Singaporean film-makers win inaugural US$15,000 digital art prize open to S-E Asian artists

A still from The Cup (2020), a surreal story of a man with a brewing machine for a head.
A still from The Cup (2020), a surreal story of a man with a brewing machine for a head.PHOTO: MARK CHUA AND LAM LI-SHUEN
Myanmar artist Shwe Wutt Hmon won the Still Image category with her I Do Miss Hospital Visit series.
Myanmar artist Shwe Wutt Hmon won the Still Image category with her I Do Miss Hospital Visit series.PHOTO: SHWE WUTT HMON

SINGAPORE - A short film by Singapore artists Mark Chua and Lam Li Shuen has come out tops in a prize for young artists who create digital art.

The Cup, a surreal story of a man with a brewing machine for a head, was born amid the isolation of last year's circuit breaker period.

Chua, 29, and Lam, 25, received US$15,000 (S$19,890) for their black-and-white video, which won in the Moving Image category of the Julius Baer Next Generation Art Prize.

The inaugural award by the Swiss private banking group was announced in November last year, with an open call to South-east Asian artists aged 18 to 40.

They could submit moving or still images, such as digital paintings, video art and virtual reality artwork.

Three winners in the Still Image and Moving Image categories each received US$15,000, US$10,000 or US$5,000.

Chua and Lam, collectively known as Emoumie, say their film is a "humorous take" on the flattening out of life during the Covid-19 pandemic. They intend to funnel the prize money into their upcoming short film and a screening of another project.

Meanwhile, Myanmar artist Shwe Wutt Hmon won the Still Image category with I Do Miss Hospital Visit, an experimental series of images she created by scanning the scars on her own body and juxtaposing them against withered flowers, old family photos and CT scans.

Singapore's Robert Zhao bagged the second prize in that category with And A Great Sign Appeared (Thailand-Singapore). The work was prompted by sightings of unusually large flocks of Asian open-bill storks in Singapore in 2019 - a sign, perhaps, of environmental change in the region.

Zhao, 38, says: "I will continue documenting the stories I see happening between human species and non-human species, no matter how uncomfortable they are."

There were 204 competition entries, a number that "exceeded expectations", says Mr Jason Moo, Julius Baer's head of private banking for South-east Asia.

The judging panel comprised curator Barbara Staubli of The Julius Baer Art Collection, art collector Wiyu Wahono, contemporary art collector Cheryl Loh, gallerist Audrey Yeo of Yeo Workshop, and curator Inti Guerrero.


Robert Zhao's And A Great Sign Appeared (Thailand-Singapore) won second prize in the Still Image category. PHOTO: ROBERT ZHAO

Ms Yeo says: "There is a diverse range of narratives, moods and interests in the finalist line-up - works that range from cerebral engagements with big ideas to intimate, revealing portraits of individual lives to humorous, whimsical images of everyday existence."

A virtual exhibition of finalists' works runs till June 30. Go to this website.