Seoul sold on media art from Singapore

Artists Ong Kian Peng (left) and Teow Yue Han are among the Singaporeans whose works are on show at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul as part of the Seoul/Singapore Open Media Art Festival. The festival was first launched in Singapore in
Artists Ong Kian Peng and Teow Yue Han (right) are among the Singaporeans whose works are on show at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul as part of the Seoul/Singapore Open Media Art Festival. The festival was first launched in Singapore in 2015 to mark 40 years of relations with South Korea.ST PHOTOS: CHANG MAY CHOON
Artists Ong Kian Peng (left) and Teow Yue Han are among the Singaporeans whose works are on show at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul as part of the Seoul/Singapore Open Media Art Festival. The festival was first launched in Singapore in
Artists Ong Kian Peng (left) and Teow Yue Han are among the Singaporeans whose works are on show at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul as part of the Seoul/Singapore Open Media Art Festival. The festival was first launched in Singapore in 2015 to mark 40 years of relations with South Korea.ST PHOTOS: CHANG MAY CHOON

South Koreans get insights into multicultural S'pore society at art festival

Singapore media artist Ong Kian Peng once spent three months on a "very ulu" island in South Korea's Gyeonggi province, taking in its sights and sounds as part of a sponsored art residency programme.

He then created a series of videos representing Daebu island, one of which was sold for $2,000 - much to his surprise.

"It was a 30-minute meditative piece made using a photo of the sea and sounds I recorded. I'm surprised someone bought it, because it will never sell in Singapore's art market, which is mostly about painting and sculptures," he said.

Five years on, Mr Ong, 36, has returned to South Korea with his signature work - an installation which uses moving metal ball bearings to recreate the sound of ocean waves crashing against the shore.

He is among a group of Singapore media artists whose works are on display at the Total Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul as part of the Seoul/Singapore Open Media Art Festival.

Launched in Singapore in 2015 to mark 40 years of bilateral relations, the festival is being held in Seoul for the first time. It opened on Nov 16 and will run till the end of the month. The works of 13 media artists, including Singapore's Ho Tzu Nyen and Teow Yue Han, and South Korea's Protoroom and Mioon, are being featured.

While Singapore's media art scene is small and less developed than South Korea's, Singapore artists told The Sunday Times that they had something to offer to a largely homogeneous Korean audience - their unique experiences of a modern, multi-cultural society.

As curator Urich Lau put it, they offer "a slice of Singapore life". Or a Singaporean perspective on something Korean, as in the case of a video of the heavily-guarded demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas by artist Lim Shengen.

Workshops are also being held as part of the festival to promote understanding between Singapore artists and their Korean counterparts, as well as among ordinary Koreans.

Art exchanges between the two countries have increased, as Korean art curators discover a niche in Singapore artists seeking to expand overseas partly due to limited funding and support at home.

Korean independent curator Janice Kim, who used to run a gallery in Singapore but returned home last year, said Korean and Singapore artists had a lot in common. Many were educated overseas in the US or Europe and thus Western-influenced, and their works were not confined by national, historical or cultural stereotypes, she said.

Ms Kim, 47, who expressed "great affection" for Singapore artists, said the time was ripe for Singapore artists to make a foray into South Korea where there was growing interest in South-east Asian art. The response so far from the hundreds of Korean visitors to the festival has been good, she added.

"People enjoyed it. They say it's very interesting, and they had fun," Ms Kim said.

Mr Lau, who also lectures at Lasalle College of the Arts, said there was a lot for Singapore's small group of media artists to learn from their more established and technologically-advanced Korean counterparts in terms of using multimedia platforms to create art.

"Singapore's media art scene is still very niche and small, but there is potential to grow. It's important for artists to start networking and growing," said Mr Lau, 42.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 26, 2017, with the headline 'Seoul sold on media art from Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe