Monthly Archives: June 2009

Performance Art in Singapore

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.


Temples without gods

Art galleries in Singapore are like temples without gods. If you build the art space will they come? And then what will they see? From the newest art galleries in Singapore, to the commercial galleries, to the government funded institutions there are the spaces but not the content. And often what content there is has been imported.

Singapore’s commercial galleries import art from around the world to on sell it; not enough, of even the bland designer type art, is being produced locally. Like Ode to Art gallery, in the shopping mall connected to my hotel. The gallery only has three Singapore artists represented, the rest come from Turkey, Vietnam and the USA.

The Substation is a contemporary arts centre with a white rectangular gallery space and a theatre. When I visited the Substation there was an imported exhibition: Victoria Cattoni’s exhibition “What if I Want to Water Ski? And Other Questions”. Victoria Cattoni is an Australian artist and the Australian Government, Queensland Government and Australia Council supported her exhibition. Cattoni examines issues about wearing the hijab with portrait photographs of women wearing hijab, videos and books of questions and replies. It was the most well attended exhibition that I saw in Singapore, mostly by Moslem women wearing hijab. And why not, when it was basically fashion photography exhibition. And it did also have the added dimension of a pleasant dialogue between the non-Moslem artist and Moslem women about an allegedly ‘hot’ topic.

As well as providing excellent exhibition spaces Singapore is good at supporting its student artists; I always see a school art exhibition at SAM when I visit Singapore. This time it was Abstractus, at 8Q sam, an exhibition of the work of students from the SOTA arts programme. However, this reinforces the attitude in Singapore that art is a juvenile activity, as demonstrated by the denial in the very first sentence of 8Q sam’s press release on its target audience: “Audiences at 8Qsam are not only limited to the young.” After these student exhibitions there appears to be nothing, a few emerging artists but no great truly great Singaporean artist, no major artists.

The new contemporary art wing, 8Q sam, of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) appears to have no permanent collection. It is a great space in a converted old building but like the old wing of SAM it is largely empty space.

These are fragmentary observations, seen by a tourist and an editor who, in 1999, put together a directory of Singapore’s art and culture websites for LookSmart. But then no story is complete. What happens to all of these young Singaporean artists? Do they have to leave the country in order to continue an artistic career? Please leave a comment if you are one of these young Singaporean artists, have your say and you can help complete this story.


Singapore’s Art World

I’ve spent the last few days in Singapore look at art galleries and meeting up with street artists because my wife was attending a conference. I tried to see a cross section of Singapore’s visual art world. From the high-brow end of Singapore art government galleries, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and 8Q, http://www.singart.com/8qsam/ the new contemporary art wing of SAM. To the commercial galleries, the contemporary art spaces and an artist-run gallery. I saw the art by emerging artists, art students, street artists and designers.

I’ve been to Singapore a couple of times before and I once wrote a directory of arts and culture websites for LookSmart, back in 1999. And most recently I published two interviews about street art in Singapore in this blog (Street Art in Singapore and Graffiti in Singapore II). So I met up with the guy’s that I’ve been exchanging emails with Rozaimie Sahbi (aka Slac), and self described, low-brow (stencil, batik and caricatures) artist and art teacher Kamal Dollah, in Singapore. Kamal brought Luthfi Mustafah (aka The Killer Gerbil) along and it was great to meet him. Thanks guys for showing me around. And a special thank you to Kamal for the excellent Malay lunch, not only was it good but I eating three new vegetables and a type of snail is an excellent experience.

Myself & Kamal Dollah

Myself & Kamal Dollah

There are many connections between Singapore and Melbourne because many Singaporean artist study at RMIT and other Melbourne tertiary institutions. Singapore’s street art has been influenced by contact with Melbourne street artists: Slac mentioned Drew and The Killer Gerbil recently visited Melbourne’s Blender Studios and the Everfresh Crew.

I saw some excellent contemporary art on exhibition at Osage Gallery and also at 2902 Gallery in the same building at the Old School on Sophia Rd. The Old School is prosaically an old school that has been converted into studios, galleries and other similar creative businesses.

Osage Gallery is a contemporary gallery, with some excellent spaces well light spaces with extremely high ceilings. The exhibition that I saw “Found & Lost” explored the limits of drawing and Khiew Huey Chain’s post-minimalist site-specific installation “Existential Construct” was the most spectacular piece in the exhibition. Using string drawn tight between nails “Existential Construct” created careful lines in the largest of Osage Gallery’s spaces.

