But is it Art ?

an excerpt - by Koh Buck Song

Sin of Apathy by Chng Nai Wee: Twelve video casssette recorders continually project images of people in pain, while soundtracks call out for sympathy. The message - that not feeling for those who suffer is a sin - may be too direct, but the intention to shock is clear.

In a dim, disturbing corner of the National Museum, art cries out to be heard - literally.

Approach the exhibit, and you will see visitors grimace and shrink back from the message of Chng Nai Wee's video installation work, Sin of Apathy.

The piece features twelve video cassette recorders showing twin images of six dishevelled and distraught people: two old man, one woman, two girls, and a boy who keeps beating his head.

Each of the six soundtracks plays forlorn pleas for sympathy over and over again: 'Many of my friends die from hunger each day... yet you don't care. What kind of a person are you ?'

The piece, one of hundred and sixteen at the National Sculpture Exhibition, shocks the viewer into examining his own normal response to the pain and suffering of others.

So, it is provocative; perhaps even profound. But is it art ?

The exhibition serves one important function, if nothing else. It makes the public ask: What is sculpture ?

Realist sculptures, such as busts, do not have such an identity crisis. The general scope of the aesthetic criteria used to assess their form, texture, colour and proportion is universally acknowledged.

It is abstract work that leaves itself to question.

Great abstract art must say something, and it would not be far wrong to say that its greatness depends on how original and profound its statement.

Ultimately, sculpture is the material expression of thoughts and feelings. It is the idea made flesh, or stone, wood, metal, paper or glass.

Art realises the image, which the American poet Ezra Pound defined as 'that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time'.

For me, art should also say something uplifting about the human condition.

It must leave an echo, one that stays in the mind, heart, and soul, long after the viewer has retreated from the dim corner.