Artists reflect on SG50

ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

Five artists make works that reflect five values symbolised on the flag - peace, justice, equality, democracy and progress

From a distance, the installation looks like free-flowing fabric or a crystal wave, mesmerising the viewer with intricate light and shadow play.

But Singapore artist Suzann Victor's stunning new work, Bloodline Of Peace, is made of nearly 35,000 fresnel lenses with drops of real blood collected from individuals from key communities such as the armed forces and civil defence.

The installation is a departure from Victor's famed Swinging Chandelier, the motorised red ornate light fixtures which will be re-installed at the National Museum of Singapore.

Says Victor, 56, of her new piece: "I wanted to offer a different experience for audiences. This was also a moment for self-auditing. To reflect on many things, including ideas of nationhood and how the notion of peace is not just the absence of war or bloodshed. These are ongoing dialogues."

  • VIEW IT / 5 STARS: ART REFLECTS ON PEACE, JUSTICE, EQUALITY, DEMOCRACY AND PROGRESS

  • WHERE: Singapore Art Museum, 71 Bras Basah Road


    WHEN: Tomorrow to May 2 next year, 10am to 7pm daily (last admission at 6.15pm), open till 9pm on Friday


    ADMISSION: Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents; for others: $10 (adults), $5 (students and seniors above the age of 60), free for those under six


    INFO: Call 6589-9580 or go to www.singaporeartmuseum.sg

  • BOOK IT / 5 STARS CURATOR TOURS

  • WHERE: Singapore Art Museum


    WHEN: Wednesday and Nov 4, 7.30pm


    ADMISSION: $15 from the museum or Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

The work is part of the Singapore Art Museum's new exhibition 5 Stars: Art Reflects On Peace, Justice, Equality, Democracy And Progress - a nod at SG50 and the five stars on the Singapore flag representing universal humanist values. It opens tomorrow and runs till May 2 next year.

Besides Victor, the show also features works by local artists Ho Tzu Nyen, Matthew Ngui and Zulkifle Mahmod and art historian T.K. Sabapathy.

The museum is showcasing the five for their lifelong commitment to art and their "exemplary" discipline.

They were invited to create a new work each in response to one of the nation's core values.

Museum director Susie Lingham says: "We asked each of them to reflect on our founding ideals of peace, justice, equality, democracy and progress, symbolised by the five stars on our national flag. In paying homage to Singapore's 50th anniversary, this exhibition also looks towards the future through the language of contemporary art."

For example, Ho takes on the idea of justice in his immersive new video work. No Man takes the unsuspecting viewer into a hall of mirrors where one is confronted with a spectral crowd.

Ngui, artistic director of the 2011 Singapore Biennale, returns to art-making after a three-year break with his striking installation titled Every Point Of View.

The maze-like work engages with the idea of democracy, presenting unfinished sentences on plastic pipes, prompting the viewer to try connecting the clauses and reflecting on differing viewpoints - a rumination on how democracy works.

"What is interesting to me is that none of our responses to the abstract concepts of peace, democracy or justice are direct," says Ho, 39, at the press preview. "Each work is open to interpretation and dialogue."

In engaging with abstract concepts, the show manages to show how they influence Singapore's identity.

As Ngui, 53, puts it: "Despite all the kitschiness, it is important to engage with things and ideas we sometimes take for granted and to celebrate different viewpoints."


Five new works

1. Bloodline Of Peace, 2015

By Suzann Victor, fresnel lens, blood and metal pins, 4,000x216cm

This brings together a range of Singaporeans who are brought together through the shared act of giving blood.

Unfolding like a monumental quilt, the work comprises more than 11,500 units created from 35,000 prismatic Fresnel lenses. This is a material Victor (above) first used in 1997.

In Bloodline Of Peace, each lens holds and magnifies in its "heart" a single drop of blood contributed by individuals representing Singapore's key communities such as the armed forces, medicine, civil defence, the arts and the pioneer generation.

Victor, 56, received her PhD in Visual Art in 2009 from the University of Western Sydney. Her artworks have garnered critical attention at prestigious platforms, including the 6th Havana Biennale (1997) and 49th Venice Biennale (2001). Her public artworks can be found at the National Museum of Singapore and Sydney's World Square.


2. Raising Spirits And Restoring Souls, 2015

By Zulkifle Mahmod, 64-channel midi controller, solenoids, e-bows, amplifiers, piano/bass/guitar strings, copper pipes, midi player and others, dimensions variable

Along a maze of copper pipes that wrap around the gallery space, a staccato orchestra taps out rhythms of a melody that sounds a little familiar, yet eludes immediate recognition. Sound-media artist Zulkifle's Raising Spirits And Restoring Souls re-imagines the national anthem Majulah Singapura distilled to its percussive beat.

Composed by Zubir Said in 1958, Majulah Singapura (Onward Singapore) has the phrase "Sama- sama menuju bahagia", which translates as "let us progress towards happiness together". The artist collaborated with children from disadvantaged backgrounds to record their singing of this phrase from the anthem for his work.

Zulkifle, 40, has represented Singapore at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007 and, in 2010, won Best Sound Design at The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.


3. Of Equal Measure, 2015

By T.K. Sabapathy, books, mixed media, video and artworks by Kumari Nahappan, Elaine Navas and Tan Swie Hian, dimensions variable

An art historian, educator, critic, writer and curator, Sabapathy has researched and published extensively on South-east Asian art and artists. In recognising the value of his contribution to the arts in Singapore, Of Equal Measure seeks to underscore the value of art.

Drawing on the 77-year-old's personal book collection, this presentation traces the chronology of his critical writings and shows how art in Singapore has evolved over four decades.


4. No Man, 2015

By Ho Tzu Nyen, six channel video installation with sound, 15 minutes loop

This looped video is a meditation on the relationship between crowds and power, and the representation of the masses and the individual.

Taking as its starting point Meditation XVII - Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, a poem by English poet and cleric John Donne, No Man reflects on how humanity is intertwined.

It invites the viewer into a hall of mirrors where the sense of self is gradually dissolved, receding into shadows amid the shifting video tableaux.

Ho, 39, is a writer and visual artist whose practice spans video, painting and theatre. He has exhibited at biennales and triennales, such as the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Brisbane in 2009, and represented Singapore at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011.


5. Every Point Of View, 2015

By Matthew Ngui, plastic pipes, real-time video projection, dimensions variable

The vertical whiteness of more than 400 PVC pipes in this work invokes the multi-pillared Parthenon in Athens, which is regarded as the birthplace of democracy.

Wandering amid this "modern forest" of pipes, a viewer fleetingly encounters some statements about what democracy means.

Each of these statements can be read in full only from a particular position.

Ngui sees the work as "analogous" to the democratic process: that democracy "is an understanding that different viewpoints exist" and that it takes an openness to accept different views.

The 53-year-old trained in sculpture and works in the areas of installation, video, performance, site-specific works and public art.

He has exhibited at contemporary art museums in Berlin, London, Manila and Vienna and was the artistic director of the third edition of the Singapore Biennale held in 2011.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Artists reflect on SG50'. Print Edition | Subscribe