Greetings from Hong Kong!
The Hong Kong International Art Fair (aka Art HK 11) is now in full swing. The RAT, however, cannot so much as swivel his hips after spending an entire day walking around. Which is why, as yet another round of parties take place tonight (including “The David Lachapelle one”, as one remarked), he’s talking in the third person and typing away in his hotel room.
More on the fair in the next post. In the meantime, here’s a bunch of official statements from the not-so-recently concluded Biennale. I know some might think it’s so yesterday, but I thought it was important to have a final word regarding the Fujiwara Incident – from everyone involved.
You might have read some of these from previous news stories, but here are the statements from artist Simon Fujiwara, the curatorial team and the organizers, Singapore Art Museum, in full.
Statement following the closure of Welcome to the Hotel Munber, at the Singapore Biennale, 2011.
By Simon Fujiwara. May 8th, 2011.
Welcome to the Hotel Munber is a work that examines the violent oppression of human freedom and the censorship of homosexual literature under General Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship in 1970s Spain. The installation emerged from a series of short fictions and performances that was inspired by the lives of my parents who were proprietors of a hotel bar during this period. Presented as a detailed reconstruction of the 1970s Spanish bar, the installation fuses seemingly harmless nationalist symbols such as bulls’ heads, wine barrels and portraits of the leader with the very materials that were deemed ‘enemies of the state’ at that time: pornography, erotic literature and other traces of homosexual life. Conceived in part as a tool to raise awareness of the historic injustices of censorship and civil liberty, it would have been both hypocritical and unjust of me to continue to show the work in a censored state at the Singapore Biennale.
Some days after the opening of the biennale and after my return to Europe I was notified by the curators that the erotic magazines within the installation had been removed by the Singapore Art Museum. With the removal of the items, the work failed to convey the necessary meaning, and I subsequently requested the closure of the installation until an agreement could be reached. Various options for reinstating the installation were discussed, but upon failing to find an adequate solution, I decided, in agreement with the curators and Museum director, to permanently close the installation. Whilst I understand the legal prohibition of exhibiting pornographic materials in Singapore was the main cause of this removal, I believe it was both unprofessional and unethical to alter the work without my prior consent.
As the phenomenon of large international exhibitions such as biennales continues to spread out of its mainly European origins to more cities around the world, artists and curators must consider the implications of their participation when they have not always been fully versed in the local restrictions by the organisers and hosts. Often such exhibitions are part-funded by local governments and are seen as important presentations of global voices to the local population whilst raising the profile, economy and cultural significance of those cities internationally. When my work was selected for this exhibition, the issue of the erotic artwork was discussed between myself and the curators, however, having been presented in Europe and the States with no issues and widely critically acclaimed as a work dealing with historically significant material, the work was selected and displayed. I provided images and detailed descriptions of the finished work many months before the exhibition, the sexual imagery in the work was discussed with the exhibition organisers, and a warning label was prepared for visitors. I believe that it was the responsibility of the museum to have made a balanced judgement before the work went on display. Furthermore, whilst it is true that I was alarmed that gallery visitors were touching the work during the opening weekend, which displayed a lack of proper invigilation, and I requested that the museum place a permanent, trained guard in the room, I consider this an entirely separate issue to that of the censorship and is not the reason I decided that the work should be closed to the public.
In light of all this, the Singapore Biennale has been an important and encouraging experience for me. The reactions and voices of support from many members of the public both within Singapore as well as across Asia, Europe and the States; the balanced, unsensational reportage of much of the journalism and the voices of concern and opposition that I have encountered have made it clear that an important debate has been had and is still in progress. To name just two examples I know of; a local Singapore school group has decided to make a class project to investigate the theme of censorship and most recently the ‘Index of Censorship’, a London based ‘freedom of speech’ organisation will publish a report in their upcoming quarterly journal that is distributed internationally. With a work whose very theme is censorship, and whose aim was, in part, to examine the shifting terrain of civil liberty, I am grateful to the curators for selecting this work for this context and their total commitment to the integrity of it throughout the discussions. For this reason I believe that this international exhibition is an important addition to Singapore’s cultural landscape, as, like everything of importance, it remains an experiment and should continue to be so.
