New pathways, new possibilities

The ninth edition of Singapore Art Week kicks off tomorrow and has more than 100 events islandwide and online

UNUSUAL MEETS USUAL: Singapore Art Week's line-up includes Bus.Stop.Art. installations (left); CosmicWander: Expedition (top), artist Choy Ka Fai's video and performance art project inspired by his encounters with shamans in different countries; and
UNUSUAL MEETS USUAL: Singapore Art Week's line-up includes Bus.Stop.Art. installations (above); CosmicWander: Expedition, artist Choy Ka Fai's video and performance art project inspired by his encounters with shamans in different countries; and the Light To Night Festival.PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR, GIN TAY, THE NEXT MOST FAMOUS ARTIST
UNUSUAL MEETS USUAL: Singapore Art Week's line-up includes Bus.Stop.Art. installations (left); CosmicWander: Expedition (top), artist Choy Ka Fai's video and performance art project inspired by his encounters with shamans in different countries; and
UNUSUAL MEETS USUAL: Singapore Art Week's line-up includes Bus.Stop.Art. installations; CosmicWander: Expedition (above), artist Choy Ka Fai's video and performance art project inspired by his encounters with shamans in different countries; and the Light To Night Festival.PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR, GIN TAY, THE NEXT MOST FAMOUS ARTIST
UNUSUAL MEETS USUAL: Singapore Art Week's line-up includes Bus.Stop.Art. installations (left); CosmicWander: Expedition (top), artist Choy Ka Fai's video and performance art project inspired by his encounters with shamans in different countries; and
UNUSUAL MEETS USUAL: Singapore Art Week's line-up includes Bus.Stop.Art. installations; CosmicWander: Expedition, artist Choy Ka Fai's video and performance art project inspired by his encounters with shamans in different countries; and the Light To Night Festival (above).PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR, GIN TAY, THE NEXT MOST FAMOUS ARTIST

In 2018, Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai embarked on a journey that would take him from Lake Baikal in Siberia to the streets of Taiwan to a Housing Board estate in Yishun, meeting more than 50 shamans from different Asian cultures and observing their rituals.

These forays are at the heart of CosmicWander: Expedition, a multimedia work in progress at Tanjong Pagar Distripark as part of Singapore Art Week (SAW).

The ninth edition of the festival runs from tomorrow till Jan 30.

CosmicWander features a six-channel video installation with footage of shamanic dance rituals and a gameplay demonstration in which an android tries to reconnect with gods; as well as a five-channel "getai of virtual gods" with dancing avatars.

"If I capture a shaman in a trance, does it mean I actually translate the movement of a god?" asks Choy, 41.

Last weekend, the Berlin-based artist, who is back in town for now, kicked off his exhibition with a live "multicultural voguing party".

The cavernous industrial space, bathed in pink light and incense, became the "stage" for Norwegian-Thai dancer Sun Phitthaya Phaefuang. Motion-capture data from his live performance in Bangkok was transmitted to Singapore, where he appeared on a screen as a dancing avatar. Meanwhile, drummer Cheryl Ong, and Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari of experimental group Nada performed in the flesh, their music and motions inspired by shamanic rituals.

Choy says his work "invites you to commune with us, and to think about our bodies and our spiritual states in these strange times".

CosmicWander, which blurs the lines between the material and virtual, as well as the spiritual and secular, is not the only SAW event to feature multiple mediums, so to speak.

There will be both physical and digital elements at many of the highlights of this year's festival, an annual initiative by the National Arts Council (NAC), Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Economic Development Board.

NAC director of visual arts sector development Tay Tong says this is the first time the festival has had a "complementary blended format, with new commissions that not only allow Singaporeans to encounter art in galleries and everyday spaces, but also digital programmes that transcend time and space".

Signature events returning this year include the Light To Night Festival led by the National Gallery Singapore, featuring projections, physical art installations and other programmes in the civic district; and S.E.A. Focus by STPI - Creative Workshop and Gallery, a showcase of art from galleries in the region, held online and at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.

The inaugural SAW Art Symposium will also be a hybrid event.

Other events include The Private Museum's solo show by Justin Lee, held in the museum's premises and at 222 Arts Club; Mulan Gallery's Ceramic Expressions group exhibition at The Substation; and exhibitions of Chinese ink by about 10 galleries at Bras Basah Complex.

Over at the Gillman Barracks arts enclave off Alexandra Road, several new exhibitions probe humanity's relationship with technology.

Networked Bodies, a group exhibition by Supernormal, explores communication and intimacy through the Internet.

Instinc's Otherworlds: non/ digital realities brings together eight Singapore and Hong Kong artists to look at what it means to create art amid a pandemic and experiment with virtual reality.

Large-scale installation Inner Like The OutAR, which brings together multidisciplinary collaborators, uses augmented reality via smartphone browsers to create an audio-visual simulation of nature.

Visitors can also check out the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore's Free Jazz III. Sound. Walks., where soundwalks, sonic wayfinding and other experiences meditate on life and communality in a time of social distancing.

Elsewhere in Singapore, art will spring up in unconventional locations such as in an MRT train, at bus stops on the east-west route of service 175 and in the carpark of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, where visitors can hop into an electric car and go on an audio-guided tour through various ox sculptures.

The centre's chief executive Low Sze Wee says: "With safe distancing measures in place this year, we want the public to be able to continue enjoying immersive experiences in a safe setting. At the same time, we wanted to think out of the box and maximise the use of our space."

Artist Merryn Trevethan, 44, co-curator of Bus.Stop.Art., which features art in bus stops between Geylang Bahru and Gillman Barracks, says: "We wanted to bring art to the public in a way that didn't require them to go to a gallery or to consciously make the decision to go and see art. It's something that could be experienced no matter what restrictions we are facing at the time."

The futuristic Marina One development is a fitting venue for the Asian Film Archive's annual multidisciplinary State Of Motion event, which this year explores the science-fiction genre with more than 10 video works and installations in different parts of the complex.

Singapore artist Divaagar's Shelter Skelter installation in the basement takes the form of an "ancient bunker" in the year 2222 that houses relics from 2022. Among them are corrupted digital materials as well as a stockpile of Indomie instant noodles and a plant observatory.

State Of Motion's co-curator Thong Kay Wee says the pandemic evokes many of the sci-fi genre's themes. "A lot of the artists and film-makers we've invited have used the genre to talk about a lot of real-world problems specific to the Asian region.

"We are creating worlds upon worlds, simulations within simulations. We are talking about how we can think of ways to carve new pathways and of new possibilities beyond the present reality."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2021, with the headline 'New pathways, new possibilities'. Subscribe