Spanning nearly three months across 19 venues around town, the first ever Singapore Biennale is as wide-ranging as it is anticipated. With 95 artists and collectives from 38 countries participating, and with more than 195 different artworks in the line-up, this is a dream come true for many arts enthusiasts.
Choosing to hold so many diverse contemporary artworks in so many different locations in Singapore is a way for the Biennale team—comprising Artistic Director Fumio Nanjo, and his curators Eugene Tan, Roger McDonald and Sharmini Pereira—to bring art closer to Singaporeans. “This is the first time a biennale’s happening here, so we really wanted it to be different,” says Nanjo. “Spread across various venues, it should cater to regular Singaporeans who are not too familiar with contemporary art, as well as more seasoned travelers and visitors who have already been to many Biennales.”
Based on the theme of “Belief,” various religious venues, such as the Saint Joseph’s Church and Sri Krishnan Temple, alongside main venues City Hall and Tanglin Camp, have been identified as some of the major sites. I-S brings you a quick lowdown on what not to miss at the Biennale, highlights some of our favorite artists’ works and where you can find them.
The Main Event
The bulk of the action is centered at City Hall, in the old Supreme Court building. “Loudspeaker” by Sri Lankan Muhanned Cader is a charcoal drawing installation reflecting Orwellian concerns of liberation and power, and is explored via a motif of the loudspeaker. These surreal images will stir your imagination with their abstract associations.
South Korean born Joonho Jeon presents two digital animations here too, “In God We Trust” and “The White House.” Juxtaposing strong visual images with words, he explores the issue of faith in an ironic tone using simple situations to magnify deeper meanings in contemporary society.
In her mixed media installation “secret, interiors: chrysalis (19-22),” talented local newcomer Donna Ong delves into the Judge’s Chambers to fashion personas and fantastical pieces of imagination. Delve into the creations of a scientist, a flying enthusiast and a budding musician.
Born in Argentina and now living in Milwaukee, Santiago Cucullu contributes “Airplane Blankets” to the City Hall exhibition space. This public art project highlights what matters in maintaining a delicate social fabric. The materials used, as well as his depiction of Chinese, Tamil and English phrases, work together to express the themes of fragmentation and cynicism.
In “Sulu Stories,” Malaysian Yee I-Lann’s photographs capture her negotiations with identity as a Malaysian in the Philippines. Images of the land, sea and sky add up to a bigger picture of the southwestern sea town, presenting its myths, people and politics in arresting visuals.
Art can be presented anywhere and army camps are no exception, as is apparent in the numerous pieces of work lined up here. Keep an eye out for Vyacheslav Akhunov’s “Grain for Canary.” A founder of Uzbekistan’s contemporary arts scene and a rebel against Soviet art orthodoxy in the past, his multimedia installation forces audiences to face tussles between money and thought, flesh and soul, and the compromise of goodness over modern values.
Singapore-based French artist Agathe de Bailliencourt also takes over one of the rooms at Tanglin Camp to create the wall painting installation “Occupation Bleue.” Exploring an artist’s reaction and relation to the environment, this work boasts abstract and spontaneous designs and intrusive techniques.
Singaporeans George Chua, Alwyn Lim and Yuen Chee Wai put their diverse creative talents together to create their mixed media installation “The fog is rising.” Using sound and found objects, social and human relations are explored in this piece, highlighting the nature of interaction between artist and audience, while focusing on issues such as isolation and fear.
Armenian Church of Saint Gregory
The electrical installation by Ashok Sukumaran is the only work presented at this national monument. “Everything is Contestable” gets you thinking about the complications involved in public lighting and electricity, and what better place to do it than here, the first building in Singapore to be furnished with electricity. You can control the lighting for the church via a switch at the gates and another switch across the street. Sounds like fun already.
