Holding on to the past in boxes

Dutch artist Iskander Walen's art exhibition, Boxed Up, consists of various works arranged inside boxes.
Dutch artist Iskander Walen's art exhibition, Boxed Up, consists of various works arranged inside boxes.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Dutch artist Iskander Walen's art exhibition, Boxed Up, consists of various works arranged inside boxes.
Dutch artist Iskander Walen's art exhibition, Boxed Up, consists of various works arranged inside boxes.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Ask Dutch artist Iskander Walen why he has decided to showcase artworks in boxes for his latest solo exhibition and he says, with a laugh, that he has no idea.

"I don't know why I am so fascinated with boxes. I think it is the air of mystery," he says.

"We all have our boxes at home, hidden away from view in cupboards and storage spaces, and hidden in those boxes are our past lives."

Boxed Up, presented by Orange Gallery Singapore, will feature about 15 works and run at the Goodman Arts Centre until Sunday.

One of the works on display is And Then There Were Four, a box containing a cast of Walen's wife's torso when she was eight months pregnant with their second son.

There is also Goodbye, piled with a decade's worth of "special knick-knacks" from the 44-year-old artist's life: a movie ticket stub, camera viewfinder, bird's skull and other ephemera.

"A box is something we use to hold on to something that is not part of our lives anymore. Everyone has a box with pictures of old lovers," says Walen.

  • VIEW IT / BOXED UP

  • WHERE: Goodman Arts Centre, 90 Goodman Road, Block O

    WHEN: From 7pm today till Sunday, 11am to 6pm daily. The artist will give a talk at 8pm today

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Go to http://bit.ly/2DAGUfS

A box is something we use to hold on to something that is not part of our lives anymore... I think I put some works in boxes because that way, it feels like I will keep them forever, that they will never be lost.

DUTCH ARTIST ISKANDER WALEN (above) on why he decided to showcase artworks in boxes for his exhibition, Boxed Up

"I think I put some works in boxes because that way, it feels like I will keep them forever, that they will never be lost."

 

Boxes are like time capsules, but can also make viewers "more involved" in what they are looking at since they have to make an effort to peer inside.

He says these boxes can serve as "a little safety barrier" between the viewer and potentially provocative pieces of work such as the tongue-in-cheek I Love You For Your Mind, a cast of a woman's buttocks shaped like a heart.

And on a more practical level, the boxes help conceal the less attractive parts of a work .

Asked if he was inspired by Joseph Cornell, the American artist famous for arranging bric-a-brac, trinkets and other found elements in boxes, and the name does not register.

Cornell's influence, however, may have been more circuitous.

Walen says that one of his influences for the "boxed-up" artistic concept was Canadian-American writer William Gibson, whose science-fiction novel Count Zero (1986) features Cornell-like constructions by a mechanical box-maker.

Walen describes Boxed Up as an "exhibition in progress".

This means that response from the public may well inform future works or prompt him to modify those that are on display.

He adds: "Often, I am not 100 per cent happy. If I still have the work, I go back and do something to it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Holding on to the past in boxes'. Print Edition | Subscribe