2902 Gallery specializes in contemporary photography and a regular program of new exhibitions. The gallery is very new; it opened this year on the 29th of February, hence the name 2902. There are three gallery spaces, gallery lighting and humidity control, an important feature in Singapore’s environment. The exhibition that I saw featured the first graduating class of Singapore’s photography students. In another gallery design students were exhibiting “All Future Parties” – I only found the galleries at the Old School because of the signs for this exhibition.

wall painting outside 2902

wall painting outside 2902

Singapore is not a noted internationally for its artists but that is no reason to ignore it. I won’t and I am trying to write more about Singapore’s art world. The art scene in Singapore is marginal, it has cultural, social and political problems but it is definitely improving.


Current Street Art in Fitzroy

There is always some new street art to see in Fitzroy. When I was there an artist on scaffolding was painting a bird on the wall a block up Brunswick St. on Westgarth St.

Artist at work in Fitzroy

Artist at work in Fitzroy

On a wall on the corner of Brunswick St. and Leicester St. in Fitzroy there is now a magnificent legal street art project. (Doyle told me about this and suggested that I should get down and see the wall being painting but I had other things to do that Monday and unfortunately missed the event.) The large wall is covered in lots and lots of faces from both established and emerging street artists. The theme of faces unites the variety of styles of the many artists. The trust and modesty that the artists had to allow their image to be partially covered by another is one of the strengths of this piece.DSC04231DSC04220

DSC04233There is a lot of aerosol art around Brunswick St.; often they are legal pieces on the external walls of cafes, restaurants, bars and boutiques. The Everfresh crew and others are working with a boulder background of painted rocks. I’m not taken by this rock style as it just looks crude and contrived.

Ever Fresh off Brunswick St.

Ever Fresh off Brunswick St.

Street sculpture continues in Fitzroy as in this example by Junky Projects.

Junky Projects

Junky Projects

Street sculpture can be one of the most imaginative and difficult of the street art techniques. However, I think that hanging objects from overhead wires in the street is no better than tagging. Recently I’ve seen shoes, buckets and even teddy bears hanging from wires above the street.

On the sidewalks in Fitzroy chalk stencils are an indicator of an advertising campaign – I don’t know why street artists don’t use it. Chalk dust is pounded through a stencil on the pavement; this is legal because the chalk dust can be removed with water and a stiff broom. I have noticed a number of advertisers using this guerilla advertising technique from condom campaigns to university enrolment.


Metro Art Award 2009

I went to see the 2009 Metro Art Award exhibition at Metro Gallery in Armadale. It is an exhibition that has some of the best painters under 35 and given the age of the entrants this exhibition is an indication of the future of painting. And the quality of the paintings in this exhibition is magnificent. I had seen some of the entries in the last year and I knew some of the artists (Stephen Giblett and Grant Nimmo were both involved with the gallery, No Vacancy, where I had my last exhibition).

Most of the paintings in the exhibition are self-portraits, tromp l’oeil and dark images and some of the best paintings combining all three elements. Gold Coast artist Victoria Riechelt’s “Self Portrait – A Stack Of Books Crowded In A Bookshelf” was the People’s Choice winner. It is a grid of a bookcase containing Riechelt’s books. If we are what we have read then this is a portrait of Riechelt including many art/text references and “French Phrases for Dummies”,

There were so many self-portraits: Dane Lovett (highly commended), Julian Smith, and Michael Brennan’s “Me at the (Circle, Triangles & Squares)”. Michael Brennan’s triptych depicts his residence in Tokyo. Katherine Edney “Self Portrait (Time & Time Again)” has four images of her hands holding fabric gesturing towards the almost as many tromp l’oeil paintings.

Peter Tankey’s “Gregor’s Metamorphis” is the contents of a recycling bin: bottles, cans and boxes. The pile of beautiful, glistening objects is a treasure trove in a Kafkaesque world. Tully Moore’s diptych “Double Debris” plays with tromp l’oeil painting depicting paper and masking-tape. Stevan Jacks’s painting “Family Tree” is like a proverb: origami birds playing with matches against a slick dark background.

And so many dark scenes, obscure uncertain landscapes and images. The gathering darkness is evident in Vincent Fantauzzo’s scene “Out of the Dark” has two women in the white dresses at the edge of a suggested grave. The paintings of Grant Nimmo’s and Andre Piguet are full of black paint. Is the darkness in these paintings a sense of mystery or a desire for obscurity?

There is an odd kind allegory or moral voice in many of the paintings, not a pedantic Victorian depiction of virtue and vices, but a subjective and introspective reflection. Stephen Giblett’s painting “Walk On By” contains an allegory on gossip in a seaside setting typical of Giblett’s paintings. In the background the Norman Rockwell style images of the man and woman on the beach shack doors along with the rowboat named ‘gossip’. What is there left to say about the sexy girl in a swimsuit in the foreground? Likewise in Julian Meager’s “Aon (Gimmie a Chance)”, a portrait of a tattoo torso with the tattoo slogan on his chest, appeals for a chance not to be judged on appearances. Are these paintings speaking about the judging of the exhibition and the rush to judgment in the contemporary life.

