Singapore Art Museum’s latest show Time of Others

2.2.1861 - a work by Vietnam-born artist Danh Vo.
2.2.1861 - a work by Vietnam-born artist Danh Vo.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Singapore Art Museum show looks at different cultural contexts in a globalised world

One of the humblest exhibits in the Singapore Art Museum's (SAM) latest show is a handwritten letter in French.

Called 2.2.1861, it is a work by Vietnam-born artist Danh Vo, who is based in Denmark and was the country's representative to the Venice Biennale this year. The letter, which was hand-traced by the artist's father, was originally written in 1861 by the French Catholic missionary Jean-Theopane Venard (1829-1861) to his own father before he was decapitated in West Tonkin in Northern Vietnam. The work looks at the father-son relationship and, typical of Vo's work, melds autobiography with broader historical, social and political themes.

Vo is one of 17 regional artists featured in a survey of contemporary art from the Asia-Pacific region called Time Of Others. It opened last Saturday and runs till Feb 28. The show is a collaboration between four museums: Singapore Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; National Museum of Art, Osaka; Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art; and the Japan Foundation Asia Center. It has already made stops in Tokyo and Osaka.

Through different media and narratives, these artists tackle the question of how we can better understand each other's cultural contexts in a globalised world. Many of them also make references to their cultural and colonial legacies that shape their understanding of identity today.

At the media preview at SAM, its director, Dr Susie Lingham, said: "This collaboration between SAM and the various art institutions in the Asia-Pacific is in line with our commitment to presenting thought- provoking contemporary art from around the world. It highlights just how inter-connected our world is."

  • VIEW IT / TIME OF OTHERS

  • WHERE: Singapore Art Museum, 71 Bras Basah Road

    WHEN: Till Feb 28, 10am to 7pm daily (last admission at 6.15pm), open till 9pm on Fridays

    ADMISSION: Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents. $10 for adults; $5 for students with valid identification and seniors above 60. Free for children under six years old

    INFO: Go to www.singaporeartmuseum.sg

  • Exhibition highlights

    1. Calendars (2020-2096) (2004-2010) by Heman Chong, Singapore

    1,001 offset prints with matte lamination, 30x30cm (each), installation dimensions variable

    Installed in a grid on the walls of the room are 1,001 calendars. The photographs in the calendars show urban spaces such as shops, restaurants, terraces, bars, kitchens and halls without any people. In 2004, Chong started photographing what he calls "moments of absence" in densely packed Singapore. The title of the installation, Calendars (2020-2096), as well as the eerie stillness of the images, lends the work a post- apocalyptic touch.

    Chong, 38, is known for his many projects that imagine a future through texts, objects and images. He represented Singapore in the 2003 Venice Biennale.

    2. The Realm Of Reverberations (2014) by Chen Chieh-jen, Taiwan

    Video installation with four blue-ray films and documentation, durations 23:56, 26:07, 23:33 and 26:56 minutes

    Taiwanese artist Chen, 55, is known for his provocative photography and video works dealing with the themes and consequences of capitalism, colonisation and globalisation.

    This moving work is shot at the Losheng Sanatorium, a hospital for lepers located on the outskirts of Taipei, which has rapidly deteriorated following the Taiwanese authorities' decision to build a train depot on the site. The Realm Of Reverberations interweaves the stories of four individuals whose lives have been impacted by the Losheng and the changes there. They are: a volunteer working with sanatorium residents, old residents, a mainland Chinese hospice nurse and a fictional political prisoner.

    3. Erased Slogans (2008) and The Red Book Of Slogans (2008) by Kiri Dalena, the Philippines

    Video projection on desk; 62x92x78cm (table), 41x41x61cm (stool). Hardcover book with wood armrest; 9x6x8cm (book), 56x23x2cm (wood armrest)

    Dalena, 40, studied documentary film-making and is known for her work looking at human rights violations. Erased Slogans digs deep into an archive of photographic materials produced during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1981. Fascinated by the demonstrations which saw the declaration of martial law, Dalena picked about 100 photographs from a massive archive and erased all the slogans on them. The blank placards allude to an enforced silence and forgotten hopes and ideals. Accompanying these is The Red Book Of Slogans, a 700-page book, reminiscent of an expanded communist red book.

