Snippets: Gillman Barracks, Dec 2014

With most exhibition spaces in Gillman Barracks closed during year-end, Singaporean galleries Fost and Yeo Workshop extend a neighbour’s welcome by staying open. A new visitor’s disappointment is soothed, when viewing the astonishing works of Amsterdam-based Xue Mu at the latter. Thin black cloth with moon images are suspended from the ceiling, its folding screens-like arrangement actually referencing the Monoceros constellation. The surprise continues when observing its wall prints, as the mysterious lunar forms are revealed to be microscopic snapshots of bath foam in a black tub. As Jesse van Winden’s catalogue essay states, “(t)hey are reconstructed constellations of another order, of the personal subconscious and the collective conscious, like meta-Rorschach imagery in the white cubes of contemporary art.“

Installation snapshot at Xue Mu - A Childish Nothingness [picture from Yeo Workshop event webpage]

“A Childish Nothingness 2014” series of photographs mesmerise with juxtaposition of objects on a tactile background. Use of an advertising-grade technical camera render captivating captures of toys, shoes, and bananas on marble tiles. One greyscale ‘Moon Map’ acts as the literal vanishing point and background for dead stuff and a crumpled roll of white ribbon, the meta-composition translating scrap into pictorial markers in a stunning image. Onto a different critique, the red and blue golf ball in ‘Ball Etc’ isolates one’s perception of colour, and negates consideration of its form altogether. Shadows emphasise its materiality as seen from above; but the artist displays too these seemingly incompatible objects within Perspex boxes set upon plinths. Pacing between wall print and physical artefact, perspective breaks down and the essence of things are all that remain.

Xue Mu - A Childish Nothingness / Moon Map (2014)

Deconstructing the medium of film is Yang Fudong's preoccupation, whose video installations are exhibited at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art. Visitors enter a vacuous room decorated in dark flowery wallpaper, where a variety of screens and photographs present the same actress in action. Multiple projections of “About the Unknown Girl – Ma Sise” explore the notion of posing for the camera, but its large-scale documentation feels more like peeking into the concealed archives of an obsessive stalker. More straightforward is ‘On the Double Dragon Hills’, a fascinating black & white sequence made from the footage of ‘Blue Kylin’. Human industry and mechanical power depict the laborious process at a stone quarry, as strategic edits ensure visual continuity, the repetitive movements of its subjects emitting a drone despite the silent projection.

Video captures of Yang Fudong - On the Double Dragon Hills 二龙山上 (2014)

Undeniably the exhibition highlight, ‘The Fifth Night (II) Rehearsal’ shows the output of seven monitors connected to seven cameras shooting seven different scenes simultaneously. Muted characters pace about a movie set while backgrounds overlap, as the occasional dramatic event punctuates the midnight silence. The obvious viewfinder and grainy images (a monitor eventually fails) emphasise the “preview film” and the aphorism “真假流露”, two concepts mentioned by the artist in an insightful 2012 interview. Fudong’s deep knowledge of film-making, presents itself via the experimentation of technical aspects like lenses, angles, and tracking speed, as narrative becomes the reason, and not the basis, to advance camera motion. “What is reality?” In this case, a Malaysian art enthusiast sitting in a Singaporean gallery space watching Chinese produced art.

Video installation snapshots of Yang Fudong - The Fifth Night (II) Rehearsal 第五夜(第二版)巡回排演 (2010)

“…working on this new photo series, I was very aware of this language of aesthetics (…) the details in the photos are highly emphasized via sophisticated manipulation, but in the meanwhile, the objects themselves are very innocent. I am aware of the seduction of this language but I don’t think it’s a matter of seduction only, especially in today’s society where we are meant to be seduced every day at all times for the sake of economic growth. Consumption is based on desire and seduction creates it. But if we try to understand seduction as a general notion: it is something that relates to our survival instinct, it is a condition that is beyond judgement or integrity, it is natural thing to be seduced…”
– Xue Mu, excerpt of interview with Kris Dittel, “Instead of Going Against… Going Within”, 2014

Xue Mu - A Childish Nothingness / Marble Horses (2014)