Sound and Vision @ Counihan Gallery – One + Two = 12 @ Black Dot
Sound and Vision by Sarah Duyshart, Emma Lashmar and Ross Manning, is an exhibition of visions of sound. Curated by Lauren Simmonds the vision of this exhibition was impressive. The gallery was divided into three sections, so each of the works occupied the entirety of their section, as is the want of contemporary art.
The first space had a number of suspended droplet columns of glass balls and fishing line hanging from the ceiling. It is Emma Lahmar’s “Field Theory-/-Bodies” 2013. The glass balls are open at the top and partially filled with water. The fishing line pierces the glass balls; sometimes there are also tubes of glass running through the water. They looked like drops of dew on spider webs. Solenoids activated by microphones responding to ambient sounds would vibrate the lines; it looked like it should produce sound but it was very quiet. Vibrations were a major theme of the exhibition (and things hanging from the ceiling).
Sarah Dyshart’s vibrating sieve (hanging from the ceiling) “Sift” 2013 vibrated in response to a soundtrack of local field recordings sending showers of bakers flour and leaving a deposit on the black sheet beneath. It looked particularly impressive with the small sprinkle of flour following each sound of a ticking clock.
Ross Manning’s “Binary Star” 2013 is a simple but highly effective light show occupies the third space. Coloured dots randomly appear on the wall based on a rotating loop of perforated paper hanging (from the ceiling) in front of a digital projector set on a test pattern.
The exhibition left me wanting to see and hear more art about sound.
At Black Dot Gallery there is, One + Two = 12 an exhibition of paintings by four artists from South America. The exhibition was meant to be about “on questioning long-held Latin American stereotypes”; I don’t know what South American stereotypes the exhibition hoped to challenge. I didn’t have any expectations; South America is one of the two continents that I’ve never been.
The four artists exhibiting did not have much in common apart from being from South American. Their art ranged from digital deconstruction to street art, sentimentalism to surrealism. Isidoro Adatto Mandowsky’s two large paintings deconstruct the digital image, breaking it down as a subject to paint. Ignacio Rojas, worked with a variety of stencil techniques including strip stencil and dot stencils; I could see why he was a finalist in the Australian Stencil Art Prize 2012. (I wish that I was seeing his work on Melbourne’s streets – maybe I have but didn’t know it.) The colour bars over paintings of children from war zones by Julian Clavijo were well done but too sentimental for my taste. And María Esther Peña three paintings are surreal landscapes populated with what Peña calls, “bodies in transit”, faceless figures who have lost their identity.
The exhibition, At Home Abroad, at 8Q sam featured six contemporary Singaporean artists whose art practices are largely or partially based abroad: Choy Ka Fai, Jason Lim, Ming Wong, Sookoon Ang, and Zulkifle Mahmod. I was surprised in the first gallery with the work of Jason Lim as Jason Lim is a performance artist. Jason Lim’s performance the “last drop” was about space, balance and water. It was documented in the exhibition with videos and the remains of a performance. Jason Lim’s performance consisted of various ways of pouring water. His attempts to catch a drop poured from a glass in the same glass were captivating.
Most of the other artists in the exhibition also had performance art elements to the art. Zulkifle Mahmod created electronic soundscapes with natural samples in both recordings and live site-specific performances. Ming Wong performs in an art video re-enacting and playing every male and female role in a Fassbinder film. Choy Ka Fai is a performer as well as, a visual artist. She performs as a guide and narrator in her video installation about public housing flats in Singapore. This would not be remarkable in most other countries but is in Singapore because of the 1994 controversy, that gives performance art a historical charge that is unique to Singapore.
Performance art emerged from neo-Dadaism, like Allan Karprow’s happenings and Fluxus, and merged with the extreme logic of the avant-garde art in the late 1960s. Performance art focused on the body and the then current political issue of breaking social taboos. American artist Vito Acconci plucked his hair and inflicted painful injuries on himself. In Australia artist Stelarc suspended his body using multiple hooks. And the extremes of the Viennese Actionism that concentrated on breaking taboos.
This trend in performance art continued until at the height of the punk rock movement. When it appeared that all the taboo breaking goals had been accomplished and Sid Vicious was doing Acconci’s masochistic act for the masses. A more elegant and technologically savvy form of performance art started to emerge, like Laurie Anderson in America. And in Australia Stelarc engaged with technology and prosthetic limbs. And all of the Singaporean artists in the At Home Abroad exhibition with their use of video and other digital technology.
Art history is not a neat time-line, art trends generally do not occur in different places simultaneously and local conditions will influence these trends. So the history of performance art in Singapore is different to this broad over-view. In 1994 in Singapore a major controversy erupted following the New Years Day performances by Joseph Ng, who cut off his pubic hair and Shannon Tham, who vomited into a bucket. This already outdated Acconci influenced performance and the subsequent controversy led to a ban of government funding of performance art in Singapore. Extensively documented by Lee Weng Choy in “Chronology of a controversy” (1996). The ban on performance art in the 90s reinforced international perceptions of Singapore as an extremely rigid and controlled state.
In December 2003 the Substation art space hosted a performance art event, Future of Imagination, curated by Lee Wen, the first performance art event that was funded by the Singapore National Arts Council in ten years. As the pendulum of taste swings in the opposite direction with equal force Singapore now has an International Performance Art Event at Sculpture Square; The Future of Imagination is now in its 5th year.