I am not sure what “ a clear blue sky, white clouds and fresh breezes,” mean to others. These were the first ever-visual signs Singapore laid on my mind upon my immediate departure from the airport, telling me that all would be well. In addition, the green plants are “happy green” and everywhere. No wonder Singapore is called “Garden City”.
Should I be ashamed to confess that this was my first trip to Singapore? Well, truly, I should have no reason for not visiting Singapore in the past… with good friends there and short hours flying, delicious food, FRESH air, and clear blue sky, I guess I can only blame it on fate.
Taking the advantage of staying at Tanjong Pager area, I simply hopped on an MRT train to almost everywhere in the city. It is safe and easy in Singapore; I love it that way.
In the past few years, there were few Singapore galleries attended ArtBasel Hong Kong, with the government support, I can feel the art vibration blooming in many corners of the city, performing arts, music and visual arts, from commercial to high art.
Normally, to a new place, a museum is a good start to art. However, this time, I prefer to be selective. May is not the prime time for art in SG, but there were still few interesting exhibitions during my visit, the NAFA and La Salle Graduation show, Esplanade’s “Mindscapes”, and some at Gillman Barracks. Among all these, one of the events on top of my priority was a panel discussion held by The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2018. In the past editions, its focus fell on female artists. This year and next seems like there will be no exception.
“A walked line can never be erased” by Fringe Festival 2018, co-presented by Objectifs, was echoed to Singapore leading performance artist Amanda Heng’s artwork “Let’s Walk”. The panel discussion had invited Singapore artists, Amenda Heng, Woon Tien Wei, and Zai Razak; facilitator was Qinyi Lim, the curator at the National Gallery Singapore. Qinyi and I met at Parasite Hong Kong a few years back as we worked together for ArtBasel Hong Kong Guided Tour. After she relocated back home to work at Singapore, we bumped into each other again at ArtBasel this year. As an artist, I am always interested in acquiring pointers from curators. Her heart for art gained my respect. This time, it was nice to be there to meet her in SG, her hometown again.
I like the venue a lot. Adjacent to the main building of Objectifs, it is a yellow colored petite chapel turned white cube exhibition venue, the Chapel Gallery. The Chapel conveys more meaning than other exhibition venues I went in SG, with its exterior, it can be religious, but its interior, after wiping away all the religious elements, the emptiness help prevent one’s attention away from the artworks. Objectifs houses many magazines and CDs is a non-profit art space for photography and film. These two buildings mark this corner of the Middle Road a special one.
“Contemporary Art and the Everyday” was the topic of the panel discussion. Similar topics had appeared in a few other locations before. Instead of playing high key on the discussion, the flow became smooth when the sharing somewhere or somehow connected deeply to Singaporean’s daily living. In Singapore, its multi-culture background added more spices into the source of inspiration and from there, the artwork developed and transformed into performing or behavior art. The sharing of the artist’s mission, artwork and their appreciation of community engagement brought about the communication and discussion between the artists and the participants.
The exhibition itself in the chapel was a result of a Walking workshop held by Amenda in Oct 2017 with 10 student–participants from the art & design institutions in SG. There were multi-disciplinary, performing, visual and installation arts. During the discussion, the sharing of the students demonstrated their good digestion through the walk. Their artworks covered areas of their mental and emotional challenges in self- identity, social and surrounding environment.
Art is another process of education. Lee Weng Choy, an art critic in Kuala Lumpur presented in her essay” Is as Arts Education Necessary?” in the workshop booklet expressed that she believed in art involvement and its linkage to education. The process can help diminish one’s indifferent so one can move towards an inner self–reflection. In this case, Amanda’s Walking workshop indeed had a good execution.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”
Amenda Heng is one of the pioneering contemporary female artists in Singapore, a lecturer at Nanyang Technological University, National Institute of Education and supervisor of the MA program at LaSalle Colleges of Arts in Singapore. Her artworks, particularly performance artwork nailed the beginnings of contemporary art in SG.
Since her first walking performance, “Let’s Walk” in 1999 until now, her walk becomes a cross-countries and cultural performance expanded to Spain, Indonesia, Japan, Sweden, and France. The artist initiated a group of physical bodies to walk backward with her with a mirror and high-heeled shoes in their mouth. On one hand, it was questioning about the social issues and ordinary, but it also a challenge for the participant’s body, awareness, perception, and value. The “Walking” art performance, a social physical engagement turned self- meditation, also mixed up the boundaries between seemingly public and individual space.
Art itself is made of the interaction of lives. Performance art can be free from time and space constraints as it takes place, its impact, as ideal as art itself can be, should be raised above the ordinary & general expectation of art appreciation, to move into a deeper level of meditation, reflection, and appreciation. After the discussion, few things that I am still chewing on the different between “Looking in Art” and “Looking at Art”, one body and a corporate body, the intrigued exchange between public space and art space, ordinary moments and well-planned art time.
Photo credit: JC Jessie