Published for The Private Museum Ltd
You, Other; I, Another
In “You, Other; I, Another”, curated by Dr. Susie Lingham, nine artists’ works diverge into various individual realities of lived Otherness, or concepts of difference—expressed in diverse materialities and modes. From the rhythms of the natural world to the measures of culture and custom, and stemming from the personal, the familial to societal—all manner of Other manifest here reciprocally, ‘inscrutably involved’.
The artists include, Regina De Rozario, Mithun Jayaram, Mumtaz Maricar, Siew Kee Liong, Leroy Sofyan, Vincent Twardzik Ching, Victor Emmanuel, Susie Wong and Yeo Chee Kiong – their works span a plethora of mediums, all investigating the dynamic spectrum of the ‘Other’.Through the ‘Guest Curator Initiative’, they are engaged at this point to reflect on our role and identity as an arts space in bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives to the local art scene.
“We’ve held collectors’ shows and provided artists a platform to exhibit since we started TPM in 2010. This year, we decided to add on a Guest Curator’s initiative as the idea is to view curating as an art form itself. We are delighted to be able to work with Dr Susie Lingham as TPM’s first guest curator to present diverse perspectives on art and life.”
-The Private Museum.
Regina De Rozario
Regina De Rozario is a Singapore-based artist/writer. Her practice and research interests include psychogeography and urban visual culture – specifically, how related strategies of walking, mapping, writing and image-making enable us to recognise, reflect on, and respond to notions of power and control in the shaping of the physical and narrative spaces we inhabit. Regina received an MA in Contemporary Practice, and a BA in Fine Art with Contemporary Writing from the University of Huddersfield in 2010 and 2008 respectively. In turn, she has lectured and facilitated workshops at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore Management University, National Library, and Singapore Art Museum.
She laments, “The act of asking questions is innate in all of us. As social creatures, we encounter and dispense questions on a daily basis to help us make sense of our place, and the place of others, in the world.” What does it mean to fit in? In this work, she is” focus on re-collecting the questions I have been fielded and have had to respond to. Over time, they have become prompts for personal reflection, and for a closer investigation of the ground I have had to navigate as a person who has never quite ‘fitted’ in, or found my ‘place’, either by my own volition or circumstance.”
A site specific work plastered on a pillar, standing in the middle of the exhibition space. Sprawled across are words, questions and prompts for the identity of the self, both racial and perhaps something more. It reminds me of the passive aggressive tones that one would ask someone of a mixed background, “why is your English so good” seems to hit a particular nerve as well. It did work in some regard – I was prompted to ask myself “why was the Singaporean sensibilities skewed to think having good English is something that only locals should have?” – were my questions the right ones?
Paired with old photographs of herself, the childhood narrative and upbringing beckons the idea of social norms, what it means to fit in, and how growing up could affect the ground for what she calls the “transactional” relationship. It’s a work that is in a word, ruminative. It calls for the audience to reflect, to layer themselves vicariously in the artist’s narrative of the ‘outcasted’ identity, for lack of a better term. In a field of ‘asking questions’, is it enough to just contemplate them or perhaps could there be a better form of discussing it? A reminder, a pillar in the middle of the exhibition space, standing out, unmoving. It’s a work that calls for interaction with it through mental processing but without any feedback. On a personal note, this work wouldn’t have as much meaning if you already came from a place of privilege especially in the Singaporean Chinese majority sphere. Questions thrown about like this are often asked without the bat of an eye, with many like minded artists exploring the very same topic.
Is this a work that explores the transactional relationship between the artist and the community around her or between the artist and herself? So many questions without a direct thought to bridge them. A society with set rules and guides for how the racial ‘other’ is usually read, from how one ‘should’ dress, speak, live, breathe and eat even. Singapore is no stranger to that and it’s a relevant topic more than ever.
