Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ng Eng Teng's Asian Symphony at NUHS

Ng Eng Teng's Tropical Rhapsody.

Several months ago, I visited the NUS Museum to be better acquainted with the art of late Singapore sculptor, Ng Eng Teng (1934 - 2001). During that visit, there was a section titled Biography of a Public Sculpture - Salvaging and Conserving that has caught my attention. This section discussed the process of salvaging and conservation of two murals created by Ng Eng Teng for the Garden Hotel in 1971. These two murals were Asian Symphony and Tropical Rhapsody.

Asian Symphony is Ng Eng Teng's largest known public mural measuring 1.83 x 9.14 x 0.19 metres. Comprising ten panels, it was commissioned for the Garden Hotel "as a reflections into nature, its beauty and the human ideals".

Before the Garden Hotel (located at 140 Balmoral Road) was demolished in 2010, the two murals were salvaged and donated to NUS. The process of surveying, dismantling and reinstalling the murals appeared to be a time-consuming task requiring a lot of planning. I learnt that before dismantling Asian Symphony, a multidisciplinary team had to carry out detailed investigation to determine how the mural could be safely dismantled. This was necessary as there was no available documentation of how the mural was installed. 

Biography of a Public Sculpture - Salvaging and Conserving will give visitors a glimpse of the processes involved in salvaging the two murals through the display of related images and artefacts.

At the NUS Museum, I learnt that digital scans of Asian Symphony were being made as a precautionary measure. The digital scans were intended to capture three-dimensional data of the data so that a model of the work could be reproduced should the original be destroyed by accident during the dismantling process. Subsequently, synthetic polymer scale model of Asian Symphony was produced.

A 1/20th synthetic polymer scale model of Asian Symphony produced from digital scan.

At the NUS Museum, I read that the Asian Symphony was made by Ng Eng Teng in 1971 for the Garden Hotel's lobby while Tropical Rhapsody was commissioned for the hotel's lounge. This puzzled me. I had visited Garden Hotel sometime around year 2000 but did not recall seeing any of the two works.

I consulted my father who had used to work at the Garden Hotel and learnt that sometime in 1981, after a series of renovation works, the previous Garden Hotel's lobby area (where the Asian Symphony used to be displayed) was converted into a function room. Unless I had visited the function room after 1981, I would have missed this mural. I also learnt that after that renovation in 1981, the previous lounge area was converted into a cafeteria and a partitioning wall was built just in front of Tropical Rhapsody which restricted the public's access to this other mural.

Ng Eng Teng's Asian Symphony.

After the visit to NUS Museum, I felt thankful that Kechapi Pte Ltd which owned the murals had an appreciation of the artistic value of the murals and donated them to NUS.

Currently, Asian Symphony is installed at the ground floor of National Health System Building while Tropical Rhapsody is displayed at the NUS Museum. If you happen to be nearby these two locations, please do check these two murals out.

Ng Eng Teng's Asian Symphony.
Located in an enclosed garden which is nearby the main lobby of NUHS. 

NUS Museum 
University Cultural Centre 
50 Kent Ridge Crescent 
National University of Singapore 
Singapore 119279
Tel: (+65) 6516 8817
Nearest MRT station: Clementi
Closed on Mondays.
NUS Museum's website:

Ng Eng Teng's Asian Symphony
National University Health System Building
1E Kent Ridge Road
Singapore 119228
Nearest MRT station: Kent Ridge (Exit B)
Please click this link for map and directions.

Please also read:
What is Art Conservation? (NUS Museum) (worksheet)
Working the Tropical Garden
Working the Tropical Garden by Su Ling Foo, Devika Murugaya, Conservation Studio
Publication: Working the Tropical Garden
Working the Tropical Garden (Brochure of past exhibition, by NUS Museum)
Post by Ahmad Mashadi. Some thoughts on "Sculpting a National Identity" by Ong Soh Chin

Friday, March 29, 2013

From the private collections: Weight of History

Xu Bing's The Living Word.

