Ho Tzu Nyen

Young Artists at International Biennales

Sang Nila Utama – a descendent of Alexander the Great?
Singapore’s history re-examined at São Paolo

28 year old Ho Tzu Nyen will present the story of the lesser-known founder of our island, Sang Nila Utama, at the most prestigious visual arts event in South America, the São Paolo Bienal.

Called Utama – Every Name in History is I, the art and film installation draws from historical records of our pre-colonial history to piece together the various identities of the man who named our island Singapore. It also parallels various episodes of Utama’s encounters with those of historic figures such as Julius Caesar or Admiral Cheng Ho. Utama reflects on the ability of history to give prominence to important figures and its role as the source in our search of our identity.

Ho’s presentation at São Paolo Bienal from 25 September – 19 December, is co-presented by the National Arts Council (NAC) and the National Heritage Board (NHB). An award-winning artist, film maker and writer who is currently a research scholar researching on post war Singaporean art history, Ho’s work Utama was extensively researched and produced. It was also suited to the curatorial theme of Reimagining History, which aims to re-examine our history through both art and film.


Studies in Singapore

Ho Tzu Nyen is in Australia researching for his thesis on post-war contemporary art in Singapore, and we spent pleasant hours going through my early catalogues and papers from the time. Strange that two major and essential archives on this subject are in Canberra and Melbourne. Tzu Nyen left with me an excellent catalogue from LASALLE-SIA College for the Arts, Painting as a process – Re-evaluating painting, which features a number of British and Singaporean artists (mentioned in Asia Artnotes July #171).


Artists rip canvases, pour paint, drag squeegees to show new possibilities for painting

Wednesday, 19 May 2004

Press Release

Ever seen an 8-foot high painting made by one single brushstroke – with a brush bigger than its canvas? Or one made by repeated pouring of paint through a watering can onto a canvas – the result a perfectly-symmetrical circle of colour?

Earl Lu Gallery at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts will feature 28 intriguing paintings that demonstrate new possibilities for painting. Whether it is pouring paint onto a canvas, dragging a squeegee across a beautifully-painted surface, or ripping, slashing and crushing a piece of canvas, the processes of making these works are highlighted in Painting as Process. By shifting the significance of painting from its representational systems to its processes, these artists re-evaluate painting's relevance to contemporary art practice.

Nine international artists – including German great Gerhard Richter, dubbed by Sotheby's as the ‘most influential living artist in the world' and who received the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1997; and Turner Prize-nominated Ian Davenport who, along with his controversial contemporary Damien Hirst, belonged to the late 1990s phenomenon known as the Young British Artists – are participating in the exhibition. Other artists involved in the exhibition include Torie Begg, Alexis Harding and Jason Martin from the United Kingdom , Angela de la Cruz from Spain , Robert Sagerman from the USA , as well as a younger generation of Singaporean painters, namely Ho Tzu Nyen and Yong Tai Si.

Says Dr Eugene Tan, Director of Earl Lu Gallery and curator of the exhibition: “Painting as Process re-evaluates painting's relevance to contemporary art practice through an examination of painting's processes. The works illustrate attempts at mediating expression with a conceptual mode of painting, in a manner that results in a new understanding of painting – demonstrating a rich myriad of possibilities for painting.”

That the possibilities are infinite is apparent in the various works. For instance, conceptual artist and painter Richter uses a wide variety of methods to apply paint onto canvas. In addition to using the spatula and his finger to apply paint, he also developed his by-now trademark process of blurring a painted surface with a squeegee, in the process destroying the image but also bringing about a new one. In Singaporean artist Ho's work, each of his four paintings is a different proposition of what painting might possibly be. For instance, in his work Untitled #12 , three pieces of paper – each painted in one of the primary colours – are crushed, folded and wrapped together 100 times. Each of the pieces is then recorded by a scanner, and recombined into a whole, whereupon a multiplicity of colours is generated. Printed upon a piece of canvas, it is a frozen record of the manual activity of painting, and also perhaps a tiny suggestion of how a new technology may be summoned in the practice of painting. On the other hand, Martin's work allows for unpredictable events to unfold in the rhythmical regularity of the painting. Martin's work has been extensively shown in Europe, the US and Japan, and is best described through its method of production – where using his bodily movement, a ‘brush' with deep set fissures is pulled from one side of the painting to the other in one continuous flow. In Davenport's Untitled Circle Painting series, however, he creates naturally symmetrical arches and circles of colour through paint pouring techniques that involve pouring layer upon layer of different-coloured paint – one over another – thereby creating ecliptic relationships of colour and form.