MITHUN JAYARAM (b. 1980, Calicut, India) is a Dubai-raised, Bangalore-based artist whose interest lies in observing the transience, decay, and frailty of everyday materials and objects, which are then translated into segments of mental landscapes through process-intensive installations. These installations tend to follow a pattern where an intended object/material gets processed and then reconstructed to form a site-specific texture. Though this texture eventually becomes sculptural in form, Jayaram places prime importance on the making and the taking down of the work. His participations and exhibitions include Between Conversations, Yavuz Gallery, Singapore (2013); The Feeling Bubble of Forgetting, Gloria Jeans Coffees, Bangalore (2009); Photographing Everyday, Alliance Française de Bangalore, Bangalore (2008) and A Roomful of Old Ladies Clattering their Fingernails, TickleArt Series, CityLink Underground Shopping Mall, Singapore (2005). Jayaram received his BA (Hons) in Fine Art (First Class Honours) from RMIT University, Melbourne at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, where he was also presented the Winston Oh Award to travel to Romania for a research project.
“Approaching a Mending wall” is a process-based work, a large curtain like structure, dangling haphazardly, tangled together in a mass of twine that immediately calls for the notion of complexity and rituals. The artist describes it as “representing a mental snapshot of how I perceive the communication barrier between my father and myself”.
Knots upon knots, knitting that must have taken months of painstaking and time consuming repetition. It’s a beautiful parallel between the devotional connection of the artist’s father to God, and the artist for him (his father). His twice-daily meticulous ritual with his oil- lamp was an entry point to examining the texture of their relationship. As he says the wick material became the literal physical link and found himself unusually possessive of the process. Reverence for the ‘ritualistic’ act of knitting and knotting or for the fueling fire behind the act itself?
He adds, “The acts of knotting, severing, stacking, weaving, unravelling, ravelling, and the spaces between these actions, revealed aspects of a repression that felt like a binding silence-as-violence, a kind of non-contact, we seemed to have grown accustomed to. The ‘weaving’ and knotting had a damaging effect on my wrist and fingers. The more I kept working on it, the more I saw myself creating meanings of how I associate the process (mundanity/pain/numbness, etc.) with a relationship I have with my father.” While not imaged here, the black and white photo prints documenting the process are stunning. It heightens the reverence of the act, almost like a prayer – someone in solitude, in a personal space. The lighting amplifying that ‘glow’ you’d normally get from photography or paintings that depict a spiritual or higher power.
MUMTAZ MARICAR (b. 1977, Singapore) is interested in thoughts, sensations, incidences and events that present the body as a site of transgression, negotiation, rebellion and potential revelation. Not reaching out merely for the comfort of well-demarcated areas in perception, she is far more intrigued by covert moments that shift with ease between the grey areas of observation and what appears more well-defined. These moments of sublimation are her focus. As a Synesthete, some of Maricar’s previous works have been explorations into the condition in relation to sound and the formation of memories. Maricar was an art director in the television and film industry in Singapore for 14 years before she decided in 2017 to bid it adieu, and pave her way back into the world of creating art. Maricar received her BA (Hons) in Fine Art (First Class Honours) from RMIT University, Melbourne at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, in 2001. Her video installation piece Tragic Heroine Closet Series (2004) in the exhibition Exploring Memory & Self at Jendela (Visual Arts Space), The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore (2004) explored cinema, feminine archetypes and the formation of early identity.
The abjection, the separation of the ‘self’ from the body – the flesh. What is the flesh? The artist laments, “It is a ground, a platform, a space, receptacle, a spectacle. The sheath through which we protect and penetrate. Like a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, to the wearer it is an intriguing captor that shackles and liberates. How far does one consider the self through the veil of the flesh? Can one ever not begin to consider this through its slick, ruddy lens? How does one end up with the self that appears to be at the head, steering ‘identity’? Who decided that it would be this She or He or It that leads? This terrifying and continuous act of dissidence is not easily accepted by most.”
