Forum: Setting a theme for Singapore Biennale gives focus and relevance

The Singapore Biennale has always been singular and progressive in its presentation and outlook. So it is not much of a surprise that it has thrown another curveball at the art world, this time by naming the upcoming edition Natasha (Singapore Biennale is named Natasha to create sense of familiarity, July 28).

While I applaud the co-artistic directors for their derring-do with this move, I believe giving the Biennale a name - instead of a title or theme - is a misstep.

Not having a title or theme no doubt has a liberating effect on the curators and artists. There is seeming freedom to be inspired in any way, and interpretation need not be limited by considerations of boundaries of any sort.

However, boundaries in an art exhibition lend focus, coherence and thematic relevance.

In the same way that a painting is art that is limited by the confines of the canvas, the art exhibition that is the Singapore Biennale is also a work of art - an idea expounded by artist Daniel Buren in the early 1970s - that benefits from having similar limits imposed upon it.

Art can be intimidating, as is much of life, unfortunately. We do not collectively give personal names to certainties in life like death and taxes, or even the Primary School Leaving Examination, to make them more acceptable or palatable.

Giving the Biennale a name may produce a sense of familiarity and intimacy, but it has the unintended effect of dumbing down this cultural entity.

Lin Fangjie

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