"Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it. […] Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity." - Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p.67.
Curated by ex-Singapore Art Museum director and Singapore Biennale creative director Dr. Susie Lingham, You, Other; I, Another debuts The Private Museum's new curatorial direction which invites guest curators to work in conjunction with the gallery, in support of independent and experimental curatorial practices on the ground. Consisting of a diverse body of works by nine different artists, Lingham's intimate group show with longer and more personal artist statements replacing conventionally perfunctory wall texts presents a refreshing change of pace from The Private Museum's exhibitionary history, which, up until the present moment, has largely been focused on solo shows and selected works from private collections.
At its heart, the essence of You, Other; I, Another, can be described as a collective attempt to understand and approach the proverbial Other and, by extension, the larger topic of otherness, through artistic and curatorial practice. The nine artists included in the show are Regina De Rozario (b. 1973, Singapore), Mithun Jayaram (b. 1980, Calicut, India), Mumtaz Maricar (b. 1977, Singapore), Siew Kee Liong (b. 1962, Singapore), Leroy Sofyan (b. 1973, Singapore), Vincent Twardzik Ching (b. 1970, Canada), Vincent Emmanuel (b. 1979, Singapore), Susie Wong (b. Singapore) and Yeo Chee Kiong (b. 1970, Singapore).
Crossing generations and diverse cultural backgrounds, as a group the artists and art works shown made for a sundry exhibition held together by a united attempt to address the concept of otherness. Although the curatorial conception behind the exhibition seemed to draw heavily from an understanding of the Other grounded in nineteenth-century Enlightenment-era social theory and the age-old subject/object binary, the show's curatorial direction took a subtle turn by approaching the concept of otherness from the eyes and perspective of the self, lending a psychoanalytical, philosophical and sometimes spiritual edge to the show. The nine artists responded to the ideation of Other in unexpected and interesting ways that could only be attributed to a highly personal and individual approach to the Other in each of their distinct artistic practice.
Artistic responses ran the gamut from highly philosophical, as in Leroy Sofyan’s Hegelian-inflected sculptural musings on the universal internal struggle between self and other in Measure/Measured (2018), to spiritual and worldly as in Yee Chee Kiong’s Tempted Mind (2018), which referenced the emblematic Bodhi tree and Zen thought to explore the human relationship with nature, to intensely intimate as in Susie Wong’s exploration of the complex power dynamics of romance in her series of pencil wash drawings based on the film The World of Suzie Wong.
Despite being cocooned away in a cul-de-sac of sorts in the gallery's space, Susie Wong’s works were a standout in the show. In fact, entering into the sequestered space in which Wong's works are shown, the hushed seclusion of the space creates a powerful parallel for the raw sense of intimacy evoked from Wong's pencil wash drawings based on screen-grabs of critical moments of confession and imminent separation from the 1960 film adaptation of The World of Suzie Wong directed by Richard Quince, which tells the story of English aspiring artist Robert Lomax and Wan Chai bar girl Suzie Wong's star-crossed love affair in 1950s Hong Kong. Despite the kitschy quality of the white-male-artist-exotic-Asian-muse trope which plays out in The World of Suzie Wong, it remains a fact that the vestiges of such tropes still linger on, and so immediate and affective are Wong's drawings that one almost feels as if one truly were intruding on a private moment between Lomax and Wong simply by looking at Wong's works. By nature of the drawings' intimacy, there is a voyeuristic quality in viewership; this quality is stepped up a notch when we consider the coincidence of Wong's shared name with the film's female protagonist. By zeroing in on these critical moments and forcing the viewer into direct confrontation with the complexity of the gendered geopolitics of East and West, Wong demonstrates her artistic mastery for distilling, completely and without dilution, into a single affective and arrousing image conceptually, emotionally and theoretically deep complexities - of power and romance, geopolitics and gender, and in view with the feminist aphorism 'the personal is political', of how the geopolitical and gendered other can simultaneously be one and the same with the romantic other conceived through the perception of the self.
Conversely, Leroy Sofyan's sculptural work Measure/Measured (2018) presents a contrast to the tender, confessional quality of Wong's drawings. Taking a leaf out of nineteenth-century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit, Sofyan's artistic practice demonstrates a rigorous and disciplined dedication to materiality, process, and concept, as seen in the many technically challenging artistic decisions he undertook in the process of creating Measure/Measured: carving the sculpture from one singular block of wood in order to demonstrate the antagonistic yet symbiotic relationship between self and other; staining the wood instead of using a varnish to mirror the penetrative quality of human thought and the 'darkness of otherness' (vis-a-vis being skin-deep and superficial like varnish); and through these tedious, physically demanding processes, materialising the 'struggle within ourselves and the long process of understanding that difference.' Although lacking in the affective power of Wong's drawings, Sofyan's work presents a thoughtful and meaningful mediation on the concept of otherness, bringing to the surface a struggle of personal and cultural identity, and through the physical and artistic process and working through that struggle, manifests a celebration of the multifaceted tenets identity.
You, Other; I, Another is on view at The Private Museum (51 Waterloo Street, #02-06) until 24 June, 2018.