The painting stands about the height of a lifesized adult. The artist’s self portrait, standing (or lying down) in serene recluse staring at the viewer amongst the pink fleshy bits of cysts and fibroid encompassing her. Her expression glazed in empathetic horror? The fingers sticking out from the reflective painted image of her laproscopic wound, a constant reminder and cautionary notion of the body’s own alien agency. The background dark, foreboding, though highlighting some sort of dark approbation for the bodily flesh. It calls to the work of feminist artists and the central themes of abjection that came before. Though indeed the work does exuberate some sense of subtle existential horror and notions about the bodily flesh, is it really about acceptance?
A cathartic piece of work I am sure, but one that still feels held back, perhaps still quite tame – it lacks a triumphant visceral approach to the seperation of the body’s agency. The pink fibroids all around her are reminscent of pink globs more so than flesh. It’s a work that stands in the betwix boundaries of albeit very subtle horror. She calls it an “inexplicale and deep-seated fear, associated with the repressed and dull realization that the body is indeed an independent agent, separate from an individual’s mind or sense of self and being.” “Acceptance and fascination at the colonisation of the body by an alien agency. Painted in a realist manner, what I am looking at in terms of atmosphere and feel would be something in the line of the sublime, and gothic horror.” she describes. It is the notion that “I” is separate from the self.
Siew Kee Liong
SIEW KEE LIONG (b. 1962, Singapore) is a multimedia artist graduated from University of Miami, Coral Gables, with a BSC in Motion Pictures in 1989 and an MFA in Photography in 1991. Working mainly in the realms of photography and moving images in film/video, Siew works with both digital and analogue technology. Influenced by experimental films of the 1960s, he treats the film medium like a canvas where he alters it in an organic way: scratching, staining, burning, or sometimes, given the humid conditions of Southeast Asia, allowing the inevitable mould and fungus that thrive on celluliod to interact with the emulsion organically. The manipulated film frames, negative or positive, are digitally processed and printed as large-format photographs. His work has been exhibited locally and internationally at Lien Ying Chow Library, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore (2016); The Art Gallery, National Institute of Education/NTU, Singapore (2003); 5th Passage, Singapore (1993); The Substation
Gallery, Singapore (1993); Singapore Film Festival, Singapore (1993); the 5th Fukui International Video Biennale, Japan (1993); the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, U.S.A. (1993); Barbara Gillman Gallery, Miami (1991), and Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables (1991), Florida. Siew has been involved in teaching since 1991, and is currently teaching photography in the School of Film & Media Studies at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore.
Static and yet hallucinatory, that is how I would describe the artist’s photographic works. ” It is mesmerising to think that the aura of that decisive moment has been retained and will outlast the subject of my photographic interest. Holding it physically between my fingers brings me in touch with the precise instant that the shutter was released. I can feel its physical existence. I am holding a slice of the narrative of a human life, suspended perpetually on acetate film, distinct and separate from the human being I photographed.”, he says. The artist is trying to remind the viewer that the original narrative of the photograph is on a piece of cellulose acetate film.
Trying to place the viewer in a more active and thoughtful relationship to the work, the pairing of the human subject and object is an attempt to trigger a formation of the viewer’s own narratives. Looking for affinity with the viewer through a set of in-descriptive images.
How does the ‘other’ come into play then? By creating a work that relies on an audience driven narrative, each image is vastly different from one another, incoherent. Is this the other ‘narratives’ that we are supposed to resonate with? The piece has a strong visual image, one that sticks in your head for sure – dreamlike and hallucinatory. A push and pull dynamic between the two images that create this unknowing relationship between one another. Each object, colour, depiction with its own set of narratives, connotations and rules. Though it is like a stream of consciousness painted via images – another work that beckons for audience ‘participation’ and rumination to an open and static work.
