Revisiting paint, glass and the sea: Singapore art at the Venice Biennale

Artist Charles Lim and his installation Sea State at the Singapore Pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- ST PHOTO: WEE LI LIN
Artist Charles Lim and his installation Sea State at the Singapore Pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- ST PHOTO: WEE LI LIN
Eddi Prabandono's After Party/Living The High Life in Frontiers Reimagined, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA
Eddi Prabandono's After Party/Living The High Life in Frontiers Reimagined, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA
Hong Kong artist Morgan Wong's The Remnant Of My Volition (Force Majeure), hanging (centre) in Frontiers Reimagined, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA
Hong Kong artist Morgan Wong's The Remnant Of My Volition (Force Majeure), hanging (centre) in Frontiers Reimagined, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA
Ara Lucidus by Singaporean artist Iyvone Khoo, part of Gotika: Glasstress 2015, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- PHOTO: IYVONE KHOO/GLASSTRESS
Ara Lucidus by Singaporean artist Iyvone Khoo, part of Gotika: Glasstress 2015, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- PHOTO: IYVONE KHOO/GLASSTRESS
Singapore artist Iyvone Khoo, 40, created art installation Ara Lucidus with a Murano studio for Gotika: Glasstress 2015, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- ST PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA
Singapore artist Iyvone Khoo, 40, created art installation Ara Lucidus with a Murano studio for Gotika: Glasstress 2015, a collateral exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015. -- ST PHOTO: AKSHITA NANDA

Apart from the well-received Singapore Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, two Singaporean artists are exhibiting in high-profile collateral exhibitions during the international arts festival.

Jane Lee adds a new twist to painting in a work for Frontiers Reimagined at Palazzo Grimani on the mainland of Venice, co-curated by gallerist Sundaram Tagore and presented by the Tagore Foundation International and the Polo Museale del Veneto.

On the nearby island of Murano, famed for its fabulous glasswork, light and video artist Iyvone Khoo adds contemporary flair to the historic art with her installation for Gotika: Glasstress 2015, organised by glassmaker Berengo Studio and the curator of the State Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg in Russia.

Both exhibitions run until Nov 22 and are among the 44 official collateral exhibitions of the Venice Biennale, the world's most anticipated and observed international arts festival. The Biennale traditionally features dozens of national pavilions taken by individual countries and usually clustered around the Giardini gardens and historic military complex Arsenale but also a select number of curated events that open at the same time.

Over at the Singapore Pavilion, the maritime-inspired multimedia installation Sea State by Charles Lim takes centrestage. It is the culmination of 10 years of work by the artist and former national sailor, and examines reclamation and expansion works and how these led to an island off the coast of Singapore, Pulau Sejahat, disappearing off maps.

The exhibition Frontiers Reimagined looks at the positive impact globalisation has had on art and features more than 65 works by 44 artists including Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and Indonesian artist Eddi Prabandono. It is co-curated by American art historian Marcus Kwint as well as high-profile gallerist Tagore, whose eponymous gallery has spaces in New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Lee's In You In Me features her trademark style of thick, multilayered gobs of paint, with a three-dimensional twist that allows the viewer to put herself in the frame. The Singapore-based artist, a graduate of the Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore, is no stranger to international renown. She was a finalist for the 2007 Sovereign Art Prize and won the Celeste Prize for painting in 2011 but says this, her first participation in the Venice Biennale, is a special opportunity.

"It's a privilege to show in a museum in a space in Venice, even one work. All artists hope to be part of the Venice Biennale, for the exposure and because the standards are very high, world class," says the 50-year-old.

London-based Khoo, 40, is taking part in the Glasstress Biennale collateral exhibition for the second time. Glasstress was set up in 2009 by Adriano Berengo, 67-year-old founder of the 27-year-old Berengo Studio, to revitalise what he calls "a decaying world". He invites contemporary artists to collaborate with his "maestros" or master glassmakers, and made headlines with the inclusion of attention-grabbing Belgian conceptual artist Koen Vanmechelen.

Vanmechelen's projects include cross-breeding chickens from all over the world to create a super-bird in the ongoing The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project (CCP). For Glasstress 2015, the 50-year-old imported a dromedary into the island of Murano - for photography and for dung to cultivate mushrooms for the opening night party.

Koen is also Khoo's "patron" - he bought Fallen Star, her first work for Glasstress for some 15,000 euros in 2013, a heady start for the practically self-taught artist. The oldest of three children of a hairdresser, Khoo studied graphic design in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. She then worked in lighting design companies and painted stage sets to fund her further education, from short-term courses in theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London to video editing at Northwest Vista College in Texas.

Her portfolio got her into and through the master of fine arts programme at Central St Martin's, University of Arts London - she graduated in 2013.

Long enamoured of light, she unites the Gothic fear of nature and bioluminescent fireflies with readings of Dante's Inferno in the installation, Ara Lucidus (or "shining altar" in Latin).

"They thought light was spirits and ghosts," she says, donning a head-torch to set up her work in a pitch-black corner of a disused furnace in Murano - Glasstress features 50 artists and is spread over three locations including Palazzo Franchetti and a church in the Venetian mainland.

The installation starts and cycles through grim lighting and thunderous mood music. One is reminded of her story of sleeping in a rubbish dump during one night of her residency in Murano because she didn't have the funds for a hotel.

Then suddenly the gloom lightens as the installation projects the illusion of a clear blue sky.

"You have to wait until the end," says Khoo, smiling. "You go through it all and then you get to see Paradise."

akshitan@sph.com.sg

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Frontiers Reimagined

Where: Museo di Palazzo Grimani, Ramo Grimani, Castello 4858, Venice

When: Until Nov 22, Tues-Sun 10am to 6pm

Admission: Free

Info: www.frontiersreimagined.org

Gotika: Glasstress 2015

Where: Palazzo Franchetti, Venetian Institute of Science, Letters and Arts, Campo San Stefano 284, Venice; Fondazione Berengo, Campiello della Pescheria, Murano;

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Visitazione, Fondamenta Zattere, Dorsoduro 919, Venice

When: Until Nov 22, Tues-Sun 10am to 6pm

Admission: Free

Info: www.glasstress.org

Sea State: Singapore Pavilion

Where: Arsenale, Venice

When: 10am to 8pm, Tues-Sun until Sept 29; 10am to 6pm Tues-Sun from Sept 30 to Nov 22

Tickets: From 25 euros for single entry into main venues Giardini and Arsenale to 80 euros for permanent pass until Nov 22. Discounts for family, students and elderly; free for children up to age six, adults accompanying disabled visitors.

From ticket offices on site or www.labiennale.org