Pulp Friction: Materials In Contemporary Art



Singapore Art Museum Presents Its Latest Exhibition,
Pulp Friction: Materials In Contemporary Art

Using material culture as a focus, the exhibition explores the rich symbolic value of materials and motifs, colours and compositional patterning to evoke the aesthetic poetry of sense and sensuality within a localised culture.

Opens Wednesday 12 September 2001 Till 18 November 2001
(Galleries 5,6,7 & 8, Singapore Art Museum)


(14 August 2001) Singapore Art Museum presents Pulp Friction: Materials in Contemporary Art, an exhibition that explores the makings of thematic and formal constructions based on the nature of materials and their furthest possibilities. The notions of "how do you make art" and "why do you make art" comes into play, the exhibition seeks to examine the ways materials communicate to find a balance of beauty and the well-made. It opens to public on Wednesday, 12 September 2001 to Sunday, 18 November 2001 in Galleries 5,6,7 & 8, Singapore Art Museum.

Materials and motifs, colours and compositional patterning are rich in symbolic value. The material culture here refers to the poetry of sense: how motifs or use of certain textiles or medium may have evolved in a localised culture (say beadwork and silverwork like that of the Straits Chinese). It also refers to the poetry of sensuality: how combinations create aesthetic sensuousness and provide links to feelings and emotions (use of gold leaf and red for prosperity or depictions of domestic items like a blanket or a food dish).

Says curator of the exhibition, Ms Bridget Tracy Tan, "Pulp Friction designates a dynamic obsession with the quick and the live; each and every day, the onslaught of images, colours and physical material bombards the average sensibility, raging wars between appreciation, confusion and surfeit. The artists in this exhibition mark a battlefield where their own histories and identities take part in stilling the tide of material culture".

The featured artists includes: Teo Eng Seng (paperdyesculpt works), Han Sai Por (stone and marble), Goh Beng Kwan (collage), Eng Tow (handmade paper), December Pang (prints, thread works and a handmade book), Cristene Chang Hoei (manual press monoprints), Parvathi Nayar (black and white highly detailed figure drawings in costume), Tung Yue Nang (hyper-realist paintings of the Baba Nonya recent works 2000 and beyond), Lee Su Lian (contemporary series of works negotiating the theme and narratives), Sanjot Kaur Sekhon (slide documentation of furniture installations between 1998 and 2000).

In Pulp Friction, the use of materials elicits the concerns of contemporary culture and sensibilities through the interweaving of formal ( ie the actual object or artwork) and intimate or personal narratives.

Says Ms Tan, "Here the transition is felt through some of the recent works, as in, created very recently and of the last couple of years. The sensibilities consider either current affairs (Lee Su Lian's narratives), themes drawn from historical or psychological sources (Cristene Chang Hoei's prints and Parvathi's works), cultural aspects and actual physical material culture (Tung Yue Nang paintings, also tied in with Cristene's prints, Sanjot's installations) and personal histories reacting in contemporary or natural environments (December Pang's works and Sanjot's furniture installations)".

As Ms Tan adds, "Making good art necessitates the development of relationships between the artist and his/her materials. The Singaporean context is an interesting arena for the manifestation of these plays and paradoxes. By this we refer to the inherent physical material culture evident in a specifically affluent environment; we also refer to the figurative material culture that consumerism and commercialism invokes. This platform between the two provides a conducive ground for exploration and development of richness in the workings of art-making".

This exhibition aims to bring together artists who are painstaking in their creative endeavours and acute in their profound awareness for material culture as evidenced in their final works of art. While artists have been asking the age-old question of how does one make art, this exhibition concerns itself with how does one make good art. Good is not indicative of a higher assigned value or artistic paradigm: all art moves toward perfection. To speak of good art here is to reiterate that making art is consistently a process of thinking, remembering and bringing together. It is a present unity and cultivated platform for understanding, both those esoteric and physical elements located in the dynamics of their appreciation.



" The magic of materials lies in their possibilities" - Ms Bridget Tracy Tan, exhibition curator

Cristene Chang Hoei presents the lacuna that has dominated the memory of mankind: the shifts in contexts through remembering over periods of time, exploring how much is lost and how much is re-imagined then locked into place like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. The element of chance encounters whether of meanings or physical textures emerges in her manually pressed monoprints, resulting in a fluidity and suspension of time, bringing the viewer closer to the actual object and its features. It is this exacting aspect of Cristene's finished work that provides a natural tension of seeing, feeling and thinking. For each layer of ink applied there is a mark left un-scored; for each stroke and plane, there is an infinity of void still uncovered. The balance between the theme of the work and the physical properties that narrate its own presence as well as that theme, is effected by chance in the sheer and striking possibilities of the artist's medium.

