An Art & Market Publication 2022
An Art & Market Publication 2022
Ticket Number: ______ / 150
Check-In 2022 June 2022 artandmarket.net Instagram: @artandmarket Facebook: Art & Market Made in Southeast Asia. Editor Nadya Wang Associate Editor Ian Tee Content Producer & Publication Layout Vivyan Yeo Original Design Izz Bachtiar Content Manager Woong Soak Teng Cover Art Alvin Lau, 'Study of Differences Between an Urban and a Surburban Environment', 2022. Published by Margins Print ISBN 978-981-18-4773-8 Printed by Oxford Graphic Advertising and Collaborations If you would like to advertise or collaborate with us, please send an enquiry to email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you! Stockist We are stocked at A&M Marketplace at artandmarket.net/marketplace All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or any means, without the prior permission in writing of the copyright holder. The views and opinions expressed in Check-In are those of the authors or contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher’s. For omissions and corrections, please contact us directly. Copyright © Art & Market 2022 | A Project by Margins Print
Contents 8 10
Boarding Call Prepare for Take-off
Fresh Faces 12 13
Kamolros Wonguthum Doktor Karayom
From the Periphery 16
Manifesto School of Arts 24 A Non-Biennale Biennale Vipash Purichanont 28 The Poetics, Purpose and Politics of Translation Ian Tee 29 A Symbiotic Resonance Dương Mạnh Hùng 32 A Brief Outline of Translation in Burmese Art and Literature Htoo Lwin Myo 38 Translating Isan’s Morlam as 'Cultural Poetics' Vanessa Moll and Pikul Phuchomsri 42
Fresh Faces 42 43
Hà Ninh Phạm Naraphat Sakarthornsap
My Own Words 46 52 56
Queerness in Motion: Queer Arts and Activism in Indonesia Hendri Yulius Wijaya Curating in a Restaurant and Beyond Clara Che Wei Peh Is There More To Conservation? Diana Tay
Fresh Faces 60 61
Alvin Lau Liu Liling
Sustainablity Reports 64
Five Ways Towards Financial Wisdom for Arts Practitioners Michael Lee 70 Thinking through Spaces: What does Independence Entail? Ian Tee 71 Running an Alternative Art Space in Bangkok for 10 years and Why We Need to Have One Unchalee Anantawat 74 Space and Non-Space: A Reflection Van Do 78 Twelve Theses on Dissimilation Jason Wee 82 Digitalisation of Museum Programming: M+ Museum Valencia Tong 86 The Versatility of Video Art in Singapore Vivyan Yeo 96 Art in Open Spaces: A Case for Closer Encounters Pristine L. de Leon 102
Fresh Faces 102 103
Odelia Tang Lai Yu Tong
Ongoing Conversations 106 110
Talking Heads Ian Tee and Nadya Wang The Photographer’s Green Book: Across the S.E.A. Woong Soak Teng
The Road Ahead 146 150 154
Art Therapy as Ethical Business of Change: Conversation with Emylia Safian Vivyan Yeo Conversation with Lao-Australian Artist Savanhdary Vongpoothorn Ian Tee Conversation with Inkubator Inisiatif: On Gender, Pedagogy and Artmaking in Yogyakarta Wulan Dirgantoro Conversation with Nguyen Anh-Tuan on Vietnam Art Archive Dan N. Tran
Crew 174 180
Weaving Our Planetary Futures through Art Catherine Sarah Young Art-Toking with Megan Foo (aka @maegzter) Ian Tee Chats with Curators 154 Alia Swastika 160 Chum Chanveasna 164 Đỗ Tường Linh 168 Rebecca Yeoh
Contributors A&M Team
Prepare for Landing
Hello, everyone! The Art & Market (A&M) team is delighted to share with you our sophomore annual issue of ‘Check-In’! As we are writing this note, we are hearing of friends in the Southeast Asian art community going on trips and welcoming overseas guests. After a prolonged period of restricted interactions, we are excited about the collaborations that these meetings in person will spark. For now, we look back at an exciting year for A&M. We embarked on several new ventures. In December 2021, we launched Art & Market Small Rooms (AMSR), offering group workshops and individual consultations to early-career artists and writers. The project culminated in three pairs of digital and physical small rooms, each showcasing artworks by a Singapore artist and creative responses from three writers. To start 2022, we partnered with the National Arts Council Singapore to present Singapore Art Week (SAW) Dialogues. The talks were extended with ‘Let’s talk about (what we) SAW’, a two-part forum in response to SAW. Organised with the MA Arts and Cultural Leadership programme at LASALLE College of the Arts, it was a platform for key opinion leaders, tertiary students and recent graduates to speak their minds about the multi-day event. We also kicked off two podcasts: ‘Ian’s Research Club’, an extension of long-form interviews by Ian Tee, and ‘From A to Zig-Zag’ hosted by Nadya Wang, which features creative practices in the region. In all our endeavours, we have been heartened by the enthusiasm of established and emerging practitioners from the regional art community to share their journeys with us.
As before, ‘Check-In’ is our way of celebrating and documenting the individual and collective efforts in the community to come together and to constantly strive to do better. The issue covers a broad range of topics including translation, financial literacy, artist-run spaces, art therapy and social media. The writers in our long-running ‘My Own Words’ series share their cross-disciplinary perspectives on how art intersects with activism, food, and science. And in ‘Ongoing Conversations’, we speak to art practitioners in various roles about their practices, focusing on the initiatives they have taken and the challenges they have overcome. Throughout the issue, we catch up with our ‘Fresh Faces’ artists to find out about their works in progress. And to round up, we ask four curators to give personal reflections about their work, as well as recommendations for places to visit in their respective localities. We hope you will enjoy the reads in this issue. Thank you to everyone whose efforts make Check-In 2022 possible, from our contributors and interviewees to our patrons and readers. We look forward to bringing you more content online through our main platform artandmarket.net, and in real life! Do write to us at info@artandmarket with feedback and ideas. We would love to hear from you, and keep the conversations going. Nadya, Ian and Vivyan
A&M 'Fresh Faces' is a monthly series that profiles emerging artists from the region. We speak to them about how they kick-started their career, how they sustain their practice, and what drives them as artists. For Check-In, we ask eight 'Fresh Faces' artists we have featured from 2021 to 2022 to share a work in progress with us, and to talk about how life has been like for them in the past year. They also give us a preview of upcoming projects. You will hear from Kamolros Wonguthum, Doktor Karayom, Hà Ninh Phạm, Naraphat Sakarthornsap, Alvin Lau, Liu Liling, Odelia Tang, and Lai Yu Tong as we transition from one section to the next. We hope you enjoy these brief visits with them!
Kamolros Wonguthum, work in progress, 2022, metallic ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.
This past year has been the last year of my twenties, so I have been contemplating and reflecting a lot about change and transitions: essences of girlhood to womanhood. How these affect my artistic practice; how I see things… formally, in relation to deeper social structures, how to think, how to express an opinion, how to feel… differently. The things I am attracted to are changing, somewhat coated by levels of maturity in choices of interests, mediums and language…however less fearless. From my own body to the embodiment of a non-body, the body of the self has altered the body of others. What has always remained though – is instinct. My aim for next year is all about developing skills that would reinforce my artistic practice within a feminist methodology. Currently, I am working on my solo exhibition for Ver Gallery in 2023, alongside other exciting projects!
Doktor Karayom, 'Katok Sa Kahoy' (Knock on Wood), acrylic paint, woodclay, resin, wood sculpture, 243.8 x 304.8 x 152.4cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
This work taught me a new way to be disciplined to make an idea come to life. It began with a simple sketch until it became real. From constructing the altar to shaping all the characters, It felt like I was playing "Bahay-bahayan" with them. Thinking about their stories and what each one was trying to insinuate while I was making it. I created a great story yet did not even notice how it grew, even more, each time, like a novena prayer. Whenever I am alone, it plays with my eyes as I deepen my perception of it. In the midst of the pandemic, the work embraced and comforted me. I was welcomed by their doors as I stepped out from reality. To avoid being affected by fear and unhappiness in the physical realm. My fragmented thoughts are well-hidden in each corner of these creations. It took me more than four months to finish all these pieces. To save funds, I started to try out different raw materials as my medium. While I wait for each finished piece to dry, my courage waits with it. This is the forefather of ‘Sariling Sulok (Own Corner)’, which I showed at Art Fair Philippines 2022.
Spotlight on the work of individuals and collectives
From The Periphery
From The Periphery
From The Periphery
From The Periphery
A Non-Biennale Biennale Vipash Purichanont
It is unusual for an independent curator to return to a biennale. But I was invited to co-curate the second edition of Thailand Biennale after working as an assistant curator for the first edition in Krabi in 2018. I met with Yuko Hasegawa, the artistic director of Thailand Biennale, Korat 2021, and my co-curator Seiha Kurosawa in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in February 2019. We were not aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect our work, and that would be the last time that we were physically together as a team prior to installing the show in November 2021. This essay reflects on the repetitive tasks in biennale-making, which made me question what it means to make one altogether, especially in times of hardship. As a nomadic biennale, Thailand Biennale moves from one province to another in each edition. It is commissioned and organised by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC), Ministry of Culture, alongside the governmental body of the selected province. From an operational perspective, it means that for every biennale, there are new exhibition sites to survey, new content to research, new relationships to establish, and new permissions to request. The curator’s to-do list is endless. There is a sense of uncanniness in repeating the same conversations whenever I work with new people in new locations. Even though it has been four years since the biennale boom between 2017 and 2018, one cannot act as if everyone in the country knows what a biennale is. I have also noticed every stakeholder had different expectations from the biennale. In this chaos, Lee Weng Choy’s article titled ‘Biennale Demand’ has been a helpful companion.1 In the article, he
laid out four components: institutional demand, local demand, the art world’s demand, and the biennale’s own demand. Though they may manifest differently in each biennale, Lee’s model remains useful in understanding what different stakeholders want from the biennale.
A screenshot from a promotion video of the biennale by OTOP TODAY KORAT, ‘เชิญเที่ยวงาน มหกรรมศิลปนานาชาติ Thailand Biennale Korat 2021’.
Promotion image for Mudmee Biennale 2021: Craft the World. Published on Mudmee Biennale’s Facebook page on 14 September 2021.
From The Periphery
For institutions, there is always an internal contradiction in the urge to be international and national at the same time. Nonetheless, the most crucial drawback is the understanding of contemporary art itself. Two months before the biennale opened to the public, the Korat government launched a promotion video with Krit Ngarmsom’s ‘Queen Cat’, a permanent public commission as its centrepiece.2 However, it presented the artwork as a perfect background for taking selfies and group photos. The civil offices even invented a new ritual, inviting the audience to walk under the belly of the sculpture for good fortune. In Khonkaen, a provincial government sector established ‘Mudmee Biennale’ as an exhibition of local silk products at a university’s convention hall. This evinced the lack of understanding of what a biennale entails. It also showed the organiser’s expectation of a biennale as a festival of spectacle, not a space for artistic creation and education. Speaking to the idea of local demand in putting together Thailand Biennale Korat, the notion of selection and curation was not welcomed in the art community. Instead, in order to meet the pressure of local artists, the provincial government ran separate collateral events and organised a series of group exhibitions in the shopping malls and at the city centre. The OCAC also organised an independent international pavilion at the palace.3 The demands of the art world are what we are most familiar with. This has to do with the number and calibre of participating artists, the variety of artistic practices and so on. Indeed, these international demands were the dominant force in shaping this biennale under Hasegawa’s supervision. Last but not least, there are the biennale’s own demands and aspirations. Although Lee’s essay focused on the time and attention that the biennale asks from audiences and critics.This is different from the perspective of a curator. More than time and attention, it essentially demands a level of organisation among curators, artists and the team of project managers, coordinators, and fabricators. As the pandemic dragged on, the question became about how to respond to the new emergencies, instead of struggling to maintain the international gold standard of biennale-making. Is the pandemic also a call for reconfiguration?
In sum, there were perhaps multiple biennales in Korat. While there was the official Thailand Biennale, there were also inseparable “non-biennales” that came along with it. The latter were a result of a deafness to the different demands (or a refusal to listen in the first place). Also, there might be a different cry from biennales during this time of hardship that we were too busy to stop and listen, because we needed to serve other agendas. Nonetheless, it made me wonder about the creation of a non-biennale biennale, the one which may coexist with the multitudes, being a point of gathering rather than a centralised space of authority. The one which also continues to evolve as a biennale. The next edition of Thailand Biennale is due to be in Chiangrai in 2023. Despite the noise, I hope that all voices can be heard.
Notes 1. 2. 3.
Lee Weng Choy, 'Biennale Demand', Asia Art Archive, November 1, 2008, https://aaa.org.hk/en/ideas/ideas/biennale-demand/type/essays. OTOP TODAY KORAT, 'เชิญเที่ยวงานมหกรรมศิลปนานาชาติ Thailand Biennale Korat 2021', YouTube Video, 2:32, November 6, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWd-4o81BCM. Apinan Poshyananda, 'Frolicking in Korat', Bangkok Post, March 14, 2022, https://www.bangkokpost.com/life/social-and-lifestyle/2278767/frolicking-in-korat.
From The Periphery
The Poetics, Purpose and Politics of Translation Ian Tee
When one thinks about the work of translating texts from one language to another, a common expression that comes to mind might be “lost in translation”. This speaks to the challenge and perhaps even futility of accurately expressing nuanced meanings across languages. Yet, this process is often hidden and asymmetrical in power. Inevitably, the reader has to put their trust in the translator’s words and intentions. In this group of essays, four emerging translators share their insights and experiences on the topic. Dương Mạnh Hùng writes about his personal journey translating Thái Tuấn’s essay ‘Phê bình Nghệ thuật’, or ‘Art Critique’, from Vietnamese to English. Hung shares the collaborative process taken with his mentor Claudine Ang and methods they adopted to refine the eventual text. Approaching the topic from a historical perspective, Htoo Lwin Myo expounds on the impact of translation on Burmese art and literature. He discusses some key issues such as intellectual property, the relationship between language and nation-building, as well as limitations in existing Burmese terminologies. Lastly, Vanessa Moll and Pikul Phuchomsri highlight an instance when translating becomes a political act. Their contribution argues for the value in translating Morlam, a traditional genre of song performed in Laos and Isan. Here, I would like to acknowledge the Isaac Ng Jun Fellowship for Emerging Translators at ‘Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia’ for introducing us to the important works undertaken by these four translators. Collectively, their essays invite us to think more critically about the beauty, access and worldviews afforded by language.
A Symbiotic Resonance
Dương Mạnh Hùng
My journey into translation has been that of the fool: wideeyed with wonders, filled with uncharted excitement, and by default solitary. My only companions were the writers; their words my true compass. That is not to say I hold my translation to such high regard that it requires no editing. Yet, for as long as I can remember, translating has been a solo amble through mystical gardens of literary treasures and linguistic snares.
‘Câu chuyện Hội hoạ' (The Story of Painting), collection of essays written by Thái Tuấn from which I selected the article 'Art Critique' for SEON. Published by Cảo Thơm Publishing House, 1967. Image courtesy of the author.
That process shifted during my mentorship for the Isaac Ng Jun Fellowship for Emerging Translators with Southeast of Now (SEON), where I translated the essay ‘Art Critique’ or ‘Phê bình Nghệ thuật’ in Vietnamese, by Thái Tuấn, a painter and art critic of Southern Vietnam, from Vietnamese into English. As the adrenaline rush simmered down post-acceptance, I was faced with the looming reality that this translation will not be my own fruit of labour. My mentor would be a contributing factor in it, and there were too many variables: What if we do not get along? What if they are too controlling or nit-picking? How will I handle the fact that my translation is inherently flawed, thus demanding another set of eyes to exhume it from my mental marshland?
From The Periphery
My mentor, Claudine Ang turned out to be everything I needed and more. The best unions happen when old friends reconnect. That was how I felt during my first meeting with Claudine: that this friendship between us had existed long before we first met, and talking to her felt like coming home. As we are both translators, albeit in slightly different yet interconnected fields, there was an ease of conversation, a willingness to share, a professional camaraderie, and fondness for languages. “Always trust your gut instinct” was my mother’s mantra. My gut instinct was cheering with joy after our first meeting.
Hùng and Claudine amidst discussion over Zoom. Image courtesy of the author.
Over the next few months, as the translation grew in length and substance, our symbiotic tree sprouted new branches. It was donned with garlands of green leaves, woven from in-depth and honest feedback, mutual exchanges of insight, hours of consulting dictionaries and thesauruses, and laughter over obscurely crafted sentences. There was a compound word that we kept pondering over, “rung cảm”, which combines both “rung” (to feel a physical vibration that runs through the body) and “cảm” (to be in a receptive emotional state where one allows oneself to be moved by others). Thái Tuấn deployed this core concept throughout the essay, and each time, it turned into a riddle to be solved. Claudine and I finally decided on the word “resonance” as the most fitting translation for its noun form (words in Vietnamese can play multiple grammatical roles, depending on how they appear in a sentence). And indeed, resonance was what I felt while working with Claudine:
my dread of self-negation never materialised. We were two tuning forks, emitting and reverberating simultaneously. Our sound-thoughts converged but did not cancel out one another; instead, they merged and magnified in volume and depth. Our co-translation became a process of rung cảm, where we allowed our ideas to be moved by one another. Together, our tree grew taller, then flowers came, and finally our fruit of labour: the essay was translated after much trial and error. An instance where I could feel such resonance most strongly was when Claudine introduced me to the technique of translating-out-loud. We were struggling over an enigmatic paragraph, where Thái Tuấn's psyche entered a mildly incongruous trance, and I was at my wit’s end. Claudine then suggested that we read the whole paragraph again, but out loud. Hearing how my translated words sounded from an audience’s perspective was an eye-opening experience, and something that I had not experienced during my solitary translation. I then suggested words that could be tweaked, clauses that could be switched, sentences that could be rephrased. Afterward, I read the whole paragraph again to Claudine, and the loop continued until we reached a somewhat satisfying outcome. My translation embraced a new aural identity, and I learned about the differences in effect between written and spoken words. A manuscript is a visual delight, but an audio-script can unlock doors previously overlooked or hidden. One plus one is not only two in resonance. It becomes the universe. “There is no such thing as luck” is another of my mother’s mantras. I believe that my mentorship with Claudine came at the exact time when I needed a reminder, that collaborative work is what the world needs at the moment. Each of us, particularly in academia and research, tends to withdraw into our own cocoon of comfort; yet, our isolated tower can sometimes turn into a prison. By allowing ourselves to submerge into various degrees of resonance, we become more than who we are. Our sense of self expanded and enriched. I have Claudine and SEON to thank for this self-realising journey.
From The Periphery
A Brief Outline of Translation in Burmese Art and Literature Htoo Lwin Myo
Sometimes I have imagined that, in the ocean of world literature, a translator lives like a hermit crab. They reside in different beautiful and exotic seashells of great literary works and their efforts are to convey its aesthetic beauty to readers from various continents.
Cover of Volumes 1 and 2 of Burmese version of ‘Gone With the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell, translated by Mya Than Tint. Photos by Htoo Lwin Myo.
The place of translators in Burmese1 society In Myanmar, a popular translator of prestigious world literature can expect almost the same status as the writer of acclaimed works of literature. That is, a popular and productive translator usually has the same level of recognition as famous writers. This tradition is established because most Burmese translators of world literature have their names in bigger or similar-sized fonts as the original writer’s on the cover of a translated book.
It was not until the early 2010s that Myanmar publishers considered applying for ISBN numbers and started to deal with international standards and practices, including copyrights. This is despite the fact that Myanmar is not a Contracting Party to the treatises of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). One publisher endeavoured to acquire copyrights permissions from foreign writers to translate their works. However, Moe That Han, a famous translator and writer, notes that it is still difficult to apply for copyright permission to every translated book, as the deal is usually only successful with less well-known foreign writers who do not have strict contracts with international publishing conglomerates. Moe That Han had translated and published more than 30 books of literary works by acclaimed writers including Ben Okri, Haruki Murakami, Ryū Murakami and Eka Kurniawan. His publishers have never acquired official permission from the publishing house of the said writers. As a result, rival translators have to try to pre-emptively translate popular fiction and nonfiction titles to maintain their individual market share.
The role of translation in historicised and contemporary literature of Myanmar In 1904, James Hla Kyaw published his novel ‘Maung Yin Maung, Ma Me Ma’ which set the foundation for modern Burmese novels with prose writing for the next century. Although the novel was actually a translation of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas, today’s literary critics have judged that it was created more as an “adaptation” than a direct translation, as the writer created his own characters and blended Burmese culture and beliefs into the storyline.2 Nowadays, academic circle and university faculties unanimously established that ‘Maung Yin Maung, Ma Me Ma’ is the first modern Burmese novel despite its hybrid nature of adaptation and translation with the inherited narrative of a European novel. Therefore, since the turn of the last century, translation has played, albeit in a somewhat controversial way, a big role in the advent of Burmese literature.
From The Periphery
The late veteran modern poet Aung Cheimt remarked that Myanmar modern poetry developed from “the Burmese translation of poetry from world literature which delighted the palates of poets".3 He wrote so in the preface for the poetry book ‘Lu Hnet York Nè Ga Byar’, or ‘Two Men and Poetry’, which was published in 2000 when the Myanmar modern poetry movement commemorated its 30th anniversary. It was widely accepted among the poets like Aung Cheimt that poetry translation has emancipated the modern poet’s desire to compose free-verse style with loose rhymes.
Founders of Burma Translation Society. The late prime minister U Nu wore a black traditional jacket, and seated in the centre front row. U Thant, former SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, had the same black jacket and stood at the far right in the back row. Standing from left to right: U San Htwa, U Ba, U Khin Zaw, U Myo Min, U Thein Han, U Kaung, U Wun, U Thant; sitting from left to right: Dr Htin Aung, Education Minister U Than Aung, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Sir Mya Bu, Prime Minister U Nu, Finance Minister U Tin, Supreme Court Justice U E Maung, U Cho. Image from lostfootsteps.org, run by historian Thant Myint U.
Sarpay Beikman Building in downtown Yangon. Image from Global New Light of Myanmar.
Burmese Translation Society The Burma Translation Society was founded a year before Burma gained her independence from the British in 1948. It was later renamed Sarpay Beikman in 1963. One notable achievement of the society was its compilation and publication of 15 volumes of the Burmese Encyclopedia between 1954 and 1976. It also enlightened the Burmese public by publishing 30 volumes of Ludu Theikpan books which introduced general knowledge of science and technology of the day. The society’s first few books, including the encyclopedia, were printed in England and the Netherlands. The quality of its printing and its publications started to decline in the late 1990s. While the society printed at least 10,000 copies per title in its early days, only a few hundred to a thousand copies are printed today.
Loan words, direct translation and poverty of non-Buddhist terms As a translator of art-related books and articles, I noticed that translators of my generation have easily adopted English loan words into their writing as transliterated Burmese ones. They include terms such as performance art, video installation, conceptual art, visual art and so on. Few people have successfully tried to translate contemporary art practices and related theoretical literature without using Pali terms from the Buddhist canon. This is due to the strong influence of Buddhism and monastic education which has been a part of high school education in Burma since time immemorial. Many influential Burmese writers used loan words from Abhidhamma Pitaka to translate western philosophy. As a result, it is hard to find secular words for the translation of contemporary art and its related conceptual and philosophical literature. The poverty of non-Buddhist canon words for such translation sometimes impedes a translator from developing nuanced and not too simplified meanings in their translation works. As state institutions like National University of Art and Culture are running under outdated policies and guidelines from the Ministry of Religion and Culture, it is unimaginable to extend and radicalise approaches in art-related translation. The possibility of advancements in the near future is uncertain too.
From The Periphery
A note on my translation experience and preferences When I was selecting and reading potential books for the Southeast of Now Fellowship for Emerging Translators, I thought of several local art historians. I compared their presentation and interpretation of Burmese art history and noticed that most writers, including prominent ones, ended up constructing some kind of nation-building narrative in their approach. It is as if Burmese artists in the last century were members of a syndicate which promoted or inherited the thousand-year-old tradition of Bagan mural paintings. This happened partly because they wished to localise the development of art in an imagined community. They were scared of tarnishing the “pure” tradition from a thousand years ago which they thought they were defending from becoming diluted. In their own way, they were undertaking an unfinished project of decolonisation. That is probably why Zaw Gyi (Thein Han), one of the founding members of Burma Translation Society, referred to the Bagan murals as a point of comparison when he wrote about paintings of the 1950s in Myanmar: “I think that most contemporary artworks are not strong enough if I compare them with good works from the Bagan era. Contemporary works are less lively too. For example, most of the subjects in paintings are recycling the same subject matter: the same landscape of temples, the same thatched hut in landscape, the same village landscape and the same river landscape again and again to the extent that audiences become bored and hate to see these same old landscape paintings."4 I believe that some institutional and influential writers such as Zaw Gyi usually take on this popular self-ascribed role as champion of Burmese tradition. If only such writings were translated into English, few people outside of the country would realise that there was an alternative narrative of art history in Burma/Myanmar in the last century. Hence, translating art related writing into another language requires careful deliberations so as not to promote and disseminate cliché approaches with nation-building narratives. In selecting books and articles for translation, I can excavate old assumptions and understanding of what high art is in Burmese society. These are my considerations in choosing suitable material by writers of art from the past and contemporary works:
How did their career start in the colonial or post-independence period? How and why did they get connected with their contemporaries? How did they promote their works in Rangoon (now Yangon) and abroad? How did they struggle in their lives as artists during political turmoil and world wars? How did their disciples and close friends of the old master artists view their important works? And what are lesser-known facts about the lives of these artists? Sometimes, I am also highly impressed by writings with detailed accounts of the unique expression and approach in artworks that deviate from popular religious landscape or Jataka paintings. I hope that those records would be useful for researchers in Southeast Asia to discover lesser-known works by old masters and help bring them back into public view. I believe that if the translators in Southeast Asia work like archaeologists to excavate the stories of the successful artist careers in pre-independence period of their nations, we would be able to compare the turning point for artists of many generations in pre- and post-independence eras of other nations in the region with similar historical experiences.
Notes 1. 2. 3. 4.
Although the writer acknowledges that there are leading artists of ethnic nationalities from Myanmar in the international contemporary art scene, the term "Burmese Art Scene" is his personal preference and there is no political implication in his usage. Myanmar Encyclopaedia, volume 9, part B, 1st edition (Yangon, Burma: Ministry of Information, 1963), 260. Aung Cheimt, 'Preface', Two Men and Poetry (Yangon, Burma: Tailing Publishing House, 2000). Sarpay Beikman Monthly, volume 7, number 8 (Yangon, Burma: Ministry of Information, January 1959).
From The Periphery
Translating Isan’s Morlam as 'Cultural Poetics' Vanessa Moll and Pikul Phuchomsri
“History repeats itself so often”, a student observed, in response to a description of Stephen Greenblatt’s inaugural essays on ‘Cultural Poetics’,1 as he preferred to call his approach to literary criticism. Greenblatt had begun with an anecdote from the turn of the 17th century relating Queen Elizabeth’s anxious reaction to Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’. He proposed that literature could not be understood outside of its historical context. In fact, ‘Richard II’ was a perfect example of how literature and history were co-texts – they made each other. Meanwhile in Thailand, artists Pronthip Mankong (Kolf) and Patiwat Saraiyam (Bank) were arrested for their participation in a performance of ‘The Wolf Bride’, and only released from prison in 2016. Though the play was not part of a rebellion, that fact was of no consequence in their sentencing. While Patiwat eventually received a royal pardon for his first lèse-majesté case, his freedom, like that of other Morlam artists throughout Isan, Northeast Thailand, continues to be at risk. If Greenblatt were ever bored of the English Renaissance, he would surely find a perfect area of study for his ‘Cultural Poetics’ in Lao/Isan Morlam. Morlam is a genre of poetic and rhythmic narrative traditionally sung with the khaen, a Laotian wind instrument. In the Thai context, Morlam is a fundamental part of Isan culture which is historically oppressed, and it has often attempted to subvert historical narratives perpetuated by Thailand’s power structures. As such, the art form has undergone all forms of appropriation. In the late 1800s, Morlam and the khaen were both banned. Later, the Thai State learned that they were better off co-opting the art form as a vehicle for their own propaganda.2 Today, lèse-majesté is not the only law that keeps Morlam contained. Since the 2014 coup, free thinkers, artists, and youth in Thailand have had to think carefully before they speak about anything “political”. The laws used against them are diverse and arbitrarily enforced. Another Morlam artist, Kongsin Fahluangbon, faces five different charges for his debut performance of the song ‘Hai Man Job Ti Run Rao’ (‘Let It End With Our Generation’) during a youth-led protest in November 2020.
Traditionally, Morlam is performed by two experts: a mor lam (expert singer) and mor khaen (expert khaen player). Image courtesy of Goo Khaen.
Morlam Kongsin receives garlands from his fans after being summoned on five different charges for his performance at a youth-led protest in November 2020. Image courtesy of Goo Khaen.
In this setting, translation becomes even more of a political act. Translation of editorials and articles has become routine largely thanks to the media and academia, two powerful institutions that privilege “conforming” voices. But Morlam Kongsin is unlikely to write an editorial piece for the Bangkok Post or an academic article describing corrupt practices. His point of view, and likely that of many of his Isan listeners, is well represented in his art form.
From The Periphery
Before we could begin to translate ‘Hai Man Job Ti Run Rao’, we had to ask Morlam Kongsin to write down the lyrics. The first challenge to translating Isan is that there is virtually no written Isan language. A Morlam usually learns his art from another Morlam, rather than from written texts. Learning such lyrics is also a challenge for the speed at which they are performed. Morlam Kongsin prepares his audience and khaen player for a fast pace, likening his song to a speeding car or motorcycle.
I’ll sing real fast, real fast, I shan’t hold back at the bend Will I hit someone dead, with my song? Oiy no, If I hit someone dead, make it a hit and run.
Morlam Kongsin may, in fact, be hoping that his song destroys someone or at least contributes to certain people’s downfall. The song references a number of politicians who have ensured Thailand’s institutionalisation of authoritarianism or whose unpunished crimes illustrate the country’s corrupt legal system that has poor people by the neck. Yet, it is more than a slew of insults. It also offers a grassroots analysis of how the structures are kept in place, zeroing in on the weaponisation of knowledge:
Thai law which is only for the poor, the destitute, For the students, the kids and grandkids, the kindergartners, For the checkpoints set in the centre of the road, For extorting poor, assuming villagers. Civil servants’ve got only debt, liability So, it’s a way to make something, a bit supplementary Two or five hundred a car, up to you, the haggling you can do. Our country full of smart people… and wickedness worse than dogs, Knowledge, then, makes a weapon, Turns into a danger, is used to destroy, Used to break and take advantage. They’re bigger than their britches, brazenly, blatantly, Wrongs become right in many an institution, and now it’s tradition…
After charges were made against him, Morlam Kongsin continued performing at pro-democracy protests. Image courtesy of Goo Khaen.
A full translation of ‘Hai Man Job Ti Run Rao’ would need to be annotated due to the richness of cultural, social, and political references, as well as the witty word play and culturally specific symbolism. As for us, we believe that translation of Morlam can add a worthwhile perspective to the international discourse surrounding the pro-democracy movement while also lending value to its form as a type of historical narrative. After all, while few working-class Isan men or women regularly join street protests, many do enjoy their Morlam.
QR code linked to Morlam Kongsin’s song ‘Hai Man Job Ti Run Rao’ sung in Isan language.
Notes 1. 2.
Stephen Greenblatt, The Power of Forms in the English Renaissance (Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgraim Books, 1982). Psitakun Kuantalaeng, Thaiisaan Sound, trans. Penwadee Nophaket Manont (Nusasonic, 2020), accessed April 10, 2022, https://www.goethe.de/prj/nus/en/mag/tis.html.
From The Periphery
HÀ NINH PHẠM
Hà Ninh Phạm, ‘Residences [0.3.0]’, diptych, 2022, graphite and ink on paper mounted on PVC panel, 111 x 110cm.
Since the lockdown in mid-2021, I have been constructing a language called Loop Script. Starting as the script of my monologue, this language does not have phonetic properties. It can be written and read, but not spoken. This language lacks the linear structure of our normal languages. Its “words” can connect to other words by chains and knots to possibly form infinite sentences. The meanings and tones can be guessed by considering the three visual forms in which the words can be “drawn”: Subject 0 (black and flat), Subject 1 (white and flat), and Subject 2 (white and volumetric). The diptych ‘Residences [0.3.0]’ is based on the story ‘Residences’ I wrote in 2019, now re-written in Loop Script. The English version is available on my website. I indicate the Loop Script version [0.3.0] in the title of the piece to instruct the viewer how to read it when the project grows.
Naraphat Sakarthornsap, 'Justice for My Mung Beans', 2021.
Last year was still a very interesting year for me. The art that I created allowed me to dig deep into my own identity as a child, which has been demolished during the transitions into adulthood. The work I am most proud of from 2021 is called 'Justice for My Mung Beans', which brought me back to a traumatising experience when I was in the secondary school. Back then, I grew some mung beans as homework for a teacher and they did not turn out as perfect as my classmates’, resulting in a very low grade for me in that class. As I, in the present time, went back to grow 30 seeds of mung beans from the same packet, I got to learn how diverse the beans from one packet, given equal amount of water, light and the same climate, can grow into, with different shapes and astounding uniqueness. In June 2022, I will have my first solo exhibition at SAC Gallery after a four-year hiatus.
Art practitioners deliberate on their locality’s present circumstances
Queerness in Motion: Queer Arts and Activism in Indonesia Hendri Yulius Wijaya
In 1982, Dédé Oetomo, a co-founder of the first Indonesian gay organisation, Lambda Indonesia, envisioned the pathways of Indonesian gay politics in his unpublished paper, ‘Charting Gay Politics in Indonesia’. In the early stage of the movement, gay activists had to reach out to gay men across the archipelago and promote a more positive understanding of homosexuality to society. Next, the activists could start engaging the press and set up a gay publishing house to continue their consciousnessraising efforts for gay people. Once the gay community was politically solid, Oetomo expected they would subsequently persuade the government to legalise specific laws to protect their identities. As activist practices on the ground do not always progress linearly, consciousness-raising and community formation using diverse approaches remain at the heart of Indonesian queer activism to the present, alongside their legal struggles to challenge the existing discriminatory laws. This year, still facing the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing hostility from society toward queer people, Indonesian queer artists and activists have continued to engage various art forms and technological infrastructures to define queerness, solidify the community, and forge connections across queer Indonesians. In this brief kaleidoscope, I particularly focus on the art production and circulation, mostly related to literature and written texts, arising from the grass-roots. What is also important to acknowledge here is that I do not intend to produce an exhaustive list. The term “queer” I use throughout refers to LGBT people and their non-LGBT allies that work in collaboration to produce and distribute the arts. Recently, a similar term has also been increasingly embraced by Indonesian LGBT activists to denote the diversity of sexualities
and genders beyond the popular identity category of LGBT. For these reasons, queer in this context refers to non-normative gender and sexual identities while remaining attentive to its capacious strength in expanding what it can and might encapsulate. Literature, while being central to the imagination of queer lives and worlds, also invite us to think about what is and can be considered queer literature proper. At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) 2021’s ‘The Many Faces of Gender in Literature’ session in October 2021, as one of the speakers, I raised this question to posit a long history of the Indonesian queer literature that has emerged, involved and proliferated from the local grass-roots and independent or smaller publishers which often had relatively limited resources compared to big, mainstream publishing houses. Specifically, I asked whether and to what extent we can meaningfully position short stories and poems published in the queer organisations’ zines and websites as part of the Indonesian literature landscape. In the same panel, the presence of Stebby Julionatan, a UWRF emerging writer from Probolinggo in East Java, also led us to consider the role of smaller or independent publishers in queer literary production. His most recent novel about queer lives in both small and big cities, ‘SEKONG!’, has been published in July 2021 by independent publisher Basa Basi. As LGBTQ+ novels and books have increasingly become a distinct and marketable category, a critical approach to examine the inclusion (and also the simultaneous exclusion) in making and institutionalising the category of queer literature proper or LGBTQ+ literature is more than necessary. Attending to the role of publishers entails an exploration of the infrastructures that make possible queerness to arise and traverse across boundaries. In June 2021, EA Books, a smaller publisher based in Yogyakarta, released a call for queer non-fiction manuscripts for their latest book series ‘Seri Queer’ (Queer Series). It was then followed by the release of ‘Queer Etc.’ as the first title under that series. This personal essay collection brings together 17 writers from diverse backgrounds — including trans, the non-binary, people with disability, people living with HIV, and ethnic minorities — to configure multiple forms of queerness that cut across gender,
My Own Words
sexuality, dis/ability, ethnicity, and social class. Taking a similar step, in November, Buku Mojok, the sister publisher of EA Books, also invited several Indonesian fiction writers coming across different genres and locations to collaboratively prepare a queer speculative short story anthology for publication in 2022. All these attempts do not just reflect but actively generate a supportive and queer-friendly arts ecosystem. Rather, this move should be understood as an attempt that is inseparable from the early gay activists’ vision of creating a gay publishing house for consciousness-raising and community formation through art activism.
Sadam Husaen (designer), Call for Manuscripts. Image Courtesy of EA Books, 2021.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet and its technological platforms have also facilitated queerness to dismantle walls and borders. At the same time, for some artists and activists, the lockdown summoned attempts of journeying inward to the self, locating queerness inside and subsequently expressing it through art forms to form a deeper connection across queer individuals. Among their various online activities bringing queer individuals and allies together like book discussion and movie screening, one of the highlights from Panggung Minoritas (Stage of Minorities), a safe learning space for gender, sexuality, and minority issues in Bandung, West Java, is the ‘Saint of Our Own’ event in October 2021. In this activity, Panggung Minoritas invited the participants to project, imagine,
and translate their faith and spirituality into a drawing of a saint figure. This activity is aimed at connecting queerness with religion and/or spirituality since both aspects are often misunderstood as irreconcilable. Further, inspired by the zines published by queer organisations, like the now-defunct Lambda Indonesia and the longest-running one, GAYa Nusantara, Panggung Minoritas frequently and independently published zines on gender and sexuality issues, which are distributed underground to avoid backlash from anti-queer groups. Moving across different art forms and platforms is the collaborative project ‘CERITRANS: Cerita Transpuan Lintas Batas’ (‘Trans Stories Transcending Borders’) between InterSastra/ House of the Unsilenced, Eliza Vitri & Infinity, Sanggar Swara — a Jakarta-based trans community, and Khairani Barokka — a poet and disability justice activist based in the United Kingdom. Other collaborators include Seven Ten Media, Cindy Saja, Ruth Marini, and Hore Besok Libur. From March to June 2021, the project mentored ten trans women to write their personal stories and translate them into performances to be filmed. The performance videos, along with the stories in Bahasa Indonesia and English, are made accessible online on Sanggar Swara’s website and on YouTube. Again, this project brings us back to the
Cindy Saja (designer) and Rayner Wijaya (photographer), ‘CERITRANS’, 2021. Image courtesy of CERITRANS.
My Own Words
centrality of infrastructures in circulating queerness, allowing it to be unbounded by space and time usually found in live performance. The project aims to utilise arts to increase respect for trans stories and acceptance of Indonesian trans women. These art activities are run by people whose work is often voluntary or relies on grants from donors. This situation has resulted in the lack of fair remuneration, health care, and institutional support for their well-being, making them more economically and socially precarious. In the same year, Ratri Ninditya and Harits Paramasatya, two researchers from Koalisi Seni, released a research report, ‘Merawat Seni Dengan Hati: Kondisi Kerja Emosional Perempuan’ (Caring for Arts from the Heart: Emotional Labour Situation of Women). In brief, based on a survey and in-depth interviews with the women’s artists, besides the lack of well-being support from the workplace, the report demonstrates to what extent both cisgender women and transwomen are affected by gender stereotypes, making them more susceptible to burnout and frustration in and beyond the workplace. Such a vulnerable position is primarily caused by the emotional labour of these women in the workplace; a few examples are suppressing negative emotions, constantly showing positive feelings to the stakeholders, and adhering to feminine gender roles to show they are women proper.
Cover page of research report, ‘Merawat Seni Dengan Hati: Kondisi Kerja Emosional Perempuan’. Image Courtesy of Koalisi Seni, 2021.
While the title ‘Queerness in Motion’ attends to the ways queerness emerges and circulates across different forms and forms in the arts and cultural production, I also show that this proliferation of queerness is made possible within and through specific infrastructures that are sustained by artists’ and activists’ labour. Economic precarity and the imperfect politics of curation, inclusion, and visibility continue lurking underneath. Queer arts and activism should continuously interrogate what lies beneath their visibility while at the same time considering what queer theorist Jasbir K. Puar hints in her book ‘The Right to Maim’ (2017) as “the cost of getting better”.
My Own Words
Curating in a Restaurant and Beyond Clara Che Wei Peh
When I was an aspiring arts worker, I was uncertain about how I would carve out space for myself in the Singapore arts ecosystem. In 2018, I interned with the Economic Development Board under the Visual Arts team and was tasked to work on a project to evaluate the robustness of the local arts ecosystem. At the time, Art Stage had been on the decline for several years after its peak in 2015 and the art district Gillman Barracks had already seen multiple rounds of tenant turnovers and departures since its opening in 2012. Interviewing gallerists, art advisors, collectors, artists, and other players in the industry, it became clear that many felt wary of the lack of a strong collector base and the shrinking industry in Singapore. Some suggested there needed to be more cross-industry collaborations for companies and individuals to see the value of art outside of strictly art spaces, and others felt there was a need for initiatives that welcomed and could foster more patrons. Either way, it was clear from these conversations that the ecosystem would welcome new experiments and initiatives that could expand the existing scene. I met Ivan Brehm, Chef/Owner of Appetite, in April 2021. In our first conversation, we talked about the rising popularity of NFTs, my research interests in the art market, and what Appetite wanted to achieve within the local and international arts scene. Originating as the Research & Development arm of Restaurant Nouri in 2018, Appetite is driven by what Ivan calls “Crossroads Thinking”, which is an approach that is rooted in interdisciplinarity and cross-culturalism. Ivan looks at cooking through the lens of material culture, anthropology, philosophy and other ways of thinking, to take food as an entry point to broader conversations about culture and globalisation at large. In designing Appetite, he looks towards concepts such as relational aesthetics,
rasa aesthetics, and Gesamkunstwerk, which roughly translates to a total work of art, to direct focus towards people to be at the centre of a multi-sensorial experience. These ideas resonated deeply, as it looks away from the conventional white cube display model and moves towards integrating the artwork into daily life for a broader audience. It became apparent to me that Appetite would be the perfect playground to present more expansive art experiences and cultivate new audiences for the arts, and I joined the team as the Art Lead and Curator.
Installation documentation of ‘Constructing Matter’. Image courtesy of Appetite. Photo by Jonathan Tan.
Installation documentation of ‘STAGING: MAPPLETHORPE’. Image courtesy of Appetite. Photo by Jonathan Tan.
My Own Words
I have visited many exhibitions set in white cube galleries and museums or even spaces repurposed for the sake of exhibition-making but curating for Appetite is a new ballgame. Beyond the logistical constraints of the site, Appetite’s multi-purpose nature also means that the exhibition exists alongside and within the restaurant and record bar. The exhibited artworks works should settle into the space and live and breathe alongside people as they are hung in one’s own home, without becoming lost. A typical gallery-goer may take one glance or spend up to 15 minutes with an artwork, but a guest at Appetite could be seated on a couch, across or right by an artwork, where they would be for the next two or three hours. This allows the visitor to build a strong relationship with an artwork and enables more room for conversations around the exhibition, whether it happens naturally as the work slips into their chat with fellow guests or with the front-of-house staff giving a tour. In addition, a guest could be at Appetite because of the food, the wine selection, the record library or a multitude of reasons outside of the exhibition, yet after they have walked through the door, the artworks on the walls will be a part of their experience. This allows us to reach a diverse audience, but it also implies a need to relate to people of different backgrounds and interests. Balancing all of these considerations together was intimidating at the start, but over time, as I settled into the space and leaned further into the idea that art should co-exist with people and not be seen in isolation, it began to feel natural.
Image of the Listening Room at Appetite. Image Courtesy of Appetite. Photo by Khoo Guo Jie.
In a recent Zoom call, Wawi Navarozza – one of the artists whose work is in our current exhibition ‘a bird flies into the mirror’ – remarked that taking an artwork outside of a gallery does not mean it has to lose its criticality. Her words keep coming back to me, and remind me of what I had learnt in my internship in 2018. Bridging between art, food, and music, Appetite fosters more expansive interactions with artworks and welcomes new audiences to develop a greater ease with going to exhibitions. In the longer term, I hope that Appetite will be one of the many initiatives needed that will help build towards a more robust arts ecosystem for Singapore, and beyond.
My Own Words
Is There More To Conservation? Diana Tay
Conservators concern themselves with the posterity of objects and how they can stand the test of time. Often found tucked behind the scenes of the museums, these professionals in white lab coats appear to be mysterious gatekeepers who have a say on whether a painting can be displayed or not. How do they determine the ideal conditions or the fate of whether something meant to endure for generations gets displayed? What is the opportunity cost of saying no? What is ideal? This question came as part of a reflexive process when I was told my approaches were too institutionalised. This confrontational and challenging question was hard to understand but was, in fact, a pivotal moment in my practice. I started my conservation career in 2009 at the Heritage Conservation Centre as an assistant paintings conservator. Eight years later, I left the institution to undertake my doctoral research, where I worked towards building a material understanding of Singaporean paintings. Working out of the institution allowed me to reflect on what conservation meant to the local art ecosystem (artists, academics, collectors, curators and more) and to draw an understanding of the current knowledge gaps.
What is conservation? The conservation profession comes with a lot of privileges – to be up close and personal with masterpieces, to be able to touch the impasto ridges, to mend tears and clean away decades of dust off paintings. However, this day-to-day privilege often goes unexamined. It comes with a heavy responsibility as our actions could alter how the present and future generations perceive cultural heritage.
Inpainting areas of loss during conservation. Image courtesy of the author.
For the most part, we engage with conservators when a work of art needs to be repaired, checked for a loan, or restored before being sold. Is there more to conservation than the restoration process of cleaning and mending works of art? This need-driven relationship arguably limits the profession to being a service provider. It stops short of being considered a key player to shape the narrative and understanding of our art and cultural history. As a discipline, conservation finds itself in the sweet spot between the sciences and the arts. The responsibility of making decisions on the best treatment to undertake, assessing risks of the display, and minimising the risks of deterioration are all centred around a material-based understanding and the effect of its externalities. Without careful consideration, a misjudgement could result in irreversible loss, and unfortunately, time is not something we can hit a replay button on. This fear of error could see many individuals saying no to risks. While this is frustrating, this is understandable – not everyone has the same appetite for risk. But if risks are navigated through decisions, and decisions can be better informed with knowledge, we can begin to ask what historical knowledge our current decisions are based on. Is there room to make better decisions?