There were only two abstract paintings by Fiona Halse and Ry David Bradley. The winner was, of course, nothing like the majority of the exhibition a small, pale, monotone watercolor of men praying at Mecca Our Plastic Everything is Broken by Jackson Slattery.


Moreland Sculpture Show 2009

Early Tuesday morning I bicycled to see the Moreland Sculpture Show 2009 at Bridges Reserve in Coburg. Although it was only 10am I was not alone in the park. Some people were walking through on the way to the shops and they stopped to look especially after walking over Kitty Owens and Mary Zbierski pavement painting ‘Magic Carpet’ (Ghost Chinese Market Garden). And, also a class of children from Coburg Primary School, from just across Bell St., were looking at the sculpture with their teacher.

Kitty Owens & Mary Zbierski - "Magic Carpet (Ghost Chinese Market Garden)"

Kitty Owens & Mary Zbierski - "Magic Carpet (Ghost Chinese Market Garden)"

At the entrance of the park Tim Craker’s “Botanical Data Files” is a banner of images of leaves cuts from orange plastic fencing. Craker leaves the cut out remains under the installation. Over the years there has been an increased focus on the annual theme of the show; this year’s theme was “Growth”. There is increased interest in ephemeral art rather than traditional sculpture in permanent materials with the inclusion of a $1,000 Ephemeral Award (non-acquisitive). And the definition of the sculpture for the show has been expanded to definitely include installations. Last year’s winner “The Future is Now” by Joel Bliss is still on exhibit in the park. (See my review of last year’s Moreland Sculpture Show. )

Stephanie Karvasilis -  'The Grass is Greener'

Stephanie Karvasilis - 'The Grass is Greener'

Many of the works on exhibit were by artist-gardeners that incorporated living pants in the sculptural work; (see my entry on Artist-Gardeners). ‘The Grass is Greener’ by Stephanie Karvasilis is a portable garden, a suitcase full of grass. Karvasilis’s work exists in multiples, one of which can also seen in the Victoria St. mall, in Coburg’s shopping strip. Amanda Hills includes growing parsley in her sculpture/installation ‘Apiaceous (liked by bees)’. And Gina Cahayagan’s ‘Bird’, although basically a pot plant holder in the shape of a bird, is ingeniously made of mostly of plastic cable ties.

David Marshall - 'Petecormic Growth'

David Marshall - 'Petecormic Growth'

David Marshall’s sculpture ‘Petecormic Growth’ is also clearly a gardening sculpture. ‘Petecormic Growth’ is a fantastic concept using the Pete plastic bottles stuck into a large burnt log. During the drought in Melbourne people have these bottles stuck around their garden and Marshall has made this ordinary object look like beautiful crystals.

Laurie Collins - 'Seed'

Laurie Collins - 'Seed'

There are sculptures in the show made of more permanent materials. Laurie Collins sculpture ‘Seed’ is a circle of found metal objects with a painted green sprout at the centre. And looking closer, on the green sprout a male and female figure sprout. Tony Farrell’s ‘Out of the Ashes’ a metal base relief scene made using found materials. Regina Wells followed recent trends of using mirrors in sculpture with her work ‘Still Reaching For The Sky’, a cluster of pine logs with mirrors on top reflecting the sky; the school kids said that it looked “like sushi rolls”.

Regina Wells - 'Still Reaching For The Sky'

Regina Wells - 'Still Reaching For The Sky'

The exhibition included two political works Liz Walker’s ‘Advance Australia Where?’ that was damaged on Sunday 14/6 had been replaced with a photo and a notice from the Moreland Council. Moreland Sculpture Show has had problems with vandalism for many years but vandalism with a Australian nationalist political agenda is new.

There was also an anonymous inclusion of a site-specific, post-minimalist, plastic-crate sculpture with collage details from the ‘High School for Coburg’ group that was not officially part of the show.

Marynes Avila - 'Ancient'

Marynes Avila - 'Ancient'

Alice Parker’s ‘Growth’ fabric minimalist installation didn’t really work. Dawn Whitehand’s ‘Earth Eggs’ made from unfired clay that would naturally decay was unspectacular. Helen Pollard’s ‘Carry the Message’ made of junk mail origami cranes were very ordinary. And Jo Zito’s ‘Roba Trovata’ was simply ugly.


Public Art on Brunswick St.