Church of Saints Peter and Paul
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “In Praise of Shadows” is a series of black and white lithographic prints. With a candle as the motif, Sugimoto traces the process of its flame from the time it is lit till it burns out. Get philosophical on temporality, moments of stillness, life and death when you check out this work.
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
Chinese artist Xu Bing combines linguistic creativity with art in “Prayer Carpet,” a woven carpet installation. Based on one of his renowned pieces, “Square Word Calligraphy,” Xu transforms words in the Roman alphabet into square, Chinese-like characters.
Maghain Aboth Synagogue
Get a glimpse of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s sculptural work “Even Shetia (Foundation Stone),” which features a three-meter high stone placed in front of the synagogue. Plensa has embedded a searchlight, pointing toward the night sky. The intense light projected suggests the spirituality and transcendence of faith.
Influenced by her background in mathematics and science, Arabian Ebtisam Abdul Aziz explores the relation between art and science in her mixed media installation “Ten Triangles.” Precise in its application of color, line and shape, this work employs an arithmetic system in the way triangles are presented. This should be mind-boggling for both mathematicians and non-mathematicians.
Sri Krishnan Temple
N.S. Harsha raises the issue of sleep as a basic need and as the state in which each person lies in quiet solitude. Titled “Cosmic Orphans,” this painting installation covers the surface of the temple’s rooftop above the inner sanctum and the floor surrounding the tower. You will also encounter “Ladder to Heaven” by Yayoi Kusama here, a fiber-optic cable with mirrors, expressing an intense vision of heaven and passage into the next world.
The Rest of the Best
With elements of Pop Art, Minimalism and traditional Eastern and Western styles, Liu Jianhua’s presents broken Chinese celadon wares in “Dream,” and arranges the pieces into the shape of a space-shuttle. Comprising about 6,000 objects, viewers can recognize familiar shapes which were once whole pieces reminiscent of ambitious projects.
Swedes Mats Bigert and Lars Bergstroem contribute The Last Supper, a documentary film depicting the tradition of giving condemned death-row convicts their last meal the night before doomsday. Brian Price, a former death-row chef in the US, reconstructs one of the 200 last suppers that was requested at Huntsville State Prison in Texas. Walk around to find “Tom Na H-iu” by Mariko Mori, an installation inspired by ancient primal visions related to nature. Made of special glass and containing a computer-controlled LED light source, the futuristic sculpture glows and changes color according to neutrinos that are detected in the air.
Singapore Management University
Come here for the paper architectural installation by architect Shigeru Ban. Aptly titled “Paper House,” the work functions as the information center for journalists gathered here for the Biennale. Constructed with paper tubes, this ephemeral architecture will last for three months before being recycled into a heap at the end.
For anyone who is interested in the nature, possibility and limits of knowledge, Wilfredo Prieto’s installation “Biblioteca Blanca (White Library)” will be a good one to catch. The artist constructs a library complete with tables and chairs besides shelves full of ivory covers.
This interactive installation by Chinese artist Jin Shan, located near the Singapore Visitors Centre, sees a traditional pavilion as the main focus, in which familiar items such as toys and digi-gadgets will dangle from the roof top. Audiences are free to explore the inside of the pavilion and jump on a trampoline to grab any of the items. “In the Game Outside the Game” attempts to portray the materialistic nature of the modern world and the objects people desire.
Block 79, Indus Road
South Korean Nahkee Sung intrigues with “Passage,” a painting installation of abstract expressionistic works. Catch her free-hand diagrammatics which bear semblance to digital soundscapes.
Visitors to the new large-scale mall will bump into creative pieces lined up at just about any corner. A 10-meter tall rocket sculpture, “GoGo” by Marc Ruygrok, is located right in front of the shopping center. Another similarly huge sculpture, “Snowman” by German art group Inges Idee, is a 13-meter tall, thin and urbanized Frosty (he wears a blue bowler hat). Also check out “There” by Henk Visch on the third floor, a kinetic, motor-driven human figure which hangs from the bar and is made from fiberglass.