Statement from the Singapore Biennale Curatorial Team: Artistic Director, Matthew Ngui and Curators, Trevor Smith and Russell Storer
The Artistic Director and Curators of The Singapore Biennale 2011 are saddened by the closure of Simon Fujiwara’s Welcome to the Hotel Munber at the Singapore Art Museum.
Welcome to the Hotel Munber is a significant work of contemporary art that has been exhibited to wide acclaim at Art Basel (winning the 2010 Baloise Art Prize), and in museums in Göteborg and Kiev, and will be seen in upcoming exhibitions in Tokyo and in a survey exhibition of Fujiwara’s work at Tate St. Ives.
The work takes the form of a dense narrative installation that combines personal history with an evocation of the repressive Franco era in Spain, to reflect upon the relationships between sexuality, violence and creativity. The inclusion of the work in SB2011 was important for its rich construction of a personal universe that engages powerfully with ongoing social concerns. It is a work that is about the creative process itself, a central aspect of SB2011, while tapping into highly relevant questions around sexual oppression and history.
Shortly after the SB2011 opening, the curatorial team was informed that key elements of the installation had been removed by the Singapore Art Museum, the organisers of SB2011. The curators contacted the artist, and also put him in direct communication with the Singapore Art Museum. After in-depth discussions between the artist, the curatorial team, and the Singapore Art Museum, the artist has decided to withdraw his installation from the exhibition, as the elements are not able to be replaced, compromising the integrity of the work.
We support the artist in his decision to publically withdraw the work from SB2011. We are grateful to everyone who has made the effort to try to work through the issues. We would also like to thank those who have made their opinions public – whatever their position has been. The Biennale is an occasion for a discussion of ideas and values. It is only through such debate that artistic, cultural and legal values continue to evolve. (SB2011 curatorial team, May 2011)
Response from the Singapore Art Museum
The Singapore Art Museum, Singapore Biennale 2011 curatorial team and Biennale artist Simon Fujiwara jointly decided to permanently close Welcome to the Hotel Munber as the various parties were unable to agree on an alternative that would work for all.
We would like to take this opportunity to clarify the series of events and discussions that took place. Prior to the Biennale, SAM was informed by the curators that Simon’s installation would include some graphic and nude images set amidst the larger installation of a hotel bar setting. In preparation for this, the museum made advisories and hired gallery sitters in advance.
The museum was not informed that the graphic images were from pornographic magazines. Such magazines are banned in Singapore and the museum cannot present them. The curatorial team had considered the magazines and images as a part of the artwork and assessed them as a whole curatorially. In this context, they did not expect that individual items in the installation would pose any issue, especially with advisories in place, and hence did not inform SAM about the magazines.
As it was during the opening week of the Biennale, the Museum made the call to keep the installation open and hence accessible to the public but removing the magazines. The curators were immediately informed on the same day so that they could alert the artist and seek his response. Upon the artist’s request, we subsequently closed the exhibit while all parties collectively discussed how it can be re-opened. On hindsight, the Museum agrees that it should have instead closed the entire work and we sincerely apologise for the distress this has caused the artist.
As a public museum, SAM also has a responsibility towards its diverse audience base and we believe that exhibitions must be sensitive to specific local contexts. The images in Simon’s work were explicit and given some strong public feedback we had received, one of the options SAM explored with Simon and the curators was whether less graphic images could be presented. The curatorial team and artist had also suggested other options, such as cordoning off the entrance of the work and allowing visitors to view it only from the saloon doors. Such negotiations and discussions required time, hence we were only able to arrive at the decision to close the work shortly before the Biennale closed.
In the end, the curators and artist felt that the various alternatives would ultimately alter the integrity of the work. And given the attention generated from media reports, we all felt that the public will no longer view the work for its original intention but for different reasons. Hence eventually, we collectively decided not to re-open the exhibit. Moving forward, this episode has been a learning point for SAM. We appreciate both Simon and the curators’ willingness to work with us to resolve this in the best possible way.