Sunday, October 22, 2006

Treasures of art hidden in a peaceful corner

It was thoughtful of the organisers of the Singapore Biennale 2006 (SB2006) to provide shuttle bus services to various locations. When I alighted the shuttle bus at the designated bus-stop nearby Tanglin Camp, I felt very glad that shuttle bus services have been arranged for.

The SB2006 site at Tangln Camp is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city life. I felt I was being transported to a rural and peaceful environment, and I welcomed the respite that came along with it. Even though I had to take a slow 5 minutes walk from the designated bus-stop to the actual SB2006 site, I enjoyed every bit of the walk (except the part where I have to bear with the poor quality air from the recent haze).

After getting down at the bus-stop, I followed the signs on the signboards to head for the SB2006 site.

Block 71 Tanglin Camp.

Away from the rest of the world.

I was treated to a pleasant surprise when the friendly personnel at the reception told me that admission to the site was free as it was a public holiday (Deepavali) that very day. This meant that I can save my already purchased SB2006 ticket to make yet another trip to Tanglin Camp again, if time were to permit.

I had wanted to join the guided tour but it would only start about 45 minutes later. I began to venture the various galleries on my own.

Prvacki's The Leap of Faith. Can you feel the forces that attract one to it?

The first work at Tanglin Camp that won my attention was The Leap of Faith, a mixed media installation by Prvacki. What attracted me was the concept behind the work. This artwork has the power to literally and physically attract viewers to it. How can this be possible? One part of the work comprised of a large black-coloured magnetic block held on the wall. When a viewer puts on a specially designed metallic vest, the magnetic forces literally attracts the viewer to the work. Somehow, I see parallel between the magnetic forces from the work and the gravitational pull from Earth. To some extent, gravity limits our movement but it also creates the familiar framework which we organise our movements around. But in this work, having a force that attracts the viewer from unfamiliar direction also seems to force the viewer to redefine the way he/ she moves.



Juhasz-Alvarado's Escala (Stopover) also caught my eye. It was visually attractive to me. It is an installation that looks like a giant-sized table football game. The figurines (that seem to represent the toy "players") seem to bear images that look like African idols, while others seem to look like abstraction of Christian saints.

I realised that the appreciation of this work requires one to gain an appreciation to the cultural context in which the artist's work was influenced by. According to the exhibition short guide, "Juhasz-Alvarado's work was steeped in the culture of Puerto Rico." I can totally agree with the text found on the exhibition short guide that this work is a representation of a complicated game. Check out this work, and do get a copy of the exhibition short guide, read it so as to find out more about this interesting piece of work.


Phinthong's Dong Na Tham. This is one piece of art where the audience can contribute.

Phinthong's Dong Na Tham caught my attention as it "aims to test and raise the question of morality, spirit and social contribution" (from exhibition short guide) within the Singapore community. There is a box whereby one can make silent bids for the work. Funds raised from this method will go towards creating a small library at one of the primary schools in Southeast Thailand. How would the Singapore community respond to this work?


We live in a Dangerous World

I also went to check out Brian Gothong Tan's We live in a Dangerous World as I've read a positive review about it when I was reading a post by Emily regarding her visit to the Tanglin Camp. This installation by Brian Gothong Tan forced me to look at the objects that laid in front of me from perspectives that I normally don't take. This is one work that one should go and experience. It shakes one to experience things in ways different from one's norms.


When it was approaching 1.30 p.m., I headed for the meeting point to join the guided tour. My guide for that day was WH. I found some of the comments shared by the guide to be worth contemplating upon. I remember him saying that in looking at a work of art (especially a piece of contemporary art), it is helpful "to temporarily suspend one's disbelief". After thinking about it, I think the words do make sense. It does help in one's appreciation of the works if one can temporarily suspend one's disbelief when looking at works of art such as Brian Gothong Tan's We Live in a Dangerous World and many others.

Perhaps the value of art is that it seeks to present different ways of looking at life. There is no right or wrong. Art just presents the diversity of life. When one temporarily suspends one's disbelief, one can then learn to appreciate a perspective that may be an opposition to one's own. Art that challenges one to question one's very own perspective too. How intriguing, won't you think?


Aquarium: I feel like I am in a fishbowl.
In this work, the viewer can almost literally experience how it feels like to have his/her head in a fishtank.

Do you know where this ladder leads one to?

I heard that seals and penguins are the sources of inspirations for Takashi Kuribayashi's works.

Look out for Block 73A.

