Cultural Cacophony Part 2

19 november 2013 / art / words asih jenie

We've arrived at the second part of our Singapore Biennale coverage. (Be sure to check out Part 1!) This time we present some highlights from Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.


"Payatas" by Oscar Villamiel, Philippines


An installation that comes with a warning for the faint-hearted, "Payatas" transports its viewers to realm of fantasy-horror. It presents a tableau of thousands of doll heads mounted on bamboo rods surrounding a dilapidated shacks, whose interior is also decorated with dismembered doll parts. Once playthings onto which children cast their dreams and hopes, these dolls were salvaged from a Manila landfill of the same name, where its 15-story-high mountains of trash are literally treasure to its estimated 200,000 inhabitants. Trapped in the circle of extreme poverty, these people–children included–make their living scavenging anything that can be recycled, repaired and sold. Villamiel acquired the dolls from them over the course of two and a half years. If the visceral assault of his "Payatas" captures the bleakness of the place, it also shows its prevailing tenacity for life. And at the heart of the installation, there is a drawing of a child inscribed with a prayer – the artist’s hope for humanity.


"Tiempos Muertos" by Nikki Luna, Philippines


"Tiempos Muertos" showcases hundreds of glittering "diamonds" cast from resin and sugar crystals from Bacolod, Philippines. One of the most progressive and elite cities in the country, Bacolod bears jolly nickname such as City of Smiles and Sugar City. The history of the city is often told through the sweet life enjoyed by the hacienderos (plantation owners). But the sugar industry has left its laborers with a bitter aftertaste. Taking on most of the back-breaking farm works for a measly 1USD a day, the laborers suffer from the tiempos muertos – the "dead season" that is the off-milling period of June to September when there is dearth of work – which threatens to become permanent with the declining price of sugar. Luna likens these sugar crystals to blood diamonds; a treasure tilled from the earth, gleaned at high human cost.


"Little Soap Boy" by Vu Hong Ninh, Vietnam



Standing on a pedestal in Singapore Art Museum's courtyard is a larger than life soap sculpture of a baby boy. His mischievous smile is matched by the insolent display of his middle finger, a blatant defiance against authority. The sculptor Vu Hong Ninh draws the inspiration for "Little Soap Boy" from several visual icono: the Manneken Pis, the Shakyamuni Buddha, and the cherubs of Renaissance paintings. Endearing and offensive at the same time, "Little Soap Boy" is a strategy to shock and stimulate viewers out of apathy. The artwork is completed with a washbasin where visitors can lather and rinse their hand after rubbing the statue, hinting at the rituals practiced in Buddhist temples and challenging the idea of art through its gradual deterioration. The artist has also made smaller versions of the artwork, which are distributed in every washrooms in SB2013's venues. 


"Specula" by Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi, Vietnam



Texas-born artist Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi splits her time between Hanoi and Madrid, working mainly with Vietnamese lacquer. Taking its name from the Latin word for mirror, "Specula" presents an arching tunnel which both interior and exterior are constructed from modules lacquer painting. The installation serves as a mirror through which Nguyen examines her trans-national identity as a Viet Kieu – a Vietnamese living abroad ­– "a space where temporal planes coincide to create a liminal space of duality and otherness." ­ This ritualistic nature and the hermetic form of the artwork beautifully complement its location, which is at the former chapel of the Singapore Art Museum.      


"Satanni" by Anon Pairot, Kamin Lertchaiprasert, Patama Roonrakwit, Samart Suwannarat and Zcongklod Bangyikhan, Thailand


A cross-disciplines collaboration between an architect, an artist, a product designer, a editor and a researcher, "Satanni" – meaning station in Thai  – aim to create a shared learning process rather than displaying a finished artwork. "Satanni" acts as a bridge between what is perceived as art space and non-art space, opening up new ways of perceiving the role of the museum. The artwork occupies two different zones;  a corridor and a glass porch, the museum's "transit" zone. The former is decorated with various furniture covered in yellow duct tapes while the latter, in contrast with the corridor, is decorated with functional furniture pieces made from recycled material. The installations are described as artwork in process that will be completed through a series of workshops on November 23.


"I Have Seen a Sweeter Sky" by Nopchai Ungkavatanapong, Thailand



Nopchai Ungkavatanapong deconstruct objects to remove their original functions, and reconstructs them into sculptures and installations ­­– infused with his signature use of neon lights ­–  with new allusions. He calls his practice "a compilation on intertextuality." Hanging at the atrium of Peranakan Museum "I Have Seen a Sweeter Sky" is a site-specific installation inspired by the building's history as the site of Tao Nan School (1912-1982) and the Asian Civilization Museum (1997-2006). The assemblage comprises six key objects that each corresponds to cosmic elements: a bed (earth), ladder (water), window (fire), spool spinner (wind), clock (time) and a small trunk (phenomena). Composed with neon abstractions of the elements, the installation conjures a haunting sensation of former existences within the present space.


Stay tuned for the last part of our Singapore Biennale coverage.

Singapore Biennale 2013 runs until 16 February 2014 at Singapore Art Museum, SAM at 8Q, National Museum of Singapore, Peranakan Museum. Exhibitions open from 10Am to 7PM daily (last admission at 6:15PM) Admission fees: Adult SGD10, student and seniors SGD5. Free admission for all visitors to Biennale artworks at Fort Canning Park, National Library Building, Waterloo Centre and Our Museum@Taman Jurong.

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