This is the art show that I have been waiting for, The Collectors Show: Weight of History. It is essentially an art exhibition that presents contemporary artworks from private collections in Asia. Thanks to this exhibition, members of the public like myself could have the opportunity to view and experience the artworks owned by private collectors.

This exhibition has an interesting title: Weight of History. Earlier this year, during an Artist Presentations session, I learnt that this exhibition examines through the eyes of contemporary artists how the past has shaped present day societies. This show also presents how the artists engage with and evaluate their local traditions and culture in the context of a globalized world.

I visited The Collectors Show: Weight of History for the second time. Interestingly, some of the works resonated more strongly with me during my second visit than my earlier first visit.

I learnt that joining a guided tour is one of the best ways to enjoy this art show even when we do not know the historical context behind the art works. Thanks to the well-trained guides who have done the research, visitors like ourselves can have an easier viewing experience by simply responding to the artworks.

Just be awed
The first artwork that has gotten me to look with awe was Xu Bing's The Living Word (2001). See how the Chinese character 'bird' pictorially represent this winged animal and witness how this Chinese character transform!

Xu Bing's The Living Word.

The conceptualisation behind Xu Bing's The Living Word.

When I walked past Montien Boonma's Nature's Breath: Arokhayasala (1995), I could not help but to experience a sense of reverence. The aromatic scent from this work somehow woke up my olfactory and visual senses. The title of this work, Arokhayasala, symbolizes a place where sickness does not exist. How blessed we would be to live in a world where health is a given.

Montien Boonma's Nature's Breath: Arokhayasala.
Disaphol Chansiri Collection.

Look beyond the superficial beauty
In this art show, many of the artworks seem to urge its viewers to look beyond the apparent beauty. Aisha Khalid's Appear As You Are, Be As You Appear (2010) appeared to be a beautifully weaved piece of jacket made of velvet and silk. However, once we were to look beyond the surface, we would see that the inside of the jacket is lined with the steel needles. These needles remind us of the painstaking efforts that are required to produce these fabric.

A close-up photograph of Aisha Khalid's Appear As You Are, Be As You Appear.
Mimi Brown Collection.

Of Okinawan origin, Yuken Teruya redesigns the patterns of the bingata kimono, an Okinawan style of kimono, and the end result is his Bingata Dye on Linen (2002). This kimono looks beautiful on first glance. With a closer look, one is reminded of the history of Okinawa.

Yuken Teruya's Bingata Dye on Linen.
Tatsumi Sato Collection.

Similarly, Kawayan de Guia's Horse which comprises 700 celluloid trumpets is not the docile horse sculpture that it appears to be. Go and find out more about what this artwork seeks to communicate.

Kawayan de Guia's Horse.
Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson Collection,

Together we ponder about cultural identities
A few of the artworks in this art show explore the theme of cultural identities. Tony Albert's A Collected History (2002 - 2010) resonated with me perhaps due to my curiosity with the culture of the indigenous Australians. My personal response to this work is that I could not help but feel sad to reflect how the Aboriginal Australians have been alienated by colonialism.

Tony Albert's A Collected History.
Installation made up of hundreds of reworked objects, sculptures and paintings; original paintings and drawings;
and three unique artworks by Vernon Ah Kee, Shane Cotton and Arthur Pambegan, Jr.
Peggy Scott and David Teplitzky Collection.

Gonkar Gyasto's Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky (2011) seemed to be exploring the struggle for cultural identity that the artist has to grapple with. The artist is of a Tibetan heritage. Yet he was brought up in a Chinese socialist society with a fair level of exposure to globalization. In Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky, we see a Buddha figure adorned with thousands of colour stickers that symbolizes the contemporary popular culture.

Gonkar Gyasto's Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky.
Peggy Scott and David Teplitzky Collection.

