curator, trained lawyer

La Biennale di Venezia, 50th International Art Exhibition, 15th June - 2nd November 2003

Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi, Palazzo Lolin, San Vidal 2893, 30124 – Venezia
Ground Floor (boat station Accademia, Line n.1 – n. 82)

Inauguration coctail: 13 June, at 6 pm

Heman Chong
Teck Yong Francis, Ng
Swie Hian, Tan

Commissioner: Ching Lee, Goh
Vice-Commissioner: Paolo De Grandis

Sze Wee Low
Project manager: Boon Hui Tan

At the 49th Biennale in 2001, Singapore presented four artists whose works addressed issues of identities, relationships of self and the physical, and social environment and responding to the urban condition of city life in Singapore, within a global context. The three artists of the 50th Biennale continue to share these same concerns, within their own individual practices and contexts. Individually, the works at the 50th Biennale stand as independent entities - “islands” unto themselves. The various forms of expression employed – painting, video documentation and installation, are a testament to the diversity of the Singapore contemporary art scene. Seen as a group, they nevertheless, share certain common interests, very much like islands within an archipelago. In their artistic practices, the artists do not restrict themselves to a single medium or form of expression. They experiment constantly and often work across different media. Their works invite query and contemplation. Often, audience interaction and participation form the very basis of their works. Their concerns are never closed ones but ones that are always open to the wider international cultural discourse, just as one archipelago remains linked to the others through the very waters that separate them.

Describing his practice as a “trans-disciplinary” one which involves the use of graphics, photography, text and video, it is difficult to locate Heman Chong’s work within any particular category or genre. Born in Malaysia, educated in Singapore and the United Kingdom and presently serving a one-year residency in Berlin, Heman is interested in trans-cultural negotiations. In his own words, his recent works have “dealt with the issues of understanding a different culture, of adapting and learning other mannerisms, of assimilating alternative models of communications”. He is also interested in the politics of cultural production, in particular the production of contemporary visual art in Asia. His works have included personal documentations of art world politics and happenings in the contemporary art world. These coincide with his broader concerns regarding the impact of globalization on contemporary Asian art as evidenced by the growing market and rising interest of European curators in contemporary Asian art. Heman’s works raise questions related to his role and identity as an Asian contemporary artist working within an international art world. It is a world that is becoming increasingly globalised. The outcome of this globalisation has yet to be resolved and it is this process of change that interests the artist. His strategies including collaborations with fellow artists, point to possible means of understanding and engaging with this complex and dynamic phenomenon.

In an increasingly globalised world, the notion of multiculturalism seems to gain greater currency. This is apparent in the works of Tan Swie Hian. Born in Indonesia and a second generation Chinese living in Southeast Asia, he has explored the cultures of India, Southeast Asia and the Western World. In his own words, his works represent an on-going concern in “trying to combine the spirit of ancient Chinese philosophy, the Indian philosophy, particularly Buddhism, and the feelings and thoughts of a Chinese Singaporean”. A man of diverse interests, Swie Hian has written essays, stories, poetry and translations. In addition to painting, calligraphy, printmaking and seal engraving, he also designs theatre sets, costumes and masks. Going beyond the national or even geographical boundaries, his works are marked by a deep understanding of different cultural and philosophical traditions and locates the artist as a citizen of the world, a universal humanist. He recently won the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum.

Locations, dislocations and space are the abiding concerns of Francis Ng. His interests include the investigation of space and the related notions of “in-between” spaces and “non-places”. His works have involved the juxtaposition of existing and reconstructed spaces. By subverting spaces, he overturns viewers’ expectations and alters their experience of such spaces. In working with found materials within public spaces, Francis is also concerned with incorporating the site’s unique qualities and meanings as part of his working process. His work Delocating margins in 2001, won critical attention for its monumental transformation of an old dilapidated shophouse into a fantastical labyrinth that addressed issues of urban spaces, conservation and memories.

If the artists of the 49th Biennale provided viewers with a mental “map” of what Singapore’s cultural landscape was like in 2001, the artists of the 50th Biennale could be regarded as offering visitors with another set of coordinates, with which to plot a different journey in the context of a globalised world.

Written by Low Sze Wee

Source: Venice Biennale Press Release