Biennale at National Museum

Andrew: In spite of our bad experiences with the Biennale thus far, Dearie and I decided to give it one last shot with the exhibition at National Museum (actually I ‘tricked’ her into going by telling her about the dress exhibition, knowing that there was no way she would turn down a dress exhibition! Heh.)

Jasmine: Hmph! And may I just point out that Andrew made us proceed to the Biennale first, where we spent almost two hours, as opposed to our paltry fifteen minutes at the dress exhibition.

Andrew: Although this was the least advertised venue out of all the venues, it was ironically the one we enjoyed the most and the most thought provoking of all!

Here are some of our favorite pieces:

Compound by Somheap Pich

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Andrew: ‘Compound’ is the first exhibit that you see upon entering the museum and I felt it was perfectly placed. The photo doesn’t do justice to its architectural grandeur. I really liked the mix of modernity and tradition in using rattan to create a modern architectural structure.

Flooded MacDonalds by Flex (Copenhagen, Denmark)

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Andrew: Our experience at the previous two Biennale exhibitions left us apprehensive about video pieces and we often left after 2 minutes of each video installation (except for the twins one). This piece had us sitting down and discussing its implications for almost 15 minutes.

In this piece, the artists recreate a MacDonalds stall and flood it, responding to the “apocalyptic language in the mass media, as well as humorously evoking the threat of climate change.” Dearie and I both had rather different interpretations of it.

I understood and appreciated the piece through its conscious replication of famous apocalyptic scenes in movies and saw many uncanny parallels within that MacDonalds stall and human landscape. There were many shots of a huge Ronald MacDonalds collapsing as the flood waters rose and that brought back memories of the Statue of Liberty being destroyed in many apocalypse movies. There were also shots of flood-waters ‘washing’ into the seats of MacDonalds, which looked a lot like a seashore being flooded. I saw this film as a parody of the over-dramatized apocalyptic imagery employed by movies. Interestingly enough, the film was completely silent, making it even more eerie and haunting than the stirring soundtracks of many apocalyptic films.

Jasmine: I was quite captivated by the director’s take on waste caused by over-consumption, which was quite evident in several scenes where the deluge of water was littered with Macdonald’s paraphernalia. This seemed to resemble the amount of waste caused by human excess.  Numerous slow-motion, underwater shots were used. The floating debris gliding past the camera was reminiscent of space, which is also a gravity-less environment, so I read that as  a visual metaphor for the exporting of waste into outer space.

stored in a jar: monsoon, drowning fish, colour of water, and the floating world, 2011-11 by Tiffany Chung (Ho Chih Minh)


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Andrew: One thing we really liked about this exhibition was that the pieces were actually aesthetically pleasing and good to look at. Most contemporary art prides itself on being disgusting, shocking and off-putting, but this piece was alluring and it drew you in. I spent so much time just walking around the ‘floating island’, appreciating the intricacy of detail and immersing in Chung’s utopia.

This was actually meant to be Tiffanny Chung’s creation of an alternative model of urban development, where ‘floating life’ is the way of life. I really liked the attention, not just to aesthetic detail, but to the scientific detail (like how the water pumps and pipes would be arranged, where the buoys would be etc.).

Jasmine: Although "beautiful" is a rather cliched word to use, there’s no better way to describe this piece.  One issue that I often encounter with contemporary "art" is the lack of artisanal merit or craftsmanship in the piece. Chung’s piece, however, drew me in without requiring over-elaborate  explanations or shock tactics.

In addition to being well-made and well-conceived, the piece was also well-displayed. Everything worked together to create the effect of surreally floating islands, from the spot lighting which cut through the glass surfaces and threw some interesting shadows on the floor, to the wires which suspended the glass in midair.

‘Spring and Autumn’ series, 2004-10, Shao Yinong & Muchen

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Andrew: This was another beautiful piece with many war-time currencies woven onto black cloth. The weaving was so fine and the lighting was perfect in highlighting the subtle shades of colour and shadows in the dollar note design. Apparently these notes were created using traditional Suzhou embroidery techniques, to suggest the ‘fragile nature of political and economic power’. These notes were obsolete bank notes from different countries and periods, which carry symbolic images of leaders, heroes and mythical figures. While the artists wanted to highlight the fragility of power, they also ironically created a very captivating piece which conveyed a great sense of awe.

Jasmine: Another interpretation I had of the piece was that it intended to elevate currency, which we normally deem as a base and mundane transactionary tool, to the status of high art, by rendering it in intricate embroidery and fine metallic threads to create the impression of something precious and valuable.

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Andrew: I just liked the symbolism of this piece a lot. It was supposed to show how status was symbolized by how ‘high’ you were in the residential building. Scaria also intended to critique how the buildings in New Delhi seemed to be designed more to impress others for their ‘ingenuity and specularity rather than functiong as a living space.’

The use of a spiral staircase was indeed intelligent in highlighting that as spiral staircases are purely aesthetic and have no additional ‘functionality’ as compared to usual staircases. (Jasmine: I would have to gently disagree here dear; spiral staircases are often used to save space in cramped quarters. See for instance lighthouses or shophouses.) Putting it as a spiral staircase also adds to that sense of ‘exposing’ the structure as every individual unit is seen and every unit is revealed as being the same. In fact, looking into the unit, you will notice there’s nothing in side at all, it’s all empty. It was a visually appealing and engaging piece as I found myself wanting to walk around the piece and peek through the various windows. (Jasmine: Another feature of the spiral staircase is that it doesn’t require any weight-bearing support from surrounding walls. Aesthetics aside, the artist may have chosen a spiral staircase as it provides viewers with a 360-degree view that a normal staircase wouldn’t.)

Story lines By Beat Streuli

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Andrew: This was another video installation which I thought was very successful. I generally have no patience for video installations which merely show people walking or various landscapes with no discernible storyline, but I thought that this video installation was very thoughtfully crafted. There were 3 screens on which scenes of street life in New York and Singapore were projected. The expressions on the individuals were varied, yet all so revealing, drawing you in and inviting you to think about what might be on their minds. It was also fun to notice the little things that make Singapore Singapore, like the design of the railings, memorable colours of our SBS buses etc.

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