My Own Words
Expanding conservation knowledge through research and access Conservation knowledge centres around understanding objects’ past, present, and future by studying their materiality. Conservators can undertake research where traces of history can be discovered through material evidence using a range of scientific instrumentation, technical examination, and photography. By employing a scientific understanding to generate material knowledge, this data can be used to understand the past and inform the future. During my scientific research on the study of Singaporean pioneer artists from paintings in private collections, this knowledge gap was evident. Limited available research highlighted an increasing need for such knowledge, particularly in art authenticity. Through the study of paintings, technical and scientific data can give insights on the materials and techniques used by the artists and are valuable information when assessing artwork authenticity. Currently, the career trajectory of young conservators in Southeast Asia focuses on the development of hands-on skills and the mastery of craft through transferable skills from a senior conservator. I was personally trained by a group of international senior conservators, and while these artistic skills were essential to laying the foundation for my conservation practice, the struggle to push boundaries in my career required a deeper understanding of the discipline and saw the possibilities in the scientific aspects of conservation. The development of scientific skills, ethical reasonings, and research rigour benefitted from a formal academic education alongside the skillsets of the practical craft. The possibilities of conservation extend beyond just the restoration of artworks.
Mending of a broken Masonite board, a common painting support for Singaporean artists in the 1950s. Image courtesy of the author.
Conservation research such as the preparation of paint samples to the technical examination of paintings can provide a lot of valuable information about the artists’ materials and techniques. Images courtesy of the author.
Going back to the question posed in the beginning of what the cost of saying no is, the answer lies in accessibility. By saying no, access to works of art and culture is limited. At what point will access ever outweigh taking risks? To better inform these risks, knowledge is needed. Conservation scientific research can increase accessibility to material knowledge and help build a better understanding of our context. The core of decision-making is the need to develop a contextual understanding of our art ecosystem – our cultural material, climate, heritage, and stakeholders. As the conservation discipline in Singapore is young compared to Europe or North America, there is so much more that needs to be uncovered. There is not a one-sizefits-all approach. Perhaps, the limited research focused on our local ecosystem or reliance on knowledge built outside of our ecosystem has been misunderstood as risk-taking in unideal conditions. One possible way to increase accessibility and raise awareness of the importance of conservation research is to undertake research in collaboration with stakeholders beyond institutions, such as private collectors. The active sharing and creation of conservation knowledge through research, education, and outreach makes conservation accessible and inclusive to the art ecosystem. It shifts the focus from adhering to institutional guidelines and the search for ideal conditions to really understanding what we have and creating shared goals within our community. Little by little, the mystery and walls of the conservation profession will come down when we can all understand better and make better informed decisions.
My Own Words
Photographic studies. Images courtesy of the artist.
Over the past year, I have mainly been focusing on the same ‘Borderline’ series that was featured on A&M’s ‘Fresh Faces’ series. With what I have in mind currently, and towards the pursuit of a deeper form for this body of work, I have been spending my time reading up on construction materials. Along with this inquisitive process, I have also learnt to slow down and take in my surroundings, as I am trying to present with more intention. I hope my goal of showcasing this body of work in a more volumetric manner will work out too. Other than that, I am just glad that I am alright so far. Thank you A&M team for having me here again! Alvin Lau’s photograph ‘Study of Differences between an Urban and a Suburban Environment’ is featured on the cover of Check-In 2022.
Liu Liling, ‘Islet Dew’, 2021, inkjet on rice paper, window film, 113 x 28cm. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Chua Chye Teck.
Liu Liling, 'Half-light', 2022, lightbox, 63 x 63cm. Image courtesy of the artist
Over a recent conversation thinking about images I have looked at, and made over the past year, a friend pointed out that I am seemingly exploring the "potential of an image". I am continuing to expand on a series of images presented as lightboxes, each exploring ideas of stasis as a visual rhythm akin to the state between one’s wakefulness and sleep. The images are formed through the repetition of a single photograph rearranged lengthwise or clockwise and references colours observed from daybreak through nightfall. Late last year, I also used the scanner as an artistic tool and looked at how that could add to my practice. I have been curious about other forms these images could take such as squares, apart from the column-like shapes shown at I_S_L_A_N_D_S and starch.
Analysis of the viability of current art practices and businesses
Five Ways Towards Financial Wisdom for Arts Practitioners Michael Lee
In the arts, talk of money is like dealing in the “dirty business” of capitalism. The topic is wrapped up in shame, secrecy, and fascination. We have read about the high prices of artworks yet are expected to be hushhush about our personal finances and refrain from raising money matters. This text is not meant to provide financial advice, which financial advisers, courses, and platforms do best.1 Instead, by reflecting on personal experiences and observations, I offer the following considerations to answer the question: How can arts practitioners develop a healthy relationship with money for personal and collective flourishing?
1. Relate wisely to money. Ever given yourself a bigger treat than your windfall; or got annoyed by the rich for having it good? We all have our own narratives about money, and some of them do us no practical good. Self-awareness helps us to identify unhealthy relationships with money. A healthier relationship might look like this: we have clarity on our goals, such as owning an apartment, and understand that a certain amount of money is needed to reach them. Then, we act with financially supportive behaviours. Learning to identify signs of financial distress is also part of savviness, as money problems affect–and reflect–our mental health.2 Indeed, financial savvy does not require going to extremes like working tirelessly and stingeing excessively to achieve ‘FIRE’ or ‘Financial Independence Retire Early’.3 It is about having enough to care for oneself and one’s community.
Michael Lee, 'A Soldout Show is Better / Than Making A Lot of Money', from the series "Not Artistic Advice" (side 1 and 2), 2021, two-sided wall-protruded light box with vinyl stickers and spray paint on acrylic sheets, and LED, 40 x 40 x 7cm. Photos by Marvin Tang.
Michael Lee, 'NO', 2018, partition with LED neon ropes and steel rods. Photo by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore.
Michael Lee, 'National Theatre', from the series 'Planting Building', 2017, topiary with live plant and stainless steel mesh. Photo by Tan Hai Han.
Zoom screenshot of workshop 'Financial Matters: It's All About Cultivating The Right Attitude' by Noorlinah Mohamed, from the workshop series 'Workshopables' organised by Michael Lee and Ong Kian Peng. Photo by Michael Lee.
Directional Signage for Talks, from the series 'Got Room, Do Things' by Michael Lee, 2018. Photo by Michael Lee.
2. Be aware of industry myths.4 Why are most artists poor? Hans Abbing found that chief among reasons is the myth of the artist’s autonomy, which insists that worthy art is produced ‘regardless of expenses or demand’.5 A related myth is the struggling artist, part of the wider narrative on abjection, where suffering is the road to glory.6 Myths are preferences that have become commonsensical, and hence unquestioned, truths. Yet they cannot be simplistically applied to all of us. We need to relate these myths to our own contexts. Artists with financial backing will find it easier to uphold the myth of autonomy. For those of us with bills to pay, it is wiser that we make sound financial decisions alongside achieving a realistic level of autonomy.
3. Develop good remuneration practices. The art world is replete with stories of remuneration “malpractices”. Alleged poor pay and working conditions led dancer Sara Wookey to publish an open letter about her refusal to participate in a performance at MoMA.7 Separately, in a Guardian article, Lanre Bakare investigates a curator’s lower earnings compared with that of the "head of coffee" at Tate Britain.8 Arts funding is usually the smallest part of a country’s annual budget, which means that every dollar we try to earn is cut from a tiny piece of the pie.9 This does not mean that we do not take steps to update old remuneration practices. PS Paid Studio Visits,10 an initiative by Para Site Art Space, pays artists for giving virtual tours of their studios. In the art world, hosting studio visits has long been an unpaid gig deemed a privilege for artists to clinch opportunities. Para Site’s programme represents a healthy change, which can lead to fair payments and the establishing of market rates.
4. Buffer for both the foreseeable and unforeseeable. Among the inevitables in life is ageing and its accompanying predicaments like failing physical and mental capacities. Meanwhile, unforeseeable circumstances include illnesses, accidents, and, as we are still experiencing, a pandemic. Having buffers helps to cushion the shock from these situations. It is a key reason why the typical recommendation for financial health is sequential: start with insurance, followed by savings of at least six months, and then investments.11 Buffering also explains the three-way apportionment of income: ‘must spend’, ‘good to have’, and ‘untouchable’.12 Such financial frameworks are aplenty. The key point is to craft a personally relevant, sustainable, and evolving model for our own changing needs and goals.13
5. Balance personal and community needs. We need the community, such as art dealers, to secure art sales. For this reason, it is fair for the dealer to take a cut of the proceeds. On the other hand, giving too much of our own resources for a social cause is unsustainable.14 ‘Money Lobangs for Part-Time Educators and Other Creative Independents’15 is a Facebook group I started in 2018 for the community to share resources on financial opportunities for arts freelancers. It also invites those with full-time jobs to contribute, based on the belief that collective flourishing requires participation from the entire arts ecosystem. Each of us has the freedom to find our own position along the spectrum between self-preservation and community contribution, though going to either extreme is never realistic.
Acknowledgements I am grateful to Annie Jael Kwan for commissioning me to design and facilitate the workshop ‘Financial Literacy for the Artistic Life’ in 2021 as a programme under Asia-Art-Activism. This article is a development and reflection from the workshop.
5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
I recommend ‘Seedly’ and 'The Woke Salaryman’ among the various financial literacy platforms in Singapore. ‘Seedly’ is a community-run Facebook group for personal finance (https://www.facebook.com/groups/seedlyfinance), while ‘The Woke Salaryman’ is a finance education website (https://linktr.ee/thewokesalaryman) that illustrates complex money concepts through easy-to-understand comic strips. Financial difficulties and mental health problems are interlinked. Money problems zap mental energy and affect relationships, thereby impacting on our mental health by stirring feelings of guilt or shame, anxiety, low self-esteem, frustration, and fear, which may be exacerbated by insomnia, suicidal thoughts, and substance misuse. Conversely, mental health problems may impair our judgement, leading to poor financial decisions. Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, ‘Money and Mental Health: The Facts’, n. d., based on another article by the same publisher, ‘Money on Your Mind’, 2016, https://www. moneyandmentalhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Money-and-mental-health-thefacts-1.pdf The acronym for ‘Financial Independence Retire Early’. See, for example, Alexandra Kerr, ‘Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)’, Investopedia, March 5, 2022, https://www. investopedia.com/terms/f/financial-independence-retire-early-fire.asp I trace my former unhealthy relationship with money to my childhood of observing my parents often quarrelling over money. The lesson that “financial greed knows no good ending” somehow got etched in my psyche and followed me through my involvement in the arts. At first, it manifested while I was a full-time lecturer in an art school. I made ‘conceptual works’ as ‘proof’ that I was not selling out. Later, as an arts freelancer, I lived hand to mouth with very little savings, even though I had paid projects to work on. A few times, my bank account was left with a two-digit balance. Then, in 2017, my residency at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, with its six months of very reasonable stipends, allowed me to taste financial buffering, and I finally experienced a sense of calm. That was when I decided to leave my unhealthy relationship with money – a process that is ongoing. Hans Abbing, Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2002), 155. AL Kennedy, ‘Why I Hate the Myth of the Suffering Artist’, The Guardian (April 2, 2012), https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/apr/02/myth-of-the-suffering-artist. Sara Wookey, ‘Open Letter to Artists’, The Performance Club, 2016, https:// theperformanceclub.org/open-letter-to-artists/. Lanre Bakare, ‘Tate Britain’s £40k “Head of Coffee” Role Sparks Row over Low Curator Pay’, The Guardian (January 29, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/ tate-britains-40k-head-of-coffee-role-sparks-row-over-low-curator-pay. This is a point raised to me by Singapore-based theatre practitioner Noorlinah Mohamed after my financial literacy workshop (organised by Asia-Art-Activism), which helped me to rethink my usual knee-jerk outcry at "bad payment practices" by arts institutions.
10. Para Site Art Space, ‘PS Paid Studio Visits’, 2020-ongoing, http://www.para-site. art/2020/05/06/ps-paid-studio-visits/. 11. moneysense, ‘Financial Planning Is For Everyone’, n. d., https://www.moneysense.gov. sg/financialresilience. 12. Lewis Weil, ‘An Artist’s Guide to Financial Planning’, The Creative Independent (March 2, 2018), https://thecreativeindependent.com/guides/an-artists-guide-to-financial-planning/ 13. A tool I have found to be personally useful is the “annual” financial spreadsheet. This is an adaptation of the typical monthly income-expenses statement recommended by financial advisers. Whereas the monthly financial statement contains a single column of figures of income and expenses, my version contains 12 columns–one for each month of the year. What this sheet does for me are two things: It gives me a middle-term sense of my financial goals and situations, and keeps me on track. It also helps me make wiser financial decisions rather than emotionally driven ones. FreshBooks, ‘What Are Monthly Financial Reports?’ (March 28, 2019), https://www.freshbooks.com/hub/reports/monthlyfinancial-report. 14. For example, the case of Rembrandt, a commercially successful painter, art dealer, and antique collector, who died poor due to his lavish spending. It is a tale of caution against the common sense that the affluent do not need financial planning. Study.com, ‘How Did Rembrandt Become Poor?’, n. d., https://study.com/academy/answer/how-didrembrandt-become-poor.html. 15. Michael Lee (initiator), ‘Money Lobangs for Part-Time Educators and Other Creative Independents’, 2018-ongoing, https://www.facebook.com/groups/400537900382186. The motivation for setting up this Facebook community came about after I read a news article that covered the extreme measures taken by adjunct professors to cope with their low and irregular income, including sleeping in their cars, and sex work. I do not mean to discriminate against their choices but to discuss the precarity, rights, and well-being of freelancers.
Thinking through Spaces: What does Independence Entail? Ian Tee
In May 2020, I wrote a two-part essay on independent spaces and artistfounded galleries across Southeast Asia. My goal was to consolidate the reasons why such spaces were established as well as how they have engaged with market forces. The piece was a testament to the imagination and resourcefulness of artists, and their ability to inhabit — and even flourish — in different roles. Revisiting the essay today, I am even more conscious of the overlaps between artistic practice and the daily operation of these spaces. Crucially, they are about the state of being independent. In this collection of essays, three practitioners are invited to share observations and personal sentiments about their respective spaces. Unchalee Anantawat, co-founder of Speedy Grandma in Bangkok, reflects on the space’s decade-long run. She charts the evolving needs of her community and the different collaborators who have left their mark. Curator Van Do writes about her experience working with two independent art spaces in Vietnam: The Factory in Ho Chi Minh City and Á Space in Hanoi. She meditates on the interplay between site and space by mapping recent community-based projects. Engaging with the topic on an ideological level, Jason Wee, founder of Grey Projects in Singapore, issues a polemic for dissimilation. Taken together, their essays help us think through what it means to make space for oneself and for one’s community, as well as the freedoms and sacrifices doing so entails.
Running an Alternative Art Space in Bangkok for 10 years and Why We Need to Have One Unchalee Anantawat When I first started running Speedy Grandma in 2012, I did not have much knowledge about other art spaces or the art scene in Bangkok. My background was in graphic design, and everything I knew about contemporary art came from the time I collaborated with my artist friends in Australia. The only reason for opening my own art space was because I wanted to create a place where people could come have fun and make friends while also seeing some art. I had this idea from the time I was hanging out at this newly opened alternative space in the middle of 2010 called Chez Lodin / Toot Yung at Saphan Wanchaat in Bangkok. It was the sort of place where I could meet new people easily each time and form relationships. After two years, it had to close and everyone moved on with their lives. I felt like I could try to continue this kind of spirit at Speedy Grandma.
Speedy Grandma’s previous space in 2019 during the ‘Office Hours’ project, right before closure. From left to right: Pongsakorn Yananissorn, Nawin Nuthong.
In the first two years, I felt like I had achieved my initial idea for this space. Most of the audience were travellers and foreigners who lived and worked in Bangkok. Speedy Grandma had garnered a reputation for its wild art opening parties and after-parties. I fostered many new friendships and collaborations. In late 2014 when more members joined the team, we started to discuss further the direction we wanted
this project to move towards. The craziness of the foreign crowds had died down, and more young Thai students and fresh graduates started to hang out at the space. We finally decided to shift the focus to make Speedy Grandma into a space for young Thai people. I started to see that it could be much more than just a fun hang-out. We could create some sort of a small community who believe in the same thing, whatever it may be. We hit it off quite well with this idea and hosted talks, discussions, workshops, live performances, experimental music, and residencies. It was a vibrant and meaningful time. Our discussions with the local audiences gave me new ideas about how to see contemporary art. At that time, we were the only alternative space to host so many events in such a short period of time, and with limited resources. Most of the events came out of our frustration towards issues in the art scenes, politics, and society. We saw Speedy Grandma as a place where we could pose important questions to the public and generate discussion.
Members and friends of Speedy Grandma.
Of course, nothing lasts forever and our peak period only lasted six to eight months. Everyone on the team was madly passionate about Speedy Grandma and unfortunately we could not separate the work and our friendships. There were some big fights which could not be resolved then, and some members left. I stayed on with the other co-founder, Thomas Menard.
From 2016 to 2018, I ran the space alone. Autopilot was my main mode of operation at the time. I was lucky to receive help from many friends around me to make each exhibition happen. No one was actually willing to commit to running the space with me, and I kept asking myself why I was still doing it. To keep it going, I needed to collaborate with others. Thinking and planning everything alone was not ideal.I tried to quit Speedy Grandma a few times. Obviously, I have not been successful at that… A new team for Speedy Grandma made their way to me. I took a break for a few months only to find myself coming back to running the space with them again. It was my plan since the beginning to run Speedy Grandma for a total of 10 years. In 2020, there were many changes. We had our first ever patron who supported the rent. We moved to a new location. We had a few exhibitions at the new venue but due to limited gallery space, I questioned what the purpose of an art exhibition was and what I liked about Speedy Grandma. The answer is that I loved to meet new people and potentially try to spark future projects and collaborations. Right now, the fourth-generation members and I have decided we do not need to exhibit artworks anymore. We want to interact with audiences in a different way. We plan to open more classrooms, host workshops, reading groups, and film screenings, and even offer our space for other groups to use. After all these years, it is quite clear to me now why we need alternative/artist-run spaces in the city. We should have more space for people to come together, discuss ideas and start working collectively. In this city where there is not much free public space for gathering, house sharing is not a culture. A space to gather and form some sense of community is needed. I am satisfied with what Speedy Grandma has become and what we were able to achieve in the past decade. The name Speedy Grandma comes from an urban legend about the ghost of a grandma who used to feel like she needed to stay in a certain place. But now, the grandma ghost can be free and go anywhere she likes.
Space and Non-Space: A Reflection Van Do Do we need an art space? In a context like Vietnam where the infrastructure for contemporary art has always been limited, the answer is of course yes. But then, what do we look for in a space, and who could benefit from it? What dreams and hopes can a space uphold? These questions have been at the back of my mind for the past three years since I started becoming actively involved in the artistic landscape in Vietnam, both in Saigon and Hanoi, as a participant and as an observer.
Installation shot of ‘There’s an ant inside my glass of water’, a solo exhibition by Xuân Hạ, curated by Châu Hoàng at Chaosdowntown, Saigon in 2018. Image courtesy of Chaosdowntown.
In 2021, while working at The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre in Saigon, which presented itself as the first purpose-built space for contemporary art in Vietnam, I was conducting a survey on the history of the art scene in Southern Vietnam. That was when I became intrigued with another space in town, which had ceased its operation, called Chaosdowntown, an artist collective/artist-run space/hostel co-founded by artists Xuân Hạ and Thanh (Nu) Mai, which was active from 2015 until 2017. Compared to The Factory, an art centre with carefully curated programmes and exhibitions, there was a stark difference in terms of Chaosdowntown’s experimental approach to programming and selection of artists; their active involvement with Saigonese subcultures; their strong attitude towards social injustice; and even the malleability of their architecture, which could remarkably shapeshift according to the founders’ innate preferences, at times even their mood swings.
“Why do you think you need an art space?” I asked Xuân Hạ a year after she moved back to her hometown in Đà Nẵng, a city in Central Vietnam, where she again opened an art space called A sông. She said that she wanted to be reaffirmed by the physical presence of other artists and to embrace the ethos of “learning by doing”. To her, a space means agency and community.
A mobile film screening organised by Nãi Cinema on the sidewalk of Huỳnh Thúc Kháng Street, District 1, Saigon in 2021. Photo by Van Do.
Cover image of the catalogue of ‘The Bảo Lộc Project’, curated by Sue Hajdu and organised by a little blah blah and Atlantic Commodities Vietnam Ltd. (ACOM) in Bảo Lộc City, 180km from Saigon.
On a different end of the spectrum, I am also inspired by various independent art projects that take place nomadically, moving from one place to another, mostly non-art venues, and assuming different forms each time. Such projects put more emphasis on the idea of site as opposed to space. I am reminded of a range of community-based projects by a little blah blah, an artist initiative in Saigon co-founded by artists Sue Hajdu, Nguyễn Như Huy and Motoko Uda that actively operated without a fixed space from 2005 to 2010. There are also various mobile screenings of experimental films organised by Nãi Cinema, founded by video artist Phạm Nguyễn Anh Tú; or sporadic DIYstyle exhibitions featuring emerging artists by ‘Đường Chạy’, a project co-initiated by Saigonese artists Vicky Đỗ and Phan Anh. Another notable project of the same kind is ‘Skylines with Flying People 4’, curated by a Hanoi-based performance artist group, Phụ Lục, or The Appendix Group, in which the curators rented a range of storage units to put their selected artworks on display. All of these projects stretched their arms to venues such as a bar, a cafe, a farm, a storage facility or even on the street, utilising the choice of locations as a strategy to question and further expand what is considered art and who gets to exhibit art. The situations each project creates or the specificity of a site that it responds to become the space for experimentation, contemplation and encounters. A year later in 2022, I found myself working at an artist-driven space in Hanoi called Á Space for Experimental Arts. This came after a few months of tirelessly initiating experimental projects that took place either online or at a range of different places and locales. Situated in artist Tuấn Mami's private home on the fringe of Hanoi, Á Space refrains from constantly putting on shows, while acting both as an activator and a champion of experimental and emerging practices. With the freedom I am generously given to shape this space and its programming, I am able to materialise this interplay between site and space.
A structure designed by Thảo Nguyên Phan in response to Điềm Phùng Thị's letter system, produced for a group exhibition ‘Within / Between / Beneath / Upon’ at The Factory in 2021, re-presented in an open studio ‘Tò he learns how to swim’ organised by Te Rẹt in Bình Quới, Saigon in 2021. Photo by Van Do.
Image of a private critique session with artist Phạm Hà Ninh at Á Space last April, 2022. Photo by Hải Lê.
Recently, long-standing art spaces in Hanoi such as the Centre for Assistance & Development of Movie Talents (TPD) and L’Espace were replaced by high-rise buildings one after another, and the question of the necessity of space for the arts continues to be urgent as it has always been. This time for me though, the question of what a space could mean began to feel strangely personal. It started to dawn on me that, while the fragility will still run deep in the lives of many art spaces in Vietnam, what I do and will continue to care about is the specific community of artists and art practitioners. For them and because of them, a space is needed. It is, thus, the longevity of their practices that I believe in, and I am stimulated to seek different ways of engaging and learning with them. I endeavour to nurture and live by the values passed on to me: their capacity to question the conventional and to propose alternatives, their earnest consideration of context, and their genuine care for past and future generations. It is not an easy path to take, but I will humbly take on this task.