Official opening by Mr Lee Suan Hiang, CEO of National Arts Council: Friday, 4 June 2004.

Five of the participating artists will be present at the opening: Torie Begg (UK), Ian Davenport (UK), Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore), Alexis Harding (UK) and Yong Tai Si (Singapore).

INTERVIEWS with curator Dr Eugene Tan and selected artists can be arranged.

Event Details
Title Painting as Process: Re-evaluating Painting
Exhibition Opening 4 June 2004 , 7pm-9pm
Guest of Honour Mr Lee Suan Hiang, CEO, National Arts Council Singapore
Exhibition Period 5 June – 4 July 2004
Venue Earl Lu Gallery I & II
LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts
90 Goodman Road
Time 10am – 6pm , open daily
Admission Free
Public Enquiries Call 6340 9102/9116 or email earllugallery@lasallesia.edu.sg

Related Event I
Title Panel Discussion 'Painting Today: Is painting still relevant for contemporary art practice?'
Date 6 June 2004
Time 1.30pm – 5.00pm
Venue Earl Lu Gallery I
LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts
90 Goodman Road
Moderator Dr Eugene Tan (Director, Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts)
Panelists • Torie Begg
• Ian Davenport
• Ho Tzu Nyen
• Alexis Harding
• Brian Muller (Executive Editor, CONTEMPORARY)
• Gunalan Nadarajan (Dean, Office of Research and Creative Industries, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts)
• Yong Tai Si

Admission Free of charge.

Related Event II
Title Sunday Art Trolley
Dates 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th June 2004 & 4th July (Sundays)
Time 2.00pm – 5.00pm
Venue Earl Lu Gallery I & II
LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts
90 Goodman Road
Instructor David Chan
Panelists • For children aged between seven and 12 years old
• Admission and participation is free of charge
• Art materials provided

Sunday Art Trolley
The Sunday Art Trolley is a series of drawing sessions tailored for children between the ages of seven and 12. Children are encouraged to freely express themselves through drawings and paintings by responding to the Painting as Process exhibition by using a variety of art materials provided by Earl Lu Gallery. Participants will be guided by a trained art instructor and each session is three hours in duration. Admission and participation is free of charge.

Participating Artists
Gerhard Richter [Germany]
Ian Davenport [UK]
Torie Begg [UK]
Alexis Harding [UK]
Jason Martin [UK]
Angela de la Cruz [Spain/UK]
Ho Tzu Nyen [Singapore]
Yong Tai Si [Singapore]
Robert Sagerman [USA]

Dr Eugene Tan, Director, Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts.

Writers (exhibition catalogue)
Dr Eugene Tan, Director, Earl Lu Gallery, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts
Gunalan Nadarajan, Dean, Office of Research and Creative Industries, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts
Ho Tzu Nyen, Singapore-based Artist, Filmmaker and Writer
Robert Sagerman, New York -based Artist

Lee Foundation Singapore

The HumAnimal Forum

Join us for an all day human/animal event featuring dialogues with various artists, academics, activists, TV & media workers &
public personalities plus our adoption drive and sale of merchandise

Date: Saturday 11 September 2004

Venue : The Substation Garden, 45 Armenian Street
(next to old National Library)

Time : 10am to 7pm
(Adoption Drive and Sale of Merchandise starts at 2.30pm)

Panelists: ...Ho Tzu Nyen, Visual Artist...


The Cave

The Cave is Ho Tzu Nyen's adaptation of Plato's Allegory of The Caves, set in a contemporary context. In BK VII of The Republic. It was showed at the Singapore Art Museum.



Ho Tzu Nyen is an artist, filmmaker, and writer. Among the prizes he has received for his artistic practices is the Derrida Prize in Melbourne (1999) an award for a competition held in honor of, and juried by, the eminent French philosopher Jacques Derrida. As a painter, Tzu Nyen was the National Winner for the Nokia Arts Award (2000), and represented Singapore in the Asian Finals of the competition in Bangkok. He was also the recipient for the First Prize for the Abstract Category at 20th UOB Painting of the Year.

Tzu Nyen is also an associate artist at the Substation in Singapore, where he recently put up a solo exhibition Utama Every Name in History is I, which consisted on a film, paintings and an installation.

Ho graduated in 2000 from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne with a Deans Award for Academic Excellence. At this present moment, he is a research scholar at the Southeast Asia Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore, where he is researching on post war Singaporean art history. His writings on art and culture have appeared in local and foreign publications and catalogues such as Painting As Process Re-Evaluating Painting, Singapore Architect, Vehicle, Cinepolitans, ISH, Broadsheet (Australia), and Art Asia Pacific.

