Is there an art scene in Singapore?

Visitors at Art Stage Singapore, 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Visitors at Art Stage Singapore, 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

It might be a provocative question, but not an unwarranted one. The Australian art world (like our country in general) has strong ties with Asia. Hong Kong and China have booming art markets and Indonesia is becoming an increasingly popular destination for emerging artists to undertake residencies. So what’s going on in the tiny island state of Singapore?

In late January this year, as Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations kicked off, I headed to Singapore Art Week 2015 to find out. The week was centred on Art Stage Singapore. Art Stage founder and director Lorenzo Rudolf was formerly head of art fair giant Art Basel. Clearly Rudolf has high hopes for Art Stage, which he is marketing as the fair for Asian art – distinguishing it from the more internationally-focussed Art Basel Hong Kong.

A waiter serves drinks at the Vernissage of Art Stage Singapore 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

A waiter serves drinks at the Vernissage of Art Stage Singapore 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

The fair featured a curated mini-exhibition of the work of emerging South-East Asian artists, as well as Special Exhibitions focussing on Malaysia, Korea, Russia, Modernism and Video respectively. On paper this seemed like a motley assortment and in reality that proved true. Video Stage was exceptional (see the links below to read my thoughts on that), and the Malaysian hang elicited some interesting work. The Russian exhibition, on the other hand, was a solo presentation of established collaborators AES+F, whose huge, slick video works are widely exhibited. Art Stage’s desire that the exhibition introduced “video art from Russia’s emerging contemporary scene” seemed far-fetched. Meanwhile, the Special Exhibition of Modern Art, a solo retrospective of French painter André Masson, while extensive, did little to provide an historical context that would have been most welcome in a burgeoning market of new collectors. To be fair, Art Stage have said that the Masson show was the first step in developing a strong Modern section at Art Stage, which will include “Asian Modern.” Here’s hoping this does indeed take place in subsequent iterations of the fair, as it would be great to see historical work of more contextual relevance.

Gilbert & George's exhibition Utopian Pictures at ARNDT, Gillman Barracks, Singapore, January 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Gilbert & George’s exhibition Utopian Pictures at ARNDT, Gillman Barracks, Singapore, January 2015. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Beyond the fair there was a plethora of other art-related events to be experienced city-wide. These ranged from the glitz of the Prudential Eye Awards at the ArtScience Museum, to the more toned-down rigour of the Signature Art Prize at the Singapore Art Museum, to the pulsing event Art At Night in the happening cultural hub of Gillman Barracks.

The crowd enjoying Art At Night at Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

The crowd enjoying Art At Night at Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

So, is there an art scene in Singapore? If Singapore Art Week is anything to go by, then absolutely. But with the eyes of the art world on the exponentially growing Asian art market, Art Stage Singapore will need to continue to work hard to live up to it’s slogan “We Are Asia.”

I wrote about my Singapore Art Week highlights for RAVEN, which you can read online. My account of the fair and the prizes is published in the March 20215 issue of Art Monthly Australia – on news stands now.

Cartonography

I was recently commissioned by Sydney artist Sean Rafferty to write an essay to accompany his Cartonography exhibition at Bondi Pavillion.

Rafferty collects and maps fruit and vegetable cartons and their origins, and the exhibition featured a comprehensive display of the collection to date, in order of latitude.

Rafferty also produced his own collectable Cartonographic print to coincide with the launch.

You can read the essay here.

Cartonography

Jess Bradford – Haw Par Villa at Archive Space

I recently participated in the Archive Space Writers Program, reviewing Jess Bradford‘s exhibition Haw Par Villa which ran 2 – 12 July 2014. Here is the resulting text.
————

The cultural theme park of Haw Par Villa in Singapore was the subject of Jess Bradford’s recent exhibition at Archive Space. Originally conceived as a space of moral education for families, the internal narratives of the site have been subject to de- and re-construction, both physically and conceptually. Having visited there as a child, Bradford was prompted to return recently after discovering photographs of the site’s painted concrete sculptures in second hand stores. The exhibition Haw Par Villa saw the artist reconsider the park through an investigation of materiality and memory.