Twelve Theses on Dissimilation Jason Wee
A shorter version of this polemic was performed at Objectifs Centre for Photography & Filmmaking on 17 September 2021. Image courtesy of the 'Inventory: Reconsidering Curatorial Practice' conference.
1. Collaboration is such an aspirational word, like transformation, consultation or inclusion. STPI does not represent artists; they collaborate with them. So do sneaker brands, with celebrities and designers. Even art councils, previously touting partnerships, now announce collaborations. But collaboration in times of social violence is a denigration, a working together but with the enemy. These theses are not the naming of the enemy, or an enemy, or its inversion. The etymology of sneaker is instructive; what used to refer in the 16th century as something vulpine, vixenly, sly, furtive by the early 20th is popularised as a comfortably weightbearing footwear that silently, too-sneakily steps out onto the streets. The artist Gary Carsley in an upcoming text considered queering curating as colluding, and it is this sense I am stepping out. The theses are not an aspiration, but a conspiration. Not to take a breath ahead of ourselves, in anticipation, but to breathe together, to consider this time of cautious, guarded breathing. To think of conspiration as in conspiracy, breathing together, but very deliberately muffled, out of earshot or detection, with a touch of the extralegal, a bucking of a proper education for a truancy.
2. To consider a truant curating as a failure to attend to the normative practices which many of us are informally educated in. This informality is a matter of history rather than inevitability. Up till this moment, there was only occasional education on curatorial practice, histories and habits. What took its place is the formalisation in the academy and the museum of art history as the near-synonym for curatorial history, writing and/or history, a formalisation that mistook these historical precedents for future thinking. Meanwhile, instructional sessions on grant-writing and cultural policy are embedded in college and university academics. This spawns adepts who excel at reading shifts in bureaucratic whims and policy lurches while eliding the constraints on grant-reliant activity (no openly queer activity, no commentary on multicultural matrixes, no rights-based advocacy). Demands swarm us, to respond to policy, facilitate their enactment, enact good standing for subsequent proposals and CV submissions. It is as though these are the central activities in what can be formalised as professional practice. As though these activities limn the foci of our cultural consciousness as the most neglectful, rather than the overdetermined, the well-framed and mainstreamed, the already obsessed over. 3. To be truant is to neglect one’s duty in our anxiously patriotic times to represent country, state, institution, and blood. To be truant is to state infra-filiations, to name or perform our care for other bodies, other selves. As the Hokkien saying goes, chew doe boh doe lao gao ma si swa. Whether the tree falls, it is the monkeys’ time to scatter. 4. It is not to curate as though they (country, institution) do not exist, or to assist in imagining for them their alternate lives; it is to do so insisting on our coevality without continuity. Country or institutionality, for that matter, is not the aim or consequence of our activity as artists, artist-curators and collectives. Neither are institutions the necessary end of a pipeline within which we register the “experimental” as “early” or “prototyping” or chronologically “young” that undergoes subsequent development in the larger, generously funded spatialities. It seems obvious yet necessary to state that even a scalar continuity is illusory, in both directions – country is not an institution writ large, institutionality is not truancy writ large, and truant curating simply is not institutional curating on a smaller scale.
5. To have coevality without continuity is to seize upon a temporal expansiveness, to be in the same time without moving at the same time. An expansive temporality to labour, to demonstrate, to perform, offer and trade at speeds, periodicities, and with moments of acceleration and deceleration contingent only on changes to our social material – our friendships, ally-ships, loves, publics, partners, even antagonists. In the past 18 months, when conversations around racial discrimination finally broke out of comment threads into newsprint, public discussions, parliamentary record and the recent National Day Rally (Beow Tan’s public transport harassments, brownface national advertisements to name two moments), I recall only artist-run spaces taking the time with it, while the museums and university galleries remained silent. 6. The notion recently raised of curating nothing puts a hyphen between the two syllables of “no” and “thing” to emphasise the absence of physical production, the missing object or the floor sans performance or body. It does nott go far enough. In all of these scenarios cited, no-thing belies the curate-thing à la Marina and that performative superego. The curator is always and still present, the naming has taken the place of the making. Let’s rewrite “curating nothing” as an imperfect anagram: Think no curating. Truant time clears art of itself, a truancy in the ontology of art, of what art is, in the demand to grasp the passage of its appearances, the mechanisms and matter through which art becomes. To have more time for art is necessary to make no time for it, to neglect its productivity, its naming. In order to have time for art, the space for art is not the space for art; it is not for the care of art to name it as such; the curator un-names their labour, themselves. To refuse the expectation to show up as “curate”. It is time for art to attend to itself by not marking attendance. It is time for truancy. 7. We can only be truant conspiratorially. No one must give those playing truant up. Can anyone keep a secret? No one divulges it all away. If all truants are caught and named, attendance is full. When we are caught, we become poach-otypes, i.e. scrutinised by institutions as prototypes of emergent or successful structurations that said institutions could poach for subsequent and scalar iterations. Contemplate ways to avoid capture: absent oneself from institutional examination; insist on non-attendance in the face of demands for greater publicity; attend nonetheless but to offer no work; slow down institutional work.
8. To create extra-institutionality in this way is to take opacity, inaccessibility, obscure and eccentricity not as points of didactic critique and turn them towards forms of production and explication. It is to demonstrate the obscure as they are. To bemoan inaccessibility is to return again and again to Civic District and Museum Roundtable programming as the centre of both cultural production and urbanity. In these times of watchful breathing, fewer people now travel into the city than in any other time since independence. The city is everywhere. In ‘Walk Walk Don’t Run’, our upcoming month-long islandwide open studios, you can see Malaysian waters from the vicinity of one of our friend’s studios. You can taste the sea in the air. In situating his projects in the inaccessible and the obscure, the curator Nadim Samman considers the exhibition as a para-state or a parasite, a wandering-off that takes curatorial vectors away from the transnational with its categorically geopolitical demarcations towards the translocal, allowing “functional proximities” (his words) to span geographical distances. There are lessons here for me. I point out two crucial separations. First, that truant vectors free these parasites, if they are to be described as such, from host-dependence. Like protozoa that can live off the humanoid, even adapt to be entirely subsistent on their human host, they can also have utterly and entirely independent lives in other oceans, other vessels. 9. Second, that a disidentification exists between parasite and host, beginning with a dissimilation (“we are not the same”) that pushes against an encroaching assimilation (“we cannot be together”). A year ago, a museum leadership once gathered other museum professionals as well as a handful of non-museum folks in generating keywords for everything a museum could envision itself in Singapore’s “museum landscape”: a public square, a forum, a residency, a laboratory, a classroom, an archive, a collection. In other words, an everything-in ark holding all that in the great and coming deluge, the outside-museum becomes bereft of. No, we are not the same. The disidentification is a breaking away through which the fragments are read as they are, not for the whole. The Greek word for pottery shards with inscriptions or poetry fragments is ostracon. Think of the proximity between the words ostracon and ostracise. These are the pieces of the possible. We are the ostracons. 10. There is something to be said for incompleteness. I do not have all the answers. I am given only so much space, and time, so it ends here.
Digitalisation of Museum Programming: M+ Museum Valencia Tong
Launched in late 2021, M+ is a museum in Hong Kong which shows a wide range of art from Asia. As “Asia's first global museum of contemporary visual culture”, one of its areas of interest is South and Southeast Asian art. In early 2022, its physical location remained shut for several months under COVID-19 policies in addition to existing travel restrictions. How has the museum adapted to changes during the pandemic while promoting its diverse collections without museum goers in its physical space? How can scholars or the general public virtually access the museum’s repository of knowledge of South and Southeast Asian art? Through analysing the museum’s digital strategies, this essay explores how M+ connects with local, regional and global audiences to maintain its presence.
Nalini Malani, ‘Remembering Mad Meg’, 2007–2019, four-channel video installation with sound, sixteen light projections, eight reverse painted Mylar cylinders. Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong. Photo by Lok Cheng and Dan Leung.
Digital access during closure of physical space When there was no foot traffic from tourists and locals, the museum ensured that there was open access to digital content to help virtual visitors learn more about works of art on display and search for information on the museum’s collection online. On its website, visitors could apply filters to search for images of art in the museum’s collection according to subject matter, classification, date range, colour or by specific collection. Notable South and Southeast Asian artworks include those of Singapore-based artist Heman Chong and Indonesian artists such as Christine Ay Tjoe and Abdul Djalil Pirous. For timed exhibitions, multimedia content was included on the museum’s website to provide context to the show. The exhibition, ‘Nalini Malani: Vision in Motion’, featuring the practice of the Mumbaibased artist over the past fifty years, was meant to be an exhibition on display at a physical location called The Studio at the B2 level of M+ from 7 December 2021 to 31 July 2022. When the museum’s physical location was closed, visitors of the museum’s website could read the information of the exhibition, view images and video clips of the works on display, as well as watch pre-recorded webinar videos from 2021 of curator Doryun Chong in conversation with the artist. Inspired by mythology, the artist explained the concepts behind her moving installations and her iPad drawings. Such immersive content paved the way for sustaining the interest of potential visitors in anticipation of the reopening of the physical location of the museum on 21 April.
Social media campaigns to promote inclusivity Among the many social media campaigns launched by M+ when the museum was closed, the #5WomenArtists campaign in March celebrated women artists from diverse cultural backgrounds from the museum’s collections. Indian artist Arpita Singh was one of the featured artists. In the post, several short paragraphs accompanied the images of her works of art. The text described her signature style and historically contextualised the evolution of her oeuvre, such as her vibrant, narrative paintings and her experimentation with pure abstraction
Arpita Singh, ‘Untitled’, 1976, ink, pastel, and poster paint on paper, 67.9 x 88.2cm. Image courtesy of Arpita Singh and M+, Hong Kong.
Such bite-sized educational content delivered in a mobile-first approach grabbed the attention of art enthusiasts, who gained insight into knowledge of art through their smartphone’s social media feeds. Simultaneously, the campaign elevated M+’s brand to showcase the museum’s efforts in promoting inclusivity, reaching people virtually beyond Hong Kong. Art students and scholars in South and Southeast Asia could also take advantage of the museum’s digitalised content to conduct further research.
Experiencing art at home through streaming and online talks Streaming content has played a significant role in visual culture especially in the pandemic, and the museum embraced this format to appeal to remote audiences. M+ organised ‘Watch and Chill: Streaming Art to Your Homes’ in collaboration with the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila, and MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai. Through the streaming platform, art enthusiasts could experience more than twenty video works by contemporary artists from across Asia from the comfort of their homes.
Pauline J. Yao, Lead Curator, Visual Art, M+. Image courtesy of M+, Hong Kong. Photo by Winnie Yeung @ VISUAL VOICES.
Pacita Abad, ‘I Have One Million Things to Say’, 2002, oil on muslin cloth stitched on canvas, 247.8 × 181.7 cm. Image courtesy of the Pacita Abad Art Estate and M+, Hong Kong.
Moreover, M+ organised a series of online talks to demystify the museum’s work. One of the online talks named ‘Open Up M+: South Galleries’ featured the sharing session of M+’s Lead Curator of Visual Art, Pauline J. Yao. She discussed her experiences during the making of ‘Individuals, Networks, Expressions’, one of M+’s opening exhibitions in the South Galleries. The eye-catching work named ‘I Have One Million Things to Say’ (2002) by Philippine artist Pacita Abad has appeared in many promotional materials of M+’s ‘Individuals, Networks, Expressions’ exhibition. Through the online event, both local and international audiences could learn about art from the 1950s to the present while exploring the identities, histories and perspectives shaping Asia.
Hybrid model for flexibility and sustainability As seen from the way M+ pivoted to a hybrid model of museum programming, it is clear that the ability to attract audiences online was essential. Collaboration with other museums in the region has become increasingly important as museums transcend geographical boundaries to circulate information among South, Southeast and East Asia. Through a mixture of traditional site-specific exhibitions, as well as digital strategies adapted to social media trends and human behaviour under various policy changes, museums could optimise for the transition into a post-COVID world.
The Versatility of Video Art in Singapore Vivyan Yeo
‘Video’ comes from the Latin word 'uideo', which means “I see”. So named, video art takes on a declarative position, expressing what the creator has observed through durational works. The medium requires patience and curiosity, as viewers could either sit through the whole artwork or walk away after watching a snippet. Singapore artists are increasingly embracing video art, especially at the intersection of photography, dance, and performance art. They have been experimenting with features unique to video, such as pacing, projection, image transitions, voiceovers, subtitles and camera movement. With its time-based nature, I believe the medium’s versatile and interdisciplinary character opens up possibilities for knowledge production and provides viewers with an immersive experience to gain new insights.
Documenting the Unfamiliar Familiar One striking method is the juxtaposition of photographs to highlight unexpected connections. In January this year, FOST Gallery presented 'Somewhere Else: The Forest Reimagined', a solo exhibition by Donna Ong. The artist showcased part I (2014) alongside part III (2018) of her work 'The Forest Speaks Back'. While part I is a film showcasing 18th and 19th-century lithographs of the tropical forest, part III displays photographs of artificial environments such as gardens, greenhouses and zoos. Though captured over 100 years apart, both types of images perpetuate colonial ideals of the tamed forest.
Donna Ong, still of ‘The Forest Speaks Back (I)’. 2014, single channel video with sound, 5 min 30 sec, edition of 3 + 1 artist's proof. Image courtesy of the artist.
Donna Ong, still from ‘The Forest Speaks Back (III)’, 2018, single channel video with sound, 5 mins 31 secs, edition of 3 + 1 artist's proof. Image courtesy of the artist.
'The Forest Speaks Back' is not a conventional recording but rather presents towering slideshows of archival and photographic images. Ong explains, "Video projection allows the images to be enlarged, offering an immersive space where audiences can compare their experiences in the real jungle to these artificially constructed environments." She adds, "The medium also allowed me to curate, sequence and provide a smooth transition from one image to the other, lulling the viewer into an almost dreamlike state." Indeed, when I saw the work in person, I was pulled into its slow rhythm and would, at times, fail to realise that the image had already changed. Ong’s purposeful use of pacing pushes the viewer to see just how similar the lithographs and photographs are; they feature lush but neatly arranged foliage, positioned to spotlight star features like waterfalls and ponds.
Dave Lim, still from ‘The Believers’, 2020, video installation, 16 min 1 sec. Image courtesy of the artist.
Dave Lim and Adar Ng, still from ‘The Spaces Between Us’, 2021, video installation, 19 min 31 sec. Image courtesy of the artists.
Min-Wei Ting, still from ‘Hampshire Road’, 2019, video, colour, sound, 7 min 4 sec. Image courtesy of the artist.
Another set of works that use juxtaposition to maximise what the video medium offers is ‘The Believers’ (2020) by Dave Lim and ‘The Spaces Between Us’ (2021) by Lim and Adar Ng. Instead of placing contrasting images side by side, these works splice videos of everyday life together. ‘The Believers’ juxtaposes secular and non-secular rituals by Singaporeans, revealing a common humanity among different identity groups. Commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore, ‘The Spaces Between Us’ provides a glimpse of the various experiences during the pandemic, inevitably affected by a person's age, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status. In this work, we see how migrant workers could be looking outside the window of their tightly-packed dormitory while a child slurps a bowl of noodles at school and a couple holds a wedding ceremony over a video call, thus revealing the disparity of livelihoods within this small nation. Why do artists choose this method of juxtaposition? “My art process is rooted in the creation of empathy through seemingly contrasting places,” Lim elucidates. “For me, the video is a formalistic experience that takes after photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher's ‘Water Tower’ series. It is in this formalism that we can get close to teasing out differences and similarities.” Consistently, the scenes in both works by Lim and Ng employ similar formal qualities. They are shot from afar in a single perspective without additional camera movement. As such, it is easier to compare different scenes. Without being distracted by new formats, our eyes start paying attention to the details, allowing us to understand and sympathise with different perspectives. The single-take, slow-panning video work ‘Hampshire Road’ (2019) by Min-Wei Ting demonstrates a straightforward but effective way of encouraging observation. I encountered the artwork in 2021 during ‘OH! Jalan Besar: Refuge for Strangers’, an art walk around Jalan Besar by OH! Open House. The participants and I were led into a minibus, which journeyed around the area while we watched 'Hampshire Road'. Ting trailed his camera along the Little India bus terminal for seven minutes. In the video, migrant workers wait in long monotonous lines for shuttle buses to their sleeping quarters. After the video ended, the minibus drove by the same terminal in less than a minute, showing how easily one could ignore such a scene. The slow pace in ‘Hampshire Road’ forces viewers to come face to face with lifestyles we may choose to disregard in daily life.
Ting’s employment of a single-take video emphasises the architectural qualities of the captured bus terminal. Influenced by the Little India riot in 2013 at Race Course Road and Hampshire Road, the building is equipped with cameras, yellow queue lines, see-through fences and a group of policemen at its tail. Nothing can be hidden from view, whether from Ting’s camera or the police cars circling the area. “I feel that the work has become more salient given the harsh conditions migrant workers have been and are still subjected to,” ruminates Ting. “The building depicted in the film has been unused since the start of the pandemic, underscoring how dramatically life has changed for them.”
Zulkhairi Zulkiflee, installation view of ‘Proximities’, 2022, video.
Collaborating in Education Taking an academic approach, Zulkhairi Zulkiflee's ‘Proximities’ (2022) uses the format of an essay film to present its main points. Part of Zulkiflee's first solo exhibition at Objectifs this year, the work explores Malay masculinities through the trope of the Malay Boy depicted by Nanyang artist Cheong Soo Peng. As if giving a presentation, a voiceover provides context, poses questions and proposes new ideas. The voice focuses on the word 'trope', which comes from the Greek word ‘tropos’, meaning ‘to turn’. It then suggests a turning away from mass-propagated stereotypes and a turning towards individual voices.
Farizi Noorfauzi and Nelly Tan, still from ‘XxHaven_KitchenxX’, 2022, video, 11 min 33 sec. Image courtesy of the artists.
What differentiates 'Proximities' from typical essay films is the inclusion of choreographed scenes and dance performances by collaborators found through Instagram. These segments are not clearly explained, leaving room for the viewer's imagination. “My collaborators’ video posts on Instagram influenced how the scenes were put together,” Zulkiflee expounds. “They embody a form of creativity as people that aligns with mine as an artist, and I felt like I was working with who they chose to be.” This organic mode of collaboration, where each performer has a space to express themselves, works well with the idea of turning towards individual voices. As a collaborator turns his body in dance, we are pushed to interrogate the underlying power systems that come with the representation of Malay bodies. The work ‘XxHaven_KitchenxX’ (2022) by Farizi Noorfauzi and Nelly Tan adds a playful twist to the format of an instructional cooking video, now popular on social media. The work celebrates nonsensical forms of knowledge and questions the idea of “bad” cooking. Without a precise recipe, hands are shown drying winter melon seeds, chopping pickles, peeling cucumber skin and more. "I was thinking about the formative aesthetics in easy DIY craft videos and internet how-tos," articulates Noorfauzi. “Our video tutorial functioned as a backdrop to our conversations about cooking, failure and braving individual fragilities.” Indeed, rather than instructional voiceovers, the video employs subtitles of these authentic conversations. They discuss illuminating thoughts, such as an idea to increase the quality of failure instead of reducing its frequency. Subverting the goal of creating a perfect meal in usual video tutorials, the work talks about the joy of making mistakes.
The durational aspect of ‘XxHaven_KitchenxX’ foregrounds the laborious and time-consuming process of cooking. The video work was shown as part of the group exhibition 'Fated Love Sky', initiated by Chand Chandramohan and Racy Lim, which promoted healing in art-making. In this vein, the work presents cooking as an overlooked act of care. “Food is often taken for granted due to its accessibility in Singapore, and yet it is a privilege to many others,” reflects Tan. “There was a lot of mutual care shown between Farizi and I to make the process as fun as possible. We kept bouncing ideas off each other till we had to pull back because some parts were becoming quite outrageous.” For Noorfauzi and Tan, who did not know each other before the show, the collaborative process was one of connection, acceptance and good humour through food.
Exploring the Performing Body The video medium often takes on a documentary function in performance art. Many artists, however, use a combination of video and performance to directly challenge television tropes. Take Kanchana Gupta's performancebased video series ‘Production of Desire’ (2020-2021), which references the archetype of the sensuously gyrating female body created by Indian cinema in the 1980s and 1990s. Confronting, subverting and reclaiming this constructed image, Gupta presents her own body in an exaggeratedly fetishised manner and uses codes of Indian cinema: chiffon sari, rain, jewellery, provocative movements, suggestive songs and camera angles foregrounding specific body parts. Gupta takes advantage of the video medium to act as its creator, performer and viewer all at once. “This is a deeply personal series where I assess my own desirability against these cinematic tropes, especially in my vulnerable teenage years,” intimates Gupta. “Video is the best medium to explore the complex relationships between the viewer and performer. While the power clearly lies with the viewer, I intend to shift the agency to the performer, deploying my own body and gaze.” Indeed, when I experienced the works at the duo exhibition ‘While She Quivers’, curated by Kimberley Shen this year, I was struck by Gupta's penetrating gaze at the camera. It was as if to say, “I know exactly what I am doing, and what you are seeing.” Truly, Gupta's character is an active force, aware of the misconceptions surrounding the female body, too often presented as a spectacle and an unassuming desirable object in the media.
Kanchana Gupta, still from ‘Production of Desire - Take #003, 'The Gaze’’, 2021, single channel video installation, 5-min loop. Image courtesy of the artist
ila in collaboration with Kin Chui, still from ‘bekas’, 2019, single channel video installation, 13 min 38 sec. Image courtesy of the artist.
In ‘bekas’ (2019), artist ila makes use of video to capture performance art in multiple locations, which are important for the work. Created in collaboration with Kin Chui, the short film was exhibited as part of ‘Arus Balik – From below the wind to above the wind and back again’ at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore in 2019. In the video installation, ila inscribes text on her bare body and exposes herself to the hot air, sand and sea on reclaimed lands in Singapore. The text narrated ancestral lineages from ‘Malay Singaporeans’, a colonial racial category that muddles the diverse Batak, Boyanese, Buginese, Minangkabau, and Javanese cultures that exist within it. As the body sweats in response to the humidity of the tropics, these texts similarly dissolve into illegible traces. Performed on reclaimed lands, the site-specific performance likewise reminds us of the numerous communities lost due to land expansion.
The video medium compels viewers to focus on subtle details in performance art. The Malay title ‘bekas’ translates to the adjective "former" and the noun "remains" or "container". In ‘bekas’, the body attempts to contain the memories of their identity, appropriated and forgotten in post-colonial times. “Within the video, viewers may experience the tactility of bodies and environmental elements,” expresses ila. “As someone who started with live performance art, my body has always been a medium to provoke and disturb; my movements in ‘bekas’ are reactionary to the context in which I have placed my own body.” Certainly, the close camera angles reveal her genuine discomfort and primal responses to the environment in these reclaimed locations. Rather than a distinctly feminine figure, the body in ‘bekas’ appears more like a landscape, holding personal experiences and the weight of multiple communities.
Selling Video Art Given the sophisticated ways that artists are using the video mediums, from juxtaposition to education to performance, is there an audience for video works? Indeed, video’s digital and often installation-based nature makes it seem difficult to collect. “It may be due to a lack of visibility,” suggests Ting. “There are specific demands of not just showing but also storing video works due to technological obsolescence.” One challenge in the sale of video works is their ease of dissemination. To control their distribution, many artists make their video works available in editions of five or less. Both Ong and Zulkiflee put up their artworks in editions of three. They also prefer to know the collectors who are purchasing their works. This is in part to make sure that the works will be properly cared for and displayed according to their installation needs.
