Review: Visual Arts and Photography
Still Moving at Singapore Art Museum (SAM) 8Q
till 8 February 2015
The Singapore Art Museum (SAM) is presently exhibiting three exhibitions in 8Q, its special annex located on Queens Street around the corner from SAM’s main building. The exhibition is a triple bill made up of three exhibitions that occupy the whole of the building’s exhibition spaces.
The three exhibition are: Afterimage – a curated selection of artworks that are based on or relate to various uses of photography; Time Present – a selection of contemporary photography from the Deutsche Bank collection; and Image & Illusion – video works from the Yokohama Museum of Art.
As a triple bill, this combined exhibition is a stand out experience for those eager to engage with contemporary visual arts based around photography, photo-media and video.
The first exhibition, Afterimage, is a powerful mix of art by Southeast Asian artists whose works include manipulated and collaged works, those that are linked to photographic processes, and others that are more a photographic record of a performance.
A statement from the exhibition materials states that the exhibition surveys non-traditional photographic practices by veteran and emerging Southeast Asian artists. Information uploaded to the SAM website states that artists use non-traditional photographic techniques to articulate concerns about the cultural, political and social landscapes of the region.
The exhibition’s themes are twofold. The first being that there are after images that remain beyond your engagement with photographic works. The second is that these artists have strong regional influences embedded within their practice.
I do have a disagreement about the full exhibition title which is Afterimage, Contemporary Photography in Southeast Asia.
This is not a photographic exhibition but rather an exhibition of works created through the use of various processes relating to photography. Photography has its own complex history and photographers have their own way of seeing and reacting to the world. This is very evident in the second exhibition, that selected from the Deutsche Bank collection.
The works in Afterimage are aligned to photographic practice, because photography is one of the main media used to realise the artist’s visions. The works in Afterimage are better described as being photomedia works. As such they are more likely to be viewed, and therefore assessed, against other works by contemporary visual artists who work with mixed media.
As an exhibition of contemporary SouthEast Asian photomedia artists, Afterimage is a successful curatorial exercise. Many of the works are strong and engaging enough to fit with into international exhibitions of contemporary visual arts. Others are so regionally focussed that they would most likely not be easily understood by other audiences.
One work in particular that jumps at you once you understand what you are looking at (see the two images below). I remember well the three images referenced and how they came to represent so much that was wrong with the 1960-1970s war in Vietnam. The artist has taken these three images and produced them onto 50 metre scrolls of colour paper and then hung them in a very majestic way. It is not possible to see the images as they are now stretched over the full length of the paper.
The original three photographs are: Thich Quang Duc, the burning monk; Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the napalm girl; and the women and children victims of Mai Lai.
There are several works within the exhibition whereby the viewer would need to know a lot about local politics. One work involved a photoshoping of people into scenes involving local dignitaries. As I was not familiar with who these people were and what the events were, I was unable to appreciate the artist’s messages and therefore was left with what are ordinary photographs of groups of people.
Another that was based on the riots in Indonesia and the devastation inflicted on Chinese families. These works, as shown below, could be appreciated even if you did not comprehend the regional context. The artist has woven gold thread over the skins of the subjects this making their identities very difficult. And when you read the attached story, the works definitely engaged you even more.
While the Afterimage exhibition has a strong SouthEast Asian anchor, upon entering Deutsche Bank collection, Time Present, the traditional dominance of Euro-US photography becomes obvious. I do not recall if there was a SouthEast Asian artist/photographer represented in this selection. While this absence is unfortunate, the selection does present the complexities and beauty of contemporary photography.
On the top floor are two sets of rooms of multi media and video works from the Yokohama Museum of Art. Of these two stand out for me. The first, by Takashi Ishida, is the beautiful and graceful projection of two women swimming. The images are projected through a water tank, so can be viewed on the side of the tank as well as on the far wall.
The second is Takashi Ishida’s Wall Of Sea. This is three-channel video made up of stop-motion animations of drawings, paintings and images of the ocean. This is beautifully presented in a long room – with plenty of seating (something often missing in exhibitions).
The arrangement of the three exhibitions at SAM 8Q is a total success. It is most likely that many visitors to the building may not appreciate that there are three different exhibitions here.
As you journey from the photomedia works in Afterimage, upstairs to the photographs of the Deutsche Bank collection, and then onto the video installations from the Yokohama Museum of Art, the visitor is immersed in an array of contemporary visual arts practice.
There’s a lot of works to be seen but not too many for one session – and there are several places locally for good coffee and a rest – click here.
The staging of Afterimage is a partnership between the Singapore Art Museum and the 2014 Singapore International Photography Festival. click here
A visit to Still Moving – the three exhibitions as a group – is definitely recommended. click here for the SAM information.
Recommendation: Rating 9/10
Paul Costigan, 5th October 2014