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Author Archives: Bruce  Quek

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Review: 'A Drawing Show' at Yeo Workshop...
Drawing, one would tend to assume, is pretty simple stuff – after all, everyone does it, in one way or another. Schoolkids add moustaches to historical figures in their textbooks, office-workers doodle idly while pretending to pay attention in endless meetings, and sometimes it’s just faster to convey an idea to someone by grabbing the nearest bit of spare paper and tossing off a quick sketch. This elemental simplicity comes into play in the title of Yeo Workshop’s latest show – an exhibition of drawings titled, surprisingly enough, ‘A Drawing Show.’ In an age of ever-multiplying, ever more sophisticated media for artists to work in, what’s the place of what might be the simplest medium of all?   Of course, the simplicity of drawing doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s somehow crudely deficient, as stone tools would be compared to, say, a surgical scalpel. It hints, instead, at its foundational character in visual art, forming the basis of fundamental concepts like line and form, which are then propagated through the diverse menagerie of media available to artists today. At the same time, the proliferation of media allows for the emergence of different perspectives on these basic building blocks, giving artists the context in which to explore, investigate, and even re-assess the nature of drawing itself. Ian Woo, Tracker (2) Viewed in this light, even the basic act of taking pencil to paper boasts a wealth of possible significance, as we might encounter in the seductive grace of Ian Woo’s drawings. His amorphous forms, verging on the geometric and resisting any simple readings,  seem at once both opaque and transparent, the patterns and almost-patterns sprawling across our field of view according to their own logic, somehow reminiscent of floaters and other oddities of human vision. It’s best, perhaps, to discard any attempt to decipher them as abstractions or representations of something or another, and allow your eyes and mind to wander through these visual territories. Presenting a stronger sense of rootedness are works by Boedi Widjaja. Though we might imagine that the basic procedure of drawing consists of making marks on a given surface, Widjaja adds a layer of depth – in physicality, and history – by deriving these marks from rubbings of surfaces he encountered during a residency in a medieval French village. In effect, the works act as a medium or interface between two very different senses of place, drawing a line between surface worn by history, and the coolly timeless space of an art gallery, with the former also intruding into the latter in Widjaja’s eschewing of conventional display of his densely textured works, opting instead for prosaic materials like brick and glass. Wong Lip Chin’s works take yet another perspective on drawing, taking the solidly graphical traditions of animation and distributing them throughout the gallery. While each glyph or drawing certainly remains on a two-dimensional surface, the body of work as a whole is distributed through the space, confounding easy distinctions between drawing and site-specific installation, perhaps as some wry mutant offspring of the free-spirited character of (non-commissioned, distinctly unofficial) graffiti and street art. Much as drawing a line requires one to move a pencil (or pen, or other implement), the show, taken together, reminds us that drawing isn’t some static, stagnant, subsidiary thing to be looked over in favour of media of greater purported sophistication – even the simplest of systems and rules can lead to exponential depth and complexity. A Drawing Show runs until Sep 14, 12 to 7 pm Tue to Sat, 12 to 6 pm Sundays, at Yeo Workshop, #01-01 1 Lock Road, Singapore 108932. Closed on Mondays and public holidays. Free admission.   ...