Zulkhairi Zulkiflee, installation view of ‘Proximities’, 2022, video.
In addition to the video work itself, artists sometimes include documentary material in a sale. Lim, for instance, would sell his work ‘The Believers’ with a tour to one or two of the sites shown in the film. Cognisant of the medium’s many possible formats, he and Ng would also include one exhibition and one archival copy of their video works. Similarly, ila would pack her artworks with behind-the-scenes material such as sketches, photographs taken on location, a script and other reference material in a box. Possibly due to the medium’s complexity of preservation and display, she observes that video works are usually acquired by institutions such as museums or commercial galleries rather than independent collectors. Despite its challenges, the medium has gained more recognition over the years due to its acceptance by both collectors and artists. “I think the sale of video as a medium is growing, and many collectors prefer to buy video works,” posits Gupta. “I don't see the medium as a limitation for sale.” Along similar lines, Tan raised that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become increasingly popular. “Many creatives have been getting on board during the lockdown, when there was a boom of digital art being made and shared across the world,” she affirms. From the perspective of an audience member, there have been diverse, innovative and heartfelt video works exhibited in Singapore over the last few years. The medium can emphasise the strengths of other disciplines, as shown through Ong’s slow transitions between detailed photographs, Zulkiflee’s layering of voice overs over expressive dance movements, and ila’s employment of camera angles to focus on delicate motions in performance art. Through its unique qualities, the medium can also encourage audiences to reevaluate everyday experiences. Lim and Ng’s use of juxtaposition, along with Ting’s one-take film, highlight the differences of livelihoods within Singapore; Noorfauzi and Tan’s work subverts the format of the instructional video to embrace failure; and Gupta’s gaze into the camera lens confronts traditional tropes in Indian cinema. While the market for video art may still seem to be in its nascent stage, I believe that the rise of the metaverse and the appetite of artists to generate new knowledge are promising for the medium’s long-term sustainability in Singapore.
Art in Open Spaces: A Case for Closer Encounters Pristine L. de Leon
Toym Imao, ‘Barikada’, 2021, repurposed furniture, bamboo, paint, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of UP Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (UPD-OICA). Photo by Pol Torrente.
In 2021, indoor spaces in the Philippines were regulated through constantly changing protocols. After months of policing how bodies gather, the government seemed to relax restrictions by the end of the year as candidates for the 2022 national elections started holding rallies outdoors. Supporters, mobilised in public spaces, are photographed as a mass of colours linked with certain political parties. Assembling becomes an elaborate choreography, a political capacity to organise movement and affective states. As scenes that thrive in scale or crowding, they conjure the visual spectacle of space seemingly unified by colour.
It is interesting how similar concerns of scale, visuality, and urgency can animate the production of art in public spaces. There have been ambitions to push against state narratives through the readability of images dispersed in open grounds — but I have also wondered how public art might operate more nebulously through tactility, a capacity to re-orient the body by movement and by touch. And so, while there were many initiatives to make art public in 2021 to early 2022, I focus here on the installative, the site-specific, and construction as impetus for collaboration. The publicity received by Toym Imao’s ‘Barikada’ (2021) attests to the readability of iconography. Building on the history of its site, the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, it straddles commemoration and commentary: a towering construction of chairs — painted with a deep, protesting red — recalls the barricade built by students in 1971 to bar the entry of police. Imao’s installation assumed renewed urgency, with the government’s abrogation of an accord that protects the campus from state forces. When public space is contested ground, there is the expectation for art to stage conflict, if not launch a direct rebuttal. Yet, the strategy of obstruction through the materiality of a barricade might inadvertently turn the work into another kind of monument, one regarded at a distance, in a relation of reverence that skirts a more vulnerable ambiguity.
Isola Tong, ‘Ark’, 2021, steel structure, lightbox, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Vargas Museum.
Elsewhere in the same campus, in the gardens of the UP Vargas Museum, artist Isola Tong has fashioned a black rectangular structure with chain link mesh. Compact, cage-like, ‘Ark’ (2021) bids spectators to enter and view an image of the artist photographed as giraffe-woman. Part of the exhibition ‘Cast But One Shadow,’ the work forwards an ecological consciousness, as it speaks to the translocation of animals from Kenya, and their eventual extinction, under the Marcos administration’s Calauit Safari project in 1976. The curator Carlos Quijon, Jr. was explaining all these to me as I entered the structure with the light waning at sundown — but my attention had fractured under the anxiety of being shut in, and I felt the nagging itch to scurry out and seek the safety of open space. At the same time, I was pulled to the soft intensity of the light box, the radiance of the woman-animal body engaging mine in an unflinching stare. Here, viewing sculpture in the round defers to the rupturing of space: a lovely, troubling intimacy. Considering public art’s potential to institute a gathering place, an arena of relations, I wonder how gathering might move beyond the comfortable and the convivial, and instead, like Tong’s work, render our bodily horizons more porous, more unsettled, more readily attentive to the presence and agencies of others. Two large-scale installations that have produced spaces to gather were Leeroy New’s ‘Mebuyan’s Colony’ (2022) outside Ateneo Art Gallery and James Clar’s ‘I Can’t Tell You What I Don’t Know, Only That I Don’t Know’ (2022) outside Ayala Museum. Despite New’s collaborative ambitions, what strikes me upon walking through its interior is a palpable incongruity between site and concept. The monumental doubles as greenhouse and hideaway; yet, here, the architecture of a bridge — inspired by a mythological crossing — seems yet unable to fulfil itself within the protected spaces of a university. If the architecture was instead situated in a location with greater disjuncture, an in-between place occupied by divergent publics, how might the work harness the affective disturbance inherent in a "crossing"? Clar’s work, for its part, relies on a questionable gesture of dislocation. What could have been a way to connect with the community — the giant parol (lantern) team from Santa Lucia in Pampanga who assiduously crafted the elaborate light system — is foiled by the linear presentation. Spectators, gathered through scheduled light-and-sound performances, are given little motivation to engage performers labouring to rotate the cylinders at the back. In this strict, almost hierarchical,
Leeroy New, ‘Mebuyan’s Colony’, 2022, steel, wood, bamboo, plastic bottle discards, agricultural systems, 7 x 25m. Photos by Alvin Zafra.
James Clar, with the award-winning giant parol team from Santa Lucia in San Fernando Pampanga, ‘I Can’t Tell You What I Don’t Know, Only That I Don’t Know’, 2022, Santa Lucia giant parol truck, modified light system, 20 x 10 x 40ft. Image courtesy of Silverlens.
delineation of bodies, what tends to transpire is a brief consumption of spectacle, rather than an intimate contemplation of its lifeworld. Another sound installation that combines technology and traditional arts is the collaborative installation ‘Atang’ (2022) at the Diliman campus. With ceramic instruments arranged at different positions, it prompts audiences to experience sound as slowly unfolding atmosphere. The spectacular is dodged in favour of the meditative. Craft and construction are modes through which these projects have materialised. In the work of Alwin Reamillo, tactility and assemblage open up ways for a public to gather. Reamillo was granted a residency at Orange Project in Bacolod where he worked with the community of artists and held workshops on object-making. ‘Pagtawag sang Kasanag’ (2021), the resulting piece, is built around a floatation base of tires and bamboo frames. On these, participants have attached turbines made from plastic bottles, disks, and chimes. The tactility of object-making yields what Reamillo regards as vernacular creativity. As the process unfolds moments of sociability, design defers to a playful DIY form over which the artist-author had little control. The work, which floated across a lagoon in Bacolod, serves as a prelude to a larger structure. A boat to be launched in the public art festival
‘Art in the Lake’ gathers objects crafted by Bacolod artists. It might also be a gesture of gathering thicker lines of contact, as Reamillo ferries the idea from Bacolod to engage residents in Tanauan, Batangas. When I was writing this article, Reamillo was coordinating the festival with local authorities and communities. Engagement — at its simplest, connection — entails the hard, nerve-racking work of contending with alert levels, and the possibility of putting collaborators in danger. Perhaps this speaks to the task and burden of public art today. When the state wields monumentality and spectacle, how might public art enliven our senses through intimacy and tactility — considering, of course, the hopes and risks that proximity brings? These pandemic years have trained our bodies to seek safety. Perhaps slowly, with much more care than before, art in public spaces can re-train us to make contact, rupture our spaces, and re-orient our bodies to the promise and precarity of encounters.
Toym Imao, Dayang Yraola, Rita Gudiño, Mitch Shivers, Cocoy Lumbao, ‘Atang’ (detail), 2022, ceramic instruments, bamboo, steel scaffoldings, wood, paint, fabric, electric motors, microphones, roof panels, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of UP Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (UPD-OICA). Photo by Nel Crisostomo.
Experimental digital renders. Images courtesy of the artist.
I have been experimenting with some simple digital renders as an investigation of “haunted” digital spaces. I am fascinated by the unnerving and uncanny feelings of the more recent trend of liminal spaces like the backrooms creepypasta, which reminded me of my long-time love of the horror game series ‘Silent Hill’,particularly ‘P.T.’ and ‘The Room’. I wanted to create some of my own spaces and play with digital media more, to see what kind of spaces and sculptures I would create as a result. Liminal spaces are fascinating because they are so relatable to my generation, and they are a by-product of our brand of existentialism blended with nostalgia. Bigger than that, their poetics also lie in the representation of a long unknown journey, but there is a start and an end, so let’s see where that takes me.
LAI YU TONG
Lai Yu Tong, ‘Newspaper Painting No. 111’, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.
Almost a year ago now, I lost a bit of my right thumb after a bad accident at work. Strangely enough, the subject of the hand had started appearing in my works shortly before the accident. Prior to that, I had been making works that feature things (images, vessels, boxes and cars) constantly being arranged and rearranged. The hand eventually makes its introduction, almost claiming responsibility over these gestures and reminding us that the human hand is often behind all acts of good or evil, creation or destruction. What I learnt from the accident was also that the hand is our most important tool. I was very affected by the accident for only a short while until I began drawing with my left hand. When I discovered that I could do this, I had a kind of enlightenment or rebirth and had one of my most productive spells of art-making. I made many drawings as my hand began to recover. This piece was made shortly before the accident. It is one of my ‘Newspaper Paintings’ that I showed recently in a group show titled ‘Three Sketches for a Lost Year’ curated by Berny Tan.
Timely dialogues on topics of interests in the art community
Talking Heads Ian Tee and Nadya Wang
Nadya Wang and Ian Tee chat about their recently launched podcast series ‘From A to Zig-Zag’ and ‘Ian’s Research Club’ respectively.
Ian: I have been thinking more about how my artistic practice intersects with what I do with A&M. Personally, I enjoy podcasts and it is a significant part of my daily commute and time in the studio. ‘Ian’s Research Club’ (IRC) is an extension of the long-form interviews I have been conducting and I see it as an opportunity to explore my interests outside of the realm of visual art. This personal angle has also informed the name of the podcast. You have been recording ‘In the Vitrine’ with Dani since July 2019! What made you decide to go solo and start ‘From A to Zig-Zag’?
Nadya: Yes ‘In the Vitrine’ is a vodcast about the business, culture and pleasures of fashion in Singapore, Asia and beyond. We are at nearly 80 episodes now! It is a way for my friend and colleague, Daniela Monasterios-Tan, and I to document the conversations we would have had anyway about fashion in its many forms, and we started it with our students in the School of Fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts in mind. ‘From A to Zig-Zag’ is a personal project that differs from ‘In the Vitrine’ in significant ways. It is a podcast featuring creative practices in Southeast Asia, where I chat with guests about the pathways of their illustrious careers, and the decisions and happenstance that have shaped them. It allows me to speak with a new individual in each episode about their work, and can span the fields of art and fashion but also beyond into music, film and more. Like you, I listen to podcasts, usually during my morning exercise, and I gravitate towards career podcasts, mostly situated in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, so I thought to create one based in Southeast Asia to extend the work that I do with both Art & Market and Fashion & Market. One of the things I do not quite enjoy about the podcasts I listen to is the seemingly random selection of guests from episode to episode, and I decided to organise mine around seasons so, for example, the first season of ‘From A to Zig-Zag’ is on fairs and festivals! How do you structure IRC? Ian: Unlike ‘From A to Zig-Zag’ which has a theme for each season, IRC is more fluid. Guests on the show tend to be people I have a personal connection with. They are either they are friends from the art world or individuals whose works I admire. For example, I have known Ruben Pang, Jason Wee and Roger Nelson for some time now and the podcast is an opportunity for listeners to be a fly on the wall in our conversations. In contrast, Kash and Taufyk from the Singaporean design collective Youths In Balaclava are new friends I got to know personally through our collaboration for the exhibition ‘We’re Young Once’. This is a “club” I hope to grow.
The first episode of 'From A to Zig-Zag' with Renée Ting.
The first episode of 'Ian's Research Club' with Jason Wee.
Nadya: I think that is a common premise for our podcasts. It allows us to speak with people whose works or careers we admire. It is fascinating to hear what they have to say about the decisions they have made, how far they have come, and what more they would like to do. Ian: I am curious. What was one unexpected moment from the podcast? For me, it was in episode four when Joyce Toh flipped the script and started asking me questions about my work in S.E.A. Focus Curated 2022. It was a refreshing experience and perhaps I should do that more often!
Nadya: I have only recorded three episodes so far, but already I can see how asking specific questions within the format of a podcast has unearthed information I would otherwise not have known, and allowed me to see threads that were not visible before. For example, I learnt about Renée’s bootstrapping journey to make Singapore Art Book Fair happen, and found out from Trickie that she is not only active in the Philippine art scene with Art Fair Philippines, but its fashion one as well as a mentor for PHx Fashion to take emerging local designers global. And with Tom, it was an aha moment when I realised that his experience with events in the automotive industry has not been removed from his current role as Fair Director of Art Jakarta, but has in fact served him well. Who will you be speaking to next, Ian? Ian: The next guest on IRC is our colleague Woong Soak Teng, and we will discuss her latest project ‘rules for photographing a scoliotic patient’. It is a moving body of work that affirms the experiences of patients living with the condition, which includes the artist herself. In the episode, Soak unpacks her research process in the medical archives and how she navigated the sensitivities of telling the stories of other patients. What about you? Nadya: I am due to speak to Natalie Hennedige, who is Director of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA). I am excited to hear what she has to say about her career and working with such a big and diverse group of talent for SIFA. Ian: We should check in again next year and see where our podcasts lead us. Watch this space!
Listen to 'From A to Zig-Zag'.
Listen to 'Ian's Research Club'.
The Photographer’s Green Book: Across the S.E.A. Woong Soak Teng
Poster for ‘Across The S.E.A.’. Image courtesy of Lee Chang Ming.
In this part of the world, the first time I learnt about the 'Negro Motorist Green Book' was through a film titled ‘Green Book’ released in 2018. The movie sparked a fair share of controversy in how the significance of the book, from which the film adopted its name, was reduced to a prop. It was an essential guide that offered a list of hotels, restaurants and other safe spaces for African-American travellers on their journeys through the racially segregated landscape of America. Today, with the Internet and ease of remote communication and collaboration, a different type of ‘Green Book’ has emerged for another community around the world – 'The Photographer’s Green Book' (PGB) for Southeast Asia.
Portrait of Lee Chang Ming. Image courtesy of Lee Chang Ming.
The Photographer's Green Book Vol. 1, first printing. Image courtesy of The Photographer's Green Book.
A spread from The Photographer's Green Book Vol. 1, first printing. Image courtesy of The Photographer's Green Book.
Singapore artist, photographer and writer Lee Chang Ming was selected as the first resident in PGB’s Traveler’s Residency in February 2022. The outcome of the month-long engagement is a non-exhaustive list of over a hundred photography-related initiatives in Southeast Asia, and further extends to South and East Asia through an open call. In the following conversation, Chang Ming shares his experience of putting together ‘Across The S.E.A.’, what he hopes for the directory to do and his thoughts on accessibility, visibility and collectivity in the photographic community.
What is PGB about? What is its objective and how is it organised? It is a resource hub that focuses on inclusion, diversity, equity, and advocacy within the photographic community. Its target audience is the People of the Global Majority and the LGBTQI+ community. It aims to challenge us to move away from Eurocentric ideology to conceptualise and validate photographic production. PGB was founded by Jay Simple and the team consists of artists, photographers, and educators based in the United States of America. What did you explore during the residency and what are the outcomes of it? My proposed research project was to consolidate and make accessible a resource list of photographic organisations and initiatives in Southeast Asia. One of the reasons I proposed this project was that there did not seem to be any such list available. Another reason was that the PGB had several organisations in their directory which looked at Asia but were mostly not based in Asia. Since their open call addressed People of the Global Majority, I saw this as a gap to highlight Asian voices from Asia. Given that the residency was only for a month, I decided to limit the scope of the project and focus on Southeast Asia, primarily because I am from Singapore, which is geographically situated in the region.
Instagram posts on Lee Chang Ming’s instagram (@eelchangming) for an open call for organisations and initiatives in Southeast Asia. Images courtesy of Lee Chang Ming.
I took two approaches to make this directory. One was by doing my own research and the other was to do an open call. During the open call, I received submissions from South and East Asia, and decided it was worth including them. The final outcome is a directory consisting of over 100 organisations and initiatives. Could you spotlight three organisations and/or initiatives in your list and share more about how they are important to the community? Arkademy is a photography collective based in Indonesia and they do interesting educational programmes that take a critical look at the relationship between photography and society. Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops is an important photography event that has supported the photographic community in Asia since 2005, and before the pandemic, they provided free workshops by established photographers. Luzviminda is a photo archive that promotes Philippine photography and does the less seen work of preserving photographs that may be of social and/or artistic value. What impact do you wish your work with PGB can have for the photography community and beyond? Right before writing my project proposal, there were several incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes in America and Europe. I think it was a prompt for me to think about what could be done to amplify Asian voices as photography can be a great tool for creating awareness and visibility. At the same time, I am not naive to think that photographs alone can cause social change, but sometimes we have to start somewhere and do what we can, even if it is simply to say, "Hey, look at this." Although the directory is a non-exhaustive list, my hope is that this publicly accessible online directory can act as a starting point to discover other resources, photographers, and diverse perspectives from the region. Anyone interested in the conversation of photography happening in this part of the world – whether they are artists, curators, researchers, photo editors, educators, students, etc. – can hopefully use this list to find out more. I know that the language barrier is an issue for who can access it or what I could find, but I guess Google translate will have to do for now. If I were to have the time and resources, I would like to keep the list updated as there are definitely many more initiatives that could be included.
How has working with TPGB influenced your own practice? I do not think it directly impacted my own practice as an artist, but I was surprised and inspired by the wide range of organisations and initiatives which I had not heard about before! It is encouraging to know that the photographic community in Southeast Asia – and the wider region – is so diverse. The diversity in the directory spans from archives, educational platforms and collectives to galleries, publishers and festivals. Do you see any gaps that could still be filled? Although there is a wide range of organisations and initiatives across the region, it seems that most of the efforts are done in isolation or within their own locales, as opposed to engaging with the rest of the region, and they may not even be aware of each other's existence, which is partly why I wanted to make this directory. On a related note, I have been helping out with a platform called Writing Foto, which aims to gather writings on photography loosely directed at the imaginaries of South/east Asia. I see this as one effort to bring together voices in the region. I also had trouble finding out much when it came to countries such as Laos, Brunei, and Timor-Leste. In terms of gaps in types of organisations, I do not think I am in a position to answer that, although it does seem that new ones are being created all the time which is encouraging and inspiring.
The full list of photographic organisations and initiatives from ‘Across The S.E.A.’ by Chang Ming can be viewed at www.photogreenbook.com/across-the-sea.
Art Therapy as Ethical Business of Change: Conversation with Emylia Safian Vivyan Yeo
Art therapy as a profession began in the 1900s in Europe and the United States. Hospitals and individuals tapped on art therapy for psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and cognitive impairment. While the practice gained recognition as a valid form of treatment, professional organisations began to form. They include the American Art Therapy Association, founded in 1969, and the Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association (ANZACATA), which opened its membership to Singapore graduates in 2009 and supports training programmes across Asia. Both associations promote art therapy as a regulated mental health profession. To learn more about the discipline in Singapore, I speak with Emylia Safian, Lecturer, MA Art Therapy, LASALLE College of the Arts. We chat about resonances and differences between art therapy and fine art, making the practice relevant in the era of climate change, challenges and insights from being in the field, and more.
You graduated with a BA in Psychology and Humanities from Monash University and an MA in Art Therapy from LASALLE, where you currently teach. How would you describe your journey with art therapy from your schooling days till now? It has been 15 years since I graduated from LASALLE. I was part of the first cohort way back in 2007, two years after the school had the vision to establish the programme. Back then, art therapy as a professional discipline was relatively unheard of. I only knew about it through a short training programme conducted by a community service agency in Singapore facilitated by a psychologist. Through that, I initially understood art therapy to be diagnostic and predominantly used as an assessment tool. But my big question was centred around its healing aspects. When talking about art therapy, I also want to hear about it as an intervention, and how it helps heal through the traumas and the challenges in life. The biggest challenge was to understand what art therapy as a professional discipline is all about at a time when no one else in Singapore fully understood how art heals outside of artistic fields and industries. I think artists inherently know that art can be healing for themselves, but this is less obvious in psychology, counselling, and social work. So that was a challenge. The environment in LASALLE must have been very different from other colleges at the time. Did you create art then? I would not say I had an art practice, but I liked making crafts and three-dimensional objects. Coming into an arts college opened my mind, heart, and eyes to embrace what an art practice is all about. Through the experiential modes of teaching, I could experiment with different artistic mediums. The art therapy field is a marriage between psychology and the arts, so I think it would be different if I were to study art therapy in a social science department.
At LASALLE, art therapy students are required to create reflective visual responses. In 2018, you also worked on 'Traces', an exhibition where art therapy trainees created artwork based on their interactions with children living with adversity. Why is it important for therapists to engage in the personal process of creating art? The root of ‘aesthetics’ is the Greek word aisthetikos, which means sense perception. This perception of the senses is a fundamental aspect of art therapy. For instance, we could be working with individuals who have a limited verbal capacity due to illness, developmental differences or even trauma. The art therapist who is fluent in material language will be most comfortable working beyond words. In a way, we bypass the cognitive and the intellectual to work at the level of the senses. We are talking about working in a very intimate manner, and this intimacy creates trust. Art therapy is not merely about working with the art medium. It is about making art in the presence of the art therapist. Here, the art therapist becomes a witness, a helping hand, or sometimes makes art on behalf of the clients and patients. The healing takes place through the therapist’s gaze, and the relationship can be seen as a healing vessel. And so, yes, it is essential for art therapists ourselves to have a personal relationship with our own art-making. Whether our works are exhibited or not, the artistic process allows us to be in touch and in tune with this notion of sense perception.
Art therapy trainees exploring art mediums and approaches in the classroom. Image courtesy of Emylia Safian.
Art therapy trainee installing artwork for exhibition 'Traces' in 2018. Image courtesy of Emylia Safian.
