New Platforms To Develop Visual Arts Hub (Press Release 28-Jan-2004)

SENI – Singapore 2004
Singapore Art 2005

Giving Singapore’s burgeoning arts scene an added boost are two exciting biennial visual arts launch pads: SENI – Singapore 2004 (SENI) and Singapore Art 2005.

A total framework to provide expanded and alternative international visual arts showcases in Singapore, the two biennials aim to further nurture our visual arts talents, capabilities and audiences nationally, regionally, and internationally. To be held in October this year, SENI is a prequel towards the development of a Singapore Biennale, focusing on the development of Asian contemporary art in the international scene. Singapore Art provides a national visual arts platform for the discovery and development of Singapore artists which will alternate with the proposed Singapore Biennale. The two biennial events are designed as mutually complementary events. Added to the increasing Singapore’s presence at international biennales, both events will enhance Singapore’s international standing in the visual arts world.

“These are two iconic events to add to the vibrancy of Singapore’s arts scene. They represent significant milestones in the development of Singapore into a visual arts hub. I believe they will serve as important avenues that provide new opportunities for Singapore artists, curators and visual art businesses, further cultivate visual arts appreciation and build our visual arts audiences,” says Mr Lee Suan Hiang, Chief Executive Officer of National Arts Council and Chairman of SENI – Singapore 2004 Steering Committee.

SENI will present ideas on the theme ‘Art and the Contemporary’, and promote discourse on socio-cultural influences today through works by Southeast Asian artists in particular. It kickstarts the vision for the proposed Singapore biennale to give greater profile and accessibility to Southeast Asian and Asian contemporary art, adding Singapore’s own unique voice to the international community of art biennales.

For the first time in a major programme of this scale, an artistic director, Professor Chua Beng Huat from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Sociology, has been appointed to conceptualise and guide the programming for SENI. Prof Chua’s interests lie in contemporary culture and Asian inter-cultural studies.

“ ‘Seni’ is the modern Malay word for ‘art’. As such, it gives immediate reference to our location in Southeast Asia. SENI Singapore signifies Singapore as the venue for the world to engage in exchanges and cultural examinations through contemporary art. This festival aims to reach out to learned and new audiences for contemporary art, with works that engage the senses and the relevance of modern cultural ideas and objects to daily life,” says Professor Chua.

SENI – Singapore 2004 will comprise several exhibition components. A main exhibition, Home Fronts, will feature works by urban artist collectives from Singapore, South East Asia and beyond to explore the notion of home in relation to geographical, socio-cultural, economic constraints and location. Other components will include new media projects that investigate the relationship between moving images, location and the audience, and the influence of art history and theory on new media art. Public art projects will also transform some public spaces to explore the relationship between images, urban spaces and the audience. 48 Documents, a multidisciplinary event, consists of a symposium on the overall theme of the festival and various performances taking place continuously over 48 hours.

In addition to the exhibition components, there will be a website and magazine to provide comprehensive information on the artists and curatorial framework, as well as a discursive platform, for the general public.

Says Dr Kwok Kian Woon, Chairman, National Archives of Singapore, National Heritage Board and Co-chairman of SENI – Singapore 2004 Steering Committee, on his vision for art development in Singapore, “The National Heritage Board has over the years presented numerous exhibitions with the aim of developing the museum as a platform for art history and contemporary art practices from Singapore, and as part of a broader framework of global and international developments. SENI looks towards a regional and international perspective, bringing together artists from Singapore, South East Asia and beyond to explore the notion of home in relation to geographical, socio-cultural, economic constraints and location. This is a culture, a heritage, and a history as it unfolds, in a continuous discussion and negotiation, that we are all a part of.”

SENI – Singapore 2004 will be held from 1 October to 28 November 2004. It is jointly organised by the National Arts Council and the Singapore Art Museum of National Heritage Board. More information is available in Annexes 1 to 4.

Singapore Art (SA) aims to be the national platform for both outstanding and up-and-coming local visual artists to showcase their latest works, and also be the important avenue to build public appreciation of our diverse visual arts practices. The programme structure of SA is still being developed. To be launched in 2005, it will allow for the showcase of artworks from various genres and medium by Singapore artists, and seek to engage the visual arts community in Singapore through outreach components, public art, platforms for the discovery of new talents, and awards.


Annex 1

SENI Singapore 2004
Steering Committee Members

Chairman: Lee Suan Hiang
CEO, National Arts Council

Co-Chairman: Dr Kwok Kian Woon
Chairman, National Archives of Singapore, National Heritage Board

Members: Lim Siok Peng (Ms)
CEO, National Heritage Board

Mrs Koh-Lim Wen Gin
Chief Planner and Dy CEO (Physical Planning and Conservation & Urban Design), Urban Redevelopment Authority

Dr Kaizad Heerjee
Vice-President, Corporate Business, Starhub

Christine Khor (Ms)
Director, Special Projects (Arts), Singapore Tourism Board

Matthew Ngui

Chua Soo Bin
Chairman, Art Galleries Association Singapore

Tan Kay Ngee
Principal, Kay Ngee Tan Architects

Chua Chim Kang
Editor, Commentary Desk, Lianhe Zaobao

Kwok Kian Chow
Director, Singapore Art Museum, NHB

Khor Kok Wah
Director, Arts & Heritage Development, MITA

Goh Ching Lee (Ms)
Director, Programmes & International Development, NAC

Secretary: Chua Ai Liang (Ms)
Deputy Director, Programmes & International Development, NAC
Annex 2

Professor Chua Beng Huat
Artistic Director, SENI Singapore 2004

Chua Beng Huat is Professor in the Department of Sociology and the Asia Research Institute, the National University of Singapore. He has held visiting professorships at universities in US, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany, Australia and the US. During his recent Distinguished Visiting Scholar Fellowship at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, he delivered the Inaugural Lecture of the Carolina Asia Center. He has published widely in urban planning and public housing, comparative politics in Southeast Asia and the emerging consumerism across Asia: Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore (London and New York: Routledge, 1995) and Political Legitimacy and Housing: Stakeholding in Singapore (London and New York: Routledge, 1997). He has edited, Consumption in Asia: Lifestyles and Identities (London and New York: Routledge, 2000). His most recent book is Life is Not Complete without Shopping (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2003). A new book of which he is the contributing editor will be in press in March, 2004, entitled Communitarian Politics in Asia (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon). In addition to being on the editorial board of many international social science and cultural studies journals, he is currently founding co-executive editor of the journal, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (London: Routledge).

December 2003

Annex 3

SENI Singapore 2004
Curatorial Concept and Framework

Concept and Objectives

Seni, the modern Malay lexicon for art. A direct and immediate announcement of its object; and refers to art in an inclusive mode. A Malay word, it makes immediate reference to Singapore as a nation, Malay being our language, to its geographic location in Southeast Asia and opens up to the world.

Singapore as the site for the event is immediate and explicit in ‘Singapore 2004’. The event aims to promote cultural discussion in Singapore, as a vehicle for dialogue in relation to cultures of Southeast Asia, Asia, and those beyond.

The macro thematic framework of this event is an affirmation of the inter-relation between art and the ‘contemporary’. The theme investigates the permanent present and presence that is new, emerging and at the cutting edge of building on the foundation of what had been. More importantly through encouraging inter-cultural engagements and joint artistic investigations, the theme faces the openness of its own unfolding towards the future.

Proposed Event Structure

The event will be made up of a series of projects. Although these projects can be viewed independently from each other, they are inter-linked through curatorial collaborations and sharing of artistic resource.

1. Main exhibition – Home Fronts

An investigation into the often-fluid notions of place, locations and boundaries, characterised by the permeability of social and geographical spaces. The theme may also be explore in relation to displacement, dispossession, migration and diaspora – voluntary or enforced – often exacerbated by continuing social tensions caused by impacts of urbanisation and capitalism. Economic inequalities, social injustices and political tensions formed localised dimensions for the larger global dynamics.

2. Video & New Media

A series of exhibitions, public events and conference exploring digital technologies. An investigation into the relationship between image, location and the audience. Involving works by both local and international artists, the exhibition is planned to be simultaneously presented at other venues internationally. Thematically, this component presents two related aspects of new media art today - the rise of new media production, and its development as artistic expression. Focusing on the image surface of digital video and new media through the tensions of art and cinema, the exhibition explores the language and negotiations of the mediated image in contemporary art practice.

3. Public Art Project

An investigation into relationships between image, urban spaces and the audience, as and/or the production of social spaces through aesthetic interventions.

The work(s), situated in the public realm, will serve as an emblematic front to the festival or can also be used as a ‘connector’ between the exhibition sites. It will involve the use of the Singapore city space or landmarks as a ‘canvas’ for a multimedia presentation that will appeal to the audio and visual senses of the public.

The project may also take the form of design or architectural interventions in the city. Architectural forms may be mobilised to dot the public spaces in-between the exhibition sites, serving a number of functions; as connectors, as visual interventions, as resting points, as information points, etc.

4. 48 Documents

A hybrid of symposium and performance base events, taking place over a continuous period of 48 hours. It will focus of critical issues expressed in the overall theme of the event, contemporary art practices, and audience engagements. Content and invitees involved will be closely aligned to the other projects of the festival.

Artists, curators, museum directors, art historians, social scientists, architects, designers, filmmakers and performing artists will be invited to participate in this multidisciplinary event. Performances, talks, and artists’ discussions will correspond to the overall theme of the festival.

5. SENI Online

The project will be accompanied by a virtual educational and discursive platform for the exhibition that will provide information on the artists and essays. It will also be a means for audience engagement through an educational forum where audiences can respond to the works.

6. SENI Magazine

A hybrid catalogue/magazine for the general public, with curatorial essays written in reader-friendly, ‘journalistic’ styles. The catalogue will also engage in further discussions of the various projects included in the festival, and will be a platform for active dialogue of artists, projects and analysis.

Annex 4

Background of Major Visual Arts Events

The series of visual arts festivals started with the National Day Art Exhibition, which was first organised in 1969 to provide an exhibition platform for Singapore artists. This was further developed to become the Singapore Art Fair in 1986 to introduce a stronger sales component of artworks and art-related businesses.

In 1993, the Singapore Art Fair was modified to become a regional art fair with the theme “Art in Asia”. Its objective is to raise the overall quality of the Fair and to provide a regional market focus. The expanded Fair was held as a curated section within the newly arrived Tresors d’Art, that was organised by international fair organizer, Bradbury International.

Following feedback, National Arts Council (NAC) and Singapore Art Museum (SAM) of National Heritage Board jointly revived the visual arts exhibition platform, similar to the former National Day Art Exhibition, called Singapore Art ’95 and Singapore Art ’97. Greater emphasis was given to the quality of artworks displayed. They featured two categories – an “Invited Section” that exhibited works by National Day Award, Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award recipients; and, an “Open Section”, which invited entry submissions from all artists. A panel of adjudicators comprising two ASEAN art curators/critics and other local experts was formed to select the best amongst the submitted entries for the exhibition.

The Singapore Art series was then renamed Nokia Singapore Art (NSA) in 1999 with sponsorship from Nokia (Singapore). The NSA series was co-organised by NAC and SAM. The timing of the project was shifted from August to December 1999 to mark the millennium with a theme of “City/Community”. It also moved from a single venue exhibition to multiple exhibitions at various venues. Greater emphasis was placed on showcasing contemporary art. NSA also aimed to celebrate the diversity of visual arts practices in Singapore, and inculcate an appreciation and awareness of the visual arts among Singaporeans. Fringe activities comprising workshops, talks and demonstrations were programmed. NSA 1999 also saw the inauguration of an International Symposium as an important forum aimed at extending art dialogue as well as exchange ideas on contemporary art, curatorial issues and exhibition practices in Asia. A cyberart component was introduced in NSA 2001 under the theme “Histories/Identities/Technologies/Spaces (HITS)”.

The organisers hope to usher in a new development phase for the visual arts scene in Singapore with two biennials: SENI Singapore 2004 – Art and the Contemporary as a prequel to the proposed Singapore Biennale; and a tentatively titled Singapore Art, slated for 2005, as the development of a new national platform. It is hoped that the two biennials will eventually be marketed as an integrated visual arts entity and evolve into mutually complementary events of equivalent standing. The local visual arts landscape can also enjoy added vibrancy with these two biennials where a culture of collecting and patronising local art and artists is further developed; artistic talents, in the curatorial, art writing and exhibition design fields, are discovered and groomed; and, the standard of visual arts appreciation in Singaporeans increased