August 22, 2014

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Review: Zen Teh, ''Calls for a New Natural Order'' at 2902 Gallery...
Here in tiny, land-scarce Singapore, it comes as no surprise that nature’s often had to take a backseat to the demands of progress and development. Even as campaigns to save the Green Corridor and Bukit Brown make it plain that not everybody’s on board with the idea of replacing natural areas with highways and shopping malls, there’s precious little left of nature on the island. What does remain often ends up aggressively manicured, presenting not so much nature as some carefully orchestrated interpretation of nature, filtered through very human expectations and perspectives. Zen Teh’s first solo exhibition in Singapore, ‘Calls for a New Natural Order,’ examines, among other things, this curiously dysfunctional relationship with nature. It’s a relationship that could be compared, if we’re being uncharitable, to anime-obsessed shut-ins who become bizarrely attached to purely fictional characters.   Which is not to say that Teh’s photography can be boiled down to some nostalgic pursuit of images of an authentic, unspoiled nature – of lushly rugged landscapes to be contemplated at our leisure in a comfortably air-conditioned gallery. Hers is a rather more critical eye, questioning our relationship with nature and the landscape in three very distinct bodies of work from the past four years.   The series 'The Imperative Landscape,’ for instance, is built on dense, large-scale images of Chiang Rai forests, discarding the usual landscape format for less conventional shapes – a circle with a hole in the middle, a notched triangle, and what might well be a reference to the yoni symbol. Rendered in a subdued monochrome with a glossy diasec finish, these dramatic forms suggest both a confrontational graphic sensibility and a concern with sacred geometry – nature not as some passive ground to be built over, but an active, primal force, one which provides the foundations of our myths and symbols.   Though the show is largely one of photographs, there are influences beyond that of photography itself – most notably, painting, and particularly that of traditional Chinese painting. Teh’s 'Unknowing’ series and 'Singapore Landscape Painting’ are both printed on scrolls of hand-made paper, horizontally and vertically respectively. It’s a gesture that verges on affectation, particularly in the case of 'Singapore Landscape Painting,’ which requires you to carefully – almost tediously – manhandle the scroll to take in the whole image. The physical investment involved in viewing lushly verdant scenes of sameness seems to function as commentary in itself, on our endless vistas of cookie cutter flats and malls. Zen Teh, Unknowing Triptych   Composed as they are of photo-composites of various natural scenes in Singapore – ranging from familiar parks and reserves to other, less identifiable fragments of landscape – the two series suggest a relationship with nature founded, on some level, on some sense of limitless editability. An approach to the natural world that has something in common with Spotify’s systems of musical recommendation, or the filter bubbles quietly imposed on us by Google’s monitoring of our internet search habits.   At the same time, the compositing of these photographs to suggest landscapes wholly strange to our own experiences of Singapore suggests a touch of deception or concealment through collation, lending a touch of disquiet and unease to these otherwise lushly beautiful images. Far from simply indulging our taste for contemplating nature from afar, the show hints at some sort of complicity and instability, disrupting our settled gaze.   Calls for a New Natural Order runs until Aug 10, 12 to 7 pm Tue to Sat, 1 to 5 pm Sundays, at 2902 Gallery, #02-02 222 Queen Street, Singapore 188550. Closed on Mondays and public holidays. Free admission.   ...

July 16, 2014

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Review: Departures...
While the model of apprenticeship (and the lineage of influence it implies) isn’t nearly the force it once was, talking about the influence of artists and teachers remains – which makes Departure quite the interesting study, featuring Milenko Prvacki and four of his former students. It’s tempting to envision something like wildly divergent interpretations of the same jazz standard, like April in Paris as imagined by Count Basie on one hand, and Thelonius Monk on the other.   “Greetings From…” by Milenko Prvacki’s , 2014, acrylic on linen, 200 x 200cm. Of course, that’s not to say that it’s just a simple transfer of information from one to another, giving rise to varying interpretations of one original theme. Each of them’s an artist in their own right, at varying stages of their careers, with their own areas of concern, and individual approaches in technique and style – a fact which discourage attempts to read the works on show in terms of simple generational differences. It’s a show of departures, after all, and not of origins. “Monogatari (II)” by Hilmi Johandi,2014, Oil on canvas, 240 x 80cm.   “Ampas (Residue)” by Hilmi Johandi,2013.Oil on canvas, 144 x 94 cm. For instance, while being of the same age and sharing Prvacki as a teacher, the paintings of Hilmi Johandi and Luke Heng couldn’t be any more different. Johandi’s works are easily the most recognisably representational in the show, drawing imagery from P. Ramlee’s Bujang Lapok films and Ozu’s Tokyo Story to form collages of sorts, as if condensing some essence of each film into a single image. They’re both accompanied by short, looping animations based on the films, suggesting an approach that’s equal parts homage and a meditation on the films. “b_28” by Luke Heng, 2014, Oil on Linen,160x120cm. “p/21” by Luke Heng, 2014, Oil on linen, 179.5 x 134.5 cm. Heng’s paintings, on the other hand, take a far more abstract approach – vivid monochromes that might hint at patterns like wood grain and rainfall, with terse titles like b/28 and p/21. With the surface textures straddling some point of ambiguity between brushstrokes and drips, closer examination suggests delicate layering that yields, at times, lushly saturated colours. There’s a sense that Heng’s paintings are as much about their process of making as providing sensory and aesthetic stimulation. It’s an impression which it shares with Jeremy Sharma’s works, though Sharma’s use of enamel on dibond suggests a more exhaustive, analytically rigorous approach – one which leaves traces not of the artist’s brush, but some elegantly refined, somehow computational process of crafting subtle textures and variations in colour which seem to encode the works’ enigmatic titles, like Rosetta, or Untitled (Eros). “Rosetta I” by Jeremy Sharma, 2013, Enamel paint on dibond with aluminium channel, 243 x 114cm.  “Untitled (Eros)” by Jeremy Sharma, 2014, Enamel paint on dibond with aluminium channel, 140 x 86 x 5.5cm.   Conversely, the subjects of Filip Gudovic’s plainly descriptive titles – plain enough to be photo captions in magazines or technical manuals – seem instead to have been decomposed or dissected by the artist into their constituent components, as with the palette-like Design of an Italian Restaurant. Or perhaps they’ve been stripped down to some bare minimum of form, as seen in the rectangular enclosures of A House Inside a Building, and A View of a Garden. “A View of a Garden” by Filip Gudovic, 2014, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 26 cm.   “Design of an Italian Restaurant” by Filip Gudovic, 2014 ,Oil, acrylic and emulsion on canvas, 210x160cm. If there is something tangible which unites the works of these former students of Prvacki, it’s a certain quiet efficacy in approaching painting. What might seem like a stray brushstroke, instead, could not have been otherwise – perhaps the lasting legacy of influence of Prvacki’s inimitable style, somehow transformed and embedded in these varied techniques, approaches, and areas of concern. Departure runs till 21 June 2014 at iPreciation, Mondays to Fridays, from 10am to 7pm, and Saturdays from 11am to 6pm. Sundays and public holidays by appointment only. Admission is free.   ...

June 11, 2014

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Review: Passage...
When it comes to art in Singapore, it’s hard to overstate the influence of Delia and Milenko Prvacki. Having been here for just over twenty years, they’re more than just mainstays; Milenko, for one, has spent 17 years as LASALLE’s Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, while Delia’s works should be a familiar sight to most, with her long history of commissions and installations in public and outdoor spaces. Despite having been together for 42 years, Passageis only the fifth time they’ve shown together. Asked about the rarity of them showing together, the couple responded, “Our common language and shared aesthetic brought us together in the first place; we influence each other, but ultimately we have our individual careers.”   As one more milestone in a lifelong journey through art that’s taken them from Europe to Asia (and the rest of the world besides), Passage seems like quite the fitting title, suggesting as it does both a sense of motion and the spaces through which one moves. The layout of the show also underscores this notion of a journey, with Milenko’s paintings providing markers, as their titles suggest, of Entrance, Exit, and perhaps what happens in between those two points: Unsent Letter. These evocative notions serve to frame the sparsely lyrical play within each painting, each replete with varied textures and gestures, as well as forms hover on some edge of recognition. From left to right: “18 Hours”, “Ring”, “Silk Road”, “Exit”, and “Unsent Letter”. Bottom right: “Rare Earth”. At first glance, Delia’s works present an overall impression of geometric solidity, somewhat like monuments and civic buildings that dot city centres. However, hers is not a geometry of regularity, and closed, perfect forms – there’s variation through each body of work, which suggests organic growth and accumulation. This sense of progression is most evident in the serial arrangement of 18 Hours and 7 Days, while the looped forms of Ring and Silk Road also suggest the cyclical, and the possibilities of return and repetition in movement. From left to right: “Exit”, “Silk Road”, and “Unsent Letter”. The variety present in the surfaces of her work serves also to distance it from rigidity and finality, featuring everything from gradual progressions of colour, to variations in reflection and lustre, shifting patterns of mosaics. Commenting on the richness of colour in her work, Delia said, “My work is influenced by the colour and light around me – coming from Europe to the tropics, we were influenced by the change in light, colour, and humidity. It’s certainly changed the chromatic values in my work. In what might be a nod to the silk road of old, Rare Earth, Pieces from the Sea and Silk Roadfeature approaches to texture and form ranging from sand and grit to assemblages of glazed and gilded flotsam. This connection also calls to mind recent scholarship, attested to by potsherds and other ceramic artifacts, which point to Singapore’s status as a trading centre stretching much farther back than 1819. At times, the show seems like an archaeological dig of some unspecified time – past and future both – of some relentlessly intermingled, vibrant and yet somehow alien culture. From left to right: “Ring”, “Silk Road”, and “Exit”.   “We believe in immersing ourselves in the rich history of the region, as we ourselves come from a place of rich history. Moving to Singapore enabled us to travel through the region, and so our work has been influenced by places like India, Bali, and Borobudur, and things like Peranakan and Vietnamese ceramics.” The wealth of history aside, however, the couple had more to share on Singapore and the silk road: “Living in Singapore today, you cannot escape the oft-recurring terms like ‘globalisation’, and 'East-meets-West.’ But how do you make that East-West distinction in such a mixed society?” Passage runs till 15 June 2014 at Luxe Art Museum, Tuesdays to Sundays, from 11am to 7pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays. Admission is free.   ...

June 04, 2014

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Review: Sound: Latitudes and Attitudes...
Although it’s been a long time since artists started exploring the possibilities of sound, sound art has long had something of a marginal character, owing to a certain definitional slipperiness, readily overlapping with fields like music and performance art. That may be beginning to change, though, with 2010 seeing the first Turner prize awarded to a work of sound art. Here in Singapore, Sound: Latitudes and Attitudes, curated by Bani Haykal and Joleen Loh, showcases some of the most fascinating examples of sound art from the past few years, bringing together a diverse group of seventeen artists, each approaching sound from their unique perspective. As befits a major survey of sound art in Singapore, there’s an archive available for perusal – Mark Wong’s Finding Sound. It brings together numerous fragments and artifacts of Singapore’s aural history, ranging from video interviews to newspaper clippings and cassette tapes, each annotated by the artist. Rather than presenting a potted chronology of the subject, establishing clear lines of descent from early to contemporary sound art, Finding Sound offers a richly textured look into the complicated interconnections which gave rise to (and now characterise) sound in Singapore. It’s more concerned with sound in art, rather than sound art per se; here, sound art’s blurred boundaries overlap and exchange influences with performance art, underground rock and experimental music, amongst others. Not only does sound have a distinct bent towards the interdisciplinary, it also lends itself well to a variety of presentations, and modes of experience. Much of the show is divided into listening stations and sound scores. The former offers an altogether individual listening experience, with each recording neatly enclosed by headphones. Fittingly enough, the listening stations themselves, orderly ranks of blank little plinths, are visually indistinguishable from each other – there’s no telling what you’ll be getting into, whether harsh noise, delicate instrumentals, or ambient field recordings. Of course, you could always refer to the gallery layout plan, but where’s the fun in that? If the word ‘score’ brings to mind neatly ruled sheets of paper with sensible arrangements of musical notes, the selection here ought to be more than enough to challenge the limits of that convention. For instance, Brian O'Reilly’s Linear Element resembles a sketch of some urban environment – perhaps shophouses, while Zai Tang’s Respect II (Bukit Brown Cemetery I), in ink and graphite, offers a gestural, expressive interpretation of the ambient sounds of that soon-to-be highway, which you can hear with the turntable provided. In addition to the scores and listening posts, the show also features other situations and experiences of listening; the first you might encounter is Ang Song-Ming’s No Man’s Band, situated just outside the gallery’s doors. Drawn from recordings of rehearsals of Bowen Secondary School’s brass band rehearsals, the serendipitous discontinuities and dissonances of rehearsal seems to form a suitable contrast to the structured environment of Singapore’s secondary schools, while also suggesting the exploratory character of the show as a whole. Mohamad Riduan, Hijrah (detail), presented at Bridge: Dari Utara ke Selatan (Bridge: From North to South), Jendela, Visual Arts Space, Esplanade, mixed media installation, dimensions variable, 2013. Photo: Muhamad Wafa Like the transient, ephemeral nature of sound, the show itself isn’t static, featuring a programme of changing installations and live performances. The current temporary installation, Mohamad Riduan’s Hijrah atau Jihad, centres on row after row of simple motor-driven stringed instruments, controlled by a panel bristling with switches, powered by small photo-voltaic cells. The installation adds a layer of interactivity to the exhibition, enjoining the viewer to participate in modifying and composing the aural environment of the gallery. Sound: Latitudes and Attitudes runs from 7 February to 16 March 2014 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10am to 6pm. Admission  ...

February 12, 2014

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