You mentioned that art therapists would sometimes make artworks on behalf of the client. Could you share more about that? It is a practice that is quite common in palliative care settings. Often, clients may be fully medicated and not have the ability or energy to make something. In these debilitating situations, the therapist makes and engages with the client. It is not just about the individual creating something. We also tap on imagination, which comes before the making. Making art on behalf of the client taps on getting into that imaginative space together. In 2018, you worked with artist Yanyun Chen on a workshop, 'Conversation with your Scar' at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), where participants penned a letter to their bodily scars. What differing roles that you and Yanyun have in that session? The workshop was ideated surrounding Yanyun's exhibition, 'The Scars that Write Us', which was part of the President's Young Talents show and won the People's Choice Award. SAM connected us, and I did not know Yanyun personally before then. Because her works are very personal, we wanted to achieve a certain level of intimacy with the participants. My role then was to maintain a sense of psychological safety. We all project a part of ourselves onto artworks created by others. But when we intentionally invite an audience to tap into the personal realm, we also invite many emotions into the room. There has to be some kind of deliberation and consideration of how we can make it as safe as possible for everyone. The workshop was not intended to be a therapy session. It was an experience to engage with Yanyun's artworks and use them as a source of inspiration for looking into our scars and drawing strength from them. The people in the workshop probably did not know each other, and they must have felt vulnerable to explore very personal experiences in a public area. Therapy sessions mostly happen in a private clinical context. What are your thoughts on an art museum being a therapeutic space?
‘Traces’ was a project funded by The Ireland Funds Singapore in 2018. The inspiration came out of multiple visits to Imaginarium. For those visits, we collaborated with SAM to host children from child protection services residing in various care settings and shelters to the museum during the school holidays not only to view but to also make art. We were acknowledging the museum as a place for critical thinking and looking at how we can use the artworks of others as part of the art therapy process. But going back to what makes a therapeutic space, my thoughts lean towards how it is not just about that physical building, room or even a particular environment. It is about psychological interiority. The external space connects with this inner world in fascinating and often unexpected ways. So what is therapeutic or otherwise is highly subjective. It depends on the individual's lived experience of our time and place. We talk a lot about attachment theory in art therapy, but there is also a sense of place attachment: how one connects with a particular space or how emotional bonds between persons and place are developed. The art therapist can then facilitate this place attachment to a space like a museum, community centre or even a park. The sessions do not necessarily happen behind closed doors because sometimes that could be triggering for clients. You have also been thinking about how the practice of art therapy will evolve in this era of climate change. Could you tell us more about this? It is a question that none of us can avoid anymore. We must think about making art therapy relevant in today’s anthropogenic times. Your question brought me back to something that my previous clinical supervisor used to say, which is that art therapy is the business of change. This is a quote I never fail to share with trainees. It is a very powerful idea because clients come in seeking a change. They are in therapy because maybe they are feeling stuck or distressed. At this particular time, there is just so much ambiguity about the future, and we are only evidencing glimpses of what is to come. This anxiety is pervasive, both consciously and unconsciously. We only start paying attention to it when we sense distress in our bodies or in relationships with others. The term climate anxiety or eco-anxiety has been used a lot recently. But my big question is: how do we directly link these
Visit to exhibition 'Imaginarium 2018: Into the Space of Time' at SAM. Image courtesy of Emylia Safian.
distressing feelings to climate change? It is also collective. Whether we like it or not, I think we are all influenced and impacted by climate change. In a way, I also feel that climate anxiety should not be pathologised. Should we even distinguish it from other forms of anxiety, which may arise from personal situations? These are big questions I do not have answers for yet, but I am at a stage where I am thinking about how anxiety surfaces in different forms. If we adopt a psychodynamic perspective, which privileges the non-conscious and the relational, art therapy can offer a holistic take on all dimensions of the human experience, from the sensory to the emotive to the cognitive. When we make something using materials, the sensation of touch brings up certain emotions. When we start to make meaning of it, our rational and cognitive aspects come into the picture. So, for instance, sometimes a client comes in with psychosomatic symptoms, like unexplained headaches and insomnia. The therapist and the client can together explore that distress using imagination, symbols and play. Experimentation is the language of the psyche. The psyche does not speak in a clear language, so we go back again to the importance of sense perception. As art therapists, we can get the clients to transform overwhelming feelings into more manageable bite-sized pieces.
More and more of my peers also struggle with climate anxiety, where global warming feels almost unsolvable. Art therapists have specialisations in trauma, relationship management and so on. I wonder if eco-anxiety will grow to be an issue of focus in the future? I do not think it is about specialisation because climate change impacts every one of us. Everything is interwoven. But there is a paradox also because the more we use terms like climate anxiety, the more we attempt to split climate anxiety from other forms of stress. The big question is, should we even separate them? It is a collective feeling, right? It just manifests in different ways. That is a great point. The media often portrays climate change as a separate from our own lives. As an educator, how do you bring an ecological awareness to the guidance of your art therapy students? Firstly, it is about looking at the materials we use in relation to sustainability. Art therapists do not exhibit clients' artworks. It is very different from creating for exhibitions in the fine art world. In art therapy, the work is highly confidential. It is for personal meaningmaking and insight. So, if it is not visible to others and only for ourselves, why do we create and use so much material? Once the client has internalised the artwork, the artwork may not bear as much meaning anymore, right? The product itself is what you have taken in. Thinking about this, the materials we use become very important as we contribute to more and more waste. So, we can start exploring ways to create our own tools. There are a lot of new ideas now to use natural-based plant dyes and make your own clay from the soil. Secondly, the idea of bringing ecological consciousness is also about incorporating a collaborative attitude into class. In this time of the Anthropocene, or the age of human influence, we have to start examining our relationships with fellow human beings. Ultimately, we are all interconnected and a part of this social network to elicit change. We can start by thinking about what we can contribute to others. For me, everything is quite related to this notion of ecological consciousness.
Sometimes, it is about the logistics of a practice. In the fine art world, people are talking about how to make and exhibit art in more environmentally friendly ways. COVID-19 has highlighted some details, like the consequences of plane trips, artwork transportation and packaging materials. These are nitty-gritty things that are not exactly attractive or fun to problem solve. But the collaborative energy you speak of is what we need to tackle them. Now people are using fewer paper catalogues and brochures too. Yes, we see many more QR codes now, which are helpful environmentally but not too accessible for the older audience. Many considerations to weigh! Besides ecological concerns, what has been the biggest challenge of being an art therapist and or educator in art therapy? There is a need to balance confidentiality or the introverted traits of art therapy with the exhibitionistic demands of sharing the field with a broader audience. To develop more awareness of the discipline, you need to be louder somehow. I see a big challenge in drawing the right balance. When we exhibit artworks, how do we honour the client? We need to think through what is ethical in each scenario. On the flip side, what has been the most rewarding in this field? I recommend a book to all trainees and supervisees. It is called 'On Learning from the Patient' by Patrick Casement. I would like to think of the journey as learning from the clients and the trainees. They are the biggest gifts, and it is a privilege to work alongside them.
Group training of art therapy trainees in collaboration with School of Dance & Theatre at LASALLE. Image courtesy of Emylia Safian.
Lastly, what are your hopes for art therapy in Singapore? Ronald P. M.H. Lay, the Programme Leader of the MA Art Therapy Programme at LASALLE recently wrote an article on TODAY titled 'The Case for Regulating Art Therapy in Singapore'. The hope for me, as well, is to get the profession legislated and for our art therapists to be formally registered in Singapore. Doing so would protect the vulnerable persons that we work with. I also hope to see Asian practices emerging from this part of the world. Our indigenous cultural wisdom can become the centre of art therapy in the future. Right now, we understand psychology as a discipline mainly coming from the Western world. Tapping on our indigenous cultures might bring up a lot of other new practices that have not been seen before. So yes, it is more about looking within rather than looking out. That is all the questions I have. Thank you so much, Emylia. That was very enlightening for me. The questions helped me reflect deeper and further on the field, so thank you.
Conversation with Lao-Australian Artist Savanhdary Vongpoothorn Ian Tee
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn. Photo by Brenton McGeachie.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn is a Lao-Australian artist best known for her intricate and highly textured paintings. Born in Champasak, Laos, in 1971, she and her family fled the country and arrived in Australia when Vongpoothorn was eight years old. Her work evinces these cross-cultural influences as she combines an interest in historical art movements with pattern and language elements drawn from cultures throughout the world. In 2019, Vongpoothorn’s first survey exhibition ‘All That Arises’ was staged at the Australian National University’s Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra. Her works are included in important public collections such as the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the National Gallery Singapore, amongst others. In this interview, we talk about a few milestones in her life: her time in art school, motherhood, and the aforementioned retrospective show. Vongpoothorn also reflects her relationship with Buddhist scripture and recent trajectories in her work.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Light Kasina’, 1995, fibre washes and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120cm.
A signature characteristic in your work is its perforated surface: thousands of tiny holes made by burning through canvas or paper. How did you first end up with this technique? Has its significance evolved over time? From 1990 to 1993, I learnt a valuable lesson at art school: anything can be art! My teachers emphasised learning how to look at objects with care, and thus I came to have a deeper appreciation of them. Two years after I had graduated with this sensibility and the encouragement the teachers had given us to “play around”, I set out to create works on canvas and paper for my debut solo exhibition at King St Gallery in Sydney in 1995. Canvas and paper are not just two-dimensional surfaces but threedimensional objects. I remember it clearly: the first time I stared at and felt the beautiful piece of rag paper often used for printmaking. There was an etching needle nearby. I picked up this needle and I began to slowly make small evenly spaced holes down the length of the paper, creating a long vertical line. I repeated this process, line after line, from left to right until I had covered the entire piece of paper with hundreds of holes. My excitement grew during this process. Due to the perforations, the flat surface of the paper metamorphosed to a wave-like object. I did not stop there. With this amazing new surface, I began to paint on the back of the paper. The paint then started to seep through the holes and stained the front. As an emerging artist, this was incredibly exciting. I felt I had discovered something entirely unique!
I did not stop with the rag paper. I dipped the same etching needle in paint and pushed the needle of paint from the back of the canvas through to the front, staining the front of the canvas. Nowadays, I use a soldering iron to burn through the back of the canvases as the perforations made provide much more scope for experimentation. Your paintings synthesise a myriad of cultural references such as textiles from Laos and Southeast Asia, diagrammatic and textual representations of Buddhist concepts, as well as Australian Aboriginal painting. How do you negotiate between the rich, specific symbolism embedded in these forms and the “flattening” effect of abstraction? My abstraction is a cultural practice, and it is not flattening. It is not just embedded in Western Modernism. I particularly find monks chanting incredibly abstract and transcending.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Damming the Naga’, 2016, acrylic on perforated canvas, 180 x 300cm. Image courtesy of Martin Browne Contemporary Sydney. Photo by Brenton McGeachie.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Fire Sutra II’, 2021, bamboo strips, gesso and acrylic on perforated canvas, 230 x 180cm. Image courtesy of Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney. Photo by Brenton McGeachie.
Dwelling on the topic of form and composition, could you talk about the process behind making a painting? In particular, I am curious to know how much of it is pre-planned. While some works have an organic all-over composition, others demand a level of precision due to their symmetry or complex pattern, such as ‘Fire Sutra II’ (2021). There are many levels of engagement when I am painting, and each painting has a particular approach that feels very different from previous paintings. My works are all pre-planned, but only at the starting point. It always ends up different to what I had imagined it would look like. This is when the magic starts to happen, when the work dictates the direction I should take. This approach is sometimes precarious. To use an analogy, it is like climbing the steps of Angkor Wat, where the steps are steep and narrow and it feels like you could slip and fall backward anytime. But sometimes, a painting such as ‘Fire Sutra II’ feels like it is on a smooth trajectory. I work on it until I am left with the feeling that there is nothing more to be done, and the work is declared finished! My next question looks back to your time as a young artist after graduating in the 1990s. How did you navigate aspects of professional practice, such as the art market and commercial galleries? Were there individuals or formative experiences that aided this journey? At art school, I never knew what it meant to be an artist, even less how to be a professional artist. I was fortunate to meet painter Roy Jackson (1944-2013) who became both a friend and mentor. He helped me to navigate between being an artist and showing my work in the context of a commercial gallery. When Robert and Randi Linneger of King Street Gallery in Sydney offered me my first solo show, I had no choice but to put my complete trust in their dealings of my work in the art market. The trust had opened up a positive attitude towards the art market. Although I am no longer with King Street Gallery, the same trust still applies to my current galleries: Niagara Gallery, Melbourne and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney. It is a luxury not to have to worry about the business side of art and only focus on making the art in the studio.
In 2001, you moved to Singapore with your partner Ashley Carruthers and lived in the city for two and a half years. What was your sense of the Singapore art scene like then? Do you recall any striking anecdotes? We moved to Singapore for that period of time because Ashley had a postdoctoral position at National University of Singapore (NUS). I think the Singapore art scene has come a long way since we lived there. In the early 2000s, the only exciting art happening for me was at the Substation, then helmed by Lee Weng Choy and Lucy Davis. Davis was also the Editor of Focas: Forum, a journal on contemporary art and society. The Substation was a space that bordered on being dissident where artists could be free to experiment and showcase their work. I remember one of the expatriate performance artists was expelled from the culturally restricted city-state because he was openly gay.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Broken Sutra (Naga Paths)’ (detail), 2019.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Rama was a Migrant (II)’, 2016, pigment and ink on woven mulberry paper, 78 x 240cm.
The notion of a broken sutra is pivotal in guiding your work. Could you elaborate on this idea? How does it inform your research and experimentation? In 2013, I started using text written in Lao-Pali from the Fire Sutra. The notion of a broken sutra came about when I began thinking about the Buddha’s words during major events that happened to me and my family in 2019. The eyes are burning, forms are burning… The ears are burning, sounds are burning… The nose is burning, odours are burning… The tongue is burning, flavours are burning… The body is burning, tangibles are burning… The mind is burning, ideas are burning… We were caught in the frightening bushfires along the south coast of New South Wales (NSW). Soon after we recovered from this, my father passed away in January 2020. After that, Covid and lockdowns arrived. In processing these traumas and reflecting upon them today, we cannot read the Buddhist teaching of the Fire Sutra without it bringing to mind the apocalyptic, fiery reckoning that Gaia seems bent on visiting us around the world, not least in Australia. My iteration of the Fire Sutra is not intact but “broken". This is perhaps hinting at the jumbled, fragmented and partial nature of the access we have to the Buddha’s words, or the fraught task of reassembling them in the strange time and place we find ourselves in. With these thoughts, I began experimenting with calligraphic writing of the Fire Sutra in Lao-Pali onto rice paper scrolls, before cutting them into strips and then weaving the strips together to form a “placemat”. The woven and broken script became the pattern for which I made stencils. These stencils formed the bases for my paintings.
How has motherhood affected you, as an individual and as an artist? As a first-time breast-feeding mum, the experience was all-consuming for at least the first two years for each baby. I love my babies and motherhood fundamentally changed me, both as an individual and as an artist. It is one of those moments where life can never go back to what it once was, nor do I want it to go back to what it once was. It has not been easy for the past fourteen years, but one thing is certain: I can now manage my time a lot more efficiently, even when there is never enough time in the day to do my work. These days, my life is spent juggling time between family and time in the studio. Those rare times when I can travel with friends and catch up on art exhibitions are thoroughly enjoyable. It is even more amazing when we can travel as a family for my studio residencies. In 2019, you had your first survey exhibition ‘All that Arises’. How did it feel to see 25 years’ worth of artistic practice laid out? What were your personal reflections from the experience of preparing the show and its accompanying monograph? Most of the works chosen for my survey exhibition were pieces I had not seen in nearly 20 years. Once they were finished, they were exhibited, then sold, and I never saw them again. When the truck pulled into the gallery and unloaded the crate, they brought out a painting that was done in 1996. I have done hundreds of paintings since then and seeing a remnant of the early days was both confronting and quite amazing. It is a long journey which I am still on. I do not think I could ever retire from my art; I get the feeling I will be painting till I am 90! There was also a floaty sense of peace and calm, having it all laid out before me. Never once did I think I should hold onto any of my works, and I am happy for them to be out there. In a way it relates to motherhood, these material things I have created that I let go to live a life of their own. It was difficult to choose the pieces I wanted to exhibit while also reflecting the curator’s concept for the show. We got there in the end though.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Legs on Seeds’ (detail), 1992-2021, modified from original work.
Savanhdary Vongpoothorn, ‘Legs on Seeds’, 1992-2021, (detail, glow in the dark).
Recently, you recreated ‘Legs on Seeds’ (1992/2020) a floor-based installation from your student days for the exhibition ‘Space YZ’ (2021) curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham, at Campbelltown Arts Centre, New South Wales, Australia. For the new iteration, you have also modified it by spraying the “legs” a bright fluorescent orange and giving each “buggie” a glowing line. I am curious why you accepted the challenge of recreating the piece despite “dreading it”? How did these modifications speak to a new context or trajectory in your practice? When I accepted the challenge to recreate an ephemeral and impermanent installation which was first made for my graduation exhibition in 1992, it was a tribute to my teachers and to show the valuable lessons they had taught me. I went to art school without any preconceived ideas of what art was. I was lucky to be learning not just about art, but also of the world around me.
I remember one of the electives was called Investigative Studies, and the aim was for students to be project-driven. We could decide on our own materials and creative process, drawing from any discipline outside art: from science, literature, philosophy, history and culture. We were given so much freedom to think and feel. Till today, I believe that being supported in this way is the reason why I was able to create the work ‘Legs on Seeds’. The time spent at art school formed the foundation for how I approach my art practice. I was dreading recreating this work because on top of everything else that I had to do, I needed to make at least 1000 Buggies. It meant that I would have to glue thousands of “wiry styles” that protrude from the banksia flower into the cavities of the casuarina pods. This led to a kind of metamorphosis, where the seed pods became bodies and the styles became legs. It did not make much sense to me to recreate something made 28 years ago, so I modified the work. In retrospect, it was such an interesting process of modification. It makes me wonder if all my work is in a state of work-in-progress, even if there are elements in the work that are finished… Indeed, this is probably something the art market does not want to hear.
Savanhdary in the studio. Photo by Chaitanya Sambrani.
Are there upcoming projects you are looking forward to? I would love to share my upcoming project. I am planning to make a major kinetic sculptural installation consisting of approximately 400 wall-mounted stainless-steel discs arranged in a grid of approximately 180cm by 500cm. The discs will be patterned with laser cut-out fragments of the Fire Sutra written in Lao-Pali script, a motif from the Theravada Buddhist Canon often used in my previous work. Powered by programmed stepper motors, the 15cm-diameter steel discs will slowly and meditatively rotate in the same direction, perhaps evoking Tibetan prayer wheels. They will also be lit from behind by LED lights installed on acrylic boards that form the backing of each disc. The concept for this project draws inspiration from Latin American Kinetic Art from the 1950s and 1960s, particularly works by female artists Lygia Clark and Martha Boto. I see this as a continuation of my exploration of the “major” tradition of Euro-American modernism from the “minor” perspective of a Lao diasporic artist in Australia. It is also a chance to develop an ongoing “South-South” dialogue around spiritual and artistic traditions that has led me to collaborate with artists, poets and artisans from India, Vietnam and Japan. I am currently commissioned to work on a mural on a three-storey building in Campbelltown central business district, Sydney. I am using the same fragments of the Fire Sutra mentioned above. This will be my first Public Art project. Believe it or not, having a deadline for an exhibition gives me the energy to start work every morning.
Conversation with Inkubator Inisiatif: On Gender, Pedagogy and Artmaking in Yogyakarta Wulan Dirgantoro
Inkubator Inisiatif: Lashita Situmorang and Karina Roosvita.
The city of Yogyakarta's position as one of the hubs of contemporary art in the region is already relatively well-established. One of the factors that shaped the city's dynamic art scene can be traced to a growing number of transdisciplinary art collectives that contributed to the evolving contemporary art discourse. The following article is an interview with Karina Roosvita (Vita) and Lashita Situmorang; both are co-founders of one of the youngest art collectives in Yogyakarta, Inkubator Inisiatif. Inkubator Inisiatif is a research collective co-founded by Vita, Lashita and Venerdi Handoyo. The collective's initial idea was to be a platform to share ideas and knowledge that, in return, nurture contemporary art practices in Indonesia. In their relatively short years, they evolved to become a collective and have begun to establish themselves as one of the progressive spaces to discuss the thorny issues of gender, feminism, and artmaking in Yogyakarta. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Wulan: Lashita and Vita, I've known your individual works as artists and curators since the mid-2000s or so. Both of you are known for your practice as visual artists and social activists. Could you tell us a little bit of your background, what draws you to social activism, and when you started joining forces? Lashita: My practice is connected with social activism. Red District Project (2013 and 2016) was a project that I did with sex workers in the Sosrowijayan district, and then Makcik Project (2013) with transwomen, also in Yogyakarta. I feel that working with communities is much more challenging than working with conventional media in visual arts. Vita: My interest in social activism started when I volunteered with Griya Lentera PKBI, a sexual health clinic. They ran a photography workshop for sex workers and held an exhibition at Benteng Vredeburg. I also worked at Viavia café for three years, running their exhibition programmes focused on working with diverse communities, from former inmates to street thugs. I felt that these kinds of practices could bridge artmaking and social conditions. I felt dissatisfied whenever I looked at artworks at galleries. It felt empty, and I thought, it cannot be right; it felt like art was inside an ivory tower. From then on, I continue to search for similar opportunities. I met Lashita at the second Red District Project in 2016, and we quickly realised that we shared the same concerns. Lashita: Vita and I spent a long time talking about artmaking and social concerns. Many artists do not seem to spend enough time understanding or observing the complex situation; they seem to gather their information only from books. So we started thinking about artmaking processes, specifically research-based art that is connected to their locale. It is certainly not easy. We then decided to create a platform that could encourage and nurture these processes in 2019. Wulan: So you started from a friendship and shared concerns. What makes your collective distinct from other collectives in Yogyakarta? And how do you see your work different from your individual projects? Lashita: Collectivity and community have been our main drivers. In 2019, we started with artist presentations. We wanted to learn more about art collectives and communities in Yogya; the early projects were motivated by our own learning process.
KST 2021 with Alia Swastika, curator and researcher.
Vita: When Ve [Venerdi] offered us to use their space, we realised we could do so much more with our projects. We took up their offer and used the space for knowledge sharing and transmission. We thought about the hundreds who graduated from art school and worked as artists, yet their practices are lost or not documented. We see Inkubator Inisiatif as a platform for producing and transmitting knowledge on contemporary art. Wulan: This brings us to your Kelas Seni Terbuka (KST), or Open School for Arts. Could you tell us a bit more about KST as an alternative school? Vita: Inkubator Inisiatif, through its initiative KST, is conceived to be an open school where we want to give a space for women artists who want to present their works and get some feedback from the art scene. Few women could go to art school. Therefore, we believe that this kind of open class would suit those who could not receive a formal education. The whole course is designed for sharing and learning from each other. Wulan: I am curious to hear about what is then the situation at a formal art school now? Do women get the opportunity to talk about gender issues? Do they feel supported in their practice?
KST 2021 FX Harsono studio visit.
Lashita: The art school at Institut Seni Indonesia (ISI), or The Indonesian Institute of the Arts is still dominated by men; mostly, they learn about artistic techniques. I had to learn about my field outside the school during my study. Because there were so few of us women, we had to learn how to support one another; otherwise, we would be left behind. There are more women now, so they have a better support system than when I was a student in 1999. Vita: I had to learn all the knowledge I gained about gender outside the art school. These days, women are more cognisant of gender issues, from consent to sexual health. These discussions are embodied, fluid and feel very normal; they see no or little social barriers between the genders. At the same time, because they talk pretty openly about these issues, there is also a tendency to treat these issues only at the surface level. For example, male artists can easily produce artwork about abortion, yet they often do not consider the women's perspective. Wulan: Right, so there is still very little discussion about the ethics of representation in art practices. Could I also ask if feminism is still considered a contentious label, both in politics and practice? Vita: Not necessarily. The labelling tends to be more visible in social media; conversations about feminism are already embodied in their practice or discussion in everyday life.