LEROY SOFYAN (b. 1973, Singapore) is an artist and sculptor. His previous career as an Emergency Paramedic exposed him to the grit and grime of everyday living at its most basic, and often traumatic, levels. He is concerned with the struggles of the common person and the responsibility of choice. His sculptural practice includes carving wood and stone, and is centred on found objects and tools. His exhibitions include Some Things that Matter, Jendela (Visual Arts Space), Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore (2013); If the World Changed, Singapore Biennale (SB2013), Singapore (2013); Asia Contemporary Art: Space and Imagination, Chonnam Provincial Okgwa Museum, South Korea (2010) and Asia Contemporary Art: Now and Next, Gwangju National Museum, South Korea (2010). Sofyan received his BA (Hons) in Fine Art from the University of Huddersfield (U.K) at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, He is currently a Technical Officer at School of The Arts, Singapore.
The work “Measure/Measured” analyses how the self and other are intertwined – helping us to think about how the other is from the self, like the self but not the self. Standing as a totem, so raw and yet so tampered with – Balancing atop one another in a push/pull “who is weighing who” play, the weighing scales are carved as inverse opposites – inviting discussion about how the struggle between mutual identification and estrangement plays out in the field of social relations. The axe sticking out barely at the side, underneath the ‘weight’ (pun intended) of it’s own craft of doing.
“I needed to use a stain on the wood, not a varnish. Risky though it was, and unpredictable. I wanted it to be like our thoughts. Pervasive and permanent, more than skin deep. The final subtle blackness that emerged was deeply satisfying. It expresses the darkness in otherness; the side of us which we don’t want to think of, not even wanting to acknowledge the ‘master and slave’ hierarchy in our own minds.”, he adds. The stain on the wood, heightens the empowering visual strength of the work, standing out, powerful, satisfying. It feels like an afterthought to the work and while it heightens the visuals, the underlying notion of “blackness” in skin as was attempted to be explored feels lost and mudddled along the way.
A relationship of symbiotic dependence? Or is the relationship of burdening weight more skewed and unequal that thought? “This work is also inspired by the mundane elements of everyday life. A weighing machine is a transactional tool, used for a few brief seconds. Yet, it is a determining factor of the query: “enough, or not enough?” We are dependent on the weighing machine’s mechanisms being right, and in good working order. The inverted weighing scale signifies the bondsman (subject) who is able to derive satisfaction in labour, a process of working on and transforming objects through which he rediscovers himselfand can claim a “mind of his own.” This effort offers some hope for those who can scale the vertical escarpment of master privilege.”
Vincent Twardzik Ching
VINCENT TWARDZIK CHING (b. 1970, Canada) is an artist and educator who lives and works in Singapore. Through paintings, drawings and sculpture, Twardzik Ching investigates trauma, healing and various aspects of male identity, often through the genre of landscape. Within these charged mindscapes, he attempts to reconcile experiences of conflict while exploring their dynamics as spaces of action and possibility. An advocate for Arts education he completed an MEd in Visual Art at the National Institute of Education/NTU, Singapore, and holds a BA and an Academic Achievement Award from the University of Regina (Canada). He was awarded Honourable Mention in The Phillip Morris Singapore Asean Art Awards (2002 and 2003) and received a National Arts Council grant (2012) to attend the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, Canada, where he studied the oil painting techniques of Caravaggio. His sculpture will be presented at Multi-layered Surfaces, a survey of Canadian artists, NICA Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2018), and his work is included in the international travelling exhibition: The Fieldtrip Project (2015-present). Twardzik Ching is currently a part time Visual Arts Lecturer in drawing and painting at NIE (Singapore) and an Early Childhood Arts specialist at SEED Institute (Singapore).
A hollowed shrine, covered in makeshift planks and leftover wood that enclose a deeply personal space. Part industrial and part natural, the artist’s affinity for using raw materials in this work stands out – What he calls “a deeply autobiographical and at the same time widely applicable to the ongoing struggles in contemporary society through issues of trauma, identity and healing.” He aims to create works that are cathartic meditations for himself, a moment of flux, “a physical representation of an interior crossroads-moment where human
capacity to choose in spite of cultural conditioning overcomes difficult contradictions, and
where old materials manifest the potential for new possibilities.”