There is a place for humour 
History can be amusing and humourous. There are some works in this art show with a witty sense of humour. One of these is Vertical Submarine's Sun Tzu's Art of War (Armchair Philosophy) (2010) from Tay Yu Jin's Collection. This work critique the people who claim to be knowledgeable but do not have direct experience. This work consists of an armchair with its back being shot with 64 arrows. Did you feel the impact of this work? Whatever it is, please know that art can be entertaining while being enlightening.

Vertical Submarine's Sun Tzu's Art of War (Armchair Philosophy).
Tay Yu Jin Collection.

Evoking our memories of the past
It was difficult to miss Tu Wei-Cheng's The Emperor's Treasure Chest I (2011). The musical sounds from this work immediately caught my attention when I walked into the Singapore Art Museum. When I took a glimpse of it, this artwork seemed to be a valuable antique. On closer inspection, this work is created using both original and counterfeit antique objects which were assembled together. The shadow-play section reminded me of Wayang Kulit (shadow puppets) shows.

Tu Wei-Cheng's The Emperor's Treasure Chest I.

There are many other noteworthy artworks on display in this art show. If you have only one hour to spend at this art show, I would recommend that you time your visit so that you can join one of the guided tours.

This is the art show to get a glimpse of the kind of contemporary artworks that private collectors would be keen to collect. One of the motivations to attend this art show is that, unless I know the private collectors themselves, it may be my limited chance to see these works in public ever again in my lifetime.

Credit Suisse: Innovation In Art Series
The Collectors Show: Weight of History
25 Jan - 5 May 2013
Singapore Art Museum 
71 Bras Basah Road Singapore 189555

Nearby MRT stations: Bras Basah, City Hall, Dhoby Ghaut.

Please also read:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The special Bukit Brown Heritage Tour on 23 Mar 2013

It was a Saturday morning. There were numerous ways I could choose to spend it. My choice for 23 Mar 2013 was to wake up early in the morning, put on my pair of sports shoes and make my way to Bukit Brown. I was there for the special themed tour which would focus on the beautiful tombs of Bukit Brown.

Admittedly, I did not like the thought of having to perspire under a hot sun. Yet, thanks to the canopy of the trees in the area, shade was generously provided during much of the tour. Once the tour started, I was feeling very thankful that the weather was relatively good enough for a learning adventure. We would be on an adventure to learn about the stories embedded in the ornate tomb panels.

Many people turned up for the tour on 23 Mar 2013.

The walk about Bukit Brown
Our first destination was the tomb of Ong Sam Leong. I thought it was a very wise decision to make this tomb the first stop before the sun got brighter. Along the way, the tour guides highlighted and expressed appreciation to the Cub Scouts of America who had cleaned a number of the tombs last weekend.

Along the way to the tomb of Ong Sam Leong, the group saw a few horses who were having their walks about Bukit Brown. I wondered where these horses would have to go for their walks if the construction of the new dual four-lane road across Bukit Brown begins soon after this year's Qing Ming Festival. Perhaps that was why one of the horses seemed to be treasuring every single moment that it could look at the greenery in the Bukit Brown area?

The birds and the squirrels have seemed to make Bukit Brown their haven and heaven. The birds seemed to be enjoying their games of flight about the forested area of Bukit Brown while the squirrels looked as if they were safe in their hideouts. The 20 minutes slow trek to Ong Sam Leong's tomb proved to be a treat to both my eyes and ears as I took time to see the beautiful creation of Nature and to listen to the sounds from the birds and the rustling of the leaves. Do the animals know the eventual fate of Bukit Brown? Maybe they had by their sheer nature, trusted us human beings to look out for them?

At the tomb of Ong Sam Leong
Finally, we reached the magnificent tomb of Ong Sam Leong. If it was a visitor's first time to this tomb, he might be awed by the sheer size of it. From what I have read, the double tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife is said to be the size of 10 three-room HDB flat units.

Tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife.

Our volunteer guides took turns to share with about the Earth Deity (Fu Shen) and the related deisgns. The Earth Deity's role is to protect the tomb. Interestingly, the area that was set aside for the Earth Deity at Ong Sam Leong's tomb was considerably big. The guides shared with us the auspicious meanings behind the ornate decorations found on the altar of the Earth deity.

- The five bats represented the five happiness(五福). These are said to be longevity(长寿), wealth(富贵), health(康宁), virtue(好德), and a good death(善终).
- The peony in the vase represented wealth and peace respectively.
- The incense burner represented the offspring.

The Earth Deity

To satisfy the curiosity of the tour participants, the guides also shared the story that was being depicted on the front panel of the altar of the Earth Deity for Ong Sam Leong's tomb. It was the story of Zhao Yan pleading for Longevity. The underlying message seemed to be telling us that filial piety is a virtue that will be rewarded.

The story of Wang Pu.

A couple of steps away, the tomb panels of Ong Sam Leong's tomb depict the full set of the 24 stories of filial piety. One of the guide shared with us the story of Wang Pu crying by the grave when thunder rolled and so forth. It seemed that Ong Sam Leong's tomb has important moral messages to communicate to its descendants.

More about tomb panels and tomb designs
After visiting Ong Sam Leong's tomb, the group visited a few other tombs. At the tomb of Oh Sian Guan and his wife, we learnt from the guide that the one of the tomb panels depict stories from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

One of the tomb panels of Oh Sian Guan and his wife's tomb.

At another tomb, I learnt from the guide that the pumpkin-shaped tomb structures represent the concept of "many seeds" which is synonymous with having many offspring.

Did you notice the pumpkin-shaped structure?

During our visit, we also learnt that what are commonly known in Singapore as the Peranakan tiles are actually known as the Majolica tiles in other parts of the world. To produce these tiles, glaze containing lead would be used. I learnt that the productions of such tiles have stopped by 1935. These tiles are pretty fascinating to look at.

I was told that the tiles found at this tomb were Majolica tiles that were made in Japan.

By the end of the tour, I felt that I have learnt a little more about the meanings behind some of the tomb designs in Bukit Brown. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to visit Bukit Brown while it is relatively intact and untouched by development. It is not only the habitat of many species of wildlife, it is the place where learning about our local history and heritage could come physically alive as we see what are on the tombs and experience Bukit Brown.

Many thanks to the guides and the "Brownies" who have volunteered their time and have put in their effort to raise the awareness of Bukit Brown.

Soon, it will be the last Qing Ming for the almost 4000 tombs that will be affected by the dual four-lane highway. I wondered if it was absolutely necessary to construct a highway across Bukit Brown at this point in time?

How long would it take for the trees in the affected Bukit Brown forested area to grow to their existing height if they were destroyed? Will anyone in the world today have the craftsmanship and technology to replicate a cemetery that is as unique as Bukit Brown?

A hundred years in the future, what will my descendants have to say and feel if they learnt that a highway that only takes a few years to build was to totally alter the landscape of an almost century-old cemetery that was planned by man and subsequently nurtured by Nature?

This main gate of Bukit Brown Cemetery is likely to make way for the proposed highway.

Bukit Brown Cemetery 
Bus services available: 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855. 
Nearby MRT stations: Botanic Gardens, Farrer Road, Marymount. 
Alight at Bus Stop #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road.
Alternatively, alight at Bus Stop #41141 and cross the nearest overhead bridge to reach Sime Road.
Directions to the cemetery's gate: Walk towards Sime Road, walk along Kheam Hock Road until you see Lor Halwa.
- Visit Leone Fabre's blog for a step-by-step instruction to get to Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Please also see:
Bukit Brown Heritage Tour Special - "Deconstructing" Tomb Panels (Facebook Events page)
Sat 23 Mar - Special Tour
A great hill for us to remember
Longevity Plea by Yik Han and Claire Leow
Art Nouveau Majolica Tiles by Victor Lim
Bukit Brown Cemetery (Singapore Heritage Society)
Save Bukit Brown Cemetery (Nature Society, Singapore)
A closer look at the magnificent tomb of Ong Sam Leong
Restoring Peranakan Heritage Piece by Piece
The walk to Bukit Brown by Leone Fabre on how to get to Bukit Brown