Lashita: I feel that there is still a hesitation in labelling oneself as a feminist, even though they are already practising it. There is a lack of knowledge, perhaps. We could sense the resistance, so we refrain from using the term feminist class for KST— because we want to have an open conversation about these issues. Wulan: If I may bring this discussion to pedagogy, I find your proposal for sharing knowledge very close to the feminist politics of caring. As artists and practitioners, it is quite daring because you are essentially opening yourself to vulnerability through your thinking of "I don't know anything about this, and I want to learn from you", which underpins your projects. Is this something that you consciously seek or practise at Inkubator Inisiatif? Vita: Absolutely. We believe that what we are doing is a part of care to our community. So when we start from the artists' presentations, we always think about giving back and circulating such knowledge… Lashita: So these meetings can be re-read, applied or expanded so that anyone can access them. We believe that the most important thing is how this knowledge is not kept within just one community, but they can evolve and reproduce to be new forms of knowledge. That is our way of caring for art. Vita: If I can add, there are many different forms of knowledge out there. For example, some very talented artists have neither been invited to present their works nor had the opportunity to be published. So we want to invite them as we did in our first year so that the knowledge can spread and not stop at the individual... Lashita: Or at Inkubator Inisiatif! Wulan: That sounds like a perfect way to end this conversation. Thank you so much, Lashita and Vita, for your time. I wish you all the best for the upcoming Kelas Seni Terbuka! The next KST is scheduled for June to July 2022. Follow @inkubatorinisiatif for updates.
Conversation with Nguyen Anh-Tuan on Vietnam Art Archive Dan N. Tran
Publicly launched in April 2022, Vietnam Art Archive is an online archival site for Vietnamese contemporary art. This first-of-its-kind initiative by Heritage Space systematically documents contemporary practices in the geography of Vietnam and in authorship by Vietnamese artists since 1990. In this conversation, we ask Heritage Space’s artistic director Nguyen Anh-Tuan about the internal operations and intricacies of building an archive.
What were the circumstances that prompted you to pursue this project? Before working at Heritage Space, I used to work at Vietnam Institute of Art (Viện Mỹ Thuật). My post there, which lasted for 15 years from 2002, showed me the reality that archival and research work on contemporary art is heavily neglected, as even the national research agency specialising in fine arts could neither develop a comprehensive archival system nor follow some theoretical frameworks undergirding contemporary art.
After leaving the government for Heritage Space, I still harboured thoughts about archiving. Our annual programme, the Month of Art Practice, is a hotbed of ideas, from which valuable forms of knowledge have emerged many times. But without a proper, accessible archive, the fruits of such intellectual labour would disappear or be out of the public’s reach. I also often get asked by international friends, colleagues and students for directions in Vietnamese contemporary art. I would introduce them to many sources, but my sharing is often very time-consuming and might not fully illustrate the big picture. In the domestic context, I believe that students and art lovers should be able to access contemporary art easily just like any other cultural disciplines such as literature and photography. It appears that contemporary art still stands behind a wall that mystifies and obfuscates. Your last point suggests that the website aims to be accessible to the general audience. What are the ways in which the website is designed to achieve this goal? From a macro perspective, the website is akin to a dictionary. When users enter the site, they can navigate within it using the provided alphabetical and topical indexes. In each entry, they can easily look up unfamiliar terms using hyperlinks. These embedded links bring readers to other pages with relevant historical information or explanation of specialised terminologies and topics to help with understanding an artwork. Of course, being dual-language and fully online also contribute to the site’s accessibility as well. Can you tell us what a typical round of data collection and processing looks like? We first make a list of artists based on both our own knowledge in the field and other written sources. We then consult with our advisory board to decide who our site should include, according to our established set of archival criteria. For the chosen artists, we carry out the same process for their artworks. Afterwards, we approach the artist for the necessary data for archiving, which we subsequently process and upload to our site.
This entire procedure repeats every six months. I anticipate that it will take approximately three years for the archive to become something significant and reach a relatively comprehensive coverage of Vietnamese contemporary art — a goal that we set out to attain.
Trần Trọng Vũ, ‘The 18 Proposals of the Impossible’, 2011, mixed media (acrylic, plastic sheet), variable dimensions. Image courtesy of Vietnam Art Archive.
You mentioned that the team works around an established set of archival criteria, which is inherently selective. Yet you aspire towards providing a complete picture of Vietnamese contemporary art. Would that be contradictory? When we first started off, we intended for ViAA to be all-inclusive. But after consulting with experts and partners, we received the feedback that we should have our own set of selection criteria. This would firstly ensure that the archival work is manageable for an independent art organisation with limited human and financial resources. Secondly, the gradation in the quality of artistic practices needs filtering. Even renowned practitioners have artistic gestures that are experimental in nature and do not necessarily constitute a complete work; selection then ensures that the data on the archival site is meaningful for the general audience.
Another way to look at completeness here is to locate it in the rich information provided together with each artwork. The site supplies links to other pages for cross-referencing, as well as images and secondary data that would help readers gain a thorough understanding of artworks and artists. Do you think the selection process might give rise to a biased narrative rather than a truthful reflection of Vietnamese contemporary art? Our small team’s selective approach to archiving does impose certain limitations on the comprehensiveness and objectivity of our site. But even art historians have to rely on their own aesthetic sense to approach and interpret information when constructing a narrative of art history. Ultimately, we do not intend the site to be a single, authoritarian source of truth. I believe that Vietnam should have a few different archives and collections that mutually support one another in constructing systems of knowledge. I do know of some groups that have been independently building up their own archive, such as hay là, which specialises in performance art, or Matca for photography. Such archival pluralism is key to having a more multifaceted and complete understanding of contemporary art.
Lê Vũ, ‘Inheritance’, 2004, durational performance. Image courtesy of Vietnam Art Archive.
Recently I came across a piece of writing by Nora Taylor that talks about historiography of artworks born outside official art institutions. These works are often poorly documented and their existence rests on precarious grounds such as oral history. Here, I suppose that the role of an archive would be critical; it could provide a firm foundation for the public existence of lesser-known artworks to lay on. Is this something that your team considers when building Vietnam Art Archive? At first, our team planned to target works that have been introduced to the public via conventional channels such as exhibitions and public events. But we soon realised that a lot of artworks were made underground and still contribute to the development of the art scene. We have a strong desire to showcase these works that are known by very few people, and our archival criteria give us a way to achieve that. As long as the work fulfils the criteria upon discussion with experts, it can then be archived and introduced to the public. An example of such efforts by our team is the entry on performance art piece ‘Inheritance’ by Lê Vũ. The work first appeared in the private space of Nhà Sàn Collective, and later on as part of the Sagon Open City project. In 2004, the project reached an unsuccessful end, and the public completely have no knowledge of it. A reality about independent organisations is that many have to close their doors after running for some time. An archive creates a possibility of extending their existence beyond their physical life, as seen in the case of Salon Natasha on Asia Art Archive. But this in turn hinges upon the very existence of the archive. What are some directions that you have for Vietnam Art Archive to ensure that it will continue to exist to serve its archival functions? Vietnam Art Archive is a long-term project, and our direction for it is towards becoming a public archive. This means that it is not Heritage Space’s own property. We are simply the organisation that initiated the project and is currently running it. Maybe five years from now a more capable team would step up and want to take over; we would gladly transfer the resources over for them to continue the operation. The archive could also receive support from the community in the form of crowdfunding to pay for the domain name and server fees. That is our ultimate goal.
Projections into the future of art ecosystems
Weaving Our Planetary Futures through Art Catherine Sarah Young
As an artist, it is impossible to decouple my practice from the planetary crisis of climate change and its entanglements. My experiences living around the world thanks to residencies and fellowships have allowed not just a knowledge exchange with local communities but also a personal immersion into the diversity of climate impacts. I firmly believe that the years ahead of us are years of repair for the catastrophes that we have wrought, from fossil fuel emissions that lead to the climate emergency, to habitat destruction that leads to disease, to rising inequality worldwide that leads to social unrest. I believe that the arts — and all other fields — have a critical role to play in planetary repair. We need all hands on deck to save us from ourselves. As an artist, I like working with what I can gather. This could mean the physical material I acquire, such as bushfire ash in Australia or raw sewage in the Philippines, or stories I collect, such as the memories of scents of the Amazon or thoughts of climate change deniers directed at me. From these concrete and abstract materials, I work out why these are important and how we might care about them even though we tend to overlook these materials in the busyness of our lives. The general sense of overwhelm that we feel living in the tumultuous times of 2022 can make the world seem like a tangled ball of yarn, and as an artist I like to help to detangle this by taking a thread and pulling it out of the snarl so that we can see a story coming out of it.
Catherine Sarah Young, ‘The Sewer Soaperie’, 2016, palm oil, raw sewage, sodium hydroxide, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Studio Catherine Sarah Young.
Catherine Sarah Young, ‘The Sewer Soaperie’, 2016, palm oil, raw sewage, sodium hydroxide, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of 1335MABINI.
Catherine Sarah Young, ‘The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store’, 2014, custom scents and glass bottles, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Studio Catherine Sarah Young.
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I like the idea of "the double-take"— how can I get people to pay attention to these issues that they might be numb to because we see them everyday? For example, in making soap out of sewage in ‘The Sewer Soaperie’, we initially just see soaps. But upon closer inspection, people realise that they are made from sewage. This distresses some people, and then we have the emotional hook. Or for ‘The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store’, one might just smell perfumes, but when they know that these scents will be lost because of the climate crisis, then they find another, more meaningful layer for the work. Maybe the person goes out into the world and starts connecting other scents with his memories that he may lose. This layering of meaning as well as potential for behavioural change is where the power of art is. It is our common humanity that I am hoping to reach, and so I strive to create inclusive spaces through which we can engage with these topics that are often difficult to grasp and may be even more challenging to discuss with our communities. The materials I work with are outputs of the systems I aim to critique. They are of the planet that we live in and serve as parts of the planetary system. For example, bushfire ash is a recurring resource I have because of the climate emergency. They are imperfectly combusted portions of the critical zone on Earth. In ‘The Weighing of the Heart’, I cast these ashes into human heart sculptures to make a permanent visual register of the catastrophe, which is often forgotten soon after it takes place. In ‘Arctic Ice Chess’, I used ice to create the chess pieces and use the melting of these pieces to drive the story. Here, the ice melts to reveal toy soldiers painted with the flags of the countries that have a political stake in the Arctic and its petroleum deposits, as well as countries that are experiencing a rise in sea levels. This illustrates the players and the critical role of human behaviour in the system, which is embodied in the act of playing the chess game, the melting that occurs due to body heat, and heat from the players' discussion on Arctic issues. The artworks tend to be dynamic and participatory. Through a game or workshop, the viewers talk about the issues that my artworks are about.
Catherine Sarah Young, ‘The Weighing of the Heart’, 2021, ashes from the Australian bushfires, approximately 11 x 8 x 9cm (each). Images courtesy of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines Visual Arts and Museum Division.
Catherine Sarah Young, ‘Artic Ice Chess’, 2021, mixed media, 76.2 x 76.2cm. Image courtesy of Malou Solfjeld and SixtyEight Art Institute Copenhagen.
Catherine Sarah Young, ‘Artic Ice Chess’, 2021, mixed media, 76.2 x 76.2cm. Image courtesy of Studio Catherine Sarah Young.
The threats that we sense, from climate catastrophe to pandemic to war, may make us more insular and frightened of “the other”. I think that letting these threats further divide us is the greater danger. The arts have an advantage of creating inclusive spaces that make us engage with people from different backgrounds. I chose to be an artist because I can mingle with anyone, of all types of privilege, race, culture, etc. This has given me an enriched life where I feel empowered to be part of the solutions to global crises and to hopefully inspire people to do the same. It is incredible what we can do if we choose to repair our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with the planet. Even in the art world, we have adapted in various ways to keep making art and to sustain our communities. We need everyone to help unravel the tangled ball of yarn, and with the strings that we pull out, to weave together a collective tapestry of our futures.
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Art-Toking with Megan Foo (aka @maegzter) Ian Tee
Megan Foo, better known as @maegzter, is a Singaporean art and lifestyle content creator. She has gained a strong following on TikTok for her snappy videos that deftly intersect art-related trivia and popular culture. We speak to Megan to find out more about this niche she has carved in the social media space.
Do you have a TikTok video or series you are most proud of? It will have to be the series on artworks in pop culture and the one where I demystify a particular artwork. To give an example, one of them looked at Diego Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ (1656) and began with: “So you know the Mona Lisa, but what about this painting?” I think these are fun because it helps to break down an artwork and make it a little more relatable and accessible to my audience. Hopefully, it helps them realise that art is all around us and anyone can appreciate it. The meaning behind some of these artworks are not as deep as we make them out to be. You have a degree in marketing from Singapore Management University, and I am curious if it came in useful in your TikTok journey? If not, were there other skills you acquired from your formal education that came in handy? This is such an interesting question… maybe, to some degree. Marketing, at its heart, is about promoting a product, value, or service to a customer based on relevant market research on that customer base. More often than not, the most efficient way to do this is to highlight its value. Content creation on TikTok is very similar. It is all about asking what the value of your content is to your audience and what would pique their interest to watch more instead of scrolling past it.
Demystifying an Artwork: On Diego Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’, Part 1.
On Amanda Heng’s ‘Let’s Walk’.
My next question deals with the day-to-day work of producing content. Do you work around a schedule with posts lined up in advance? What is your process like? I try to batch create and caption content by week and in advance. I first save trending audio tracks for a particular week. I also block out a day to film and caption all the pieces of content. They are then posted throughout the week and the process repeats. Is there a difference between audience engagement on Instagram versus TikTok? This is slight, and probably due to the different nature of each platform. As TikTok comments have a character limit, I think people are less likely to leave long-form comments. I tend to see more long-form comments and discussion on my Instagram Reels videos.
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Art inspiration by James Turrell in Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ music video.
Artwork in K-Drama ‘Vincenzo’.
From your observation, what has worked well in getting people interested in art? Digestible content. I think many people perceive high barriers to entry when it comes to understanding or appreciating art. However, speaking about it in layperson terms, such as through a TikTok trend, an attentiongrabbing one-liner, or a thought-provoking question can help make artworks and art history more accessible. Recently, you were involved in ‘Artsplaining’ at the National Gallery Singapore. How was the experience? Was it the first time you presented at such an event? The experience was fun and gave me a feel of maybe what a docent would do at an art museum. Becoming a docent was the main reason why I started my TikTok account, and is still something I would like to do one day! It was the first time that I had the opportunity to present at such a setting, and I look forward to similar opportunities in the future.
How do you approach developing a personal brand? I think social media, in general, favours having a niche. Maybe because it helps the algorithm identify and tag the content that you are putting out, and then serve it to the right audiences. With Instagram, it should be aligned with your personal brand. That said, I am not the best example as I still post snippets of my everyday life in my Instagram Stories. Are there projects or collaborations you wish to explore in the near future? I have collaborations with other content creators in the works, not forgetting my regular art content, so stay tuned!
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Chats with Curators
How have curators pivoted the way they worked in the past year to continue working with artists and their communities? We check in with four curators: Alia Swastika in Indonesia, Chum Chanveasna in Cambodia, Đỗ Tường Linh in Vietnam and Rebecca Yeoh in Malaysia. They talk about how they have intentionally developed their curatorial practice in the past year, including setbacks and highlight projects, what has stood out to them in their local art scene, and their recommendations for places to visit.
Alia Swastika Director, Biennale Jogja Foundation Could you talk about your curatorial practice in the past year? For example, how did you intentionally develop it, what were the setbacks (if any) and what were highlight projects for you? Like many other people working in the arts and experiencing pandemic with quite limited sources, I significantly changed my life and slowed down in the last two years. After a decade of high frequency of traveling around the world for exhibitions abroad and conferences, I stay grounded, finally. The first months gave me a sense of peace and calm, since I got what I felt I lost before. But after a year, there was an insecurity, and I started wondering if my life would be the same again. Would I be involved in those large-scale exhibitions abroad again, or would the world leave me behind? And with all the problems revealed during pandemic, how would I contribute more to the world I live in?
Etza Meisyara, ‘Aarth’, project for Bilik Korea Konnect ASEAN, Biennale Jogja XVI Equator #6 2021. Image courtesy of Biennale Jogja Foundation.
While I was working for the Biennale Jogja Equator series #6 2021, where Oceania was our focus area, we also expanded the exhibition to Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. I particularly would like to see how communities have become the frontier of the Covid struggle, and the spirit of collectivity across the region was something that helped us to survive the pandemic. In the exhibition of women artists in ‘Bilik Korea- Konnect ASEAN’, I featured some projects that were dedicated to the women who fight for their land and food resources, for the sustainability of our ecology based on their local knowledge and beliefs, and included for example works by Fitri DK and Etza Meisyara. In individual work, I thus changed the priority of what art should be, even if I would do it slowly. The shifting was intriguing, and uncertain. I started working in our small studio in the village, that was planned as a residency studio before the pandemic, and invited young local artists to live and work there, engaging with the villagers. I wanted to document the situation: the people, the plants, their history and such. Bringing the youngsters to talk to old farmers, following their rituals and juxtaposing to their urban body and habits, touching moments were created. In the end, we put up a small exhibition, but we invited only the neighbours and artists friends, so we had such intimate connections.
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For many of the villagers, it was their first time entering an art space, and encounter a so-called “exhibition”.There were no wall texts and no captions; all were explained by people talking each other. And I want to do this again and again in the near future, because you can feel how the arts can connect people. While undergoing the residency, I hope the artists we are inviting would learn more from the villagers and develop an engagement with their social surroundings.
‘Exhibition at Home’ attended by villagers around Lohjinawi. Image courtesy of Lohjinawi. Photo by Rizkya Duavania.
Alia Swastika with the artists after the presentation for the project at Lohjinawi. Image courtesy of Lohjinawi. Photo by Rizkya Duavania.
The second project I realised and enjoyed so much was the small exhibition in Lasem, an old port city on the north coast of Java, working with the heritage foundation members there. The city itself has a long complex history, which is significant to mark the seeds of tolerance and diversity of Indonesian people since they have strong connections with Javanese, Chinese and European cultures particularly manifested in their architecture heritage, foods and many others. To emphasise the important role of the women in the early days of Peranakan culture, this exhibition focused on the theme of Nyah Lasem, which is the nickname of an old lady who was a part of a Chinese family with a local business and wide range of social roles. I invited some artists from Yogyakarta and Jakarta, and put them together with artists from Lasem. The exhibition was held in an old original house of Lasem that functions as Nyah Lasem Museum owned by a local philatelist and also in another old beautiful house — where we used only terrace part — that was owned by the richest person living there in the early 20th century. I was glad to be able to learn the history of this very interesting city, to meet young artists there and to show some works of Indonesian renowned artists in a smaller city. I think in the future this would be my direction too; creating small-scale exhibition in small cities in Indonesia, and to connect people so they can produce and share knowledge, rethink and rewrite their own history. Could you speak about a show/project (feel free to share more than one) in your local art scene that you particularly enjoyed in the past year (that is not your own)? What was compelling about it/them? While gaining a deeper understanding of local contexts, some projects are giving me the chance to expand my horizon of artistic experiments and mediums, and re-look at local mythologies and histories in different ways. One of the projects that haunts my mind is the exhibition by Nadiah Bamadhaj held in Kiniko Art Space in collaboration with A+ Works of Art in Kuala Lumpur. This exhibition was titled ‘The Subversive Feminist’. Even the title is already quite contradictory, and it is about the things that would subvert the mind of the audience, where she connects her personal experience as a modern woman living in Java to what it has taught her about a different approach towards feminism, which is based on local narratives and mythologies.
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Nadiah works carefully and beautifully with paper collage, creating black and white two-dimensional installations that strongly catch our eyes to their twisted iconic symbols, such as the keris, batik, the comb, and other forms that comes from everyday objects in Java. After the exhibition, I saw again one project she presented in ARTJOG 2021 called ‘The Reckoning’, which also came from her investigation of aging and women’s role and position in society. It is based on calon arang, the myth of an old lady who is powerful in her medicine knowledge, but who is alienated and later called a witch. She is a symbol of how the society has demonised the power of women with knowledge.
Nadiah Bamadhaj’s project for ARTJOG 2021 titled ‘The Reckoning'. Image courtesy of A+ Works of Art and the artist.
If someone were to visit your local art scene before the end of 2022, where would you recommend they go to experience the best of what it offers? You could respond to this in broad strokes i.e. an enclave, a space, or particular exhibitions and events. In the immediate future I see how the art world could be working more on local contexts, and I think Yogyakarta is a perfect place to see the blend of modern conception of art and traditional ones, which have contributed almost equally to the development of contemporary art today. Artists also engage in various way with their surroundings, creating interesting connections between art and community. When you come to Jogja, please visit the spaces initiated by artists, reflecting the discourses and practices across mediums and generations, where you can find intimate and non-intimidating way of connecting with artists. You can also find here events such ARTJOG that display in quite spectacular way works from established and younger artists, becoming the not-to-be-missed among the trendy audience, or pay a visit when they organise the Biennale Jogja equator series where you find how artists commit to deep research and experimentation, and yet manage to transform them into powerful works of art. I think Jogja is truly a place where you see art is not a bubble of our own community, but is something you find in every place and everyone.
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Chum Chanveasna Arts Administrator & Curator Could you talk about your curatorial practice in the past year? For example, how did you intentionally develop it, what were the setbacks (if any) and what were highlight projects for you? I have been working in the arts since 2006, first as Company Manager for Cambodia’s leading independent dance company, Khmer Arts Ensemble, and from 2013 to 2016 I shifted from performing arts to visual arts, working with Cambodia’s leading contemporary art gallery and reading room, SA SA BASSAC as Gallery Manager and Curatorial Assistant. During that time, I was curious to work with different artists and curators, to learn their art practices, to provide support to artists and curators for solo and group exhibitions, commission the production of artworks, and organise symposia and other public events. I have enjoyed developing portfolios for the artists and I have actively engaged with artists, arts administrators and cultural leaders through my involvement in numerous performances, exhibitions and workshops. From 2015 to 2019, I participated in numerous national and international programmes for professional development including ‘Dislocations: Remapping Art Histories’, Tate Modern, London, 2015; CuratorsLAB with Goethe-Institut, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2015-2017, and ‘FIELDS: on attachment + unknow’, SA SA BASSAC, Phnom Penh, 2017. I was assistant to artist, Khvay Samnang for the ‘Preah Kunlong’ work in documenta 14, 2017; a curatorial-in-residency at Tokyo Wonder Site Residency, Tokyo, 2017; a researcher for IMPACT project (Peascebuilding and the Arts), Brandies University, Boston, USA; and a curatorial and artist assistant for ‘Capsule 10: Khvay Samnang’ at Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, 2018; and I was in Delfina Foundation’s cultural exchange programme in London, 2019. From 2016 until now, I am Project Manager to artist Khvay Samnang who is one of Cambodia’s leading contemporary visual artists. From 2017 until the present, I am also Manager of Sa Sa Art Projects, a non-profit artistrun space dedicated for experimental art practices. Working in the arts has renewed my passion for arts administration and curating, and I enjoy my work to support Cambodian art and culture.
