Commissioner: Kwok Kian Chow, Singapore Art Museum (National Heritage Board)
Vice-Commissioner: Paivi Tirkkonen, PDG Arte
Communications, Venice
Curators: Ahmad Mashadi, Joanna Lee
Artists: Matthew Ngui, Salleh Japar, Chen KeZhan,
Suzann Victor
Opening Hours: 10 June to 4 November 2001, Tuesdays - Sundays: 10.00am - 6.00pm.
Saturdays: 10.00am - 10.00pm. Closed on Mondays

The Republic of Singapore has been invited for the first time to participate in the 49th Biennale to be held in Venice from June 2001 to November 2001. Organised by Singapore Art Museum and co-organised by PDG Arte Communications of Venice, the Republic of Singapore will be represented by four artists, Chen KeZhan, Salleh Japar, Matthew Ngui and Suzann Victor. Singapore’s contemporary art is presented through a myriad of forms comprising installation, painting and video, addressing issues of identities, examining relationships of self and the physical and social environment, and responding to the urban condition and city-life of the city-state in global context. The exhibition, titled SINGAPORE, attempts to articulate cultural vibrancy in contemporary Singapore. 

Matthew Ngui’s practice hinges on the investigation of the production of meaning, testing modes of representation to problematise monocular perceptions of the real and to surface the relativity of subjective experience. Much of his works are sited on installation and performative strategies, where real and virtual spaces become the playground for interactive dialogue between artist/artwork and viewer. A representational device most persistent in his recent works is the anamorphic image (such as Chair, 1997), captured by means of the single lens camera and produced via video projection elsewhere. Ngui confounds viewers with insensible distortions before surprising them through recognition of the anamorphic image revealed. Ironically, this diachronic experience of image/representation and the real, is used to return focus on the composite elements that make an image. The formal sensibilities of each mark or sculptural form are retrieved in the mien of modernist aesthetics. The anamophic image is for Ngui a metaphorical device to surface the ‘false and incorrect’ in monocular representation of meaning. His latest work to be featured in the Venice Biennale is undertaken with the sensibilities and craft of an illusionist to underpin his interest in interrogating the dynamics of representation and cognition within visual and linguistic communication. The work does not deny the potential for miscommunication of meaning inherent in dialogic representation. It surfaces directly and patently its potential for loss and misconception. Perhaps in confessing itself as such, it obviates the illusory falsehood of monocular representation by offering the immediacy of direct testing and result. 

Salleh Japar’s works may be defined by a broad interest in the problem of knowledge and the limitation of rationalist inquiry. While the theme of science affords him the discursive platform to negotiate the precarious nature of rationalist positions, the artist also identifies and locates the problematic project of history in his latest work in the Venice Biennale. For the Venice Biennale, Salleh will create a series of three spaces that are sequential and experiential. The audience will first encounter a large metal-clad wall. The wall connects the two other spaces; one dominated by the presence and smell of spices, and the other, salt. For Salleh, these series of materials provide a metaphor of engagements between colonial powers and the colonised. The references to the history of Venetian and European trade, the rise of West and its colonisation of the East, and the West’s conception of its history and achievements, are some of the conceptual issues being addressed by Salleh. Salleh seeks to address the West’s assumption of its own history, as well as its ownership over that history. He dislocates and dislodges historical fragments so that they can be opened to multiple inquiries. Salleh also identifies fragments – marginalised or forgotten texts, materials and experiences – that can provide broader and richer meanings to an otherwise static and stable picture.

Chen KeZhan who is known for his vigorous experiments with the medium of Chinese ink painting will introduce for the Venice Biennale a site-specific 12-metre painting that will stretch across the main hall of the exhibition, on a wall behind a series of arched columns. As the hall is a former chapel, the project is a challenging one. As a site-specific painting, the artist uses the architecture of the former chapel to create and highlight complex relationships between art, site and audience. The painting will be strategically positioned to take advantage of the spatial structure and the audience is coerced to study the painting from varying and extreme vantages. The work, from afar, may only be seen in parts, concealed partially by the columns, however upon closer inspection, the atmospheric and brooding painting presents itself as material phenomena that is dynamic and evolving, aided by the fluctuations and tonalities of colours and their densities. Together, the painting and the space it inhabits signal to its audience the problem of seeing. This seeing is affected by the lack of a whole, being able to see only parts at a time, whether from a distance or up close. Seeing becomes a meditative and speculative exercise, requiring multiple references to be made to the chapel and its architecture, the internal and external spaces of the exhibition site. The result is a series of readings that ventures into multiple trajectories, opening up a string of variables that allows for differentiated encounters and meanings. 

Since the early years of her practice in the late 1980s, Suzann Victor has tackled tropes of sexuality and female identity through painting, installation and performance art. Born in post-colonial Singapore, the post-colonial identity becomes for her a natural extension of her work on the female subject. For the Venice Biennale, she will install her site-specific work comprising three chandeliers juxtaposed in a row at human level. The two pieces flanking the central hand-built piece are readymade 1950s Victorian-style chandeliers purchased from antique shops. Oscillating toward the centre handbuilt piece, almost threatening to collide into it, the ready-mades are intended as signifiers of the glory and pomp of the colonial era, while the handbuilt piece in the centre stand for the colonised subject. This spectacle of violence creates an anxiety augmented by the brittle fragility of the central piece. For the violence it suffers, the colonised subject bleeds drops of red glass, as if punished by anxiety of destruction of her misguided state.


Originally published at Artnewsroom International and Hydra-Island.com