    4. lumination fall wall weave, (2006/2015) by Jonathan Jones, Australia

    Electrical cable, light fittings, bulbs; dimensions variable Queensland Art Gallery Collection

    Inspired by his mother's sewing practice and the communal activity of Aboriginal net-making, Jones creates this electric light installation that celebrates community. To show the inter-connectedness of community bonds, electrical cords are woven through repeated loops modelled in the shape of canoes. Light bulbs dangle in a row just above the gallery floor, referencing camp fires. This was the winning entry for the 2006 Xstrata Coal Emerging Indigenous Art Award. Jones, 37, has received numerous grants for his poetic light works and site-specific installations.

    5. 2.2.1861 (2009-ongoing) by Danh Vo, VietnamInk on paper, 29.6x21cm

    Queensland Art Gallery Collection

    The symbolism and distribution of power are recurring themes in Vo's art, which draws on his personal experience to explore broader historical, social and political themes. This work, hand-traced by the artist's father, is a letter originally written in 1861 by the French Catholic missionary Jean-Theopane Venard (1829-1861) to his own father just before his execution in West Tonkin in Northern Vietnam. The elegant handwritten letter not just looks at the father-son relationship, but also the various circumstances that determine power play.

    The 40-year-old Vietnam-born, Denmark-based artist was in the news here recently for getting the first Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden Commission at the National Gallery Singapore.

Participating artists include: Chen Chieh-jen (Taiwan), Heman Chong (Singapore), Kiri Dalena (the Philippines), Graham Fletcher (New Zealand/Samoa), Saleh Husein (Indonesia), Jonathan Jones (Australia), On Kawara (Japan), Lim Minouk (South Korea), Basir Mahmood (Pakistan), Pratchaya Phinthong (Thailand), Shitamichi Motoyuki (Japan) and Vandy Rattana (Cambodia). Also included in the Singapore edition are works by Hong Kong artist Tozer Pak and Filipino artist Ringo Bunoan.

Thai artist Phinthong's arresting installation Give More Than You Take includes a video, a wooden shooting tower and a stack of newspapers.

A few years ago, for an art residency in Paris, the 40-year-old artist opted to spend time picking berries with other Thai labourers in Northern Sweden. These scenes were recorded in the video work.

The shooting tower was dismantled by the artist and the workers in the forest, and sent back to the curator to be reassembled. In some shows, it is restacked to form a monolith; here, it is presented as a tower.

Phinthong also gave a daily update to the curator of the weight of berries he picked. In return, the curator was to amass objects of the same weight and choose how these items would eventually be presented in an exhibition. In this show, the weight of berries is matched by newspapers.

Why newspapers? Phinthong, who was in town during the opening, tells Life that he had read an article about Thai farmers demonstrating against the non- payment of wages. He wanted to go beyond a newspaper headline reporting the protest to explore the idea of the "weight of information", and what are some of the things we remember and forget, since many stories reported today are forgotten tomorrow.

Indonesian artist Husein's series of 100 paintings called Arabian Party explores the relatively unknown history of Arab-Indonesians. Despite being long part of Indonesia's history, Arab-Indonesians were still classified as foreigners and their rights restricted under Dutch colonial rule. Through converting historical photographs into paintings, Arabian Party is an intense reflection on issues of nationhood, nationalism and identity.

Osaka-based curator Azusa Hashimoto, 37, from The National Museum of Art, Osaka, calls this more than "a survey show".

She says: "This is a thematic show that allows us to explore the idea of others and how we look at other individuals and understand other cultures in our connected world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline 'Time to connect'. Print Edition | Subscribe