The very first stop of the guided tour was at Block 73A of Tanglin Camp. The guide shared that Block 73A housed one of his favourite works from the site. Housed at Block 73A is Takashi Kuribayashi's Aquarium: I feel like I am in a fishbowl. I marvelled when I experienced this installation. While it seemed to disorientate me to see things from an odd-perspective, it was fun and novel. This is one installation that one must check out.


This work makes one feel like a star!

For the folks who would like to experience how it feels like to be a star on a stage, check the interactive installation STAR by Hiroyuki Matsukage. It is interesting to see how this work responds accordingly when a viewer shouts into the microphone provided. How fun!

Echo, also by Hiroyuki Matsukage is yet another thought-provoking work. According to the guide, this work seeks to portray the frustrations of being only able to echo another person's words. Imagine not being able to speak one's own voice and thoughts, and having to mirror another person's words all the time. I would think it is terribly frustrating. I was told by the guide that the title of this work is linked to a Greek mythology.

More photos:

Agathe de Bailliencourt's Occupation Bleue

I like the concepts behind Ashok Sukumaran's Redoubt (The Old Therapeutic Institution).

Suwage's and Titarubi's Crossroad

More of Tanglin Camp.


What you see and read here are just mere snippets of my experience. There are a lot more interesting works at the Tanglin Camp.

Please don't be put off by the location of this SB2006 site. The shuttle bus service can help making this site accessible. I can say that there are many treasures of art hidden in this peaceful corner of Singapore, the Tanglin Camp. Check it out. Till 12 Nov 2006.

Information regarding the free SB2006 shuttle bus service is available here:

Last but not the least, I thank my guide for his insightful accounts and sharings. I have enjoyed my trip at the SB2006 site at Tanglin Camp. It is definitely worth one's money and time to visit the Singapore Biennale.

- Singapore Biennale 2006 website.
- Belief: Exhibition Short Guide (ISBN 981-05-6252-7)

Stairway to Heaven

One fine Saturday morning, I headed for the Singapore Biennale 2006's (SB2006) information centre on the grounds of SMU to join one of the Walking Art Trail Tours: Stairway to Heaven.

This trail takes one to the following SB2006 sites: SMU, Maghain Aboth Synagogue, Church of Sts Peter & Paul, Sculpture Square, Sri Krishnan Temple, Kwan Im Temple. My guide for this walking trail was SL.

The very first artwork that we were introduced to at the start of the walking trail was Paper House by Shigeru Ban. I have written a post on this artwork sometime ago. Check out: The paper-house at SMU.

The next artwork that we were introduced to came about from a collaboration between Drik Picture Library Ltd and a number of traditional artists who decorate rickshaws in Dhaka.

I did not have a good impression of this artwork when I first saw it. I found the colour-schemes to be too ill-coordinated for my liking. But I found myself beginning to appreciate this artwork after I hear from the guide that rickshaws are being phased out by the Bangladeshi government.

As best as I understand, Drik Picture Library Ltd comprises of photographers and activists. Instead of showcasing the photographs that Drik has taken, it commissioned traditional artists to decorate the rickshaws based on photographs taken by the Drik photographers.

Was it Drik's attempts to provide a chance for the rapidly disappearing traditional art form to showcase their works? Was it to increase people's awareness of the decline of the art of decorating rickshaws? Was it to remind us that without any intervention, the traditional art may soon be lost? I have no answer at all. I can only say that this artwork triggered me to ask many questions. Art often has the power to make one think of issues that one takes for granted.

Then instead of seeing the artwork as a vulgar-looking work with ill-coordinated colours, I began to see that it has a value. The pictures on the rickshaws depict scenes of everyday life. The decorations on the rickshaws also give one a glimpse to the cultural values and practices of the folks who have painted them. Beyond that, perhaps the decorations can be seen as the products of the artists' their skills and patience, the artists' sources of pride and joy.


Afterwhich, we headed for the Maghain Aboth Synagogue along Waterloo Street. We were not able to view the exhibits there on that Saturday morning.

We were told that to view Jennifer Wen Ma's work that is installed there, we will have to visit the Maghain Aboth Synagogue from 2pm - 6pm, from Monday to Thursday. I also learnt that Jaume Plensa's Even Shetia is best viewed from 7.30pm - 9.30pm when the light projection is on. I heard that Plensa's work attempts to represent a connection with heaven. I wonder how it would look like to have light projected up to the skies. I shall visit the synagogue on another day then.


