Art review: Singapore Art Museum's triple treat of shows

The intricacies of image-making are showcased in photos and new media works by 46 artists

Peter Coffin’s Untitled (Flying Fruits, 2011) and Genevieve Chua’s Tillandsia Usneoides Fig. 3 (above). -- PHOTO: GENEVIEVE CHUA
Peter Coffin’s Untitled (Flying Fruits, 2011) and Genevieve Chua’s Tillandsia Usneoides Fig. 3 (above). -- PHOTO: GENEVIEVE CHUA
Peter Coffin’s Untitled (Flying Fruits, 2011, above) and Genevieve Chua’s Tillandsia Usneoides Fig. 3. -- PHOTO: PETER COFFIN, GENEVIEVE CHUA
Dinh Q Le’s The Scroll Of The Women And Children Of Mai Lai (2013). -- PHOTO: DINH Q LE AND ELIZABETH LEACH GALLERY

Review: Art


Singapore Art Museum/Till Feb 8

The triple bill of exhibitions at the Singapore Art Museum, Still Moving, is a knockout show serving a one-two punch and a sweet salve at the end.

The trio of exhibitions - co-curated by the museum and three partners, the Singapore International Photography Festival, Deutsche Bank and Yokohama Museum of Art - features photography and new media works by 46 artists spread over four floors of the Singapore Art Museum annexe building in Queen Street.

While each show has a different focus, the museum highlights the kindred interest they share in the intricacies of image-making.

The first exhibition one encounters is Afterimage: Contemporary Photography In South-east Asia, a collaboration with the photography festival that ended its run last month.

Through the lens of photography and works of 13 artists, the show considers the life of images after they are made, how visual representations are perceived and how their meanings persist.

Vietnamese artist Dinh Q Le in his Scroll series of work, for example, ponders the way photography and technology can distort historical moments and collective memory.

He digitally manipulates iconic photographs from the Vietnam War, such as the indelible image of a naked girl fleeing a napalm bombing, stretching the pictures into 50m-long scrolls that hang as a vertical cascade of abstract coloured streaks that pool on the floor in neat folds.

Photography as a commodity in the circulation of culture and collective memory takes a different turn in Visit Indonesia 2014. The slide show of 19 digital images by Indonesian artist Argan Harahap depicts international celebrities such as Rihanna and Justin Bieber inserted into photographs of ordinary spaces in Indonesia.

The bizarre modifications scramble meaning and spark questions of authenticity while recalling a century-old practice of doctoring photos and the 21st century habit of digital natives who manipulate snaps on their smartphones, cropping and adding filters with ease, before uploading the pictures to social- networking sites.

But it is works such as Singapore artist Genevieve Chua's digital prints from the series Tillandsia Usneoides - the name of a hanging plant - which are not obviously photographic in form or sensibility, that enliven the show.

Chua superimposes images of vintage postcards (mostly landscapes) with disembodied hands and arms in various poses and draws lines over them to conjure pictures filled with enigma and covert dread.

The monochromatic digital images, however, have the soft look of pencil drawings that render them as charming contrarians to the myth of crisp computerised images. And as drawing-realistic photos, they turn the more common photo-realistic drawing on its head.

In Time Present: Photography From The Deutsche Bank Collection, photographs dominate the exhibition, although it includes three video works that are curiously orphaned by the show's title. Had the video works been openly recognised, the show, without losing its essence, would be framed more accurately as one with a broader scope.

The show highlights the dynamic way that photography conflates space and time - which video does too, albeit differently - and in the course, blurs the line between reality, theatre and fantasy.

A set of six photographs by prominent German painter Gerhard Richter is among significant works by 28 artists in the show that deftly embodies the capacity of photography for visualising the profound.

Richter's photos, titled Six Photos 2-7 May 89, were staged in his studio following public backlash against an earlier work, October 18, 1977, that comprises 15 oil paintings made in 1988.

The paintings were based on photographs in the media of a notorious German left-wing terrorist gang. Richter made the paintings in his signature style, intentionally blurred to erase the absoluteness of pictures, but they nonetheless sparked controversy, drawing accusations of being sympathetic to terrorists.

He responded to the outrage by making the six photos, which mimic his earlier paintings in their haziness and show blurry figures in a murky space - only Richter appears in focus in the photos.

This circular referencing of mediums gives rise to the rhetorical riddle: does truth lie in photographic images and does this even matter?

Another poignant piece in the exhibition, the video Whose Utopia? by rising Chinese artist Cao Fei, shows how the medium of video is equally a means to reflect on and grapple with urgent social issues in the present.

The 2006 video, borne out of the six months Cao spent in a lightbulb factory in China's Guangdong province, shows young Chinese factory workers trapped between the economic opportunity of China as a global manufacturer and their personal ambitions that remain unfulfilled.

The subjective reality of visual representations, an idea that recurs in the other two shows, re-emerges as the main theme in Image & Illusion: Video Works From The Yokohama Museum Of Art, which features works by five established artists.

The concise show makes no grand statement and does not try to shoehorn works to fit a thesis. It simply provides the stunning, stirring works a platform to be, and a space for the viewer to soak it all in.

And what a delight it is to be immersed in Tadasu Takamine's Water Level And Organ Sound, a wet, dreamy world where two women in their birthday suits glide underwater as the video, projected onto a slightly murky tank of water, suspends the water nymphs between eros and innocence.

Or to be lost in an alternate universe where Peter Coffin's multi-coloured x-ray scans of fruits hurtle through space like asteroids.

Seen together though, this triple bill, which scans the breadth of photography and video, and plumbs the depths of art, proves that there is sometimes strength in numbers.

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