This is a survey of the public art along Brunswick St. in Fitzroy. Brunswick St. Fitzroy is the alternative cultural centre of Melbourne. It became established as an alternate cultural centre in the mid-1980s with galleries, pubs with bands, bookshops and moderately priced restaurants. Recognizing Brunswick St. Fitzroy as a cultural centre and using Federal Govt. money in 1992 a number works of public art were added along the street. There are a number of sidewalk mosaics, mosaic covered chairs and the odd statue.

Browen Gray - Matryoshka Dolls

Browen Gray - Matryoshka Dolls

The Russian Matryoshka Dolls sculpture by Bronwen Gray in the garden of the housing commission flats were the first public sculpture that I can remember seeing in the area. (Actually they were made 2001/2. See postscript.) They add a bright bit of colour and fun to an otherwise gloomy area.

Mosaics appear to be a popular choice for public art along Brunswick St. There are two mosaic murals on the sides of the public housing commission blocks (90 and 140 Brunswick St). And several mosaics laid into sidewalk. Many of the sidewalk mosaics are in now in bad repair, with many missing tiles, especially Simon Normand’s “Gondwanaland”. There doesn’t seem to be any plan to maintain these works of public art.

Simon Normand - Gondwanaland (in need of repair)

Simon Normand - Gondwanaland (in need of repair)

These ceramic works are influenced by the art of Mirka Mora both in the choice of materials and the symbolist imagery in a naïve style with bright colours. This is especially evident in the images in Christine Parks’ untitled mosaic (1992) and Giuseppe Roneri’s 3 mosaic benches (1992). There are two on the corner of Victoria St. and one on the corner of Westgarth St. These sculptural benches are popular with the many people walking and socializing along the street. There is another bench near Leicester St. made of wood and iron cut in a floral pattern with the words “Shine On Me” on the centre of the back. The bench is one of three pieces made by Bronwyn Snow and installed in 1992 (please see Bronwyn’s Snow’s comment for more information on the pieces).

Giuseppe Roneri - Victoria St. bench

Giuseppe Roneri - Victoria St. bench

Although it was paid for in 1992 with the same Federal Government fund along with most of the other art that I have mentioned, Peter Corlett statue ‘Mr Poetry’ was not completed until 1993. When Peter Corlett made the statue it was not memorial, it has now become one, with the addition of another larger bronze plaque dedicated to the model Adrian Rawlins (1939-2001).

At Kerr St. there is a weird sculptural thing of uncertain origins (probably part of the 1992 funding but the bronze plaque has gone from the sidewalk). It looks like the child gothic revival and funk, made of iron and rough concrete (with more mosaic elements) with a copper UFO on top.

Another sculptural oddity are the two metal bicycle rakes on Westgarth St. with a tricycle and a reference to the penny farthing welded into their frames.

Flowers Vasette

Flowers Vasette

A unique sculptural feature of Brunswick St art the decorative excentric sculptural signs above many of the shops add a boho look to the 19th century eclectic stye architecture. “Heading Out Hair & Beauty” has a large mosaic head in profile with a single glass earring. “Flowers Vasette” has a range of sculptural elements along its roofline including bees and giant flowers. There is an angel holding a tray above “Sweet Temptations” At a picture framers there is a giant frame, a giant plate above a restaurant and an eccentric dragons above Polyester Books and Polyster Records.

Polyster Records

Polyster Records

Postscript: email from Bronwen Grey

“Hi Mark, I created the sculptures in 2001/02. I had been working at Atherton gardens as the artists in residence for about six months, working with the tenants on a series of mosaic murals. (the 2 murals that are located on the buildings 90 and 140 brunswick st)The housing estates can be such harsh places and I started to ask myself why is it so hard for people to nurture each other here? to see themselves as a family, to take care of each other.

I also wanted to create a sculpture that spoke not only to the residents but to the surrounding community, to remind them about the humanness of the estate and to encourage them to find a way to include the estate into their landscape.

The idea of Babushka seemed fitting, to create structures that worked against the angular and masculine feel of the buildings, and that worked on a scale that was human and not overwhelming. Although not intentional the structures also turned out to be the exact size of my own three girls at that time, so they hold personal meaning for me as a mother, to remind me what nurturing is for me.

Again not intentional, the 3 structures, each of which is repeated but on a smaller scale, were installed at the time when the estate turned 30 years old. It seems fitting that at this time, in some of the flats we now have 3 generations of families living together, so there are times when I ask myself what over the 3 generations has changed.

I love the fact that I often see children playing on the dolls, that they are sturdy and strong enough to support the play, and that I have seen tours of Japanese tourists stop to have their photos taken with them – on a site that just a few years earlier was known as one of the roughest and most dangerous parts of the estate!

It was my great pleasure to work with the residents for a period of 3 years, so see them embrace their creativity and to include me as part of their family.”

– Bron (15/6/02)


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