'Elements' by Mech Choulay and Mech Sereyrath, 2020, installation view at Sa Sa Art Projects. Photo by Prum Ero.
'Anonymous Heirloom' by Koeurm Kolab, 2020, installation view at Sa Sa Art Projects. Photo by Prum Ero.
Could you speak about a show/project (feel free to share more than one) in your local art scene that you particularly enjoyed in the past year (that is not your own)? What was compelling about it/them? In 2019, I curated a project called ‘Generation in Transition: Changing Practice Cambodian Contemporary Art’ supported by Mekong Contemporary Art Foundation and One Asia Lawyer. The project presents the portfolios from different generation of artists of Cambodian who live and work in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and presents video documentaries of artists, telling stories about their art practice and works from their studios. I have curated a few exhibitions by female artists at Sa Sa Art Projects during the pandemic including ‘Elements’ which presents a new collaborative work by artist sisters Mech Choulay and Mech Sereyrath. They use performance and personal actions in the form of photographs and videos to shed light on the resilience of nature against destruction caused by humans. ‘Anonymous Heirloom' introduces a new painting series by Koeurm Kolab on today's confronting social and environmental
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Chum Chanveasna with artist Prak Dalin at Sa Sa Art Projects. Photo by Prum Ero.
'Mchas Teuk Mchas Dei' (Master of Lands and Waters) by Khvay Samnang, Lim Sokchanlina and Vuth Lyno, 2022, installation view at Sa Sa Art Projects. Photo by Kong Siden.
realities shaped by plastic use. The artist produced ten paintings depicting alluring and colourful sceneries of a world in which plastic waste from human consumption threatens the well-being and lives of humans, animals, and nature. And ‘Imagine Material’ presents new artwork by Prak Dalin. Dalin’s practice started with her fascination with materials and sculpture making. The artist explores forms, scales and construction materials to create sculptures, installations and digital photography. The artist’s work takes the form of different shapes, focusing on her own learning, developing, imagining, privileging the creative and emotional, rather than analysing or criticising a specific topic. I have known Khvay Samnang, Lim Sokchanlina and Vuth Lyno for a long time and I have followed their work from the beginning. Their artworks are exhibited internationally but not much in Cambodia. I proposed to them to present their first group exhibition at Sa Sa Art Projects this year. The exhibition ‘Mchas Teuk Mchas Dei' (Master of Lands and Waters) introduces their recent works in the form of videos, sculptures, photographs, and light installation, focusing on beliefs in nature and
practices in the supernatural, animism, and the powerful spirits that take care of our homes, lands, people, animals, and living beings. ‘Mchas Teuk Mchas Dei' (Master of Lands and Waters)’ asks who the master and caretaker of the lands and waters is. Are they humans, animals, plants, or spirits? Through the works in various media and forms by the three artists, the exhibition brings to the fore the interaction and complex relationships between nature and the supernatural, humans and non-humans, the tangible and the intangible, and between states, which continue to shape the politics, economies, cultures, traditions, livelihoods, and essentially social structures. If any member of nature or the supernatural has a crisis, it may lead to risks, irregularities, and imbalance for lives and ecologies, whether they are visible or not. This exhibition is traveling to present in documenta 15 by adding a few artists from the region and it is the exhibition presented by Sa Sa Art Projects. If someone were to visit your local art scene before the end of 2022, where would you recommend they go to experience the best of what it offers? You could respond to this in broad strokes i.e. an enclave, a space, or particular exhibitions and events. First, I would recommend them to visit Bophana Center which collects image, sound and video archives related to Cambodia. Second, Sa Sa Art Projects, which strives to support the development of contemporary art in Cambodia. We assist and promote younger Cambodian artists and their works locally and regionally through our education programme, residency programme and exhibitions. We practise an openness to experimentation – both of our programming as well as what artists can produce – and the commitment to the quality of what we do. We also facilitate a sense of community by listening to the changing needs of the artists. Our programme has evolved over the years to accommodate these needs which is essential to the growth of the field. Looking back, it is this nature of learning and growing together that is at the core of what makes Sa Sa Art Projects remain relevant. And third, Silapak Trotchaek Pneik, a newly established contemporary art space run by curator Reaksmey Yean.
The Road Ahead
Đỗ Tường Linh Curator Could you talk about your curatorial practice in the past year? For example, how did you intentionally develop it, what were the setbacks (if any) and what were the highlight projects for you? I think 2021 was an interesting year for all of us art and cultural practitioners. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the creative process of not only artists but the entire art ecosystem, including museums, galleries, art schools, art markets etc. For me and my team/ co-workers, we had to strategically think of ways to adapt our art and cultural programmes to “the new normal” situation. I was inspired and learned a lot from online art platforms such as art.fervour, Serpentine Podcast, and Dispatch, just to name a few, as well as YouTube talks with artists and curators. These platforms, some of which focus on contemporary art in South and Southeast Asia and others on global art conversations, engaged me with ongoing discussion and allowed me to encounter new ideas and thoughts. So I guess to sum up: my curatorial practice for 2021 is all about learning and unlearning. I think the project that was the most challenging and fruitful was a curated series of virtual talks on contemporary art that I collaborated on with VCCA - Vincom Center for Contemporary Art. Over the last decade, contemporary art in Vietnam was only popular amongst the art community and an intellectual expatriate community. Suddenly, over the last 5 years, there is a new hype around art amongst young people – mostly made popular through social media – and a new interest in visiting contemporary art exhibitions. However, there is no proper art education programme that helps the visitors to learn, understand, and appreciate art in a deeper way beyond Instagrammable photo check-ins. We managed to introduce different topics of contemporary arts such as conceptual art, digital art, minimalism and so on to VCCA’s general audience and created an exciting discussion online once every week throughout the strict lockdown in Vietnam, which began in July. We reached 300 participants at one of these events. That was very rewarding for us, to be able to bring art closer and more accessible to more people.
'Paving the Way', an art talk with Dinh Q. Lê and Ha Manh Thang. Photo by Đỗ Tường Linh, VCCA.
'Home Sweet Home'.
'Skylines with Flying People 4'.
'People, Victory and Life after the War'.
'Like The Moon in a Night Sky'.
The Road Ahead
Could you speak about a show/project (feel free to share more than one) in your local art scene that you particularly enjoyed in the past year (that is not your own)? What was compelling about it/them? Unfortunately, Covid hit us hard last year, so many great projects were postponed. However I deeply appreciate the efforts of artistinitiated projects, such as ‘Home Sweet Home’, curated and initiated by AP Nguyen & Wiliam Demers; ‘Skylines with Flying People 4’ by The Appendix Group and Nhà Sàn Collective; Nổ Cái Bùm, initiated by Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mai in Huế, Đào Tùng in Ho Chi Minh City and Lê Thiên Bảo in Paris; ‘Format - Photo Hanoi ’21’, curated by Mai Nguyen Anh; ‘Project Edge of the Citadel’ by Nguyễn Thị Thanh Mai; and, more recently, ‘Like the Moon in a Night Sky’, curated and initiated by Trương Quế Chi and Trần Duy Hưng. There was also an important project organised by Nguyen Art Foundation, and curated by Gridthiya Gaweewong and students from Renaissance International School and EMASI Schools called ‘People, Victory, and Life after the War’. I guess what was most powerful and admirable about all of these projects was their endless passion and restless efforts to make them happen regardless of the limited conditions
Dom Dom and Ngo Thanh Phuong performance at Phố Bên Đồi, Nổ Cái Bùm, Đà Lạt.
of finances and the threat of the pandemic. I like that ‘Skylines with Flying People 4’ and ‘Home Sweet Home’ were organised intimately in very unconventional spaces. The former was in a storage complex and the latter was in a private apartment. Projects such as ‘Like the Moon in a Night Sky’ was a smart combination of both offline and online activities, and the collective vibrant energy of more than 100 artists from all over Vietnam was felt in Nổ Cái Bùm. If someone were to visit your local art community before the end of 2022, where would you recommend they go to experience the best of what it offers? You could respond to this in broad strokes i.e. an enclave, a space, or specifically e.g. particular exhibitions and events. I am very excited for this year as there are many Vietnamese artists showing their works in major international exhibitions, such as documenta 15, Venice Biennale and Berlin Biennale. Meanwhile at home, there are various new art spaces opening up, both in Hà Nội and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as other cities like Huế, Đà Nẵng, Đà Lạt, Quy Nhơn. Many of those spaces are not yet officially open so I cannot disclose too much information but I hope visitors will keep an eye out, and look forward to a new art scene by local players in Vietnam in the coming year.
The Road Ahead
Rebecca Yeoh Independent Curator Could you talk about your curatorial practice in the past year? For example, how did you intentionally develop it, what were the setbacks (if any) and what were the highlight projects for you? Throughout 2020 and 2021, I was involved in 3 curatorial projects: ‘May We…’ organised by The Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, ‘Constructing Worlds’ funded by CENDANA and ‘... or silence?’ supported by the British Council. Out of the three, only ‘May We…’ was a physical exhibition, part of an outcome for the Japan Foundation Curatorial Workshop. The intention or goal of the project largely revolved around artists’ responses to the 13 May 1969 racial riots in Malaysia. To achieve personalised experiences for each audience who walks through the exhibition’s door, the team, which includes myself with co-curator Azzad Diah and four artists, Paul Nickson Atia, Shamin Sahrum, Ali Alasri and Dhavinder Singh, had weekly conversations surrounding the riots. These were thoughtprovoking and delicately evaluated for each artist to create works in response to the incident, according to their personal experiences, collective memory, and position as the younger generation.
'May We...', installation shot of Ali Alasri, 'Belas Masa' in the background, and Dhavinder Singh, '"Salvation Can Happen Here; It May Require Some Salt"' in the foreground. Photo by Alvin Lau. Graphic design by Valen Lim.
'May We...', installation shot of Paul Nickson Atia, 'History's Repositories - Chances of Freedom, Serenity and Sanctuary 2'. Photo by Alvin Lau. Graphic design by Valen Lim.
'May We...', installation shot of Shamin Sahrum, 'Kisahkisah Ibu'. Photo by Alvin Lau. Graphic design by Valen Lim.
Through this project, I was encouraged as a curator to look further into curating memory and literature surrounding traumatic events. I have realised the significance of curating exhibitions about memory and literature surrounding history and traumatic events, which can be shared orally or through written text. Still, a broader audience is willing to dive deeper into these topics via experiential or immersive exhibitions. Curating an exhibition from 2020 to 2021 through a worldwide pandemic presented a steep learning curve, providing many setbacks that would also be a highlight,. The project was postponed at least three times over the course of 6 months before a physical opening was possible. ‘May We…’ was also delayed by political unrest in Malaysia when our opening date coincided with the announcement of a State of Emergency on 13 January 2021. However, it became worth the challenges when the team saw the exhibition open its doors to excited audiences. This exhibition was extended into ‘... or silence?’, an online exhibition co-curated with Chai Yee Thong, which explored censorship through literary works, archival material and oral history.
The Road Ahead
'... or silence?', overview of all rooms. Online exhibition co-curated by Rebecca Yeoh and Chai Yee Thong in collaboration with: Beyond Architecture Outlet (BAO) and Adeline Hong.
'... or silence?', room based on Karim Raslan's short story 'Heroes'. Online exhibition co-curated by Rebecca Yeoh and Chai Yee Thong in collaboration with: Beyond Architecture Outlet (BAO) and Adeline Hong.
Could you speak about a show/project (feel free to share more than one) in your local art scene that you particularly enjoyed in the past year (that is not your own)? What was compelling about it/them? One of the few exhibitions I was able to view recently was Yap Sau Bin’s ‘Sensorium of Inversion/Immersion (SENSORii)’, funded by CENDANA as a part of Art in The City, Kuala Lumpur. The exhibition involved various digital and media approaches, combined with music composed by Ahmad Muriz Che Rose, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra conductor.
I have recently joined academia, and this journey of combining the practicality of curating with academia has allowed me to lay a foundation for myself as a curator — that is, to be a bridge of connection between memory, literature and curating for a broader audience. This constant movement of relationship and connecting resonated as I sat in Rex KL, experiencing SENSORii and ‘internal/external worlds in which inhibit’. The inversion and connection between experiences are all felt, shared and communicated through the various lenses of humankind. If someone were to visit your local art community before the end of 2022, where would you recommend they experience the best of what it offers? You could respond to this in broad strokes i.e. an enclave, a space, or specifically e.g. particular exhibitions and events. I am originally from Penang and have moved to Kuala Lumpur over the past few years. The trouble in answering this question is probably choosing one exact location to be considered as my local community. Upon moving to Kuala Lumpur, I found ILHAM Art Gallery educational and inclusive. My exposure to the scene in the city began here, and I would encourage anyone who comes through to visit this space. It holds creative and thought-provoking art shows that question the limits of arts, its community, its own space as an art gallery, and the roles of artists and curators. I would also add a note here that Rissim Contemporary explores the endless possibilities of the Malaysian art scene through the worlds of new and emerging Malaysian artists. Artists here are powered with vision and enthusiasm to carry their faith and hope as artists.
The Road Ahead
The Road Ahead
Alia Swastika is Director, Jogja Biennale Foundation in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Prior to that, she has worked as Programme Director for Ark Galerie, Yogyakarta, Indonesia from 2008 and is actively involved as a curator, project manager and writer on a number of international exhibitions. With Suman Gopinath, she was the co-curator of the Jogja Biennale XI, ‘Shadow Lines: Indonesia Meets India’ (2011), and was one of the co-artistic directors for the Gwangju Biennale IX: ‘Roundtable’ (2012). Alia has published some books including one from her research on Indonesian women artists during the New Order era (2019). Catherine Sarah Young is an artist, designer, and writer originally from Manila, the Philippines. She is trained in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design and has an international award, exhibition, publication, collaboration, and fellowship profile. She is a recipient of the 2021 Thirteen Artists Awards in the Philippines.
Chum Chanveasna has been working in the arts since 2006, first as a Company Manager for Cambodia’s leading independent dance company, Khmer Arts Ensemble, and since 2013 with Cambodia’s leading contemporary art gallery and reading room, SA SA BASSAC as Gallery Manager/Curatorial Assistant. She is Project Manager to artist Khvay Samnang, who is one of Cambodia’s leading visual artists from 2016 until now. From 2018, she has been Manager of Sa Sa Art Projects, a non-profit artistrun space dedicated to experimental art practices.
Clara Che Wei Peh is Lead Curator at Appetite. She curated exhibitions including ‘STAGING: MAPPLETHORPE’ (2022), ‘Constructing Matter’ (2021), and ‘Right Click + Save’ (2021). Clara is also the Founder of NFT Asia, Adjunct Lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts, and an independent arts writer.
Dan N. Tran takes a keen interest in the visual cultures circulating in the region. A computer programmer by day and a writer by night, his writings have appeared on SGIFF, Matca, SINdie, among others.
Diana Tay is a Paintings Conservator and PhD Candidate (2018-2022). Her research generates technical and scientific data through the analysis of Singaporean paintings to address a need for data-driven decisions and judgment, especially for the authentication of artworks. Since 2009, she has worked with international institutions, private collectors, artist estates and artists to better understand and care for their collections.
Đỗ Tường Linh pursued her BA in Art History at the Vietnam University of Fine Art and her MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa at SOAS, London, UK. Her research and curatorial practice ranges from art and politics, to conceptualism and post-colonial studies. She is one of the curators in the artistic team of the 12th Berlin Biennale.
Dương Mạnh Hùng is an independent translator/writer/ curator. His/her practice weaves textual intricacy with visual subtlety to deliver responses and raise questions about the state of the world. Hung's interest in the dynamics between visual arts and translation comes from close attention to global and Southeast Asian socio-political histories, particularly through a botanical/ecological lens.
Hendri Yulius Wijaya is an Indonesian writer. His latest academic publication is ‘Intimate Assemblages: The Politics of Queer Identities and Sexualities in Indonesia’ (Palgrave Macmillan 2020), and a poetry collection, ‘Stonewall Tak Mampir di Atlantis’ (EA Books 2020). He is currently coediting an edited collection on queer Southeast Asia.
Htoo Lwin Myo is a writer and translator. He has worked on translation projects commissioned by National Gallery Singapore and other art institutions. His translation work has included ‘The Dalai Lama: A Biography’ by Patricia Cronin Marcello, ‘Humanism for Children’ by Nada Topic Peratovic and ‘Bakhtin Reframed’ by Deborah J. Haynes. As a writer, he has published ‘A Glossary of Post-Colonial Studies’ in Burmese.
Jason Wee is an artist and writer. He works between art, architecture, poetry and photography. His art can be seen recently in ‘Curtains’, ParaSite Hong Kong, Other Futures Festival Amsterdam, his solo ‘Cruising’, Yavuz Gallery Singapore, and in the upcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale. He is the author of three poetry collections, including the Singapore Literature Prize finalist ‘An Epic of Durable Departures’. He is the artistic director of Textures Sing Lit Festival 2021 to 2023. He founded and runs Grey Projects.
Michael Lee is an artist, curator and educator. In his art, he explores urban memory and fiction through diagrams, models, environments, events, and texts. He was an Associate Curator of Singapore Biennale 2016. He initiated ‘Workshopables’, an experimental platform for aesthetics, pedagogy, and sustainability.
Pikul Phuchomsri is a freelance translator and editor. She is of Lao ethnicity and was born and raised in Northeast Thailand (Isan). Her Master’s degree in Thai focused on portrayals of Lao women in Thai music, and her current interests are in local cultures and the current calls for democracy in Thailand. She works closely with Morlam artists.
Pristine L. de Leon lectures on art, writing, and collaboration at the Fine Arts Department of the Ateneo de Manila University. Since receiving the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma prize for art criticism in 2016, she has written reviews and features on visual art and theatre for The Philippine Star.
Rebecca Yeoh holds an MA in Arts and Cultural Management from King’s College London. She completed her BA in English Language and Literature Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia. Yeoh has curated in Venice, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Her areas of interest are in memory, curating and literature.
School of Arts currently exists in virtual space under Spring University Myanmar with aims to (re)assess and (re)imagine art/education during the Spring Revolution (February 2021-present).
Unchalee Anantawat is Co-Founder of Speedy Grandma. Born and raised in Bangkok, she has been running the alternative space for 10 years now, and looks forward to seeing how it transforms.
Valencia Tong is an award-winning writer who specialises in contemporary art with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Her work has been published in ARTnews, Blouin Artinfo, Art+Auction, Modern Painters, ArtAsiaPacific, Art & Market, The Artling, Art Radar Journal, CoBo Social, Artomity, HK Artion, TheArtro, Luxglove, VRScout, and Tatler Asia.
Van Do is a curator and writer currently based in Hanoi, Vietnam. Van formerly served as Curatorial Assistant as part of the curatorial team at The Factory Contemporary Art Center (Saigon) from 2019 to 2021. Since 2021, Van has initiated and runs several independent projects under ‘Curatorial Xà Quần’ and ‘Te Rẹt’ with her fellow artists and curators to further experiment with alternative models of curating and artistic practice. In 2022, Van joined Á Space – Experimental Arts (Hanoi) as Artistic Director.
Vanessa Moll is Lecturer at Khon Kaen University. She moved from the Midwest of the United States to the Northeast of Thailand in 2007 and decided to stay after she met her husband, who has taught her much about Isan language and culture. Besides Thai and Isan languages and literatures, her passions are in feminism and gender studies.
Vipash Purichanont is a co-curator of Thailand Biennale, Korat, 2021. He is also co-founder of ‘Waiting You Curator Lab’, a curatorial collective based in Chiang Mai. Vipash is currently a lecturer in the department of Art History, Faculty of Archeology, Silpakorn University, Bangkok.
Wulan Dirgantoro is Lecturer in Art History and Curatorship, School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne. Her research interests are gender and feminism, and trauma and memory in Indonesian modern and contemporary art.
Nadya Wang is Founder and Editor of Art & Market (A&M) and Fashion & Market (FAM). Through these pioneering platforms that strike a balance between the journalistic and the academic, she creates content together with a dedicated team that features practices and processes within the Southeast Asian art and fashion communities respectively. Nadya has been a full-time lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts since 2014. She holds a PhD in History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art.
Ian Tee is Associate Editor at A&M. He conceives of independent content and manages the platform’s publishing schedule. Through his interviews and long-form articles, he hopes to gather learning experiences from various practitioners and map out connections in the regional art ecosystem. In addition to his role at A&M, Ian is also a visual artist exploring youth in relation to the themes of rebellion, vulnerability and identity. His works have been presented in Singapore, Tianjin, Jakarta and Sydney.
Vivyan Yeo is Content Producer at A&M, where she writes thematic articles, designs collateral, and co-organises multimedia programmes about the Southeast Asian art scene. With experiences at Cambodian Living Arts in Phnom Penh, Christie’s New York, Gajah Gallery, NUS Press, Christie’s Singapore and Art Agenda, S.E.A., she constantly seeks fresh perspectives and aspires to enrich others through art.
Nabila Giovanna W is Content Manager at A&M and FAM. She has a penchant for art and fashion that derive inspiration from history and modern-day technology. Before joining A&M, Nabila worked as an account executive at MicroAd, a Japanese digital advertising agency in Indonesia to provide marketing services, and at Roots Digital, a boutique advertising agency specialising in lead generation advertising.
Woong Soak Teng practises in the intersections of art making, producing, and project managing. Her personal projects examine human tendencies to control natural phenomena and nature at large. Current research interests include the human experience of living with spinal deformity and the role of image-making and representations of human bodies in the medical field. She forms one-third of the art collective, DASSAD.
We will hold our annual A&M conference, titled LANDING, to continue conversations from Check-In. Visit artandmarket.net for more details.
Principle Patrons Mr Ivan Chin Mr and Mrs TF Toh Sunpride Foundation The UpSide Space
Patron A+ Works of Art
Champions Eileen Lee Frank T Mr and Mrs Tan Hon Yik Santy Saptari Art Consulting
Friends Choong Wei Sim Happyjigglyfeet Krystina Lyon
Thank you to all our Principal Patrons, Patrons, Champions and Friends, including those who would prefer to remain anonymous, for making Check-In 2022 possible!
CHECK-IN is an annual publication by Art & Market (A&M), a multimedia platform presenting specialist content on Southeast Asian art, with a focus on its community’s artistic, curatorial and business practices. This limited print edition, which is also available in full online, serves as a mid-year review of developments, shifts and trends in the Southeast Asian art scene. Featuring first-hand accounts, dialogues, observations and analyses, CHECK-IN 2022 is an inclusive anthology of voices from the region. Contributors: Alia Swastika, Catherine Sarah Young, Chum Chanveasna, Clara Che Wei Peh, Dan N. Tran, Diana Tay, Đỗ Tường Linh, Dương Mạnh Hùng, Hendri Yulius Wijaya, Htoo Lwin Myo, Ian Tee, Jason Wee, Michael Lee, Nadya Wang, Pikul Phuchomsri, Pristine L. de Leon, Rebecca Yeoh, School of Arts, Unchalee Anantawat, Valencia Tong, Van Do, Vanessa Moll, Vipash Purichanont, Vivyan Yeo, Woong Soak Teng and Wulan Dirgantoro. Interviewees: Emylia Safian, Karina Roosvita, Lashita Situmorang, Lee Chang Ming, Savanhdary Vongpoothorn and Nguyen Anh-Tuan. Artists featured in ‘Fresh Faces’: Alvin Lau, Doktor Rakayom, Hà Ninh Pham, Kamolros Wonguthum, Lai Yu Tong, Liu Liling, Naraphat Sakartornsap and Odelia Tang. artandmarket.net/check-in