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Threads and Tensions - Stories from Southeast Asia at Yeo Workshop


Threads and Tensions - Stories from Southeast Asia at Yeo Workshop
Installation image, Gallery 1, Threads and Tensions at Yeo Workshop, 2017. Image courtesy of the artist and Yeo Workshop
Works in the exhibition share a common theme that captures “forgotten or endangered lifestyles in South-East Asia” expressed through the artists own research and personal stories.

Threads and Tensions - Stories from Southeast Asia is a group exhibition featuring the works from three contemporary artists currently on view at the Yeo Workshop in Singapore. 

Southeast Asian artists, Santi Wangchuan, Loke Hong Seng and Jim Allen Abel (JIMBO) present a series of works that initiate a dialogue about historical and cultural stories reflecting upon the ever-changing lifestyle across the Southeast Asian region.

Works in the exhibition share a common theme that captures “forgotten or endangered lifestyles in South-East Asia” expressed through the artists own research and personal stories.  Each artist explores the notion of identity, urbanisation, forgotten cultural practices and histories in their respective hometown.  The themes are presented through various aesthetics and mediums ranging from photography, weaving to installation.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is introduced to Santi Wangchuan’s new hand-made weaving works that reference his family cultural traditions.  Wangchuan, born in Thailand, was taught the history and craft of weaving from his grandmother, at a young age.  In this exhibition, Wangchuan presents 8 colourful weaves with the combination of traditional techniques and mixed media, creating abstract-like patterns.  The emotional connection between Wangchuan and weaving works are evident from the carefully crafted and delicate details of the weaves.  

"Weaving of Memorable Space" (2017) by Santi Wangchuan. Weaving, found objects, 50 x 70cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Yeo Workshop

The presentation of the weaves invites the viewer to appreciate the materials, aesthetics, and also contemplate upon the historical and cultural implications of the craft.  Weaving of Memorable Space (2017) combines both weaving and found objects associated with Thailand’s culture, inspired by traditional techniques using organic materials.  At the same time, the works reveal cultural craft practices are becoming obsolete due to communities overtaken by urbanisation.  

Wangchuan remembers the intimate and personal hand-woven belongings that were part of his childhood but now life is different.  The weaving works refer to his family’s weaving business that suffered to stay alive during the rise of urbanisation.  Instead, machinery has overtaken the traditional methods due to modern outputs and mass production.  Evidently, the weaving works question whether machinery has the ability to create such personal items, and how do we preserve Thailand’s cultural traditions in the ever-changing lifestyle in the region.  

Threads and Tensions moves onto the social documentation of Singapore’s transformation from 1963 to 1985.  Loke Hong Seng, street portrait photographer, presents his outstanding Changing Industries and the Working Class series that documents the nation’s past and its people.  Seng’s background as a working Chinese broadcast journalist is evident in each photograph, he successfully depicts people’s emotion and their livelihood.  In this exhibition, the photographs refer to his well documented book ‘A Social Portrait of Singapore: The Critical Years’ provides “perspectives define character and express intention” surrounding the nation’s transformation.  

An installation image, "Critical Portraits from Singapore  1963-1985," by Loke Hong Seng, reprinted in 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and Yeo Workshop

In the Working Class series, the photographs capture the idyllic mood and the organic movements of the workers’ daily routine.  The old sea vessels and local boats across the Singapore River and Kallang River have since been re-developed into an international port.  Contemplating upon each photograph, we reflect on the historical settings of Singapore during the 1960s.

On our way to Pasar Malam (1968) documents Singapore’s transformation with a particular focus on the street vendors pushing the carts.  The black and white photograph offers various layers from the foreground to the background; the viewer’s attention begins with the vendors following their footsteps towards the public housing apartments.  In the background, the apartments and the ladies standing on the side road portrays the city’s re-development stage during the late 1960s. The viewer is encouraged to ponder the city’s historical development that is part of the changing life in the region, and reflect upon our own daily surroundings.        

"On our way to Pasar Malam", (1968) by Loke Hong Seng,  Reprinted 2015, digital print on archival paper, 60 x 90cm. Edition of 15. Image courtesy of the artist and Yeo Workshop

The exhibition ends with Indonesian artist, Jim Allen Abel (JIMBO)’s work focusing on identity and nationality with a commentary on past political events.  Abel’s archive-like images and site-specific works provides an appropriate overlap between Seng and Wangchuan’s cultural and historical themes. 

Burning Down the History (2016) reconstructs the historical Papak Building fire – the government headquarters in Java that was destroyed on 29th November 1954.  Papak was built in 1854 that was used as a Dutch resident office, and then became the government headquarters.   The fire destroyed all archives that related to the history of the building, city of Semarang and documentation collected during the Dutch colonial era.  Similar to Seng and Wangchuan, Abel undertook his own personal research by going through newspapers to locate historical information about the Papak Building fire and the cause of the fire, which still remains unknown.

During Abel’s own investigation, he decided to provide his own interpretation of the event by reconstructing the fire at Artjog|9 (2016) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  Subsequently, Abel reconstructed the site-specific installation into 3 stages that captured: an hour before the building was on fire, the moment the building was on fire and then an hour after the building was burnt.  Burning Down the History (2016) the black and white photographs depict the building before the fire, consisting of dark objects and furniture without any natural light entering the room.  The photographs evoke a dark and sombre moment before tragedy occurred.

"Burning Down the History" (2016) by Jim Allen Abel. Inkjet photo print on disband, 80 x 120cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Yeo Workshop

Abel invites the viewer to question political powers and ask – why and how did the fire occur.  As the exhibition press release explains, “Abel investigates into systems of representation and how authority and power are represented”. The eerie and emotional nature of the work questions the political powers and corruption systems that can manipulate and misinterpret history.

Threads and Tensions brings together Southeast Asian artists to comment on current and past events that have transformed the region. The exhibition asks the viewer to contemplate upon forgotten histories, urban re-development and traditional crafts.  


Threads and Tensions – Stories from Southeast Asia is on view from 4 November 2017 to 7 January 2018.  More information can be found here.


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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