Next stop was the Church of Sts Peter & Paul. I went to take my second look at this artwork that was titled Emerging Angels. I found myself beginning to appreciate this artwork once I realised that there is actually a sculpture of an angel inside what appears to be a white block. The white block is made of a material that would slowly dissolve when it comes into contact with air. The material has a smell of mothballs. I didn't like the smell, but I was fascinated to see what looked like the wings of an angel revealing itself gradually from the white block.

It was only after much thinking, I realised that the angels that I had seen around the perimeter of the church's wall could be part of the work by this artist, Balasubramaniam. There seems to be a relationship between the angels around the perimeter of the church's wall and the installation at the entrance of the church's Adoration room, though I cannot fully make it out.


Liu Jianhua's Dream.

In the bright yellow colour of the building of Sculpture Square houses the next SB2006 exhibit that we were to see on the walking trail. Dream by Liu Jianhua is a mixed media installations. As I stepped into the gallery, I saw countless pieces of broken white-coloured ceramics that looked like common everyday objects. On the screen is a video about the accident of the space shuttle, Challenger.

The artwork seems to suggest that behind every endeavour, there is a possibility of failure. Yet, it is still meaningful to carry a glimpse of hope, as hope propels us forward to create the future.

The next part of the walking trail brought me to a place that I have never ventured to before. We were guided to take a lift to the 4th floor of a building that is part of the Sri Krishnan Temple.

As I looked down from the 4th floor, I could see the painting installation, Cosmic Orphans, conceptualised by Harsha. When one takes a look at the painting installation, one can see many figures in the sleeping position.

I was reading the exhibition short guide after the walking trail, and I particularly like this quote that was printed together with the notes on this work:
All men whilst they are awake are in one common world: but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own
- Plutarch

It just makes me think whether those figures in the painting installation were seeking refuge in their own world?

My favourite work on the walking trail was Yayoi Kusama's Ladder to Heaven. It comprises of a ladder-looking object. There are mirrors attached above and below this ladder-like object.

I think this work is ingenious. When I looked at the mirrors above and below the ladder-like object, I could see that the ladder leads to infinity. It felt as if the ladder might in fact provide the pathway to heaven and the underworld.

Yet the ladder does not actually lead us to either. It is just a matter of perception that we think that it may lead us to heaven. I thought to myself: perhaps if we were to alter our perceptions, we may find an opening that leads us to bliss, and the so-called heaven?

Yayoi Kusama's Ladder to Heaven

The final stop of the walking trail is Kuan Im Temple.

I was particularly intrigued by Xu Bing's Square Word Calligraphy. Using this style of calligraphy, Xu Bing transforms words written using the Roman alphabet into square, Chinese-like characters. On the carpet that the devotees of the Temple knelt on, Xu Bing wrote the words "Belief". It does look like a Chinese-like character, but this character did not make any sense to me if I were to look at it as a Chinese character.

I did not manage to get a picture of the Prayer Carpet, but I have got a blurred image of how Xu Bing's writing would look like on the carpet (see right below). Go and see the real thing and see if you can make the word out.

If you were to see a pot of lotus plant at the Kuan Im Temple, please take an extra look at it. It may be one of the SB2006 exhibits, Lotus Mantra. When I was there at the site, I could vaguely see writings on two of the lotus leaves. The leaves looked like they were gradually decaying, and it was difficult to make out many of the words on the leaves.

Tsai, Charwei's Lotus Mantra

What does the artist hope to represent? If you would like to find out, please check out the Singapore Biennale 2006. I would also recommend that one gets a copy of the exhibition short guide to increase one's appreciation of the various works.

I ended the walking trail with Herrero's Painting. I have found that his painting on the walls of one part of the Temple to be pleasing for the eye. This might have been one of the most accessible works of the SB2006 considering that it is installed near one of the main exits of the Kuan Im Temple, and the Kuan Im Temple has a steady flow of devotees visiting it everyday.

I have enjoyed this walking trail. Special thanks to my guide who has helped given me insights to the various works.

If you wish to experience the walking trail for yourself, please check out this URL for more information:

If you prefer to view the exhibits at your own pace, you may visit the above-mentioned SB2006 sites on your own too. Check out this site for more information:

Hurry though. SB2006 ends on 12 Nov 2006.


- Singapore Biennale 2006 website.
- Belief: Exhibition Short Guide (ISBN 981-05-6252-7)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The paper-house at SMU

Paper House by Shigeru Ban.

Many weeks ago, I purchased a ticket to the Singapore Biennale 2006 at the structure that you see on the photo above. This structure (that houses the Biennale’s public information and media centre) is now found within the compounds of the Singapore Management University, and it faces the National Museum of Singapore.

