The Singapore Biennale 2016, is arguably one of Asia’s most exciting contemporary visual art exhibitions, open to the public from 27 October 2016 until 26 February 2017. Titled An Atlas of Mirrors, this Biennale features works by 63 artists and art collectives from 19 countries and territories across Southeast Asia, East and South Asia.
Artworks of various media are curated around nine sub-themes and presented at no less than seven locations, with the Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q as anchor venues. Style by Asia went to see the exhibitions at SAM and SAM at 8Q and were blown away. All images are courtesy Singapore Art Museum.
The title of Singapore Biennale 2016, 'An Atlas of Mirrors' references the atlases and mirrors that have been instrumental in humankind’s exploration of the world as we navigate and map our journeys into the unknown. It is hoped that the evocative title, which guided its curatorial direction, would intrigue and inspire audiences to explore and experience the many ways of seeing our world and ourselves. Each mindfully presented artwork offers a unique encounter: we are invited to share the imaginative and critical perspectives of artists from Southeast, South and East Asia, who are grappling with everyday contemporary realities, double-edged legacies, as well as the recurrent ‘big ideas’ and poetic metaphors that reflect the human condition“.
Titarubi - History Repeats Itself
The inaugural Singapore Biennale opened in 2006, and for this, the fifth edition of the Singapore Biennale, over 80 percent of the 58 artworks are new commissions or adaptations of works for the 2016 edition. Within the 58 artworks are also group presentations, which comprise individual artworks in dialogue with each other to present a final piece. These artworks respond to the title of 'An Atlas of Mirrors', and explore notions of space, time, memory, nature, boundaries, agency, identity, displacement and absence.
Singapore Biennale 2016 has featured programmes for members of the public, including artist performances, curator and artist tours and talks, and after-hours musical performances in the SAM Courtyard. The four-month long international contemporary art exhibition is organised by SAM and was commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore and features several site-specific and commissioned contemporary works never seen before on the biennale circuit.
The Biennale creates opportunities for established and emerging artists from Singapore, Southeast Asia and beyond to be featured together. More importantly, the Biennale is also a valuable platform for artists to grow by
developing their practice or realising ambitious new works through the commissioning process.
Zulkifle Mahmod’s sound sculpture SONICreflection
New works by Eddy Susanto, Harumi Yukutake and Zulkifle Mahmod, among others examine the concept of space and place. Zulkifle Mahmod’s sound sculpture SONICreflection foregrounds the otherwise overlooked auditory character of various Southeast Asian communities in Singapore and the space they inhabit.
Eddy Susanto’s 'The Journey of Panji' is a calligraphic cartography charting the movement of the Panji cycle throughout Southeast Asia and suggests the impossibility of ‘containing’ Southeast Asia and of conceiving the region as a singular entity. Harumi Yukutake’s Paracosmos propels the viewer into a parallel world, a space of otherness that is recognisable but unfamiliar.
Eddy Susanto - The Journey of Panji
Artworks that reflect on the concept of time include Phasao Lao and Tcheu Siong, husband and wife artists of Hmong ethnicity, who bring their textile artworks History, Tree Spirit, Spirit of Sky & Earth 3 & 4 together to speak about universal concepts of genealogy, movement and migration, and symbolism and representation. Pannaphan Yodmanee’s Singapore Biennale 2016 commission titled 'Aftermath' is a titanic mural mapping the Buddhist cosmos that resembles a landscape painting, presenting us with the ultimate question: at the end of all ends, will we find comfort in our faith? Gregory Halili’s 'Karagatan' (The Breadth of Oceans) pays homage to people whose fates and fortunes are bound to the ocean, mapping a community of coastal people who labour to harvest the bounty of the ocean but rarely reap its wealth.
Pannaphan Yodmanee's - Aftermath
Memory is the common thread weaving through the works of Phuong Linh Nguyen, Fyerool Darma and Do Ho Suh. Memory of the Blind Elephant by Phuong Linh Nguyen explores the materiality of rubber and investigates the historical significance of the country’s rubber trees and plantations.
Fyerool’s The Most Mild Mannered Men present sculptures of two key figures in Singapore history: Sir Stamford Raffles and Sultan Hussein Mua’zzam Shah, exploring the partisanship between major and minor narratives in historical discourse.