Just inside the gallery’s entrance was a wooden archway which Bradford had cut and painted to refer to the forms of the Villa itself. Weather-worn wave and cave formations were painterly rendered on the front of the structure, while on the reverse the artist had made no attempt to disguise its stand-in nature, securing the angular pieces of ply with the help of sandbags. Propped and propositional, this structure arched physically and metaphorically over the other works in the show, providing a portal through which the truths and fictions of representation could be considered.

Beyond the archway was a video piece depicting a walk through the villa through the eyes of a visitor. The footage began with a trip through a tunnel to the Haw Par Villa station. Filmed from the front of a driverless train, the perspective of this journey evoked the experience of a ghost train, pre-empting the theme park to come. A recording of a woman’s voice announced arrival at “Haw Par Villa” through a PA system, before the viewer was led through the gates of the park at a walking pace, to an accompanying ambient soundtrack. This sense of forward motion, combined with symmetrical one-point perspective, echoed the experience of walking through Bradford’s propped archway into Archive Space itself.

For several years now the artist has collected anonymous found photographs, and her recent practice has led to the recreation of these as objects intended to resonate beyond their pictorial surface. Two such photographs of the concrete figures in Haw Par Villa were incorporated into this exhibition in this way. The images, a bear seeming to attack a small child, and two mermaids, were painted in monochrome on small pieces of primed zinc. These were mounted within frames on the wall, making reference to their photographic origins, however once the viewer drew closer to examine the detail in these tiny objects, their presence beyond the fragility of paper became clear. The original photographer had transformed them from concrete to image, and Bradford had in turn translated this depiction to artefact, giving tangibility to someone else’s memories whilst adding to the compilation of images surrounding her own.

Re-encountering a place of childhood experience after so many years requires a reassessment of truth and reality. Disparate images can become worn away as concrete does when exposed to the elements, over which twisted memories form slowly, creeping and overtaking like lichen. Haw Par Villa interwove different modes and media to interrogate ideas of authorship, truth, representation and memory.

Jess Bradford

Lego, light fittings & goats hearts: Paddington galleries

Yesterday I headed down to Trumper Park in Sydney’s Paddington. The area has hosted many creative enterprises over the decades and is currently home to a number of commercial galleries. It’s always an opportunity to see quite a breadth of contemporary work.

A longstanding member of the Paddington galleries scene, Australian Galleries were showcasing the canine-centric prints of Deborah Williams and, upstairs, the very fine works on paper of young Sydney artist Angus Fisher. Fisher’s skilled methods and often traditional choice of subject matter bring to mind natural history illustrations from pre-industrial times. When the same techniques are applied to contemporary technologies, such as in the drawing GPS surveying equipment 2014, the works become more intriguing still.

Martin Browne Contemporary were preparing for that evening’s opening of a group exhibition, but I managed to sneak a look at some of the works, which included an impressive Bill Hammond painting from 1996.

Jensen Gallery were also preparing for an opening, that of Sydney artist Melissa Coote. For those playing at home, Coote was the subject of a profile I wrote for the current issue of Art Collector. It was strange to see the works occupying the relatively small gallery space at Jensen after experiencing them for the first time in Coote’s expansive Marrickville studio. However, they certainly held their own in the Paddington space, from the large works on canvas to the shining cast bronze goat’s heart that can be held in the palm.

At Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, I experienced déjà vu in the form of TV Moore’s exhibition # E N Y A, which featured two works originally seen in the artist’s recent survey exhibition at Campbelltown Arts Centre (which I covered for Art Monthly). It was enjoyable to have another opportunity to view Moore’s The way things grow (2014), which draws from Swiss duo Fischli & Weiss’s The way things go (1987).

