SINGAPORE - Art-lovers, rejoice: The Singapore Biennale returns for its sixth edition from Nov 22 to March 22 with contemporary works by more than 70 artists and collectives from Singapore, South-east Asia and beyond.
Set to the theme Every Step in the Right Direction, it features art, performances, talks and workshops in about 10 venues, including Gillman Barracks, National Gallery Singapore and Lasalle College of the Arts.
The biennale is organised by the Singapore Art Museum and helmed by artistic director Patrick Flores, who is working with six other curators. Dr Flores, a professor of art studies at the University of the Philippines and curator of its Vargas Museum of modern and contemporary art, says attendees will have "opportunities to recover joy and thoughtfulness, delight and attentiveness in sites across the city from Singapore's cultural institutions to its public spaces".
Artists in the biennale stand the chance to win the 12th edition of the Benesse Prize, which comes with a cash award of 3,000,000 yen (S$37,500) and the chance to have their work exhibited or collected at Benesse Art Site Naoshima in Japan.
The prize was awarded at the prestigious Venice Biennale between 1995 and 2013, and has been presented with the Singapore Biennale since 2016. Thai artist Pannaphan Yodmanee clinched the award at the last Singapore Biennale for her large-scale mixed-media mural, Aftermath.
These are some of the highlights of the Biennale, picked by each of the curators.
VIEW IT/SINGAPORE BIENNALE: EVERY STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
WHERE: National Gallery Singapore, Gillman Barracks, Lasalle College of the Arts, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore Art Museum (hoarding), SAM at 8Q (hoarding), National Museum of Singapore, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, National Library, SMU de Suantio Gallery, Far East Plaza, Wild Rice @ Funan
WHEN: Nov 22 to March 22
ADMISSION: Free and ticketed
INFO: Visit www.singaporebiennale.org. Additional events have also been held in collaboration with groups such as Drama Box and the Indian Heritage Centre.
CURATORS' TOP PICKS:
IN THE SKIN OF A TIGER: MONUMENT TO WHAT WE WANT (TUGU KITA) BY SHARON CHIN
Curator: Goh Sze Ying, curator, National Gallery Singapore
Where: National Gallery Singapore, UOB City Hall Courtyard
What: Thirteen banners in different shapes and hues - a big red triangle here, a tall green rectangle there - hang from the roof of the gallery. Each is a monochromatic patchwork of fabrics cut out of discarded political party flags from the Malaysia General Election last year (2018). The artwork was conceived by Malaysian artist Sharon Chin and bears the light imprint of many other fingers. Chin, 39, had invited members of the public in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to stitch their own designs onto the banners - but in threads of the same colour as the fabric. "You could see them working, but not what they were working on," says Chin of those who took part in the mass sewing events.
The installation, she says, is "a celebration of all the unseen labour that goes on every day".
2065 (SINGAPORE CENTENNIAL EDITION) BY LAWRENCE LEK
Curator: Anca Verona Mihulet, art historian and independent curator based in Seoul
Where: Asian Civilisations Museum, Shaw Foyer
What: This open-world video game imagines how Marina Bay might look in the year 2065. British artist Lawrence Lek, 37, who was born to Malaysian-Chinese parents in Frankfurt and spent part of his childhood in Singapore, says: "I hope that after playing the game, people will step outside the museum and look at the world outside slightly differently."
Lek sees Marina Bay - a place with futuristic-looking buildings on reclaimed land - as "a hybrid between reality and fiction. It's an analogy for the whole of Singapore - a place and society that is as much natural as artificial."
QUEEN'S OWN HILL AND ITS ENVIRONS BY ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI
Curator: John Tung, assistant curator at the Singapore Art Museum
Where: Gillman Barracks, Block 22
What: This cabinet of curiosities contains objects bearing traces of man and nature from the forest next door - abandoned bird's nests, pitcher plants preserved in alcohol, beer bottles, Hock Ann bricks, and stones carved into egg shapes. There are also photos related to the history of "Queen's Own Hill" - an old name for the Gillman Barracks area - as well as footage of a monitor lizard in a rainwater-filled pot.
In the past, the area was mostly a swamp and jungle. Part of it was cleared in the 1930s for Gillman Barracks, which housed British officers and their families. In the 2000s, some migrant workers would camp in the forest bordering the present-day arts enclave.
Robert Zhao Renhui, 36, says of the secondary forest: "Nature has come to reclaim the land, in a way - this time with alien, invasive species like the Albizia trees. Nature doesn't really care about what has happened before. It has a way of moving on that is unpredictable."
AYAW JAW BAH BY BUSUI AJAW
Curator: Vipash Purichanont, independent curator based in Bangkok and co-founder of Chiang Mai-based collective Waiting You Curator Lab
Where: Gillman Barracks, Block 9
What: A series of paintings by Chiang Rai artist Busui Ajaw, 33, tells the story of the fallen hero Ayaw Jaw Bah - one of the first kings of the Akha, the ethnic minority group to which she belongs. Also on display are sculptures of a spirit gate and human figures which traditionally stood at the front of an Akha village to mark the boundary between the human and spirit worlds.
"I hope the audience will get to find out more about Akha culture, art and traditions," Busui says in Thai. "I hope the younger generation will learn about Ayaw Jaw Bah and the good things he did."
Curator Vipash notes that painting is not a common art form in Akha culture (Busui is self-taught). As more villagers have converted to Christianity, the tradition of sculpture - linked to animism and ancestor worship - has also faded. As tradition gives way to modern life, he adds, Busui helps "retell (their) stories and bring them to the forefront of the contemporary world".
QUORA FORA: A REHEARSAL BY JASON WEE
Curator: Andrea Fam, assistant curator at the Singapore Art Museum
Where: Wild Rice @ Funan. Performed on Jan 19, 7pm and 9pm; March 16, 8pm and 10pm
What: Singers perform a libretto on stage as they assemble a fabric sculpture recalling the shape of an ampitheatre or forum. Artist Jason Wee, 40, says the 20-minute performance will explore "the idea of assembly, which is quite fraught in Singapore. What is the future of the assembly in this part of the world? What does it mean to gather together?"
THE MAMITUA SABER PROJECT BY BAKUDAPAN FOOD STUDY GROUP, •• PROPAGANDA DEPARTMENT, MARK SANCHEZ
Curator: Renan Laru-an, independent curator and public engagement and artistic formation coordinator of the Philippine Contemporary Art Network, Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center
Where: Lasalle College of the Arts
What: The late sociologist Mamitua Saber played a vital role in the cultural development of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. His ideas and theories have now spawned three new works: A scented installation by the Jogyakarta-based Bakudapan Food Study Group examining the food culture of Indonesian island Morotai; a kinetic display by itinerant collective •• PROPAGANDA DEPARTMENT on the roles of women and language across borders; and Mark Sanchez's installation featuring diagrams, texts and videos on agricultural labour in the Phillippines.
This article has been edited to update the designation of Ms Goh Sze Ying.