The black and white drawings of Parvathi Nayar conversely, divest themselves of the known and personal. Instead, these faceless figures evoke an abstract notion of patterns and fine detail, but more importantly, how those undulate and acquire dynamism once they fall over and dress a live, physical body. The garment is a mantle of being but also of complex possibilities; while each figure remains static, latent movement is implied, and by equation, changes and flexing nuances in the fine details of the decorated surfaces.

If decorated surfaces belie the more profound aspects of art making, Tung Yue Nang's Baba & Nonya works bring forth sensuous, hyper-real imagery resembling objects extremely close to life. His assembly of Peranakan crockery, precious combs and classic 'kasot manek manek' (traditional beaded slippers) show his skill and finesse in drawing and painting. The still life notion is rendered more abstract once the lines and dots are noticed: in the affinities of certain objects to the linear and others to the circular. Tung's preoccupation with a kind of calligraphic notion provides the paintings he produces with a hidden language. It is a language that pronounces everyday objects in metaphorical morse code, generating internal patterns and relationships between space and form, vision and tactility.

As much as space and form do communicate with the viewer, personal narrative can sometimes inject an often abstract element into an artwork. The thread pieces and hand-made works of December Pang require examination at close proximity in order to conceive of the idea behind ultimate art: human labour. Painstaking and careful, each piece is a testimony and recreation of the tensions experienced in human emotions of patience, frustration, meticulousness, yearning and longing. This complex combination locates itself in December's own inspiration to create: her self confessed reticence only finds release in the vividness and physicality of her art. A theme that runs close to her heart is companionship, and her fondness for the rain. The concept of passing time and the unpredictable transformations in nature is analogous to the making of her art; a recourse of hand-made events and ideas, evolving as they surface at the peak of her creativity.

For Lee Su Lian, the essence of time and its hermetic properties provides her art with possibilities of creating narratives and re-inventing history in an abstract space. Her paintings negotiate the boundaries where identities are formed, meanings infused and culture evaluated through contemporary motions of change and advancement. This progression is underlined by a subtle threat of loss, whether of memory or understanding; two elements that make a person whole. The substance of her art resonates stories and icons through a rich myriad of materials. Su Lian's paintings emerge in layers of acrylic, charcoal and ink over rice paper, canvas, newspaper and cloth - with added objects such as rubber bands or a mirror. This grafting of reality over a complex and composed surface challenges conceptions, reminds, induces recall and inducts momentary poetry. In between her figural works of vanishing five-foot way traders and the highly intimate portrait visions exploring her own identity and generations of women, Su Lian's work covers a wide ground of mindscapes and memories which represent lapses in personal or communal realisation. In representing these lapses with her painting, she creates a new space for reflection and preservation.

Re-inventing physical space, then, is Sanjot Kaur Sekhon. Her furniture installations approach the diametrical notions of physical and geographical homes and those we find in our hearts. Movement, time, anxieties and spatial ambiguities are touched on, marked by real time objects such as furniture that was actually formerly functional in her relative's home. Disrobing a former living space exposes its nakedness and vulnerability, and the transplanting of those functions - in Sanjot's case, the re-installation of furniture components in different spaces - conveys a sense of the incredibly fragile. Yet the furniture is there, solid and material. Many installations can be read as formal declarations and here Sanjot is undoubtedly masterful. She plays with shapes, light and perspective in a three dimensional reality. The materials regain their formal sensibility and physical aesthetic, while posing questions against their histories and the artist's.

Pulp Friction re-invents material qualities and contends that artists make the real even more real. Materials in contemporary art can assume poetic proportions in the dynamic manipulation under the artist's tutelage. But in eventuality, their sentiments are founded on the purely physical and the artificial re-construction undertaken by the artist. To make good art is to understand to innate physical value of an object; to give it meaning is to form an inextricable relationship with this physical value, founded on emotions, histories and the need to be at one, perhaps perfect, with the substance of civilisation. The six artists in Pulp Friction adopt this quality with studied finesse and dedication.