertainment (2004), the first piece that catapulted him into success, the aftertaste is not too different from a work made five years later. One could argue that he is maintaining consistency; yet, does he bring anything new to the table that he has not already brought? Like a one-hit wonder, he seems to reuse his characters, sets, aesthetics and editing style to the point of the dilution of his own work. Young, beautiful, creative and successful… I wonder, for how long.

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Martin Creed and his 39 metronomes

39 Metronomes line-up, Photo By Loh Bi Ying.

by Loh Bi Ying

When the word ‘metronome’ is mentioned, we often would not think about something beautiful, let alone an art work. Yet Martin Creed has effortlessly blended metronomes with music and art. Setting this art work in a particularly interesting environment, he makes something simple stand out amongst the other forms of art work pertaining to music or some element of music in the space.

The uniqueness of the piece is accentuated by that fact that it creates a rustic sound produced by knobs and gears which makes it much more organic compared to an artificially produced sound through electric boards, wires and metals. At the other end of the exhibition space, is an artwork by Rubén Ramos Balsa – in another discrete area – which shows an orchestra of street musicians from different places playing their instruments on small MP3 players. And it really seemed quite empty. While an orchestra is supposed to resonate throughout the space, the notion of the MP3 players with videos doesn’t do justice to the majestic sound that an orchestra produces.

However, the simple sounds of the metronome actually echo throughout the space, and have a unique identity. The presence of the background ‘music’ fused with the surroundings of the Old Kallang Airport, so that one would not notice its existence, is what attracted me to this piece. It accentuates the surrounding sounds like the wind and leaves rustling so that I mistook it’s sound as being part of the natural environment.

It was only when I ventured further into that space and looked below eye level, that I noticed the metronomes, ticking in their own world, swaying in their own space, oblivious to their surroundings, ticking like a clock. As a group of metronomes, as a lone metronome – in different speeds but coming together. It may seem that the different speeds of the metronomes will be somewhat un-unified and initially come across to most visitors as a mass of sounds. Yet, the continuous pace of the ticking soon “dissolves” into a piece of sound that has its own identity – like a rhythm – with the intersection of the beats of a 130BPM metronome with a 50BPM one.

This intersection intrigues me: Sensitive to sounds and rhythm, I could hear the change in rhythm when some of the metronomes stopped ticking; the metal bar suspended in mid air seemed like someone had pressed a pause button. It happened often and especially to the ones with 200 BPM – ticking the fastest – and when the ‘bunch’ of the faster ones stop, it seems that the time around me slowed down. The only metronomes left ticking are the slower ones – each of their metal bars swaying from left to right slowly, tracing a slow semicircle arc. Surprisingly, the sound ‘melts’ in the atmosphere where it becomes much quieter – the slow tick-tock resonates in the atmosphere like a sharp sound as the metal bar ‘cuts’ through the air.

The thing about metronomes is that they need to be wound up often and the faster ones probably need to be would up every two hours. The slower ones can last as long as 5 hours. That is why most of the time the only tick-tock sounds left are the slow ones. The artwork requires constant winding and this reminded me of grandfather clocks or clockwork toys: time comes to a standstill when the clock stops. Toys stop moving and they seem to be frozen and stuck in a moment of time. The winding up of the metronomes also reminded me of the process of starting over –  accentuated with the action of it being picked up, wound and then put back down again where it ‘unfreezes’ and carries on like nothing happened. It’s also like taking something away from the environment, and giving it a new life. When it is put back down, the whole cycle starts again — but there is something different. The rhythm differs from before. The piece of sound will no longer be the same as what was heard previously.

There is something to look forward to every time the metronome is rewound. It is unpredictable, unexpected and contains an element of surprise that keeps me standing there, staring at the metronomes; expecting one to be suddenly brought to a halt by the mechanism so I can hear  another piece of the ‘composition’. During that moment, I felt compelled to take the metronomes up and reset all of them, just to see what kind of ‘music’ it will produce. Or perhaps, to alter the speed of them. Yet, I was struck with the idea to not disturb the ‘music’ that was created by accident.

Martin Creed probably created this artwork — or I should call it music – because of his past. As a musician, metronomes signify beats and constant pacing in life and it could mean something important to him as a lot of his artworks refer to his past experiences.

Perhaps the metronomes and their beats help us keep track of happenings in our life – like a conductor in a symphony, like a marker that reminds us of certain things that should happen at certain times. Or certain things that should not happen. It serves as a reminder of not losing track of time and oneself – but to be aware of our time, not to be stuck in a moment of time like clockwork, but to keep on moving – similar to the metronomes when they really try to ‘propel’ themselves when they are stuck – waiting for someone to rewind the mechanism to make them start. Perhaps, we just need a push by someone, a motivation to make sure we stay on the right track.

Then again, nobody knows. The point is not about really understanding the artwork, but about feeling it. And that is what Martin’s Creed and his 39 metronomes really gave me. There is something more about it than just an audio-visual artwork. It might sound like exaggeration, but Martin Creed breathes life into the metronomes.

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Filed under Artists in the News, Auditory, Martin Creed, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook