11 August 2014

Immaterial Frontiers 2.0 @ NVAG

The Malaysian visitor is confronted with media art from acclaimed regional artists, which curatorial theme "relates to how can artists from newly formed nation-states create works that reflect a sense of being part of a place that is culturally deep and yet nationally new." Walking past a non-functioning bell into the black box, one is captivated by Singaporean works presented across five screens. A rope stretched across an undulating sea in Charles Lim's 'Sea State: Drift (Stay Still Now to Move)', underpins the futility of demarcating a physical border in nature. This image anchors one adjacent video of a man floating diagonally over a split-screen projection of the sea, its fluid action equally applicable to a metaphor for life. Showing more than one perspective is the common approach utilised among the exhibiting artists, perhaps a necessary method in this multipolar world.

Snapshots from Charles Lim - Sea State: Drift (Stay Still Now to Move) (2013)

In one video from his ironic "Ju Yi Fan San" (举一反三) series, Cheo Chai-Hiang splits and shares a durian with his mother, trading obligatory courtesies and bantering in Hokkien throughout. Exhibited alongside is a live feed from the gallery's library, where four bookends of hands holding up/down bottles, are placed among the rack of art reference books. Will oral tradition and/or documented opinions stand the test of place/time? As one adept at situating multilayered contexts within his art, excessive reading into Chai-Hiang's presentation is inevitable. Red water scoop, blue waste basket, green tissue box, pink string wrapped around bronze fingers - suggest potentially delusive associations. The first video ends brilliantly with a 'beh tauge' (拔豆芽) quip, implying that life goes on regardless of social manipulations. Plucking the ends off bean sprouts, is just a natural action to get rid of what one deems unpleasant.

Video stills from Cheo Chai-Hiang - Ju Yi Fan San - Eating Durian (2013)

Frontiers form personal histories for Brisbane-based Tintin Wulia and California-raised Dinh Q. Lê. The former's performance of stacking then toppling passports is re-enacted by local artists Race Phua and Mohd Amirul Roslan, but this attempt to localise the artwork's clichéd commentary is weak, especially when compared to Chai-Hiang's presentation. Scenes from Apocalypse Now and Platoon are juxtaposed by the latter, 'From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage' focusing on Martin and Charlie Sheen, and their roles in popular movies set during the Vietnam War. Moments of doubt are woven together to cast suspicion onto a bloody conflict, and its American-propagated storyline. The cross-generational reference is clever and leaves a strong impression, as one reads headlines about yet another air strike on Iraqi soil.

Video stills from Dinh Q. Lê - From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage (2007)

Held in NTU Singapore during its first iteration, "Immaterial Frontiers 2.0" includes local artists for a supposedly more relevant exposition. However, projection of lines onto frosted acrylic and an interactive game fail to inspire, apart from a 'mencari lena' pun suggested by one reviewer. Old lexicons printed with coastline images, are literal manifestations of Sharon Chin who "...imagined these languages floating in the sea towards Penang, and landing on its shore." Grass mats and cardboards cover the floor, to augment a generalised and romantic view of the pendatang. Particularly alluring are the history textbook (Balik Pulau) and Hokkien dictionary (Gurney Drive) editions, its respective political and cultural intimations infusing additional context into beautifully-made and collector-friendly artworks. Frontiers may be immaterial for art-making, but its dividing line of power must be recognised, in order for boundaries to be pushed.

Snapshots from Sharon Chin's "Pendatang/Arrivals: Pocket Seas" series (2008): [top] Balik Pulau (Malihom), 6.55pm - Textbook; [bottom] Gurney Drive, 12.08pm - Hokkien

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