Friday, March 22, 2013

President's Young Talents 2013

A day ago, I visited the Singapore Art Museum with the main intent of visiting The Collectors Show: Weight of History. Incidentally, since I was at the Singapore Art Museum anyway, I wandered into the spaces exhibiting the new commissions of Singapore's most promising local artists and I was pleasantly captivated by the many interesting elements of surprise that I have encountered.

If you have guessed it, I had found my way into the President's Young Talents exhibition featuring works by Boo Junfeng, Liao Jiekai, Zaki Razak, Grace Tan, Ryf Zaini and Robert Zhao Renhui.

Let us seek
Ryf Zaini's work, Unveil the curtain to the window with no ledge, immediately captured my attention after I have managed to discover its exact location. The artist's idea of using lamps and switches as metaphors for enlightenment, information dissemination and circuits of power had made quite a positive impression on me. I have found it fun to close my eyes and practically listen to the work! It was an unexpectedly delightful and different experience listening to this work. 

This work brings an especially rewarding experience to visitors who are curious enough to find its location. I wonder if the artist was attempting to make his viewers experience the quest for enlightenment? Seek out this interactive work by Ryf Zaini.

Ryf Zaini's Unveil the curtain to the window with no ledge.

Observing Nature
Nearby, even if this work may be placed in a very dark space, it is a must for nature lovers to experience Robert Zhao Renhui's The Quieting and the Alarming. Does it remind you of one of those nocturnal excursions to the wild parts of Singapore?

Robert Zhao Renhui's The Quieting and the Alarming.

There's beauty in monotony
Grace Tan's refuge made from polypropylene loop pins somehow gave me optimistic vibes. She "transformed commonplace industrial items into a work of organic beauty". Beautiful it is indeed, yet it reminded me that out of the museum's spaces, we could pay more attention to the beautiful creations of Nature as well.

Grace Tan's refuge.

A site-specific work by Liao Jiekai
If I could knock down a wall to gain a direct access to Liao Jiekai's 16mm film installation, Brothers' Quarters, I wonder how it would have been. Anyway, I learnt that the space that was formerly known as the Brothers' Quarters of the old St Joseph's Institution school building was deemed to be historically and culturally 'insignificant'. The Brothers' Quarters was literally knocked down while the rest of the school building was preserved and designated a national monument. This piece of previously unknown information surprised me. How do we define what is deemed worthy of preservation? I suppose this was one of the issues that Liao Jiekai attempts to explore. 

The fragility of the 16mm film also reminded me of the fragility of our memories. If we choose not to remember, then our memories will eventually erode with time.

This is not Liao Jiekai's work but is simply a floor plan of the former St Joseph's Institution.

Viewing history
Boo Junfeng's Mirror was inspired by the artist's visit to Bukit Brown Cemetery, "where exhumation of over 3000 graves are taking place for the construction of a new highway, cleaving the old burial ground into two". This work is essentially presented as a two-channel high definition video. The video presents two narratives. I learnt that the converging and the diverging of the two narratives explores the impact of building a road across the cemetery on our collective history. This film is also said to be intended to reiterate the point that our present and future are inextricably tied to our past.

Admittedly, I have found this work more challenging to comprehend. What is the artist trying to communicate? Maybe it is because I have not been sufficiently exposed to the art of film-making? Nevertheless, the images of the beautiful foliage of the Bukit Brown Cemetery simply urged me to watch this video at least for three consecutive sittings.

