Venice Biennale

Nature on display at parallel exhibition

Photographer Teo Chai Guan presents a series of portraits (above) of plants caught in wire fences.
Photographer Teo Chai Guan presents a series of portraits (above) of plants caught in wire fences.PHOTO: TEO CHAI GUAN
Artist Laila Azra showcases an abstract mixed media painting and video installation called 1Nusa (above).
Artist Laila Azra showcases an abstract mixed media painting and video installation called 1Nusa (above).PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAILA AZRA

Two giant red chillies have sprung up in a garden in Venice after a six-week-long voyage across the seas from Asia.

The 2m-high, 850kg bronze sculpture of entwined chillies (on Page D1) - lowered onto the grounds of the Giardini Marinaressa by a crane a fortnight ago - is the creation of Singaporean artist Kumari Nahappan.

It will be on display as part of the group exhibition Personal Structures, which begins on Saturday and runs parallel to the Venice Biennale.

Nahappan, 65, is known for her large-scale works, which range from a huge sculpture of nutmeg and mace at Ion Orchard, to an installation for the 2013 Singapore Biennale where she heaped 4,000kg of saga seeds in a red room.

"The forms that I choose are very simple, very ordinary," says the 65-year-old. "Very often, when you see something every day, you tend to be quite dismissive of it. But when it becomes really large, it becomes quite impactful. It provokes a lot more thought.

"Nature is always much larger than man. I like to turn things the other way round, to see ourselves small, and for things I work with to become bigger."

The sculpture in Venice, titled Talktime, responds to notions of conversation, partnerships and time, Nahappan says.

  • VIEW IT /PERSONAL STRUCTURES - IDENTITIES

  • WHERE: Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Mora and Giardini Marinaressa, Venice, Italy

    WHEN: Sat to Nov 24, 10am to 6pm daily (closed on Tuesdays at Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Mora)

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: https://europeanculturalcentre.eu

One of the things she was thinking of was "the whole idea of 'two' - the chilli being a fruit... When does it become a spice?"

The chillies could be a way for visitors in Venice to connect with the "soul of Asia", suggests the artist, who created the sculpture in a foundry in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

"The whole (chilli) family is so huge. Every time you pick up one, it's got a different form... They are all characters in play."

She has worked on other chilli sculptures in the past - including one that was presented to former United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton as an official gift from Singapore. This is not her first time showing her work in Venice - she exhibited red saga seeds in Venice two years ago at another art festival running parallel to the Biennale.

The Personal Structures exhibition, organised by the European Cultural Centre, runs in three locations and brings together acclaimed and up-and-coming artists from around the world.

Nahappan, whose chillies will be in Venice for the next six months, is one of several Singapore-based artists exhibiting their work there.

Over at the Palazzo Bembo, a palace-turned-hotel and exhibition space, there will be several photos by commercial and fine art photographer Teo Chai Guan. These are his portraits of plants caught in the wire fences of places in Singapore earmarked for development.

Artist Laila Azra, meanwhile, will present an abstract mixed media painting and video installation called 1Nusa - a meditation on personal identity and national unity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'Nature on display at parallel exhibition'. Print Edition | Subscribe