Venice Biennale

Art for all at the Singapore pavilion

Every two years, Venice plays host to the international art world's most prestigious event. This year's Venice Biennale features artists from all around the world, including Song-Ming Ang from Singapore.
Students from the Istituto Comprensivo Dante Alighieri (Venezia) performing a composition inspired by the film, Recorder Rewrite, at the launch of the Singapore pavilion.
Students from the Istituto Comprensivo Dante Alighieri (Venezia) performing a composition inspired by the film, Recorder Rewrite, at the launch of the Singapore pavilion.PHOTO: NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL, SINGAPORE
Yesterday In A Padded Room by artist Anurendra Jegadeva at the Malaysia pavilion.
Yesterday In A Padded Room by artist Anurendra Jegadeva at the Malaysia pavilion.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDREJ VASILENKO
Earth Shedding Its Skin by artist El Anatsui at the Ghana pavilion.
Earth Shedding Its Skin by artist El Anatsui at the Ghana pavilion.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF MALAYSIA PAVILION, TOH WEN LI, ANDREJ VASILENKO
At the Lithuania pavilion, a quayside building in the Marina Militare complex is transformed into an artificially lit beach scene.
At the Lithuania pavilion, a quayside building in the Marina Militare complex is transformed into an artificially lit beach scene.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF MALAYSIA PAVILION, TOH WEN LI, ANDREJ VASILENKO

A playful three-channel film installation is part of the Republic's entry

Singapore artists will continue to receive support to grow internationally, said Singapore's Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng during the launch of the nation's pavilion at the Venice Biennale on Thursday.

Speaking at the 58th edition of the international art festival, he added: "We will continue to support our artists in presenting quality art at top international platforms.

"We want them to benefit from access to new markets, while sharing a taste of Singapore arts and culture with a global audience."

The Singapore pavilion is located in the Sale d'Armi building in the Arsenale and, until Nov 24, will be home to an exhibition by artist Song-Ming Ang and curator Michelle Ho, titled Music For Everyone: Variations On A Theme.

The pavilion, like the rest of the Venice Biennale, opens to the public today.

The show is intended as a counterpoint to the state-driven vision of the Music For Everyone series of music concerts, which was organised by Singapore's then Ministry of Culture from the 1970s to the 1980s to promote public appreciation of the arts.

Ang, who saw old posters for these concerts several years ago when he was trawling through the National Archives, observes that these concerts' programmes focused mainly on classical music appreciation, nation-building and forging diplomatic relations and took this as a starting point to explore what the phrase "music for everyone" could mean.

The centrepiece of the show is Recorder Rewrite, a playful three-channel film installation that shows 20 children in colourful T-shirts playing music of their own devising on soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders in various parts of the Singapore Conference Hall.

In an early movement in the film, the children crouch between the seats of the concert hall, taking turns to briefly rise to view and make sounds - akin to fragments of birdsong - on the instrument.

The launch on Thursday featured a performance by seven children from the Instituto Comprensivo Dante Alighieri school in Venice.

Walking around the exhibition venue with recorders, they performed a part-improvised piece inspired by Ang's film.

Aside from the film installation, the exhibition features other elements, including collages made from music manuscript paper and recorders that have been disassembled and rearranged into whimsical forms.

"What we are trying to do with this exhibition is to play with this idea of making art that is accessible to everyone, using simple and elementary techniques, and also with media that is familiar to everyone," Ang said.

He added: "I think there's a sense of playfulness, experimentation and improvisation in the works and I hope these works translate well onto the international stage of the Venice Biennale."

The Singapore pavilion is commissioned by the National Arts Council, which, in 2015, took up a 20-year lease for a space at the Sale d'Armi building in the Arsenale - allowing it to be used for the art and architecture biennales, which are held on alternate years.

It is also supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media.


Other country pavilions to check out

A key part of the Venice Binennale is an art exhibition with works by about 80 invited artists, who are showing their work in the Giardini, a parkland area; and the Arsenale, a former shipyard complex.

It is curated by New Yorker Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery in London, and set to the theme, "May You Live In Interesting Times".

There are also 90 national country pavilions, 21 collateral events and other art events running parallel to the prestigious art biennale.

With a glut of works clamouring for visitors' attention, The Straits Times recommends some to check out.

MALAYSIA


Yesterday In A Padded Room, an installation by artist Anurendra Jegadeva, now on display at the Malaysia pavilion at the Venice Biennale. 
PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANURENDRA JEGADEVA 

A room padded with cushions and furnished with two chairs with flashing lights is Malaysian artist Anurendra Jegadeva's contribution to his country's first pavilion at the biennale.

The installation, titled Yesterday In A Padded Room, dates to 2015.

Cushions designed with faces of famous people line the walls, juxtaposing or complementing one another. In one pairing, for example, former United States presidents Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln appear on adjacent cushions.

Other artists taking part in the pavilion's group show at the Palazzo Malipiero building are H.H. Lim, Ivan Lam and Zulkifli Yusoff.

Titled Holding Up A Mirror, the exhibition was launched on Thursday - exactly a year after the general elections that led to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's shocking comeback.

It aims to generate discourse about identity in a society going through great political, social and economic changes.

Gallerist Lim Wei-Ling, the show's curator, was the driving force behind the country's bid for a pavilion, raising funds from various sponsors without the government's financial backing.

GHANA


The Ghana Pavilion, curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and designed by David Adjaye, at the 58th Biennale di Venezia in Venice, Italy. 
PHOTO: COURTESY OF EL ANATSUI

Earth Shedding Its Skin, a gleaming work of bottle caps and copper wire, is one of artist El Anatsui's contributions to Ghana's first national pavilion at the art festival.

The West African country's group exhibition at the Arsenale also includes portraits of people and a three-channel film, which, along with other works, are spread out in an exhibition space of interlocking elliptical shapes.

THE PHILIPPINES


The Philippines' pavilion at the Venice Biennale. 
ST PHOTO: TOH WEN LI 

"Am I going to die?" asks one festivalgoer as he steps gingerly onto an elevated glass floor, the only thing separating him from the brick-lined abyss below.

Or so he thinks. The artwork he is walking on - one of a group of "islands" at the Philippines pavilion in the Arsenale - plays tricks on the eye. The large well-like structure houses several cleverly positioned reflective surfaces - together with LEDs and various found objects - which create a sense of depth.

The work is part of artist Mark Justiniani's Island Weather installation and simulates a voyage - one, perhaps, where art buoys the spirit.

LITHUANIA


Lithuania pavilion at the Venice Biennale. 
PHOTO: ANDREJ VASILENKO

The Lithuania pavilion may be one of the stranger sights visitors will see at this year's biennale.

A quayside building in the Marina Militare complex has been transformed into an artificially lit beach scene - replete with sand, deck chairs and people in bathing suits.

Then, as audience members on the mezzanine gallery look on, the sunbathers start to sing - and a durational opera performance unfolds.

While the music sounds lighthearted, the work also looks at the burning ecological issues of the day.

The performance takes place live on Saturdays and the work is mostly a sound installation on other days.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2019, with the headline 'Art for all at the Singapore pavilion'. Print Edition | Subscribe