Singapore Art Museum's new collaborative show looks at potential of art to facilitate understanding

They Do Not Understand Each Other features works by artists from countries including Singapore, Japan and South Korea. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAI KWUN

SINGAPORE - A Japanese and a South Korean are marooned on a disputed island roughly halfway between their two countries.

Without being able to speak the other's language, the two men work together to drive a sign into the ground, with one balanced on top of the other's shoulders.

This is the essence of They Do Not Understand Each Other (2014) by Japanese artist Tsubasa Kato, who is one of the performers. The work consists of a video and photo documentation.

It is among the art in an eponymous exhibition that opened in Hong Kong on Monday (May 25) and runs until Sept 13 at Tai Kwun - Centre for Heritage and Arts, in the galleries at the JC Contemporary building. The exhibition can be viewed online from June.

Presented by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and The National Museum of Art, Osaka (NMAO), the exhibition examines what it means to engage with one another and looks at the potential of art in facilitating understanding.

It is curated by SAM's director of curatorial, collections and programmes June Yap and NMAO curator Yuka Uematsu.

Dr Yap, 46, says: "While the exhibition features the artworks of two museum collections, they are connected visually or conceptually, speaking to and for each other, even across nationality and generation."

The exhibition features works by artists from Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.

It includes 23 works from SAM and NMAO's permanent collections. Singaporean artists on show include Heman Chong, Chua Chye Teck and Ming Wong. Their works include Chua's Wonderland (2007), which comprises 500 photographs of ornaments arranged to resemble a retail display.

Ho Tzu Nyen's work EARTH (2009-2017) is a single-channel video mainly inspired by "history painting", or paintings with subject matter from classical history and mythology. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HO TZU NYEN

Some of the items are from Chua's personal collection as it was his habit to look out for interesting objects during his daily commutes or frequent visits to flea markets. Chua, 46, says: "Each object has its own history and story to tell. It makes you wonder where they are from and who they belonged to."

There are also two new commissions, a performance piece by Japanese artist Kohei Sekigawa and an interactive installation work by artist and theatre director Akira Takayama.

They Do Not Understand Each Other is the second collaborative international exhibition that SAM has presented while its buildings are closed for redevelopment.

Among the 11 works from SAM's collection at the exhibition are four acquisitions that have not been shown before as part of the museum's collection. These include works by Singaporean artists Ho Tzu Nyen and Charles Lim.

Ho's work, EARTH (2009-2017), is a single-channel video mainly inspired by "history painting", or paintings with subject matter from classical history and mythology.

Ho, 44, says: "I sought to create this with cinematic means, although I chose not to depict a single event. Instead, I sought to depict something more intangible but much more pervasive, like a tone, mood, or atmosphere, the general condition of life on earth in the beginning of the 21st Century."

Tai Kwun's head of art Tobias Berger, 50, says the exhibition is especially relevant amid the pandemic. "Art in general is about understanding and accepting one another's differences. At a time of deep crisis with Covid-19, international exchange, understanding and working together is more needed than ever before."

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