The beauty of Bukit Brown Cemetery.
A snapshot of Boo Junfeng's Mirror.

The days of Ten Year Series
While I was at the exhibition, I realized I had not seen the works of Zaki Razak! It turned out that his work is located at the Front Lawn of the museum, inside a tent. It turned out that Zaki Razak's Revising Art: The Ten Year Series is a series of ten lecture-performances. In this tent, Zaki Razak and his collaborators will facilitate a series of sessions related to learning and art education.

If you were to ask me, I cannot remember going through any Ten Year Series when I was taking art-classes during my Secondary School years. Yet, I remember having to go through pages and pages of Ten Year Series for the subjects such as Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and more. How amusing it would be to have a Ten Year Series to revise art.

During my recent visit, I only had the time to watch a video-recording of a lecture on public speaking. I find the idea behind this participatory and inter-disciplinary work to be interesting. I hope to revisit this once again.

Look out for this tent at the front lawn of the museum. 

Please also view the video interviews of the six artists. These interviews lend a glimpse of the processes behind the artists' works. When I was viewing a video interview of Zaki Razak, his opinion that "the root of one's idea belongs to the Divine" somehow resonated in me.

This is the exhibition to go for to get a glimpse into the minds of a few of Singapore's most promising artists.

25 Jan - 15 Sep 2013
Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Road
Singapore 189555

Please click here for visitors' information:
Nearby MRT stations: Bras Basah, City Hall, Dhoby Ghaut.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Awaken the Dragon Festival 2013: The exhibition

Awaken the Dragon Festival 2013: The Exhibition. National Museum of Singapore.

The day that many have been waiting for is here!

If you have taken part in Phase One of the Awaken the Dragon project and have made a work out of clay during one of the Awaken the Dragon workshops, you have probably been informed that your work would have been fired in one of the two remaining dragon kilns in Singapore earlier in Jan 2013.

Do you know that the firing of dragon kilns in Singapore is a carbon neutral event?
All the wood used in the two remaining dragon kilns in Singapore are waste wood.

Thanks to wonderful efforts of the sponsors, the organisers, the volunteers and well-wishes, you may be excited and grateful to know that your work is now being exhibited at the National Museum of Singapore.

Here are the details:

10 Mar 2013 - 24 Mar 2013 
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
National Museum of Singapore
The Concourse
Admission is free.
Official website:

National Museum of Singapore.

It felt like yesterday when I was at Focus Ceramics for one of the Awaken the Dragon workshops last November. Fast forward to 16 March this year, I visited the exhibition hoping that my work from the workshops has survived the firing. It was comforting to see my humble work made from clay transformed into ceramic, and exhibited for public viewing. Thankfully, it was structurally sound to withstand the high temperature firing in the dragon kiln.

Finding my work from the numerous exhibits proved to be easier than I had thought! Thanks to the careful planning of the organisers. All I did was to quote the 'dragon number' allocated to my work and counter-check against my name. Subsequently, the kind volunteers at the exhibition help-desk directed me to the section where my work was being exhibited.

Nov 2012: My work made from clay.

Mar 2013: It survived the firing!
A humble art-piece that has brought joy to its maker.

I was beaming with joy to find my work. Yeah, it survived!

Please find time to enjoy the works made by your friends and other fellow participants too. Head for the exhibition soon, it will be held till 24 Mar 2013 only!

Bonus: There is one more reason to visit the National Museum. During the March Holiday, from 16 - 24 Mar 2013 (10 a.m. - 6 p.m.), two adults enjoy complimentary admission to the exhibition, Being Together: Family & Potraits - Photographing with John Clang, when accompanied by a student. For more information, please visit this link.

My eyes were attracted to the sculpted model of an angel with a halo above her head.

I was attracted to the sculpted hand models.

A hint that this project will take place yet again.

Many thanks to the volunteers and members of the community who have made this project possible.