Initially, I did not take not much notice of this structure until the roof structure caught the attention of my eyes. My eyes were attracted to the geometrical patterns formed by the roof structure. Later did I find out that much of this roof structure was made of paper.

Paper architecture? Is that the term to use? It fascinated me to know that paper can be a sturdy building material. Perhaps those of you who are interested in paper architecture may like to check the links right below:

Come to think of it, the use of paper as a building material can be fairly cost-effective especially given the fact that the structure is supposedly meant to be a temporary one.

The bigger message that I gather is that behind all artistic pursuits, it is important to free one's mind. A free and open mind can then have the power to see greater possibilities even in the common daily objects.

Check out the Singapore Biennale 2006 :

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Contemporary art at City Hall

A weekend ago, I visited City Hall, Singapore, as it is one of the sites of the Singapore Biennale 2006 (SB2006). My intentions were to gain more exposure to contemporary art and to gain a better appreciation of it.

What first struck me about the SB2006 site at City Hall was that even the exterior of the City Hall building serves as an outdoor gallery for the display of the work Signs of Memory by Takafumi Hara. I was given notes about this work and I took time to read the notes to gain a better appreciation of the work. I felt that the pink panels look very effective against the neoclassical City Hall building.

I consider myself having limited knowledge of contemporary art. As such, I decided that one of the ways to help me better appreciate the works at City Hall was to join the guided tour. The guided tour starts at the fourth level of the City Hall building. On that weekend, there was a fair number of people onboard the guided tour. As such, I did not have the luxury to have individual guided tour like Emily had. It was nevertheless a good thing, as I don't wish to be the sole focus of the guide's attention.

I particularly like a few of the site-specific works, especially those that were installed in the court rooms. It then struck me that having an appreciation of the historical background of the City Hall can help to enhance one's appreciation of some of the art works at City Hall. I have good vibes about transforming the City Hall building to a world-class gallery.

It appears most appropriate that the photographic installation titled Belief, and practices: Justice for Noorjahan, 2006 presented by Drik Pictures Library Ltd, was installed in one of the court rooms (Court Room 20). According to an article on AsiaViews, this work is a loud critique against violence against women occurring in rulings by the mullah. I felt the court room setting was appropriate as this installation made references to a landmark trial in Bangladesh.

Jakarta Post sums the story behind the trial fairly well:
Noorjahan who was abandoned by her husband, remarried after consultation with the mullah. But the mullah later changed his mind, and decreed that she be stoned. Accused of having brought shame to her family, she swallowed poison and died, infusing the historic campaign by the largest women's group in the country.

Another site-specific work that caught my attention was Verity, Faith and Justice, 2006 by Jane Alexander. I felt a sense of gloom and disgust when I set my feet into the court room that housed this work. The red-colour gloves that lay scattered on the floor appeared to represent blood being splashed in a hapzard fashion. In the article Uniquely Singapore by Walter Robinson, there is a well-taken photo of this work. However, I think the best way to appreciate this work is to go to the SB2006 exhibition at City Hall and experience it personally. The impact of this work can be lost when one merely views the photograph of it. Below is a photo that yours truly has taken of this work:

Photo taken of part of Jane Alexander's installation, Verity, Faith and Justice

Aside from the above-mentioned works, the works by local artist, Donna Ong, are worthy of mention. I particularly like her following works: secret, interiors: chrysalis 21 and secret, interiors: chrysalis 22. I like the way in which Donna Ong uses everyday objects to create her installations.

Doesn't Secret, interiors: chrysalis 22 look like musical instruments of some sort? According to the guide of my guided tour, this installation may be representing a person's secret desires to be a musician. Yet, this installation is not a musical instrument, and this suggests the futility of the desires.

Donna Ong's secret, interiors: chrysalis 22.

I was also intrigued by another of Donna Ong's works (see below), secret, interiors: chrysalis 20. For this work, one has to look underneath the table in order to find the crystal-like objects that emits light from time to time. Doesn't it make one feel as if one is in a crystal cave?

Donna Ong's work

There are many more works worth viewing at the Singapore Biennale 2006 site at City Hall. Check it out. For only $5, one can get a ticket that allows one to gain one-time entry to each of the following sites: Singapore Art Museum, National Museum of Singapore, Tanglin Camp and of course, City Hall. More importantly, one gets to be treated to a number of thought-provoking, captivating contemporary works of art.

SB2006 opens to the public from 4 September to 12 November 2006. For more information about SB2006, check out: