MICHAEL LEE HONG HWEE
MICHAEL LEE HONG HWEE ( 李鸿辉 ) ,
Lecturer and Pathway Leader for NAFA’s Fine Art degree programmes, was awarded
the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award (Visual Arts) on 21 Oct 2005. The
Young Artist Award was introduced in 1992 to encourage the development of young
artistic talents in Singapore. The award is accorded to young artists aged 35 &
below who have shown promise of artistic excellence in their respective artistic
Michael Lee graduated from the Nanyang Technological University with a Bachelor of Communication Studies in 1997. He went on to earn his master’s degree in the same discipline from NTU in 2001. He also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in High Education from the National Institute of Education.
Lee is among a small group of artists whose arts practice cuts across several disciplines. Concern ed about the relationship between desire and space and how one impacts on the other, he has explor ed this theme extensively in various m edia such as drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, model-making, installation, video and text. To date, he has taken part in more than 20 group art exhibitions and 8 group film screenings. In 2004, he held his first solo exhibition, When a Body Meets a Building, at the Alliance Francaise. He was also nam ed one of Singapore’s representatives at the 2005 World Expo sition in Nagoya, Japan.
Lee has won a number of awards for his art. In 1996, he pick ed up the Unit ed Television International Award for Distinction. A year later, his collaborative video, One or Zero, clinch ed the first prize for the Experimental Category at the University Film and Video Association Student Short Film Competition in Texas, US.
Lee has also made his mark as a curator. To date, he has co-curat ed four exhibitions held at various venues like The Esplanade - Theatres by the Bay and Woodlands Regional Library. In September 2005, he curated Txtrapolis: Contemporary Text-Bas ed Art from Singapore held at the NAFA.
Apart from his artistic pursuits, Lee is a prolific writer who has contribut ed extensively to local and international publications such as Jump Cut, Vehicle, Asian Art News, Asian Cinema and Singapore Architect.
Michael Lee Hong Hwee is a visual artist, art writer and independent curator. He co-curated Eye-dentifying Peranakan Cultures (NAFA Middle Gallery, 2001-2) and Cinepolitans: Inhabitants of a Filmic City (Jendela, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, 2003), and has written for Asian Cinema, Singapore Architect, vehicle, iSh and various art exhibition catalogues. He has won awards for his collaborative videos, including first prize for the Experimental Category in the University Film and Video Association’s Student Short Film Competition 1997 in Texas, USA, and the United Television International Award for Distinction 1996 in Singapore. He has participated in numerous local art exhibitions, such as 20th UOB Painting of the Year (UOB Plaza, 2001), Nokia Singapore Art (Singapore Art Museum, 2001-2) and Sensitive Parts (Plastique Kinetic Worms, 2003). He is currently Acting Deputy Head of the Fine Art Department in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, where he lectures on Western art history and selected topics in art theory. Concerned about the relations between desire and space, he is particularly intrigued by how human wishes may reflect, affect and interact with the architectural environment. Michael has a Master of Communication Studies from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is a participant in the Now You See It show at Utterly Art with his work on cruising and he is a participant in the lecture forum Art in Conversations with Technology organized by PKW in 2003.
New Video Art From Australia
The inevitable body
Source: written by Michael Lee Hong Hwee
This 2 hour double bill is a microcosm of contemporary Australian video art practice. More generally it suggests the human body as video art’s inevitable subject, given that the 1960s reconsideration of the human body in respect to issues of race, class, gender and sexuality coincided with the rise of video technology and the development of new art forms such as installation and performance art.
Transforming New Media: Art From Australian Aboriginal Artists features 2 works that question the representation and treatment of Indigenous bodies. Emotional Striptease (2004) by Christian Thompson is a large projection that reconsiders European photographic portraiture of Aboriginal people. A convention of Australian portraiture was the dressing up of Aboriginal people in Western costume, holding Indigenous tools and standing before naturalistic landscapes. Thompson upsets this convention by updating the subjects and backdrops with contemporary faces and architectural monuments. One wonders if the work might have been more effective as large photographs since the use of zooming to animate the otherwise frozen images comes across as a tad gimmicky.
Behind the Mountains (2004) by Jonathan Jones, Darren Dale and David Page is a more powerful and evocative piece. Three open boxes greet the viewer. At the base of each is the projected figure of a naked Aboriginal person in a foetal position. This work is a direct reference to the museological and archival practice of trading Aboriginal bodies for scientific study. Inside boxes that were used to store and transport remains, projected figures appear peaceful, eyes shut, fidgeting and sometimes stretching, leaving the audience to decide if they are having a sweet dream or nightmare, or if they are the phantoms of more than 10,000 Indigenous Australians whose remains are spread across the globe today.
Rather than lamenting loss, Ivan Sen’s Blood (2002), from the show I Thought I knew but I was wrong, celebrates the spirit that binds different generations of Indigenous Australians. Showcasing Australian families in front of their homes with raw camera moves and stylised image effects, the work manages to achieve the exhibition’s primary aim: to encourage viewers to take a "second look, to explore beyond initial assumptions and to experience some of the more transformative aspects of contemporary visual arts" (curators’ catalogue essay).
The show’s 22 single-channel videos are split into 3 thematic sections: Persona, exploring notions of identity and subjectivity; Play, examining modes of representation; and Space, studying relationships with the environment. All but 2 works feature the human body. These are by Daniel Crooks. Tram No. 4 (2002) and Static No. 8 (2003) are digital reconfigurations of a Melbourne tram and foaming surf. Even here the body exists implicitly in the works’ themes of human relations with the urban and natural environments. Crooks’ third piece, Elevator No. 2 (2002), digitally slices the bodies of suited office workers into tendrils, effectively transforming the human work environment into a surreal space more suited to aquatic life.
Several of the works question conventional representations of gender. In Versus (2002) the 4 female collaborators comprising The Kingpins compellingly enact iconic moves from rock and hip hop, music genres usually reserved for men. Mockery through conflation of male and female bodies in Versus makes way for parody through exaggeration in Monica Tichacek’s Lineage of the Divine (2002). The video features a curvaceous performer doing a Marilyn Monroe imitation, at first singing and dancing sensuously, then moving so vigorously that her endowments threaten to dislodge from her body in a comical subversion of men’s fetishisation of female breasts. Dislodgement is also found in Patricia Piccinini’s computer animation In bocca al lupo (2003), which confronts us with seemingly peaceful sack-like appendages, until violent tremors cause one of them to drop off. In Piccinini’s other piece, Plasmid Region (2003), we see breast-like blobs continuously releasing blood-clot growths, a poignant reminder of the body’s vulnerability to damage, disease and deterioration.
Found footage finds its way into the hilarious works of Tracey Moffatt and Philip Brophy. Moffatt’s Love (2003) is a remix of feature film sequences featuring interactions between male and female protagonists pieced together in a rather pessimistic, though at times side-splitting, narrative of human relationships. In Brophy’s Evaporated Music 1 (c) & (d) (2000-4), we see familiar pop icons Billy Joel and Celine Dion singing in unfamiliar croaky voices. Brophy manipulates pop icons into strange beings who hover uncertainly between animal and machine.
Portraiture gets an interesting facelift in several of the works. David Rosetsky’s Without You (2003-4) features a rather morbid illustration of the postmodern concept of the multiplicity and the instability of identity. One perfect-looking face turns into another, not through the clichéd process of morphing, but peeling–a curt reminder that one persona belies and bleeds into another. Less haunting but more emotive is He Must Not Cry (2004) by Lyndal Jones, featuring closeup shots of middle-aged men on the verge of crying. Face meets food in Marcus Lyall’s Slow Service (2003), featuring slow-motion vignettes of subjects being hit by custard, pea soup, flour and other food items, creating visually dynamic baroque patterns while evoking the conflict between making interesting art and wasting precious resources. Ethics and morality are not within the necessary purview of artists. Or are they?
Re-examination of art history continues with Craig Walsh’s Blurring the Boundaries (2001-4). Using a hybrid of sculpture, performance, film and model-making, Walsh successfully creates the illusion of gigantic carp swimming in the window of a Hanoi city building, upsetting everyday commonsensical relations between humans, animals and the environment.
On the other hand, Guy Benfield’s attempt to reinterpret Pollock and performance art is contrived. By the first of 14 minutes in Universal Love Action (2002) the video has already made clear its trick; by canting the camera at a right angle the performers appear to do gravity defying stunts such as dripping paint across, rather than down, the video screen. Suffering a similar fate is Shaun Gladwell’s Kickflipper: Fragments Edit (2000-3), which features the artist attempting to impress with his skateboard stunts. Conciseness remains the key premise of good video art.
By interpreting the representation of bodies in video art, viewers are able to contemplate the multifarious meanings of their own, weigh its potentials against its fragilities and consider the conventions and history of representation. In this regard, Nietzsche’s question of whether "philosophy has not been merely an interpretation of the body and a misunderstanding of the body" could well be considered in relation to video art. Watching a large video projection or walking into a video installation, viewers do not only imbibe the works visually and aurally; their own body’s images, sounds and movements also interact sensorially with those of the video in a kind of mutual haptic exchange.
Michael Lee Hong Hwee is an artist, art writer and independent art curator interested in the relation between desire and space. He is currently the Pathway Leader of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Fine Art with Contemporary Writing and Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Fine Art: Painting and Drawing, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, and University of Huddersfield, UK. Lee has a Master of Communication Studies from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in 2001.
AN EXHIBITION ON ART • FILM • THE CITY
22 Apr-18 May 2003
Cinepolitans: Inhabitants of a Filmic City brings into focus 3 powerful influences, catalysts and references in contemporary life – Art, Film and the City. This exhibition from 22 April to 18 May 2003 will be launched at one of the most unusual and challenging gallery spaces in Singapore: Jendela at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
The exhibition features 7 Singapore artists who have been making critical impressions with their probing art practices. Curated by Michael Lee Hong Hwee and Tang Ling Nah, who are noted for their artistic practices dealing with film and urban space respectively, the exhibition showcases various media, including contemporary drawing, painting, photography, video, and installation.
Examine the impact and influence of film in a new light at Cinepolitans: Inhabitants of a Filmic City through photographs by Chua Chye Teck; Han Kiang Siew’s paper and video installation; video images from a camera thrown off a building by Ho Tzu Nyen; a painting of a cinema’s interior by Hong Sek Chern; John Low’s installation of photographs, videoclips and soundbites, Royston Tan’s short film and Tang Ling Nah’s charcoal drawings.
Jendela, Esplanade Mall Level 2
Tue – Fri: 11am to 8.30pm, Sat – Sun: 10am to 8.30pm, Closed on Mon
The exhibition opens Tue 22 Apr 2003, 6.30pm, and continues until Sun, 18 Apr 2003
Issued by The Esplanade Co Ltd.
For more information, please contact:
Patrick Keenan Vivian Koh
Communications Manager Communications Executive
The Esplanade Co Ltd The Esplanade Co Ltd
Tel 6828 8313 Tel 6828 8318
Email firstname.lastname@example.org Email email@example.com
All media extracts from the texts below should be credited to curator Michael Lee Hong Hwee:
‘Film and city are related in diverse ways, but neither cinema nor urban studies has paid warranted attention to their connections. Likewise, visual arts practice has not consistently or extensively considered the links between film and the city – particularly not in the context of the city-State of Singapore.
The melding of ‘cine’ (a prefix from ‘cinema’) and ‘politans’ (a suffix roughly translated as ‘citizens’) to yield the exhibition’s main title ‘Cinepolitans’ is a strategic move to open up grounds for visual artists to investigate the myriad plausible connections between cinematic and urban conditions. The premise of this exhibition is that although we are subjects of film and the city, in other words, we are cinepolitans in one way or another, we engage with the two subjects not merely, and even less necessarily, through film or urban studies, but possibly in numerous practical as well as artistic ways – visually, literarily, performatively or through a blend of methods. With film and city each having its own discourses, histories, theories and methodologies, their fusion offers an array of possible permutations for exploration.
Cinepolitans is the first art event ever to consider the links between film and city in the context of Singapore. It aims to suggest a space for differences between film and city to slip, and for analogies between them to arise. The title also refers to the pool of participating artists in the exhibition, showcasing their works derived from their particular aesthetic engagements with city and film – in other words, sharing their experiences of being inhabitants of a filmic city like Singapore….
The conception of ‘Cinepolitans’ generates a range of complex and valuable insights into both film and the city. A film and a city exist beyond the respective confines of the cinema and the urban environment. A filmic city occupies the imagination of every urban dweller, not just artists alone. It is hoped that this exhibition provides a trigger to explore further relationships between our physical surrounding and our favourite pastime within it.’
NOTES ON ARTISTS’ WORKS
All media extracts from the texts below should be credited to curator Michael Lee Hong Hwee:
‘Hong Sek Chern’s painting of a cinema’s interior space could be the most apparent manifestation of the filmic city. Conventionally, it is understood that the audience embodies the agency of ‘look’. Seated comfortably in an air-conditioned space, viewers watch a film projected on and reflected off the screen, and are entertained, perhaps also educated by it. What happens when the screen looks back at the audience? What does it see? Skeletal frameworks of empty seats make us wonder if this is a moment in-between screenings, post-catastrophe, or a representation of the screen’s penetrating x-ray vision.
While Hong avoids making explicit social commentary, whether on film or on city, preferring instead to let her viewers wonder, Tang Ling Nah is rather upfront with her critique of the cinematic and urban conditions. Tang’s series of noirscape drawings in this exhibition suggest narrative sequences embodied in both film and the city. Unlike watching a film in the movie theatre, where one has to sit through the screening from beginning till end, the participants of Tang’s filmic sequences are free to begin with any frame, do anything inside each, including running around and between them, according to their own whims and fancies.
The desire to escape the constraints of the urban environment is explored somewhat differently in Han Kiang Siew’s paper and video installation. The neat rows of paper figurines, enlarged many times from their original scale in architectural models, are positioned right across the floor in the middle of the gallery – forcing the viewer to walk through via a narrowly designated path. The effect is uncanny, creating an immediate sense of ambivalence in the viewers, somewhere between fascination with the oversized figurines (that paradoxically also seem like mechanised dwarfs with respect to the viewers), and horror at the possibility of having been shrunk in size. Contemplating the multiple screens of a washing machine perpetually at work, the viewer cannot help but ponder the condition of living in a city defined by compulsive cleanliness and order.
The subject of Ho Tzu Nyen’s installation piece offers yet another form of escape: suicide. For the artist, the act of suicide by jumping off one’s flat is the ultimate form of critique of the official configuration of urban space. Scanning their eyes across video images captured from a camera thrown off a HDB block but shown at different speeds, the viewers get to experience vicariously what it feels like to be a suicide case, a killer litter, even a holidaying bungee jumper.
The hero could be the saviour of the day in suicidal cases like this; he is the quintessential figure who appears at the scene when things get out of hand. He is also the film character whom Chua Chye Teck finds most intriguing. However, instead of depicting the film hero in or preparing for action, be it saving a damsel in distress or avenging injustices inflicted on his community, the artist has placed him alone in spartan environments. Through his particular brand of poetic photography, the artist explores the inner psychological worlds of the action hero beneath his muscular physique, mask and leotard outfit, asking if he might sometimes also feel lonely, fearful or vulnerable?
Emotional upheaval is the reaction of the protagonist of Royston Tan’s film, whose favourite yellow shirt has just been stolen. Tan’s Hitchcockian montage cuts and stitches up not only an eclectic collection of filmic vignettes but it is also precisely a city that the protagonist rummages through in search of his stolen good. Crossing over from filmmaking to fine art, Tan reflects not just a personal, if extremely violent, response to the retraction of material attachment, but more significantly the instinctual desire of human beings to connect, and to cope when they fail to.
From the loss of personal belonging to seemingly longing for lost monuments, John Low examines the notion of memory in the architectural context of Singapore. Gone are cinemas of the past, such as Odeon, the old Lido and Orchard, as well as the many open night theatres in the outskirts of the city, including the Jurong Drive-in. In their place are cineplexes with multiple screens equipped with state-of-the-art digital image and sound systems, and supported by department stores and entertainment enterprises for the whole family. With his installation comprising videoclips and soundbites, the artist attempts not so much to engage in nostalgia as to investigate the interplay of “light” and “dark” in the context of the modern city, teasing out particular spaces that remain forgotten and marginal in dominant discourse.’
Singapore Art Show 2005 Creative Curating Lab – “Tease me, Use me but do you Know me”, 23 September – 23 October
Tectonics Video Trilogy by Michael Lee Hong Hwee, Raffles City window display next to Bras Basah Road
A showcase of 3 videos where Michael explores the interplay of form and space.