Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Us at SAM

Walter, an installation by Dawn Ng, at the front of the art museum

on saturday mindy and i went to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM).  We were treated to a weekend at the swissotel stamford, one of the high rise hotels that dot the downtown, and it was within walking distance of SAM.  We were greeted by Walter, SAM's giant inflatable rabbit (known for its guerilla ability to show up anywhere in town), then went into the museum that is housed in a converted colonial catholic school building.  There were 2 main shows in the space, Lee Wen, the local performance artist known worldwide as "yellow man," and a show of new contemporary Asian art entitled Panorama.

Splash (via timeoutsingapore.com)
The Lee Wen show was a retrospective that covered his entire career from his work in graduate school to his most recent creations.  His work is quite insightful, and very critical of Singapore's society.  I am not that interested in performance art, and videos and relics of the performances, i find do not suffice in creating the atmosphere that created the work.  I feel like performance is a just that: performance.  and it is a one time thing that cannot be understood through video and cannot be comprehended in relics.  if the art is in the action, then once the action is performed the art is over, and the leftover components do not suffice, in the same way that telling of a war is not the same as being in a war.

The work mostly involved his aesthetic struggles in his homeland and the difference between singapore and other countries, but also concerned his travels and being away from his homeland and the perception of him in other lands.  his tongue-in-cheek sense of self-observation is quite profound, and his ability to look at his own existence from the eyes of others was very interesting.  however, i wish i could have witnessed an actual performance rather than just the videos.  one favorite work was a sound recording entitled "be a world-class citizen" where he called everything in singapore society 'world-class.'  world-class architecture.  world-class athletes.  world-class education.  world-class laws.  world-class MRT.  world-class food.  world-class everything.  because singapore advertises itself as a 'world-class' society.  and Lee Wen's tongue-in-cheek use of 'world-class' was quite comical in the way singapore's advertising of itself is comical.  We also played ping-pong on a round table with one person in the middle and one on the outside.  ping-pong is of course an asian dominated sport, and to play it in-the-round made strong reference to the globe.  it was fun and simple, as mindy and i transported ping-pong around the world.

Zhou Xiaohu, A Crowd of Bystanders, 2003-2005

Panorama was incredible.  There were around 30 different works, mostly installations and videos from artists from all over Asia.  My favorite piece was a collection of ceramic diorama miniatures accompanied by clay-mation videos that animated each of the short stories of historical events.

Justin Lee, Eat Fast Food Fast (via artnowpakistan.com)

Another favorite was a video piece by Justin Lee that was called eat fast food fast where he put a mcD's value meal put in a blender and then choked it down.  the expressions on his face were priceless as he gagged his way through the nastiness.  The static paintings were the weakest pieces, and we mostly just passed them by.  There were highly decorated Tuk-tuk's and a series of paintings of many dead famous people with cigars smoldering in their fingertips.  There was an installation by a graffiti artist that commented on the commercialism of Singaporean society.

These shows together were quite incredible to see, as many of the works were quite critical of Singapore's anesthetic approach to culture.  There is very little art here.  There is no graffiti.  and everything is very controlled.  Traditional arts such as watercolor and calligraphy are lauded while more critical and contemporary art is typically ignored or even censored.  I was very happy that SAM had these shows.  The disappointing thing was that the crowd was not very big.  For a crowded city i expected the museum to be filled the way the art institute in chicago is filled on a saturday or the moma in NYC, but it wasn't.  it was almost as though this oasis of aesthetics was ignored or an afterthought.

After visiting SAM mindy noticed that her ticket read that she could receive a FREE clay flower at the Art Garden, 8Q.  we had no idea what that space was or where it was, so we asked around and eventually were directed to a smattering of arrows that led us there.  Art Garden was a building filled with interactive art made specifically for children.  It was meant to entertain and to allow imaginations to run wild.  and they did.  there were many families running around trying to corral excited kids as they played with all the different installations.  our favorite was a sound piece that didn't make sound, but rather responded to the sound you made.  as we walked up the stairs we could hear the screaming and were a bit apprehensive to enter the space.  but when we mustered the courage to go in we saw there was a mic set up and on the screen were many layers of images of different cartoons, past and present.  the softer you spoke into the mic the smaller the images, the louder, the bigger the image.  the images multiplied with the the length of each 'note' in the noise.  it was quite incredible to see.  there were 4 floors of other installations.  finally we went to collect our clay flower.  it was made of air dry clay that kids were supposed to texture stamp and take home.  the space was great, but mindy was expecting to get something cute and collectible.  instead i made her a cat.

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