The gallery was also hosting a new group of work by Australian collaborators Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro. The exhibition, Venereal Architecture, combined the childhood assemblage obsession of Lego with the grown-up assemblage obsession of Ikea. Creatures from the sea and forest, formed from the eponymous plastic bricks, merged their colourful pixelated forms with the minimal aesthetics and artificial plants instantly recognisable as being of the Scandinavian brand.

Through its large windows, the front space of Sarah Cottier Gallery looked entirely empty. It was, however, occupied by the microcosmic maximalism of Matt Hinkley. Multicoloured cast plastic clumps were suspended at eye level from wonky pieces of wire hung at intervals through the gallery. These polyurethane caches held melty bits of detritus, the sort of stuff you’d sweep off the surface off your desk if you ever bothered to clean it, or scraps you’d find down the back of the couch. Replicated in great detail, bits of ear buds and headphone jacks, denied their original functions appeared jewel-like as they hovered in and out of the field of vision.

Christopher Hanrahan’s exhibition Oe worked nicely with Hinkley’s presentation, with Hanrahan’s large, minimalist pieces inhabiting the adjacent space and saying just enough. In Oe (bodies) (2014), a worn-looking, thin steel frame sat out from the wall, draped with an electrical cord from which dangled an illuminated bulb. The cord’s vertical snaking gave imaginary surface to the rectangular void, rendering it diorama-like. The similar metal frame of Oe (staging) (2014) nestled into a corner, presenting the wall beyond like a portal, or an open book.

I had noticed another recent work by Hanrahan, quietly occupying a corner of Sarah Cottier Gallery’s suite at Melbourne’s Hotel Windsor during last week’s Spring 1883 art fair. Standard Model (not quite how it is, but certainly how we could be—definitely within the realms of possibility) (2013), a trifold brass frame held upright with the help of two pieces of marble, embodied notions of presence and absence, movement and stillness, just as its siblings in the Sydney space did. The fact that such elegantly simple sculptures can hold their own as much in an elaborately decorated hotel suite as equally as in a clean white gallery is testament to their strength.

Christopher Hanrahan: "Oe" 2014, installation view. Image: www.sarahcottiergallery.com

Christopher Hanrahan: “Oe” 2014, installation view. Image: www.sarahcottiergallery.com

Melbourne Art Fair, Spring 1883, & NotFair, 2014

Last week I ventured to Melbourne for the Art Fair and its various official and unofficial satellite events. I was commissioned by RAVEN Contemporary to write about the inaugural Spring 1883 in the context of MAF and NotFair, which you can read on their site. I didn’t have the time or word count to include my highlights of the other goings-on so, as much for my own benefit as for the curiosity of others, here are my thoughts.

Venturing into the Royal Exhibition Building for the Melbourne Art Fair as a member of the media was a strange feeling, as, for part or all of each Fair from 2006 to 2012 I attended to work at the stand of Darren Knight Gallery. Although I missed the visitor interaction that comes with ‘manning the booth’, I did not miss its attendant exhaustion, and it was wonderful to be able to take time to survey the Fair and return to galleries and works for slower, quieter consideration. Gallerists work hard at fairs and unfortunately don’t get this opportunity.

Apart from my old stomping ground DKG, a number of stands and works made an impression amongst the maelstrom. Ryan Renshaw Gallery’s solo presentation of Sam Smith, whose work seamlessly moves between video and sculpture to explore the structure and possibilities of cinema, was exceptional.

The Commercial, like many galleries, chose to do a number of hangs over the duration of the fair. At the time I visited they were showing a group hang including one of Archie Moore’s perfume portraits (which I experienced while on the 4A Curators Intensive) and a lovely painting by Mitch Cairns.

I had a quiet encounter with Saburo Ota’s work at COHJU Contemporary Art. The artist collects seeds and delicately presents them under fine Japanese paper in the manner of postage stamps. Discovering microcosmic works like these within such a macrocosm of the art world can be a sort of rest for the brain.