It’s a very autobiographical work indeed, one that I find harder to understand without some due discussion or further elaboration – though an implication for what it means to the artist, can definitely be felt. Its a cathartic and self indulgent work that invites the audience for a deeper peek within – entering the wooded enclosure almost like an intrusive act in itself. Wood and industrial themes, invoking masculinity in a lumberjack-esq essence, juxtaposed against the **oil painting of a baby deer, being nursed, based off a 1960’s tourism postcard as described by the artist – Feeding, milking, mothering, often a central theme to femininity. The structures at its core, gives us an interesting visual, strong on its own, but put together sort of gets lost in the muddiness of introspective-ness.
Edit**: Correction from the image described as a “poster” to an “oil painting”.
SUSIE WONG (b. Singapore) began her arts practice in the late 1980s, in painting and art writing, complementing these with art education, teaching, and curatorial projects. She has exhibited works of figurative paintings, portraits, landscapes, drawings, and installations. Central to her current work is the
inquiry of the image/light as a medium that mediates between memory and loss, between documentation and nostalgia. Her work Trace, installations of drawings, was exhibited at The Substation (2008), which travelled to Valentine Willie FA Gallery, Kulau Lumpur. More recently, her works My Beautiful Indies, and After Image, were shown respectively at The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore (2013), and Space Cottonseed, Gillman Barracks, Singapore (2014). Her video installation Take Care of Me was part of the curated series Opening Day at Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, Singapore (2018).
A trope perhaps as old as the earliest understanding of globalization, colonialism and Orientalism itself. An ‘other’ here, derived from “The strong, white male (William Holden, synonymous with the average American guy), with the “dirty street girl” (lines spoken in the film) are suggestive of the power codes and the Othering of the East. The character Suzie Wong has since become iconic in the imagination of Western audiences, with the proliferation of bars, restaurants, and even pole-dancing websites named after her.” Admittedly I was confused on why the artist would choose to produce sort of a response work to this film, is it by virtue they share the same name? – the artist and the titular character? Perhaps there was meant to be an implied connection between the two, the artist and the character who she identifies with. Living vicariously through the othering in this film as perhaps she does in real life. Though now, this is just speculative.
The line work and drawing taken from the film, sort of distorts the image in a way, makes it harder to resonate with. “They show the couple in a tight embrace, in a moment of love-confession said in anticipation of separation.
The texts (lines spoken by the character) in the drawings echo repeated longings in romances” she elaborates. That “anticipation/ seperation dynamic” is lost in the work, without context the work on its own feels incomplete, the drawings seemingly place more emphasis on the portraiture. Screengrabbing the movie and then re-representing it in a hand drawn form – I wasn’t sure how to feel about it.
The acts of repeating lines, “practice of tracing or unthinking repetitions of strokes, lines and tones, is an attempt at keeping subjectivity at bay. It is the performance of a ritual that is consciously futile. For me, it recalls the need to resuscitate the screen-grab image –to bring to life – to become real, to both consume and to be subsumed.” The notion of drawings having more life than a movie is ironically subjective as well. This is a representation’s re-representation of a moment in a scene, captured, stilled and haunted in time. By keeping most forms of subjectivity at bay then by what virtue can any consumer of the arts talk about a work?