Contemplating the relationship between nature and culture are works by Patricia Perez Eustaquio and Deng Guoyuan. Eustaquio’s commissioned piece, 'The Hunters Enter the Woods', reflects on our contradictory attitude towards the world, both manmade and natural, asking what drives our quest for the unique, even as we seek to manipulate and replicate the object of our desire.
Visitors interacting with Deng Guoyuan's Garden II
Deng’s Noah’s Garden II is at once a garden of flora and a labyrinth of mirrors that create a feeling of the loss of subjectivity. Witness to Paradise, a presentation of multiple artworks by Abeer Gupta, Sanjay Kak, Nilima Sheikh and Praneet Soi, brings together works in various media by each of the artists in a single presentation to reflect on a landscape that now is Kashmir.
Also in this zone is Melissa Tan’s “If you can dream a better world you can make a better world or perhaps travel between them”, a Singapore Biennale 2016 commission questioning the passing of time through the mapping of the physical features that make up our transient landscape.
The question of agency is at the heart of several artworks such as Putar Alam Café by Azizan Paiman, Hearings by Jack Tan and Unwalked Boundaries by S. Chandrasekaran.
Putar Alam Café is a social experiment to show how the media profoundly affects our perception and understanding of things around us. Hearings explores the experience of litigants-in-person at the State and Family Courts of Singapore.
Azizan Paiman - Putar Alam Cafe. This freestanding structure is placed outside Singapore Art Museum.
Unwalked Boundaries focuses on the thousands of Indian convicts who, from 1825 to 1873, were transported to Singapore and served their sentence as manual labourers, highlighting the awkward gaps in Singapore history where the convicts’ contributions have been long overlooked.
Delving into the issue of identity, Ade Darmawan’s Singapore Human Resources Institute transforms the detritus of consumerist society into lenses for viewing the political, social and economic changes that have shaped both Singapore and the region.
Marine Ky’s Setting Off, is both steeped with the artist’s own experiences and recollections of being displaced from the country of her birth, Cambodia, and also speaks about the numerous and varied journeys individuals and communities find themselves facing and eventually embarking on.
Displacement is today a key global issue and is addressed by artists Bui Cong Khanh and Niranjan Rajah. Titled Dislocate, Bui’s work combines the woodworking craftsmanship of his ancestral province of Fujian, China, with the cultural identity of central Vietnam, to investigate and highlight the geo-and sociopolitical tensions between Vietnam and China.
Bui Cong Khanh - Dislocate
Rajah’s Koboi Balik Lagi (The ‘Koboi’ Returns Again) explores personal and family narratives, as well as the cultural, political and social landscapes of Malaysia and reflects his psychological and sociocultural consciousness as an artist living and working in Canada, and as a Malaysian citizen.
The notion of absence is explored by several artists including Ahmad Fuad Osman and Perception3, and focuses on unusual perspectives and the gaps in histories.
Ahmad’s Enrique de Malacca Memorial Project, based on a belief that the first person to circumnavigate the world was a Malay - Panglima Awang also known as Enrique of Malacca, juxtaposes contradictory and sometimes fictional colonial, postcolonial and nationalist representations. It alludes to the complexity of Enrique’s intertwined identity and history, and the fluidity of sociocultural boundaries in Southeast Asia. Perception3’s There are those who stay/There are those who go examines the idea of ‘staying’ and ‘going’ or “two perspectives of a single decisive moment”. The artwork is sited where the old National Library building once stood (demolished amid public outcry in 2005), and offers an open reflection on Singapore’s architectural heritage.
Ahmad Fuad Osman - Enrique de Malacca Memorial Project
Style by Asia Interviews Andrea Fam, Assistant Curator at Singapore Art Museum and one of the curators of Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors.
How was the title ‘An Atlas of Mirrors’ born?
The title came out of the several discussions we had as a curatorial team, where we looked at ideas and themes that interested us and which would address the relationships we wanted to explore in this edition, between Southeast Asia, East Asia and South Asia. A lot of the keywords that emerged from our discussions related to mapping, (relative) perspectives, journeying, cartography, shared histories and resonances. Hence the title An Atlas of Mirrors, which enfolds these ideas in an unexpected and evocative way.