At present, Tzu Nyen is working on a film about the Singapore Art Museum as part of the SENI Singapore 2004 - Art and the Contemporary in October, an essay on Singaporean films for an upcoming anthology on Southeast Asian cinema, a paper on the intricate intermeshing between the destiny of cats and Singaporean history for a conference at the Substation in September, as well as a paper on performance art in October.

Artists Statement

Utama Every Name in History is I
for the Sao Paolo Biennale 2004 (25 September 19 December)

(co-presented with the National Heritage Board)

Utama - Every Name in History is I is an installation work comprising two main sections. The first contains 20 paintings hung in series. The other is a passageway of red curtains that leads up to a cinema like space where a film is projected. A gallery assistant is present to direct visitors to the film.

The very name Singapura was a paradox. For no lion had ever set foot in this Lion City.


A History of Singapore 1819 1988

Sang Nila Utama is the mythical first king of the Malays, and also the pre-colonial founder of Singapore the one who had given Singapore its name. Singa refers to lion and Pore or Pura in Malay means City. This name was said to have resulted from Utamas encounter with the majestic creature upon the shores of Singapore at around 12 or 13th Century, although much uncertainty surrounds this account as the lion such an animal is not indigenous to our shores. In fact, the identity of Utama himself is often an issue of doubt, at least for many modern, rational historians.

In Singaporean society today, the figure of Sang Nila Utama has been gradually erased from public consciousness and for many Singaporeans, history seems to begin only with the arrival of the colonial founder Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, agent of the East India Company. The name of Raffles is today used as a sign of class and prestige, just as image of Raffles has become inscribed into public memory, sculptures of Raffles have become landmarks in Singapore.

Utama Every Name in History is I is, in some sense, an attempt to summon forth the ghost of Utama as a way of putting pressure on the existing, dominant discourse of history. Using both the high art medium of painting, as well as the mass medium of film, Utama is reborn.

In his essay on translation and the cacophonous Tower of Babel as the birthplace of language, Jacques Derrida wrote:

And if the original calls for a complement, it is because at the origin it was not there without fault, full, complete, total, identical to itself.

Likewise, this return to Utama is not one which brings us to a singular, essentialist, or unified point of origin. There has never been one Utama, but many - an ambiguous multiplicity of possible identities, and a mad proliferation of names. It is this very ambiguity that rescues us from the reductive violence of a fundamentalism that often plagues a politics of identity, and which instead opens the origin up to the appropriation of our imaginations to dream our own founder into existence, to invent our own fathers.

Thus a motley host of characters dispersed across time and cultures are summoned to illuminate aspects of this tale about Utama. Julius Cesars legendary refusal of the crown offered to him by the people of Rome is re-enacted as a kind of commentary on Sang Nila Utamas gesture of throwing of his crown into the sea on the voyage to Singapore. The great Chinese Eunuch navigator Cheng Hoe, Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus, King David of the Jews, King Solomon, Raja Chulan and Raja Shulan of India, Alexander the Great, the mighty Greek hunter Actaeon and Diana, Goddess of the Hunt and of Chastity from Ovids Metamorphosis, are some of the figures appearing at various moments of this tale. Utama is in some sense, the story of Singapores uncertain identity, shared perhaps by many other postcolonial nations - a story of the impossibility of the search for origins and the elusiveness of ontology.

Last I will like to add that this project is also a manifestation of my own conceptual interests in film and painting. It also serves as a formal investigation on the nature of the media of film and painting, as well as the relationship that exists between these two forms.



15 June, 10.00am to 12.00pm, Main 1:

Perform: State: Translate:
The Opening Session of the conference aims to articulate the Organizing Committee's conceptual framework, which was first presented in our Call for Papers. However, rather than declaring our agenda, and then launching into the conference, we want to articulate our intentions embedded within a conversation with a specified local density. In a sense, one of the first registers of the “interrogation” of the conference title is “translation”, and performances of translation are themselves interrogations. The panelists in this session comprise a group of practitioners/theorists who have been working together on questions of translation.
Opening film excerpt by Ho Tzu Nyen, visual artist, Singapore.

1) Lee Weng Choy, The Substation, Singapore
2) Eddin Khoo, Pusaka, Centre for the Study and Documentation of Traditional Performance in Malaysia
3) Goenawan Mohamad, writer, Indonesia
4) Jennifer Lindsay, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore