IMMATERIAL FRONTIERS presents the work of six leading media artists from Southeast Asia: Charles Lim, Cheo Chai-Hiang, Tad Ermitaño, Tengal, Tintin Wulia, and Dinh Q. Lê. Representing three generations of artists and using a broad definition of media art, the exhibition includes lo-tech DIY constructions, digital video, sculptural installations and interactive sound works. The exhibition addresses the concept of the “frontier” as a physical, conceptual or ideological ground that defines the edge and beyond.
IMMATERIAL FRONTIERS CREDITS Guest Curator
Kenneth Feinstein, Ph.D., Asst. Prof., School of Art, Design and Media
Curatorial Project Manager
Robert B.Epp, Director, ADM Gallery
Roy Wang, Factory 1611 Robert B. Epp
Editing / Proofreading Printing
The works in Immaterial Frontiers consider the notion of boundaries as both expansive and limiting. For some artists this is framed by the tension between the “local” and the “transnational”, while others raise questions of identity through the use of language in daily and official forms. In other works, artists have repurposed discarded materials in conjunction with open source technology, to bypass the limits of the dominant consumer culture and map out their own DIY culture. Sound installations in the exhibition explore conventional physical, political and geographical conceptions of the border. As a region these people have always been closely linked through tradition, trade and immigration and great cultural, political and economic interplay. As an example, Singapore was discovered three times across its history. First it was “Temasek” when the Sumatrans came, then “Singapura” as it became part of the Sultanate of Johor (now part of Malaysia), and finally the present name “Singapore”, given by the British colonials. The artists in Immaterial Frontiers reflect the transnational and transcultural aspect of Southeast Asia. This is expressed in the frequent collaborative nature of their art practice often rooted in their use of technological media. A theme that runs through these artists’ works addresses
the socio-economic fallout from the rush to modernization. Today, the countries that define the Southeast Asian region span the range from fully economically developed nations, like Singapore, to nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines that are part of the new economic growth of Asia. In Immaterial Frontiers some of the artists repurpose found objects and discarded materials as a form of commentary on the growing social and economic inequality found in their homelands due to rapid economic development. For instance, Tengal uses an old filing cabinet; not only is it a discarded piece of furniture, but also it is the housing for a disappearing form of technology, the analog database. Tad Ermitaño created Bell from common building materials, including roofing steel, cabling and turnbuckles. While Dinh Q. Lê looks to the popular media of Hollywood movies about the Vietnam War for the found object. Without its lens the camera is a useless technological object to be thrown out. Yet Charles Lim creates his work despite the lack of a camera lens, literally converting the artist’s hand into the technology. At a time when China and East Asian countries are a focus in the art world, great artistic advances are being made in the Southeast Asian region. The artists and their works from this unique region need to be understood in their own context, outside of the looming shadow of both China and the legacy of a colonial past. Where China and the other East Asian nations have national arts that are conscious of their unique political and cultural histories, many of the countries of Southeast Asia are still creating national identities. As an example, countries like Indonesia and Singapore attempt to cast a single identity over a population made of a variety of ethnic groups without casting off the previous cultural heritages.
This struggle with language and culture is reflected in the work of several artists, including Cheo Chai-Hiang who looks at how language is used as part of creating cultural dominance within the multicultural and multi-linguistic nation of Singapore. Dinh Q. Lê’s work presents an outside culture trying to make sense of its own imperialist experience through the language of cinema. In both cases the cultures observed are defined by exclusion as much as inclusion. Tintin Wulia uses the passport as the symbolic object that signifies the difference between identity and nationhood. By possessing a passport we are defined as being part of a particular nation. Yet it contains only legal status, citizenship, and cannot give one entry into the culture of a region. By presenting various passports en masse, she also reminds us that the legal status of citizenship is malleable. The artists presented have exhibited internationally; they are well aware of the latest trends in the galleries and museums of the West. Many have gained recognition from the major museums, festivals and journals. Yet for these artists the West is not the goal. They are not creating a body of work in the hope of being able to move to the US or Europe. No matter how much they exhibit internationally they have consciously chosen to remain part of their communities. None of these artists are interested in creating works that play into the West’s desire for exoticism. They are aware of the theoretical issues surrounding current media practice, the traditions of the exotic “Other” in Western art and the effects of globalization, yet their works are firmly rooted in their communities. Together they create a unique voice from a region that has traditionally been the borderland between the East and West. Kenneth Feinstein, Guest Curator
WULIA / LÊ TENGAL
ERMITAÑO / CHEO / LIM
The curator wishes to thank the artists for all their help in making this project a reality. Thanks to Professor Vibeke Sorensen, ADM Chair, Chelsea Wong, ADM Publicity and Outreach, ADM IT and AV Staff for their contributions, assistance and dedication in making this exhibition possible. Special thanks to the organizers of the 2013 Singapore Biennale for supporting this exhibition.