The Biennale has 9 sub-themes, how were these chosen?
The sub-themes shape the flow of the Singapore Biennale 2016 experience. Each sub-theme or concept zone (space, time, memory, nature, boundaries, agency, identity, displacement and absence) provides context to the artworks presented in the exhibition. The themes themselves were driven by the artworks but the shaping of the titles to what they are now came about during one of our numerous curatorial workshops.
The art works in the Biennale are very different from another, some of them are commissioned, and some are works previously produced by the artist, how did you choose the mix between "new" and "old"?
The selection of artworks was in part informed by our selection of artists. Often there were artists whose practices we felt related strongly to the theme whilst in other instances, we felt that there were artists who would be able to push the envelope with how the theme could be dissected. In the case of artists whose works would relate to the theme, it was likely that there was a pre-existing work that resonated with the curatorial brief put forth by the curators. We were of course mindful that the artwork selection should not be skewed more heavily one side than the other.
How did you decide on which artists to include in the Biennale, did your team choose each artist, or did some come through an open call or similarly?
Through the collaborative framework of the curatorial model that combines a depth of expertise on Southeast Asian, as well as East and South Asian contemporary art, the Singapore Biennale 2016 curatorial team shortlisted and invited selected artists to participate in Singapore Biennale 2016.
Some of the art works are quite political, or a comment on current politics or policies. What do you think is the role of a Biennale in terms of social comment and criticism, if at all?
I don't believe it is the intention (unless explicitly stated) of a Biennale to take on the role of social or political commentator but what is art if not an expression of an individual's experience with the way they see the world? There have been discussions and debates about biennales and triennales and the way and reason they inhabit the art calendar and ecosystem. The 'Singapore Biennale 2016 Symposium' touched on this very topic and what I summate from the two-day symposium is that the Biennale entity itself, the Biennale brand, independent from the artworks it contains, can act as a platform that both enables critique as well as draws it.
One of many interesting works at the Biennale was Chinese artist Deng Guoyuan's 'Noah's Garden II', a kaleidoscopic installation of mirrors, that the artist invites visitors to go into, and interact with. Can you tell us a little more about this work?
Central to Chinese artist Deng Guoyuan's 'Noah's Garden II' is the concept of the real versus the artificial. In his kaleidoscopic installation, he activates the mirror, man-made stones and dot and dash lines as instruments to blur the lines between what is real and what is artificial.
Through the work, Deng also asks visitors (when not enthralled by their own faceted reflections) to consider maps and map-making and the implicit information they contain.
The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) celebrates the last month of Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors with extended opening hours and various programmes before it closes on 26 February 2017.
Singapore Biennale programmes in the closing month of February include curator tours, artist performances, artist-led walks and workshops, a free bicycle rental service, a local art and design market, and art and music collaborations with Noise Singapore and W Singapore.
Visitors may also choose to explore the Singapore Biennale on free-to-rent bicycles, as the artworks are spread across 7 different venues, including National Museum of Singapore, de Suantio Gallery at Singapore Management University, Peranakan Museum and Asian Civilisations Museum. “Biennale on Wheels”, a collaboration with Hello, Bicycle!, provides bicycles for museum visitors to rent with a refundable deposit of $50 from the Singapore Art Museum.
Closing the Singapore Biennale on a high, the W Singapore x Singapore Art Museum: “The Courtyard” party returns on Friday, 24 February, celebrating art and music with an outdoor party at the atmospheric SAM courtyards with DJs Shigeki, Maurice Simon, Oliver Osborne and Mr. Has.
Taking place the next day on Saturday, 25 February is the SAM x Noise music and art festival.
Other events and activities, including workshops, SAM x The Local People Art Market and live performances will take place throughout the closing weekend of the Singapore Biennale.
Singapore Biennale 2016 is anchored at the Singapore Art Museum on Bras Basah Road and Queen Street. Venues include Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q, Asian Civilisations Museum, de Suantio Gallery at SMU, National Museum of Singapore, Stamford Green and Peranakan Museum. In addition, there are five participating Affiliate Projects, and 26 parallel projects taking place over the same period of time. The four-month long international contemporary art exhibition is organised by SAM and commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore, and is open from 27 October 2016 through 26 February 2017. Find out more here