In an unassuming industrial space next to one of Singapore’s shipping ports is a gateway marked by textured manila ropes. Stepping through its doors, you’re whisked away to the inspiring world of Southeast Asian contemporary art.
This is the site of the physical showcase of S.E.A. Focus, a homegrown art platform celebrating renowned and emerging contemporary artists of this region. S.E.A. Focus returns for its fifth edition as the anchor event of Singapore Art Week, happening at Tanjong Pagar Distripark from Jan 6 to 15.
For returning enthusiasts, the art presentations this year, themed “a world, anew” are bolder and larger with collaborations across genres, industries and sites.
If you’ve never been to an art event before, are art-curious, or simply seeking new experiences, the exciting 10-day line-up includes special showcases and digital presentations featuring art from the region that will make for unique and unforgettable experiences.
Here are three highlights to check out.
Dirty dishes as works of art, anyone?
Imagine visiting an exhibition one day and seeing artist-made dinnerware displayed pristine, only to return another day to see them used and ‘dirtied’.
This is the work of German sculptor Tobias Rehberger and renowned Thai artist Rikrit Tiravanija – a name that would be familiar to enthusiasts of Southeast Asian contemporary art.
Tiravanija is best known for his intimate, participatory installations that centre on communal traditions, such as cooking meals. At S.E.A. Focus, get a ‘taste’ of Tiravanija’s work in a special collaborative exhibition titled “Dirty Dishes”.
Dinnerware crafted by Tiravanija and Rehberger will be used at a special private dinner hosted at Michelin-starred restaurant Burnt Ends. This cross-industry collaboration with Berlin-based gallery Neugerriemschneider and the restaurant sees these dinnerware returned uniquely ‘dirtied’ for display at S.E.A. Focus.
Has the value of the dinnerware changed now that they have been soiled? Is there a new meaning layered on the bowls that was not there before?
For those perplexed by how a work like this could be considered art, S.E.A. Focus invites you to learn more about “relational aesthetics”, a participatory art movement Tiravanija is mostly associated with.
Tip: If you consider yourself more of a film buff or are keen to learn more about the artist’s earlier works, head down to The Projector. Tiravanija’s rarely-seen Super 8 films made when he was studying at the Ontario College of Art & Design and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will be screened at the popular local indie cinema.
His works are part of the OFF Focus Fringe Film Programme of S.E.A. Focus and will be the first time the Thai artist’s Super 8 films will be screened in Singapore. Tiravanija will also be present at a special Artist Talk after the screening.
Tickets for the Fringe Film Programme are priced at $8 and available for purchase here.
Unveiling the meanings of objects
Take a look around you and the objects in your space. What are they? Do they have a personal meaning for you? Are they functional for work? Internationally recognised Vietnamese-born Danish artist Danh Vo’s work often takes the form of objects and images with meaning that can change with context.
At S.E.A. Focus this year, you are invited to explore a uniquely designed garden built on marble slabs, specially created by the contemporary artist in his signature conceptual style. Stepping into this uniquely experiential public space, visitors are invited to contemplate and confront aspects of life, and how their own stories could alter their perception of the work.
Tip: Consider taking your contemplation one step further by exploring the works of emerging artists in the region, such as Ivan David Ng (Singapore), Ari Bayuaji (Indonesia), Christina Lopez (Philippines), Thun Dina (Cambodia) and Supawich Weesapen (Thailand).
Ivan David Ng’s paintings, for instance, delve into what it means to exist as a human being wedged between land (the terrestrial) and sky (the celestial). The works he will be showcasing at S.E.A. Focus will draw on the sun and moon as symbols of change and continuity.
Ng says: “The paintings seek to unpack the saying that ‘change is the only constant’ while simultaneously drawing out the unexpected beauty in a world saturated with change."
Also worth checking out is the “Dream Catcher” piece by Indonesian artist Ari Bayuaji. Inspired by the sight of plastic ropes he found tangled along mangrove trees along Bali’s coastline, Bayuaji and his assistants wove the entire art piece with plastic threads as part of his "Weaving the Ocean" project to make a statement about sustainability, as well as highlight the resilience of the Balinese people.
“In nature, we can find hope for a better future. The interweaving of our culture and nature in a harmonious manner is one of the most hopeful things human beings can do," Bayuaji says.
Experience and collect digital art
For those interested in NFTs, the dedicated showcase at S.E.A. Focus, "Living System: An NFT Show", will be a uniquely interactive and experiential introduction to this visual and auditory art format.
In partnership with Tezos blockchain, visitors can look forward to exclusive works from six leading artists from across the region. Bjorn Calleja (Philippines), Cwndien & the late Orkibal (Malaysia), Reza Hasni (Singapore), and Ykha Amelz & Discokid909 (Indonesia) have been commissioned to create three artworks each.
Tip: Onsite visitors can claim a coveted edition of one of the showcased artworks as a digital souvenir via akaSwap, an NFT platform built on Tezos. Your NFT can be claimed and stored in a Tezos blockchain wallet that can be easily created in real time.
These exciting highlights only hint at what you can expect from the showcase. All in all, S.E.A. Focus will feature works from a curated selection of 25 galleries and over 50 artists from around the world, with plenty to explore.
S.E.A. Focus, the anchor event at Singapore Art Week 2023, is happening from Jan 6 to 15 at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, 39 Keppel Rd, Singapore 089065.