Who could possibly have dreamed up the unlikely pairing of art and shipping?
Yet it made perfect sense that unused hangars and warehouses could now store art instead of containers, and it also made perfect sense to have a bit of fun with Mr Chong’s trusty digital camera:
As you can guess by now, Mr Chong and I headed to Keppel Distripark for an exhibition on oceanographic art. The pictures on display were shot by world-renowned photogs who had worked with National Geographic, and they were –a word I rarely use– stunning.
I was particularly taken by Goran Ehlme’s underwater portrait of a leopard seal.
While my dear noted that the intimacy of the up-close shot made the seal seem almost human, I felt that it was not the seal’s features that were human-like, but the emotion it was conveying through its eyes- a blend of curiosity and innocence counterpointed by a lingering woeful sadness (or so I thought).
The extreme camera angles and colour saturation were not only technically fascinating but also helped illuminate the subject. My only grievance was that some of the photos had been shot in black and white. I think that B & W is ideal for portraiture as it filters out unnecessary chromatic distraction and draws the eye towards tiny details –the slightest grimace or raised eyebrow– that might otherwise be overlooked in colour photography. However, the use of black and white greatly detracted from the beauty and sheer diversity of the aquatic ecosystem. (Andrew: I just wanted to add here that I actually quite liked the B&W shots because I felt that they actually highlighted and ‘sculpturalised’ the light and the central motifs of each painting. Of course I would have liked to see the coloured prints, but I thought the B&W was used to quite good effect!)
We also dropped by a "New Work, New York" exhibition, though the title was entirely misleading. We had thought that the exhibition would feature the NYC cityscape, but instead, we were treated to a mish-mash of random objects d’art. Paintings of the Grand Canyon superimposed with geometric tassellations, installation art made from chenille wires (when I was in primary school, I distinctly remember buying those fuzzy, furry wires from the school bookshop and making a menagerie of hearts, stars and hybrid animals with them), and an unidentified wooden object whose purpose I am still trying to figure out.
Is it a multi-dimensional painting? A bench? Or a slide for toddlers?
To put it bluntly, the exhibition was little more than kitsch.
But then again, I am not to be trusted on this point, as I am fairly critical of the mediocre offerings that pass themselves off as contemporary art these days.
The obliqueness of the art pieces reminded me of another solo exhibition that Andrew and I scoped out at Mount Sophia. The artist had squeezed out rolls and rolls of acrylic paint into 15" x 15" frames and left them to dry. Unfortunately, she was no Jackson Pollock. The finished products looked like something I could have done with my toothpaste.
(Andrew’s comments: The artist’s name is Jane Lee, who is apparently quite renown for this series of paintings. You can see some of these works and the supposed meaning of it here. The issue I had with these ‘paintings’, much like what Jasmine mentioned, was the lack of craft in the painting as opposed to ‘construct’. Yes it is obvious the piece was put together with some thought-process, yet the piece of art lacked that touch of artistry, which might have been the purpose of the artist anyway.)
It was only later when we referred to the guidebook that we realised what the "paint"-ings were supposed to be. According to the guidebook, tools and materials essential to the artist’s trade, such as paints and canvas, were foregrounded, their textures and layers compelling one to meditate on the nature of the mediums which are used to create art. (Ok, I think I just lost some readers. Trust me, we were thoroughly lost too.)
Which brings me back to my main beef with contemporary art. It tends to over-explain and take itself too seriously.
With the "New Work, New York" exhibition, I had no clue what was going on. (My only semi-lucid thought was: can I sit on the bench-like thing?)
With the toothpaste art exhibit, its main message seemed to be the celebration of spectacle, rather than a reflection on the nature of art, contrary to what the guidebook claimed. It was too cerebral and not nearly emotive enough. And furthermore, if the reader needs to read a thesis in order to understand a painting, which is more likely: that the reader is stupid or that the painting is ineffective?
If that were the case, perhaps the following could be classified as "contemporary art" too:
The insertion of self into the enormity of the urbanising landscape, construction versus deconstruction, height, scale, proportion, blah blah..