The first contemporary art gallery in the CBD is open, and its debut exhibition is all about food

It can only be a good thing that an art gallery would open somewhere as obscure as Asia Square. In an area where mindless money-making presides over everything else, a dab of culture can’t hurt anyone. The all-new Hatch Art Project opens today (Jun 4) in the unassuming first level of Tower 1, ready to bring new life and perspective to the Central Business District.

Aiming to support young emerging artists from the Asia Pacific region, the gallery was so named to “hatch” undiscovered talent in the region. For their first project, they’ve chosen a visually stimulating exhibition looking at the one thing Singaporeans (and all of Southeast Asia, really) can truly profess to be proud of: food. But it isn’t just cute plates of chicken rice on show. Curated by Sue Oh, Deciphering Foods: You are what you eat is a group exhibition of raw, critical works exploring the theme of food—from its histories, to personal narratives from the artists, to its all-important role in life and society.

Commanding attention at the front of the room is Korean film director Shim Hyejung’s 20-minute short Kimchi, which explores the emotional intricacies behind her country’s most revered traditional food. To its left is Singaporean artist Deborah Loh (or Wondebra Loh)’s mini-series Here Comes the One Liner, featuring discarded posters that were painted over to critique the sham nature of advertising; on its right, Ho Chi Minh native Nguyen Van Du chronicles his experience witnessing animal slaughter in Vietnam, with visceral watercolor and oil works—some literally painted in animal’s blood. Not-so-fun fact: the artist has since been on the rocky road to vegetarianism.

, The first contemporary art gallery in the CBD is open, and its debut exhibition is all about food
Slaughter House, Nguyen Van Du

Also on show is intermedia artist Jazel Kristin from the Philippines, whose series of mixed media works on wood journal her travels around the world, and how the food she ate directly links to those memories. Of course, these aren’t all happy memoirs; the artist said a driving theme for the series was questioning “what consumes you?” throughout her experiences abroad. One work looks at selfie stick culture; another at the obsession with body image in the US. And in “The Waves Brought Us Here”, she splices photos of food she ate in Greece over the faces of Syrian refugees trying to enter Turkey, after asking them to hold up drawings of what they desired most. They grip sketches of houses—echoing Kristin’s grim statement that “what consumes them is power”.

No less somber is “Cooking in Pressure” by Indonesian collective Bakudapan Food Study Group. The Yogyakarta-based group researches and experiments with the ideology of food; in this piece they present a series of drawings highlighting the dire food scare situation of 1965, as told by survivors of the Indonesian Communist Purge.

, The first contemporary art gallery in the CBD is open, and its debut exhibition is all about food
Jazel Kristin with her works

The space may be small, but is certainly well-utilized to put forth its poignant points. Deciphering Foods is the first in a series of three installments under the theme of “Deciphering”—Deciphering foods, Deciphering dwellings, and Deciphering clothing. Curatorial Director Oh said the inspiration draws from a Chinese idiom that when translated reads: “When a man is born, he has three great needs: food, clothing, and dwelling. These are ‘the basic necessities of life.’ Food to eat, clothing to wear, and a place to sleep are not achieved without effort. We must meet these needs to guarantee our survival.”

Oh pointed out how these once basic desires are quickly becoming “hugely diverse” with “societies becoming more complicated than ever before”. “Thus, I question how we experience these concepts in a contemporary society and how the needs have shifted in response to actively engaging in global capitalism, multiculturalism and advanced technology,” she added.

The irony of such an exhibition being located in Asia Square isn’t lost on us—and probably not on the curators either. If you work in one of the offices upstairs, Hatch Art Project gladly welcomes you to take a breather from your Singapore-endorsed pursuit of capitalism, any time from 10:30am to 7pm. To ease the guilt, the cafe right outside sells some pretty damn good coffee.

Deciphering Foods: You are what you eat runs from Jun 4-Aug 3 at Hatch Art Project, #01-02, Asia Square Tower 1. More information here.