How art and objects stack up

Tang Mun Kit
Telok Kurau Studios Gallery
Till Sunday

By Lee Weng Choy

BRITISH artist Tracey Emin -- of Turner Prize and unmade-bed-in-a-London-art-gallery notoriety -- has been getting a lot of press here lately.

Last Sunday, artists here reacted to her My Bed installation: Two were open-minded about it; two dismissed it as "crazy" and having "no perpetual artistic values".

But there is a long history of artists using ready-made and found objects in their work to question the institutions and discourses of art.

The practice dates back to Marcel Duchamp. In 1917, he took a ready-made urinal and entered it at an open sculpture exhibition in New York, only to have the committee rule that it did not count as a work of art.

Duchamp differentiated ready-mades from found objects.

Found objects, as the name suggests, can be any object that an artist discovers instead of making. But it must be visually interesting -- to the artist at least, if no one else.

Ready-mades are like found objects because they, too, have been made by someone other than the artist. But in a sense they are its opposite; they are chosen, as Duchamp explained, precisely on "a reaction of visual indifference".

In Blueprints, Plans; Archetypes, Prototypes, Singapore artist Tang Mun Kit constructs an arena where we can think about the issues of ready-mades and found objects in contemporary art.

A former mechanical engineer, he became a full-time artist in 1985. Even before the career change though, he had a fascination with collecting odds and ends, and from the beginning, found objects had a central place in his art.

With Blueprints, his manipulations and markings demonstrate his strong interest in the possibilities of using found blueprints as materials for 2D and 3D works.

The exhibition comprises three elements. Enclosed in a glass case is a sculptural assemblage made from a stack of blueprints and other discarded office items.

On the floor is an on-site process installation: Spread on top of blueprints are various objects, including small mirrors and pressure gauges.

And mounted on the walls are 19 small and medium-sized drawings on blueprints, made with a variety of media: acrylic, dye, watercolour, graphite, colour pencil and inks -- Chinese, fluorescent and stamp.

But one person's found object may be another's ready-made. Tang's drawings and installations as art objects have some appeal, but not a strong one.

However, it is crucial to realise that these pieces are not intended as finished works; they are initial studies. At stake is the difference between process and product.

In work that uses found objects or ready-mades, one should withhold judgement before looking. That is why I am unsympathetic to those who dismiss Emin's Bed without even seeing it. But even after seeing -- as in the case of Tang -- one may still have to wait to see what's next.

Blueprints, Plans; Archetypes, Prototypes is on at the Telok Kurau Studios Gallery, 91, Lorong J, Telok Kurau, from 1 to 6 pm (Friday); and 10 am to 6 pm (Saturday and Sunday).

published in the Straits Times Nov 5 1999