Immaterial Frontiers is a Parallel Event of the Singapore Biennale 2013 If The World Changed. www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/sb2013
Fallen 2011 / Single channel video projection / 18 min 43 s
TINTIN WULIA (b. 1972, Bali, Indonesia)
From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage 2007 / 2-channel video installation / 10 min
DINH Q. LÊ (b. 1968, Hà Tiên, Vietnam)
Tintin Wulia’s work explores an international cosmopolitanism. Her use of passports shows that national identify is a legal construction, abstract in nature. While at the same time, because it is possible to have multiple passports, national identity can be as fluid as personal or ethnic identity. In the end Tintin shows us that national identity is another technology used to define and quantify the user.
From Father to Son: A Rite of Passage presents several lines of demarcation at once. We have the images of an imperialist war in Southeast Asia, two generations of a family involved in the same experience (acting in a Vietnam War movie) and questions of how cinema depicts and defines reality. When does image become the new reality? What does it mean for a family to have such a shared yet artificial reality?
Tintin Wulia has exhibited in major public exhibitions and institutions such as the Istanbul Biennial, the Yokohama Triennial, the Van Abbemuseum, Institute of Contemporary Arts London and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León. She is currently based in Jakarta and Melbourne.
Dinh Q. Lê is a Vietnam and US-based artist. He has exhibited in Documenta 13, the 2008 Singapore Biennale and the 2013 Carnegie International. He is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (NY), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Singapore Art Museum.
Ju Yi Fan San
2010 / Sound installation with metal sheet / 1.0 x 3.0 m (diameter)
TAD ERMITAÑO (b. 1964, Manila, Philippines)
2013 / Bronze bookends installation in ADM Library, live video to gallery
CHEO CHAI-HIANG (b. 1946, Singapore)
Ju Yi Fan San - Eating Durian
Sounds in a Filing Cabinet 2013 / Cabinet, computer, electronics and sound system
(b. 1985, Manila, Philippines)
Sounds in a Filing Cabinet presents us with the idea of the discourse of classification as a cultural tool. Tengal uses a cabinet as his interface, because it is symbolic of the very concept of classification as defining and ordering cultures as Other to the Western model. Code and programming for Cabinet : Gene Kogan Electrical module design for Cabinet : Nikko Torcita Tengal is a Manila-based artist involved in curatorial and research-based production towards the intersection of art and technology. He is the founder of SABAW Media Art Kitchen – a not-for-profit, artist-run organization.
Interpolated Somapah Hand Lens 2013 / Film / 1 min
CHARLES LIM (b. 1973, Singapore)
Hand 2013 / Film / 4 min 47 s
2013 / Video / 5 min 55 s
© 2013 School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, the author. All rights reserved. www.adm.ntu.edu
With Bell, Tad Ermitaño presents us with the object as both the source of the experience (sound) and as the border defining the space of the work. In order to experience the work the viewer has to physically enter the space within the steel “ bell” . Tad Ermitaño is a Manila based artist. He was the sole Filipino artist selected to exhibit at the Ogaki Biennale 2006 New Media Festival and the Main Juried Exhibition of ISEA 2008 in Singapore.
Cheo Chai-Hiang is interested in dialogue about value systems, state power and individual aspirations within increasingly materialistic societies. His bronze bookends installation is part of an ongoing series of work titled Ju Yi Fan San, a Chinese idiomatic expression that means “ to infer about other cases from one instance” . The idiom also suggests a process through which new meanings can be subtly “ created” and “ transmitted” . In Ju Yi Fan San - Eating Durian, the linguistic or cultural loss is cleverly masked, through the playful pairing of disparate social contexts, visual associations, and accompanying incidental dialogues. Cheo Chai-Hiang currently lives and works in Singapore and Malacca. He has held numerous solo shows in Singapore, Italy, Australia and China, including the Singapore Biennale 2008 and the 2010 Asia Pacific Triennial.
Charles Lim’s films present us with the ocean as border. In his work, water is not the edge of our experience, rather it is inclusive. The ocean is not a hard boundary keeping us inside the land mass; rather, it is a vibrant part of the life of the nation. As such the beach becomes the soft edge where the hard and the fluid realms of our existence merge. He invokes the metaphor of the land as the conscious mind and the ocean as the subconscious, with his interest being on where and how they meet. Charles Lim is a Singaporean artist. He has exhibited at Documenta 11, Manifesta 7, Biennale Cuvée 09, the 2011 Singapore Biennale. All the lines flow out (2011) won an Honorable Mention as part of the Orizzonti Selection of the 68th Venice Film Festival.