I enjoyed the Bradd Westmoreland paintings at Niagara Galleries, which in some ways spoke to the paintings of Ken Whisson, which featured both at Niagara and at Watters.

Annandale Galleries once again showcased their prize artist William Kentridge (a triptych of video flipbooks was particularly appealing), however I was more pleased to encounter a number of Robert Motherwell lithographs and a small painting studding their stand. Modernism endures.

Anna Schwartz Gallery’s presentation of Erwin Wurm was surely designed to be a crowd pleaser, but it did work very well as visitors wove in and out of the surreal figurative sculptures and photographs.

Pearl Lam, whose Hong Kong gallery I visited in February, was making her first appearance at the Melbourne Art Fair as both a gallerist and as keynote speaker. Lam decided to bring her galleries to an Australian fair for the first time, after visiting MAF’s new sister fair Sydney Contemporary in 2013. In the Pearl Lam Galleries stand, amongst some bombastic eye-popping work by Joana Vasconcelos, I revisited the work of Zhou Yinghua aka Mr Chow, and also enjoyed the subtle abstractions of Loreta Saez Franco and Qin Yufen.

I visited one of my several editors, Dan Rule, at the stand for his enterprise Perimeter Books, and treated myself to the small publication Diagrammatic writing by Johanna Drucker.

Simone Hine and Kyle Weise of Melbourne’s Screenspace had curated the new MAF Video programme. Kyle was a fellow 4A Curators Intensive participant so I was looking forward to checking out the program and it did not disappoint. On the day I visited, works grouped under the mantle of Quotidian Rhythms were playing. Sonia Leber & David Chesworth’s We are printers too occupied the theatre space, while a number of shorter pieces played in the booth. Tim Woodward, Nicole Breedon and Jacqui Shelton’s works in particular displayed endless and sometimes impotent actions, and sat in that intriguing space between humour and utter frustration.

I wrote in depth about Spring 1883, and briefly about NotFair, in the RAVEN piece referred to earlier. As I said, Spring provided an opportunity for dealers and artists to play with the elaborately decorative, domestically-scaled environment of the suites of the Hotel Windsor. The site-specific installations and salon hangs did this most effectively, and there were many highlights. The intimacy of the spaces made for an interesting art-viewing experience, both in terms of the works themselves as well as interactions with the art dealers and fellow visitors.

It was good to see Sydney artists (and sometimes collaborators) Paul Williams and Christopher Dolman represented in the mix at NotFair.  The location, a council-owned unrenovated building in Collingwood, couldn’t have been further from the Hotel Windsor, and both satellite fairs play different roles in providing an alternative to the large commercial focus of the main event. NotFair felt like a pop-up artist-run gallery, except the mix of older and younger artists, organisers and attendees gave it a really dynamic feeling beyond the cliquey, art-school feel ARIs can sometimes have.

It’s not a trip to Melbourne without a visit to the NGV. The David McDiarmid exhibition When this you see remember me has been widely appreciated by those in the contemporary art world. Despite the bright colours, glitter and booming celebratory soundtrack I still found it to be a melancholy show. This was both because of its exploration, through both artwork and archival material, of a bygone and seemingly braver era (some of which took place during my childhood in inner Sydney, now a very different place), and also obviously because of its necessary but sad memorialising of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The Sue Ford retrospective nearby was also rooted in archive. Ford’s photographs of herself and others over decades are a reminder of the simple power of the photograph to capture and record the passing of time.

Over at NGV International, the large-scale video works of Chinese artist Wang Gongxin were on show. Projected onto tall vertical screens, they echoed traditional Chinese scroll paintings with contemporary subjects. On the other end of the scale were the works on paper of Romantic artist William Blake. Small and delicate, these pieces don’t often make it out onto display so this exhibition of the gallery’s complete Blake collection is a rare chance to peer into his world.

