Gillman Barracks is located slightly away from the Singapore city center, but it is easily accessible even for a newcomer like me, either by MRT or by car. The black steel gate at the entrance is a nonverbal gesture of welcome upon one’s arrival. As for me, it is a dreamland to art creation.
In 2012, this arts cluster was launched and nestled at a former military barracks dating back to 1936. I love both its spacious open area and architectures. A land with historical and creative inspiration. There is a total of 10-kilometer open space surrounded by lush tropical greenery and colonial architectures, hold both local and international galleries, art organizations, artist studio, art research center and outreach art businesses offering a wide range of art programmes, like exhibitions, complimentary guided tour, live performance and lifestyle events, it is very much what an artist needs in life, except for an art supply store.
Visiting all 11 galleries at GB could be exhausting, I spent quite some time there during the afternoon. The cozy cafe there was my refuge to recharge declining energy. It is good to know that there are places offer art activities for kids. For the future artist-to-be, a nurturing site is necessary. It seems like that this land is telling visitors its stories and providing visitors access to create their own stories. In this case, both sides are working for each other for the sake of art.
Among all the galleries in Gillman Barracks, there were two exhibitions I enjoyed the most.
Zai Kuning @ Ota Fine Arts
When Ota Fine arts started in 1994 in Tokyo, it aims at promoting the originality of Japanese art. Now in Singapore, it keeps its mission to promote regional character and commonality of Asian Culture. In the exhibition, the chosen artist Zai Kuning shown an installation work “Dapunta Mapping the Melayu” consisting of a rattan ship, plus other related variations of ship installation and drawings.
In spite of the abstractness and simplicity, the artwork provided enough visual stimulation to wake up one’s connotation to some kind of ship and sailing. The contrasting weight and reflective effect of solid wood and the mirror on the ground, together with the lightness of the threads, the hanging nest and imaginary human skeleton all invited spectator openly to a sea journey.
The artist’s inspiration came from the exploration of the world of the “Orang Laut” the sea gypsies, or nomadic indigenous fisherman living in the Riau Archipelago and the history of the first Malay King, Dapunta Hyang, expanded his territories through the South East Asia Sea.
Throughout his research and creation process, part of his work series had been shown in the past few years in different occasions such as Hong Kong and Paris before its full completion at the Singapore Pavilion in the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017.
On the walls, his drawings are composed of partially burnt papers with ink, revealing the artist’s new research direction of human beings’ living conditions in relation to nature, which I think may attract more attention as it is a major discourse of the situation of our global villages now.
I always find that there are treasures in certain artworks that I do not get at my first glance. For many art exhibitions, the thought of an artist will not display clearly, until we read on the story and creation process, esp. with research-based artwork. This kind of art requires spectators to offer a little bit more patience to dig into the artwork and release one’s imagination. Visually, Zai’s exhibition is quiet and subtle, the tonal value and form are genuinely simple. Nevertheless, standing in front of his art piece for a while, I could almost hear the sound of waves and the flapping wings of seagulls, even the loud shouts of the sailors …oh, that would be my own imagination from the “Pirate of Caribbean”!
eX de Medici @ Sullivan + Strumpf
Watercolor is known as a medium in the art history to deliver gentle images related to femininity. However, the presentation of an Australia artist eX de Medici at Sullivan + Strumpf surprised me.
The colorful images on the artworks, from a distance, it looked as if they were fireworks or some kind of tortuous graphic designs. When I approached them with a closer look, there were all odd compositions of birds and flowers with surveillance cameras, a nest of a metal mobile phone, gun, bullets, and heavy military weapons. The sizes of paintings, from quite a standard sizes to an elongated panoramic tableau up to 6.2 m long. In addition, the title of the artworks filled with no girly fantasy but violence elements, like “I killed her with my club 2017”. I was seriously curious on all these uncommon combinations. Obviously, all the above observation leads to one conclusion that is through the presentation of the light weighted medium against the heavy weighted images, the viewers may taste a disturbing sense of “ human brutality” and “ aesthetic beauty”.
Her artwork is criticizing the status quo of the social and political system that government controls in this increasingly digitized world. Truly, there is a revelation on certain universal phenomena as well as a global struggle we are all facing these days, such as freedom against surveillance, life against death, nature against man-made metal, hope against darkness and many we can think of.
eX de Medici began her art career in painting and photo media and completed an Austrian Council funded apprenticeship in LA in 1989. Watercolor painting is her major medium since 1996, as she believed that her messages would be accessible to a wider public through paintings more than other art forms.
The experience of the artist as a tattooist in the past laid a strong impact on her work. The images are well illustrated and carefully composed with so many details that one can see the trace of the tattoo design influence. However, on one hand, her ongoing exploration on the watercolor as a medium plus her past tattoo practice offers her art an outstanding artistic performance on the paper, on the other hand, her controversial subject matters will lead spectator into a deeper internal self- talk.
Photo Credit: JC Jessie