Yeah, economic recession and all. Not that giving out trophies or money was ever in our game plan. But still, it’s the thought that counts. Right? Right?
Anyway, there wasn’t enough space in Tuesday’s pages to put out all the “winners” so I’m re-posting the complete list of the highlights of the past year in the Singapore arts scene here.
Or at least, what I think were the highlights. Any thoughts? Fire away! And if you want to add to the list, by all means do so. Woot.
Art Event of the Year: The Road to Arts NMP
It was like Woodstock. Musicians, visual artists, theatre practitioners banded together, attended townhall meetings, and in the end, decided as a community to present two names for the position of Nominated Member of Parliament. The Substation co-artistic director Audrey Wong was chosen. Another attempt was made, this time for the Censorship Review Committee, which was promptly ignored. But hey, now we know it can be done right?
Play of the Year: Singapore’s Arts Bureaucracy
We’re not talking theatre “play” but sports “play”, seeing as it was a veritable round-robin in upper management, with Singapore’s “power players” being shifting around: Benson Puah and Michael Koh’s twin CEO portfolios (NAC and Esplanade, and NHB and the National Art Gallery, respectively); ex-NAC CEO Lee Suan Hiang heading a newly created office in MICA; National Museum’s Tan Boon Hui taking over as SAM director replacing Kwok Kian Chow who moves to NAG; ex-Singapore Biennale GM Low Kee Hong replacing Goh Ching Lee at the Singapore Arts Festival… Phew.
Strangest Art Installation: The Singapore Art Show
It was the biggest, island-wide art “installation” of 2009. We just didn’t know how to make sense of it. We tried. For two weeks. Honest.
The Prodigal Son Award: Glen Goei
We found out why he went AWOL in 2008. And while The Blue Mansion isn’t technically a play, you couldn’t help but think that it was – with actors Lim Kay Siu, Neo Swee Lin, Adrian Pang, Claire Wong, Tan Kheng Hua, Pam Oei, Huzir Sulaiman and Adrian Pang all joining in. But more than the movie, props for his inventive take on The Importance of Being Earnest — and getting Ivan Heng to play a woman again.
The Oomph Award: Poop
Before you even step inside a theatre, a play’s title establishes its presence. Like The Necessary Stage’s Sofaman. Or Poop. A single, monosyllabic word that’s cute and edgy at the same time. Not to mention the kind of conversation you’ll have after watching this play by The Finger Players. “I went to catch Poop” or “I love Poop! It was beautiful!”
The OMG, My HDB Flat Sucks Award: Much Ado About Nothing
The set had a friggin’ pool. Yes, Victor/Victoria’s two-storey building was the bomb, but Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Shakespeare production is probably the only time you’ll see a swimming pool in the middle of Fort Canning Park. The sound system sucked, but you could distract yourself by imagining you were playing peeping tom into the party at your rich neighbour’s landed property.
The Holy Cow, What’s That? Award: Mr. Sofaman in Sofaman
Was it a turban? No, it was a mini-sofa with video projector in it – that was resting on the head of an actor sitting in a wheelchair. The Necessary Stage’s collaboration with Russian group Theatre KnAM was challenging enough to watch, without you trying to figure out what that thing was on the head of someone who looked like Peter from Family Guy.
The David and Goliath Award: Twardzik Ching Chor Leng and THE Dance Company
A visual artist and a fledgling dance company tried to be ambitious. The former wanted to pump water from the Singapore River all the way to SAM 8Q for President’s Young Talents Award but the idea was shot down so she did a “mini-version” instead. The latter decided to stage a contemporary dance piece at The Esplanade Theatre without any sponsors. Both were gutsy attempts that impressed everyone – and showed us that art is also about pushing boundaries.
The Pass Me The Tissues Please Award: Poop
Like we said, it was a beautiful play about three generations of women coping with the death of their father/husband/son. It was magical, surreal, mundane, and, judging from all the sniffling in the audience, an extremely touching piece of theatre.
Best Mind Blowing Experience: The Comedy of the Tragic Goats
We enjoyed TheatreWorks’ recent anything-goes “dancing museum” showcase. But as a solid, one-off mind-f**k, Cake Theatrical Production’s word-less play about dictators and political prisoners takes the, er, cake. A visceral, visual experience that unearthed our masochistic impulses as theatre-goers – it was just as physically exhausting for the actors as it was for us. It was like being electrocuted. And loving it.
Oh Yeah, We Forgot About Them Award: Vertical Submarine
In a scene that takes itself too seriously most of the time, thank god we’ve got this, until now, under-rated three-member visual collective. The recent PYT winner mixes deadpan humour and sharp literary sensibilities to create installations that are fun as they are complex. They recently planted grey sunflowers at the Botanic Gardens too. 2009 was also the year when the establishment remembered that film-makers were also artists and gave the Young Artist Award to four of them.
The Paradigm Shift Award: Blackout and Open House
One was held in a warehouse, the other inside private homes. Salon Projects’ two group exhibitions proved you don’t have to wait for the next Singapore Biennale to see art in an out-of-the-box setting. And the crowds of people who visited agreed.
We also saw five local productions at the daunting Esplanade Theatre. They may not all have been financial successes, but we’re taking it as a sign of good things to come.
Best Art Exhibit (That You Missed): Archives and Desires
This retrospective on the late Mohammad Din Mohammad opened in 2008 but ran until February at the NUS Museum, which deserves more foot traffic for its well-planned exhibitions. The artist passed away in 2007 and, as you look at his vivid expressionistic paintings and bizarre, primal mix-media sculptures made of household stuff and tribal artefacts, you wonder why you only see bits and pieces in other shows.
The Patron of the Arts: You
Yes, we’re taking a leaf from Time magazine for this one. But it does hold true in a year plagued by the economic recession and swine flu. From our beloved “aunties” to the experimental freaks, kudos to everyone for watching theatre and dance performances and going to museums and galleries to catch exhibits. Same time, same place, next year?
“Uniquely Singapore” Medal of Valour: Ho Tzu Nyen, Ming Wong, Tang Fu Kuen, TheatreWorks
Even with the art scene going “traditional” for the next three years, it’s good to remember that the ones who flew the Singapore flag overseas in 2009 have been our most adventurous contemporary artists. From Ho’s films and videos at the Cannes, Berlin, and Venice Film Festivals and the Asia Pacific Triennial, to Wong and Tang’s victory at the Venice Biennale, to TheatreWorks’ Diaspora at the Edinburgh Festival.
Shameless Shout Out To Act In More Plays Award: Adrian Pang
Really, Adrian. Pretty please?
Best Painting Award: The Photograph
That the UOB Painting of the Year is a photograph for the second straight year means we can lay the debate to rest. It IS an art form. And painters, time to, ahem, brush up on your skills.
Avant-Garde Work of the Year: The Hossan Leong Show
You may think we’re taking a piss at arguably the most commercially crass show of 2009. But the product placements were just so “out there” that it’s practically undefinable. Think about it.
The Reality Bites Award: Institute of Critical Zoologists and Huang Wei
Photographer Zhao Renhui’s scientist “friends” and artist Alan Oei’s “discovery” of a cache of paintings by an unconventional Nanyang-era Singapore artist got people all riled up (and, in the case of Zhao, this reporter all fooled). But they did put imagination back on the table. It isn’t after all, about reality, but about art.
Artist of the Year: The Curator and Arts Programmer
The kinds of shows we see in galleries and on stage, the way they’re shown, yep, these unsung heroes have a hand in those too. It’s not just about hanging a painting on the wall.