One of Southeast Asia’s most exciting and increasingly important exhibitions of contemporary art, the Singapore Biennale, opened to the public this past October with a sprawling program spread across seven locations.
Now in it’s fifth edition, the latest variation of the Biennale is entitled An Atlas of Mirrors, bringing together 63 artists and collectives from 19 countries across the region. The four-month long exhibition includes a number of affiliate projects and public programs such as the Benesse Prize, now in its 11th edition. The award celebrates artists whose work reflects experimental and critical directions in contemporary art, awarded this year to Pannaphan Yodmanee.
In Aftermath (2016), Yodmanee’s work commissioned specifically for the Singapore Biennale, the artist combined found objects including iconography, concrete and paint, constructing a masterful immersive site-specific installation inspired by intersectional concerns for Thai tradition and trajectories of contemporary art. The work depicts a landscape scene set against a mountainous background inlaid with text, touching on a rather timely issue: industrialization versus nature, implicit in the use of concrete, a material used by the artist in an ironic way to construct a beautiful and serene natural vista.
Directed this year by Dr. Susie Lingham, Director of SAM, this year’s Singapore Biennale brought together a host of other artists concerned with interdisciplinary methods of art making, including Zulkifle Mahmod, whose SONICreflection (2016) amalgamated various sights, smells and sounds from a number of Southeast Asian communities who have recently taken up residency in Singapore. The work—installed at SAM—is made from wok lids, tweeters and pencil microphones, programmed with software, amplifying each territorial and cultural assemblage into a unique and original wall of sound.
In another work presented by Wen Pulin and Sang Honshu, seminal pieces of performance art documented in China from the 1980s and 1990s are presented in single channel video installations that include unsolicited actions performed at the National Art Museum of China in 1989, including Xiao Lu’s gun-shooting performance entitled Dialgoue.
Other works in the Biennale touched on social interaction. In Azizan Paiman’s Putar Alam Cafė (2016), consisting of a massive steel structure installed at the SAM at 8Q plaza, the work served as a site of daily interactive performances whereby the artist assumed the role of a ‘bartender’ and ‘mediator’ each day. In Malay, the phrase “putar alam” translates into English as ‘charlatan,’ meaning a person who actively tricks or distorts facts for personal gain. The work also included a radio and television installed above the bar, symbolizing the indoctrinating force of the mass media, arguably the most amplified charlatan the world has ever known, which the artist mediates through interactions between visitors as they enter and exit the work, discussing daily news and current events as well as their implicit distortion and trickery.
All told, the fifth Singapore Biennale brings together an ambitious set of programs, artworks and performances, many of which actively call into focus unique trajectories of Southeast Asian contemporary art, as well as their amplification to broader international discourses and themes.
The Fifth Singapore Biennale takes place from 27 October 2016 to 26 February 2017, at the Singapore Art Museum on Bras Basah Road and Queen Street. Other venues include Singapore Art Museum and 8Q at SAM, Asian Civilisations Museum, de Suantio Gallery at SMU, National Museum of Singapore, Stamford Green, The Old Parliament House, and The Peranakan Museum, all works commissioned by the National Arts Council of Singapore.