Snippets: Singapore Biennale 2013

Sidestepping the debate about curatorial strategy to acknowledge the melting pot Southeast Asia is, the Singapore Biennale 2013 presents "art works tended towards narrative and socio-political bases." (Iona Whitaker, randian) An overload of information are found in education kits at the event website, providing context to the many region-specific works on display. Visiting three museums holding the majority of exhibits, two art collectives recently active on the Biennale circuit set a high bar for others to follow. Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho's dual-screened 'El fin del mundo', absorbs with its meditative inference about the human pursuit for aesthetic value; The room installation by teamLab mesmerises, where "...past and present collide, and the moving figures, the layering of sound and light, and the use of mirrors create a sense of spatial instability, of being transported into the ancient world that this work evokes." (Rahel Joseph, Article)

teamLab - Peace Can Be Realised Even Without Order (2012)

"Works that explore the quotidian social injustice that millions in the region suffer are plentiful and cast a harsh light on the costs we bear as humanity slowly destroys itself." (Marilyn Goh, DailyServing) Artists whom constructed entire environs succeed in this exploration - Kiri Dalena's curled-up figures, Nge Lay's village classroom, and Oscar Villamiel's doll heads, immerse the audience in uncomfortable surroundings and lend temporal empathy. Constructs such as Tran Tuan's 'Forefinger' and Svay Sareth's 'Toy (Churning of the Sea of Milk)' convey condensed meanings, also apparent in the cut-out projections by Nguyen Trinh Thi. The two aforementioned works reference bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat, and 'Andy Warhol Eats A Hamburger' respectively, subverting familiar imagery with political content. Less potent is Khvay Samnang pouring sand over his head, whose self-indulgent performance dilutes the critical message.

Installation view of Nguyen Trinh Thi - Unsubtitled (2010)

'Longing' by Chi Too displays a similar but more refined presentation, questioning one's place in a public sphere. Other introspective works that look to exorcise personal demons are Le Brothers' back-and-forth struggle on a boat, and Sean Lee's photographs of his parents' bodies that resemble colourless landscapes. Teenage girls in Sookoon Ang's 'Exorcise Me' exude sensuality despite looking bored, "this piece captures that state of adolescent ennui familiar to every society." (John McDonald, Sydney Morning Herald) Nipan Oranniwesna demands the visitor to get down on all fours with a magnifying glass, this cheeky installation compelling one's search for lost and constructed memories. Audience participation is also necessary to experience Angie Seah's rostrum with pre-recorded Singaporean soundscapes, and Ahmad Abu Bakar's kolek Melaka filled with aspirations written by male prison inmates.

Ahmad Abu Bakar - Telok Blangah (2013)

Adeline Chia from Blouin Artinfo reports, "(a)nother common theme that comes across is the exploration of indigenous or tribal cultures in the region, which... feel very “Singapore World Expo,” i.e., bluntly educational introductions to certain places and cultures." Unfortunately most works by Malaysia artists fall into this category, notably the ones from Sabah and Sarawak. Shieko Reto's room of graffiti illustrations is hardly memorable, while Sharon Chin will be remembered for the bright yellow spectacle she orchestrated over the Biennale opening weekend. Zulkifli Yusoff recalls painted flowers from his older works, to complement the signature layered grids and screen-printed patterns in 'Rukunegara 1: Belief in God'. The monochromatic and organic forms are more likely to confound the common visitor, who has to navigate within these hanging objects, in a narrow and relatively dim space.

Installation view of Zulkifli Yusoff - Rukunegara 1: Belief in God (2013)

The created fantasy of a Singapore being part of Malaysia thoroughly delights in its irony, which Boo Junfeng augments with imagined logos of previous merger celebrations. Providing a respite from non-traditional media are the luscious and beautiful paintings by Marisa Darasavath, whose working women are depicted in vibrant swirls of colour. One of the Biennale's best work, Leslie de Chavez's monumental 'Detritus' portrays a destitute population with wonderfully surreal images - plywood figures in Maoist getup, a bishop in a crash helmet, small shopping bags placed into larger bags, a cross made out of nails, a limp loudspeaker proclaiming the death of -isms, etc. Diverse and rewarding to the invested visitor, the Singapore Biennale triumphs in its earnest ambition to differentiate itself and be relevant to/for its neighbours. If the world changed, the Kuala Lumpur Biennale will have a more focused theme. But the world has not.

Leslie de Chavez - Detritus (2013)