Saturday, November 26, 2016

Singapore Biennale 2016 :: An Atlas of Mirrors

The eye-catching 'Inscription of the Island' (2016) by Lim Soo Ngee.
Placed outside of Singapore Art Museum.
Material: Copper alloys with patina treatment. 

Themed 'An Atlas of Mirrors', it focuses on contemporary art from Southeast Asia, alongside South and East Asia. The artworks fall into nine 'conceptual zones'- Space, Agency, Displacement, Time, Memory, Nature, Boundaries, Absence and Identity. Since Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is the sole organizer for this edition of the Singapore Biennale, the installations are anchored at SAM and 8Q. A number of artworks is displayed at Peranakan Museum, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore Management University and National Museum.

Missed out on the Creative Director's tour/talk conducted by Susie Lingham last week at the fifth edition of the Singapore Biennale 2016. Had to stroll through on my own over a few weeks. No time to view all in a day. Some artworks are placed outdoors for the viewing pleasure of the public, most artworks are ticketed within SAM and 8Q.

Perhaps it's because the curatorial team is from SAM, so many of the artists aren't unfamiliar to audiences. Their pieces carry their creative interpretation and their trademark style. I don't have any particular favorites, but these two works are super interesting to me, and I couldn't quite tear my eyes off their many intricate details- Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie's 'One Has to Wander through All the Outer Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End' (2016) and Balinese artist Made Djirna's 'Melampaui Batas' ('Beyond Boundaries', 2016).

Titarubi's 'History Repeats Itself' (2016).

Oh I was mesmerized by the cloaks of gold-plated nutmegs in this piece. Hahaha. Well, a spice once worth its weight in gold in the Dutch East Indies, but now it's just painted in gold. 'History Repeats Itself' (2016) by Indonesian artist Titarubi. Shadowy sinister figures clad in cloaks of gold nutmeg robes standing atop charred ships. Says so much about the European armada then, referencing "to the burning of ships in Indonesia by the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) in an attempt to seize control of the lucrative spice trade." Hollow cloaks of nutmeg, illusions of riches and power hiding a dark heart. I love those specters made more eerie in a darkened gallery. "They are spectres from the past, a dark mirror to our present."

Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie's 'One Has to Wander through All the Outer Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End' (2016) maps his rather hilarious exploration into cartographic history. Loved the language and names of the islands and land masses. He links all elements "underlying the connections between the phantom island, Utopia, and the monsters: fear and temptation" into huge wall maps of a mythical world vaguely occupied by the time of Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus and ancient seafarers. Loved those sea and land monsters. I squatted down to photograph all of these "fantastical beasts" strewn across the floor in a mythical bestiary of handblown glass. I was trying pretty hard to find a kraken. But didn't quite see any. Heh.

Qiu Zhijie's 'One Has to Wander through All the Outer Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End' (2016).

Balinese artist Made Djirna's 'Melampaui Batas' ('Beyond Boundaries', 2016) is absolutely intriguing in its hundreds of wall-to-wall small terracotta figures with different expressions, and those that sat in an antique ironwood boat. The boat is symbolic of journeying between worlds, carrying the human soul to its ancestral abode after death. Gleaned from Balinese spiritual beliefs of the archipelago (Nusantara), the afterworld and the living communities, the work maps the voyages undertaken by the artist, by all of us.

I spent quite a bit of time at this gallery. I really liked those little terracotta figurines. Many clung together seemingly in fear or seeking comfort; some hugged themselves; many looked like they're in pain or perhaps, a sort of wonder and confusion. Some might find the figurines creepy. But I just liked walking around and stopping by a bunch to look at their expressions, some smiling, some grimacing, some mouths are opened in a scream of sorts, et cetera. Human-like expressions. Our expressions. Community and frailty. Absolutely fascinating.

There're 'trees' dotting the gallery, fashioned from driftwood with trunks and outstretched branches, like "fragments of other lives, cultures and civilizations" beyond time, "collapsing boundaries of distance, space and culture." Regardless of one's religious beliefs of the existence of the format of life after death, or we melt into nothingness, this gallery reminds us of how there is a natural order to well...nature, and her provisions.

Made Djirna's 'Melampaui Batas' (2016).

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