Melbourne art week is always an exhausting but rewarding time, when, to paraphrase Roy Slaven & HG Nelson, too much art is barely enough.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Melbourne Art Fair, Royal Exhibition Building, 2014. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

Arts Around the Web / World / Corner #5

Here’s a few things I’ve been reading lately, starting with how to be a better online reader, via The New Yorker. We’re reading on all sorts of devices now, and the affect this has on our comprehension is interesting.

Sydney-based academic Susan Best has turned her inspired Facebook series ‘Women Artists who should be better known‘ into a blog for publisher I.B. Taurus.

The Sydney Morning Herald talked to curator Glenn Barkley amongst others about how to display your art collection in a domestic setting.

Berlin-based Australian artist Scott Redford wrote at length for Crikey’s Daily Review about the impasse reached in contemporary art.

And Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi was recently arrested for distributing data that could be used to create a vagina-shaped kayak using a 3D printer. This story raises broader questions about digital information as well as Japanese culture.

_76291163_023166396-1

Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi. Photography: AFP via BBC.

 

 

 

4a Curators’ Intensive

Curator-Intensive-template

Last week I was fortunate to take part in the 4a Centre for Contemporary Asian Art‘s Curators’ Intensive, “an initiative developed by 4A to encourage professional advancement amongst early career Australian cultural practitioners with an interest in curatorial practice”.

Cosmin Costinas discussing the work of Ai Weiwei during the 4a Curators' Intensive in Sydney, July 2014

Cosmin Costinas discussing the work of Ai Weiwei during the 4a Curators’ Intensive in Sydney, July 2014

We participated in keynote lectures and workshops led by three noted curators from the Asia-Pacific region, Cosmin Costinas (Hong Kong), Dr Sophie McIntyre (ACT), & Robin Peckham (Hong Kong/Beijing). These ranged in subject from the recent shaping of Hong Kong’s identity, to the phenomenon of post-internet art, to the politics of representation. We also undertook field trips to artist studios and exhibitions around Sydney, which provided a context for questions around various curatorial approaches.

4a Curators' Intensive participants listening to curator Andrea James discussing Karla Dickens' work 'Demanding a voice is tiresome' (2014) in the exhibition Hereby Make Protest at Carriageworks, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

4a Curators’ Intensive participants listening to curator Andrea James discussing Karla Dickens’ work ‘Demanding a voice is tiresome’ (2014) in the exhibition Hereby Make Protest at Carriageworks, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

My fellow participants were Miriam Arbus (VIC), Mira Asriningtyas (Indonesia), Andrew Ewing (NT), Sebastian Goldspink (NSW), Sophie Kitson (NSW), Alana Kushnir (VIC), Tess Maunder (QLD), Tulleah Pearce (NSW), Kyle Weise (VIC), Gintani Nur Apresia Swastika (Indonesia), & Luisa Tresca (NSW). These emerging curators from around the region have backgrounds ranging from visual arts to literature to performance, in commercial galleries, artist-run spaces and institutions. This variety of perspectives contributed to lively dialogue, and the conversations continued in taxis and around lunch tables over the course of the four days.

4a Curators' Intensive participants listening to gallerist Amanda Rowell discuss Archie Moore's exhibition Les Eaux d'Amoore at The Commercial, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

4a Curators’ Intensive participants listening to gallerist Amanda Rowell discuss Archie Moore’s exhibition Les Eaux d’Amoore at The Commercial, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

I feel privileged to have been chosen for such a great opportunity, and look forward to continuing the discussions with my curatorial cohort.

4a Centre for Contemporary Asian Art is an enduring institution with fantastic public programming. The Intensive’s keynote lectures were open to the public and recorded – I will link back to them here once they are available online.

4a Curators' Intensive participants experiencing Archie Moore's exhibition Les Eaux d'Amoore at The Commercial, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

4a Curators’ Intensive participants experiencing Archie Moore’s exhibition Les Eaux d’Amoore at The Commercial, Sydney. Photograph: Chloé Wolifson

What I Learnt When…

Welcome to What I Learnt When… a new segment in which I share some of the weird and wonderful things I learn about in the course of my work.

