A couple of living rooms, a “meditation hall”, images of folks taking leaps of faith, and the occasional sounds of a Japanese woman giggling — it seems to me that on surface level at least, the exhibitions at this year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival are a more laidback, quieter and generally polite bunch.
With a theme like Art and Faith — which is basically a hop, skip and a jump away from Religion — you’d expect at least one rascal to come up with something, erm, “naughty”.
None of the six do. Instead we’ve got life-affirming world views, poignant moods and works that stretch the idea of faith (without snapping it, that is).
There’s Jamal Penjweny’s Iraq Is Flying at the Esplanade Tunnel, a series of photo portraits of various folks he’s encountered in the streets of his war-ravaged country. American soldiers, Iraqi kids, and everyone in between are all captured in mid-jump. If these pics don’t get you grinning, you’re one cold-blooded dude.
In contrast, his latest at ION Art Gallery, Kim Jong Phil, seems bland — a series where he replaces dictators like Saddam Hussein and lil’ Kim himself in iconic paintings and small sculptures.
It twists the semantics of propaganda art and presents the Artist as Hero/Leader. On paper, there’s a built-in irony in replacing these bad, bad men. But faced with the actual works, I’m not really sure what to make of it — is he being sarcastic or narcissistic? At a time when much of Cold War-type propaganda art has been effectively commodified anyway, it’s as brutal as a souvenir from Beijing’s 798 District. (Now if it were all about the late Kim Jong Il — given latest developments—then perhaps that’s another issue altogether.)
The concept behind its ION “partner”, Malaysian artist Munkao’s Feng Shui is more interesting: works created with the help of a Feng Shui master who also suggests where these works should be placed at home (should they be purchased). The operative word being “suggests” as it’s not exactly laid out as such at the gallery itself.
Among the works are Work/Life Balance consists of a bicycle that powers a painting of a horse so one can hear sounds of galloping as you cycle (sorta like getting a nice workout and making an artwork come to life). There’s also an installation that calculates your, ahem, lucky 4D number with the press of a button. All in all, good fun (and I’m sure a hit among feng shui-following art collectors) but again, it stops at that.
Fumiko Imano’s quirky We Oui! at NMS’ The Atelier sees a series of photographs of the artist splicing together two image of herself and in effect, becoming her “twin”. It however, does not try to create a seamless image — you see the stitches of red string and know exactly where its been joined, bringing to the table an interesting tension. The fact that everything’s posed and that, despite being in the same frame, the Imano “twins” are actually forever distant (at no point do they actually touch) adds to that as well.
At this point, I should point out that the whole “Faith” bit wasn’t actually coming out as clearly as I’d expected. And the strongest works for me are the two that actually do have some clear signposts: Htein Lin’s The Triple Gem and Alecia Neo/Clarence Chung’s Goddess Of Mercy.
Both are installations that allow for some degree of audience participation.
Lin’s new work at the Esplanade Jendela is the complete opposite of his previous Fringe 2010 installation The Scale Of Justice (a nominee for the recent APB Foundation Signature Art Prize), which dealt with his experience as a political prisoner under Myanmar’s Junta.
This one’s basically a crash course on Buddhism’s three tenets: Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Dividing the sombre, dimly-lit gallery space into three, it is bookended by two distinct sections. The first, a section where audiences can throw coin offerings in alms bowls (an act that’s ironically as much a fun interactive “game” of sorts as it is a serious custom). It’s in sharp contrast with the “meditation room” he’s created at the back, where you are invited to sit down and actually meditate (iPod nanos with audio guides are available).
And finally, over at The Substation is Neo and Chung’s work looking at mother-and-son relationships of two families. Set up as two reconstructed living rooms, one is invited to sit down and just soak in all the artefacts and videos. On one end, that of Dr Nalla Tan and son Tan Ying Hsien (from Neo/Chung’s previous collab Villa Alicia); the other, Neo’s mother Mdm Tay Siew Hwa and brother Alex.
It plays a lot on contrasts as one sees, in the former for instance, the son jogging as the mother goes around in a wheelchair, the former’s interests in wine in contrast to the latter’s Christian paraphernalia. The latter sees the mother as a devout Buddhist prayer in parallel to her son’s computer gaming ways.
Meanings ping-pong back and forth not only between mother-and-son but between families as well—the two mothers’ religious beliefs (Christianity/Buddhism) and states of health (Alzheimer’s/cancer-in-remission), the two sons (an avid jogger and wine connoisseur/a car enthusiast and hairdresser), etc.
True, it seems to be a “quiet” visual arts programme for this Fringe edition. But I, for one, am drawn to the gentle persuasions of these two installation works.
(For more details on the exhibitions, go here.)