Yeo Chee Kiong
YEO CHEE KIONG (b. 1970, Singapore) is a contemporary sculptor and installation artist who is fascinated with the language and spatial relationship between objects, space and authorship. His work destabilises the familiar notions of spatial proportions and perspectives, whilst examining the human condition in the construction of an extended surreal world. His recent exhibitions include Yeo Chee Kiong Solo Exhibition, Juming Art Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2017); 3rd FORMOSA, Sculpture Biennial 2017, Taiwan (2017); Personal Structures, parallel event of Venice Biennale 2017, Italy (2017); Art In The Forest, Flamingo, Dai Lai Resort, Hanoi, Vietnam (2017); Suide International Sculpture Symposium, China (2017) and International Sculpture Group – Tokyo & Seoul, Tokyo, Japan (2017). Yeo is an alumnus of the Glasgow School of Art (U.K.) and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Singapore), and his list of conferred awards includes the NAFA Distinguished Alumni Medal (2016); the Grand Prize for the Inaugural APB Foundation Signature Art Prize, Singapore Art Museum (2008); the Young Artist Award, National Arts Council (2006), and the Grand prize for the 2nd CDL Singapore Sculpture Award (2005). He is currently the President of the Sculpture Society (Singapore) and Visiting Assistant Professor at National Taiwan University of Arts.
Black resin, dark as the night sky itself. Polished to a gleaming mirror finish that calls to the artist’s contextualization of the verses written in the temple walls ” The body is the Bodhi Tree, the mind is the stand for a bright mirror – at all times diligently polish to remain untainted by dust.”. Site-specifc sitting in the corner of the room, the presence of the structure sticks out, the mirror gleam calling a bit of that other-wordly charm. Though what is it?
He elaborates, “The different ways of how we perceive this material world under various mental states fascinate me. In this material world, the ‘wave’ is not a physical form. It is the water surface/water molecule that has been blown by the wind and it forms the ‘wave’ under that particular ‘wind’moment. In my Tempted Mind series, I carved the driftwood tree trunk into a ‘wave’ form, and put it back into the water to replace the ‘moment’ with a physical form and let it drift away as the ‘wave’. The intention to create a physical ‘wave’ is my personal answer to that Zen question.It is to materialise an abstract concept through a piece of sculpture and bring the attention of that discourse back to this material world.”
In this way, the waves is not a wave as we know of, an yet can it be read as one? The water, also not the ocean is it not the mind the interprets what it is? For the material world, interpretation and re-interpretation happens on a daily basis. Though to call it definitely a wave and water sculpture, that even I am unsure of. It stands out almost like a piece of obsidian glass the shape and form taking precedence, the ‘water’ around it. looping the obstacles already present in the exhibition space, asserting it’s belonging.
VICTOR EMMANUEL (b. 1979, Singapore) spent most of his youth in small local pockets of greenery in
Singapore, observing and discovering different fauna in their natural habitats. Later in his teens, his
nature-driven journeys were extended to parts of Southeast Asia. More recently, he has been developing a deeper understanding of artistic techniques, including sculpture and casting, and wood carpentry as well. Victor received his Diploma in Fine Arts (Painting) from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2014. His recent exhibitions include Qi@art, Telok Kurau Studios, Singapore (2016); 50 Obsessions, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore (2015) and Telok Kurau Studios Exhibition, Telok Kurau Studios, Singapore (2013-2015)
An ongoing project for the artist as he goes through nature in its various forms in living and in death – The Osseous series is an ongoing “work of discovery, born out of my close affinity to Nature, and
a desire to examine and encounter the fragility of life.” The specimens hang in suspended animation, an homage to nature as the artist calls a “tribute and honour to the parts of Nature that are
increasingly losing visibility, and disappearing from our consciousness.” Though the discussions on ideas of death and ‘memento mori’ are probably as old as time itself, the focus on ethics, morality and coexistence as attempted to be amplified for the artist is lost in the tedious form of craftsmanship that ironically tries to preserve these works long after death, rather than letting time reflect the inevitable fate of dust turning to dust.
The works are no doubt meticulous and the decision to rely solely on “chancing” expired specimens by the artist is both intriguing and enhances the the notion of life and death being a natural occurance that happens all around us. Small, fragile and tangible, crystalized and preserved in what can be assumed to be a state of perpetuity. The idea of using resin, found objects, specimens that have expired due to natural causes result in a sort of mixed experience. Neither truly natural and kind of forced, more ‘crafty’ (nothing wrong with that) and aestheticallly pleasing.
**All images provided courtesy of The Private Museum Ltd.