When interviewing artist Sarah Contos, she mentioned Cargo cults. Did you know there’s a particularly royal one?

Contos uses images from the Australasian Post, which at the time of its closure in 2002 was the longest-running continuously printed publication in Australian history.

When reviewing Christian Thompson’s latest exhibition, I discovered the underground dialect of Polari, shared by actors, prostitutes, merchant navy sailors, circus folk and the gay subculture.

I attended the Head On Photography awards where the audience were told that the smartphone is “the darkroom in your pants”.

When preparing to review Tehching Hsieh‘s show at Carriageworks I came across an interview which begins with a handy guide to how to pronounce his name.

Studio visits are always full of surprises. Seeing the transformation of micro to macro in the work of Melissa Coote was a pleasure. A fossilised mammoth’s tooth (seen below on the shelf) is writ large in charcoal and graphite (on the rear wall, in the image on the right).

Views of the studio of Sydney-based artist Melissa Coote. Photographed by the author.

Views of the studio of Sydney-based artist Melissa Coote. Photographed by the author.

Arts Around the Web / World / Corner #4

Here are a few local and global arts stories that caught my eye over recent weeks:

From a record 546 entries, the 24 finalists in the 2014 John Fries Award for emerging artists were announced. This year’s award is curated by Sebastian Goldspink and will be announced on 12 August.

Marah Braye, CEO of the Biennale of Sydney for the past eight years has moved on to take up the position of CEO of the Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.

An artists membership organisation in the UK has found that in the past three years, 70% of artists who exhibited in publicly-funded shows received no fee for doing so.

And finally, this daguerreotype depicts the earliest-born person ever to be photographed!

Conrad Heyer, Waldoboro, ca. 1852 Daguerreotype, leather case 9 x 7 cm Image: Collections of Maine Historical Society

Conrad Heyer, Waldoboro, ca. 1852
Daguerreotype, leather case
9 x 7 cm
Image: Collections of Maine Historical Society

Will to Keep

Archive Space is an artist-run gallery in Sydney’s Newtown. Archive’s focus is to provide not only a space for the exhibition of work, but also platforms for critical engagement with, and discussion of, contemporary art. Their website contains an archive where documentation and texts relating to each exhibition are gradually being recorded, rather than disappear into the ether of ARI history as is so often the case.

'Will to Keep' Reader, published by Archive Space, Sydney, May 2014

‘Will to Keep’ Reader, published by Archive Space, Sydney, May 2014

I was recently invited by Archive to contribute to a reader which was produced as part of a satellite project called Will to Keep. The exhibition, curated by artist Lisa Sammut and held at 107 Projects in Redfern, Sydney, is a standalone extension of the Archive concept, featuring over a dozen artists and writers musing on the desire to remember, record and accumulate. Writers were invited to investigate “the role history, historical memory or its mechanisms play in the formation of contemporary works of art, curatorial practices or artist-run initiatives and the dialogue surrounding this”, as well as contribute “a unique hand-drawn diagram illustrating the writer’s own critical thinking on the exhibitions themes in relation to their text.” I enjoyed producing a text which used an artwork (Laurence Aberhart’s Files, Wanganui 1986, below) as a departure point to meander through some memories. The hand-drawn diagram was more of a challenge but a fun one nonetheless.

Laurence Aberhart, Files Wanganui, 1 July 1986, silver gelatin, selenium-toned print, 19.4 x 24.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

Laurence Aberhart, Files Wanganui, 1 July 1986, silver gelatin, selenium-toned print, 19.4 x 24.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney

You can purchase the reader for AUD$5 from Archive Space (it’s beautifully printed at The Rizzeria and in a limited edition of 56). The content will also be available online, check back for a link.

I’m also part of the Archive Writers Program for 2014. The exhibition program is still under wraps but check back mid-year when I will be writing on the work of an interesting exhibiting artist.