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What to see at Singapore Art Week

The signature event returns with over 100 events all around the island and in cyberspace.

Choose your adventure: Get on the bus 175 to see art displayed at bus stops along the way. Hop on an MRT train adorned with art from end to end. Drive through a carpark exhibition without getting out of your car. Catch critters scurrying around the island ala Pokemon Go. Or shop in a mall filled with artists’ collaborations with the mall’s tenants.

Of course, if you prefer to enjoy art the old-fashioned way, you could drop in at the dozens of exhibitions in galleries and museums across Singapore. If you want to be even more “boring”, you could just stay home and take in the wealth of digital art created just for the week.

Any way you look at it, the Singapore Art Week (Jan 22 to 30, 2021) will be a frenzied period for anyone who genuinely loves art, as there are over 300 artists and curators putting out their best works around the island and in cyberspace.

Now in its ninth year, the national art event has grown in size and ambition over time. But this year’s edition appears even more so, as the arts community thinks up new ways to bring art to the people under the restrictions of Covid-19. Organised by the National Arts Council, Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Economic Development Board, it has branched out into the physical and virtual worlds as never before.

Tay Tong, NAC’s director of sector development for visual arts, says: “This ninth edition is a mark of our times. Many of these programmes actively respond to the current challenges. Artists have adapted quickly, experimenting with new modes of creation by leveraging on technology, and rethinking how to collaborate internationally, with travel restrictions in place.” As the pandemic still inflicts damage on the sector, Mr Tay sees the event as a “coming together of our community, and acknowledging its innovation, resilience and spirit of solidarity that have been demonstrated greatly in these times”.

(Related: Cuteness meets craft in Loewe’s My Neighbor Totoro collection)

AR Tech comes forth

One event emblematic of the new Singapore Art Week is Inner Like The OutAR, an art show that combines physical sensations with virtual thrills. Set in a hallucinatory space filled with coloured lights and weird soundscapes, visitors will be handed iPads that allow them to explore digitally coloured forests and strange plants.

Artist Reza Hasni conceptualised the show as a response to how more people are spending time in nature during the pandemic. The sly irony, of course, is that the show lets you experience these psychotropic environments indoors using Augmented Reality (AR) technology – a simultaneous comment on how we often substitute digital visual experiences for real life.

Presented by art programming consultancy Mama Magnet, its founder-curator Tulika Ahuja says: “We wanted a strong participatory element that can capture and hold the attention of our visitors. Attention spans are very short; if a work of art wants to say something, it needs to engage its audiences in fresh, innovative ways.” As an added attraction to social media fans, the space features many spots for selfies.

Meanwhile, another AR project has imaginary critters jumping around and interacting with you. Inspired by Pokemon Go, artist Alvin Tan of design collective Phunk worked with other artists to create fictitious flora and fauna scattered around Gillman Barracks, viewable on your smartphone via a QR code. The artists hope to obtain funding that’ll allow them to extend their magical world to the rest of Singapore. Tan says: “Our reality was altered by the pandemic, but it gave rise to augmented reality . . . Now is an exciting time for artists as we’re pushed to experiment with new mediums and ways of engaging with them.”

Collectors unite online

In recent years, one of Singapore Art Week’s marquee events was S.E.A. Focus, a selling exhibition that brings some of the best galleries, artists and collectors together. Though it doesn’t call itself an “art fair”, it operates like one, and has helped fill some of the commercial void left behind by Art Stage’s departure in 2019.

Because of travel restrictions, however, this year’s S.E.A. Focus is not able to physically host non-Singaporean galleries and guests. Hence it has gone hybrid, with a selection of terrific artworks physically displayed at Helutrans, and the rest shown online. Among the 27 galleries participating in the event are Lehmann Maupin (which has galleries in New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London) and Edouard Malingue Gallery (which is based in Hong Kong and Shanghai).

Its project director Emi Eu says the pandemic has brought about significant changes to the art world: “But we see them as opportunities to reach out to a global audience and help them discover South-east Asian art from Singapore.”

Meanwhile, another annual marquee event is the IMPART Collectors’ Show, which brings to the public priceless art belonging to private collectors. Last year’s show featured works by blue-chip artists such as Kehinde Wiley (who famously painted Barack Obama) and Bharti Kher (who’s collected by Tate Modern and Walker Art Center).

The pandemic, however, has prevented overseas collectors from travelling to Singapore for a showcase. So the organiser, Art Outreach Singapore, has created videos that take you into the beautiful houses and offices of major collectors to see their private collections. They include Singapore’s Woffles Wu and Jim Amberson, Indonesia’s Wiyu Wahono and India’s Sangita Jindal.

Summing up the spirit of Singapore Art Week 2021, Mr Tay says that event reflects on “what is lost in the pandemic”. But, instead of wallowing fruitlessly in regret, it explores “what new opportunities have emerged from it, and how one can look ahead into the transformation of the arts for the future”.

Visit artweek.sg for details.

  • Singapore Art Week 2021

    The art show 'Inner Like The OutAR' promises a blend of live thrills and digital fantasies.

(Related: Works by up-and-coming artists are rocking the auction market)

Eight highlights of the week

1. Bus.Stop.Art

A bus ride needn’t be a dull affair – especially if it’s bus 175. The route begins from Lor 1 Geylang and winds its way through Bugis, Orchard, Bukit Merah and Alexandra before terminating at Clementi Interchange.

Along the way, you’ll spot artworks – and perhaps even artists too – at 10 out of around 60 bus stops. Rizman Putra, for instance, will interact with commuters and encourage them to spontaneously draw. Madhvi Subrahmanian will perform a ritualistic Kolam drawing on the walkway from the bus stop opposite Alexandra Retail Centre leading into Gillman Barracks. Visit busstopart.com for details.

2. Light To Night Festival

The facades of major art institutions, such as National Gallery Singapore and The Arts House, will once again be enveloped by eye-popping visual projections and surreal soundscapes.

Artists Tan Guo-Liang and Nathan Yong will each present a large-scale installation at the Gallery’s Padang Atrium and on the historic Padang grounds respectively, offering visitors moments of solace and quiet contemplation. New public art works have also been commissioned for the week.

3. Moo Moo Park

The Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre has erected Asia’s first drive-through art exhibition in its carpark. Created in conjunction with the upcoming Chinese New Year, the Moo Moo Park welcomes the Year of the Ox through visual art displays and AR technology that help you appreciate the cultural significance of the ox. Participating artists include Almostasthma, ANTZ, Danielle Tay, Howie Kim, Mithra and Puffingmuffin. Visit singaporeccc.org.sg for details.

4. CosmicWander: Expedition

Artist Choy Ka Fai explores the human desire for transcendence via shamanic dance cultures of Asia. Having traversed the continent in search of extraordinary trance experiences, the artist has met over 50 shamans and filmed colourful dance rituals, from Siberia to Singapore.

His video work is shown in a six-channel video installation at Tanjong Pagar Distripark and presented by Singapore Art Museum. Visit singaporeartmuseum.sg and cosmicwander.info for details.

5. S.E.A. Focus

S.E.A. Focus is an anchor event of the Singapore Art Week, showcasing South-east Asian art in physical and online spaces. The physical showcase at Tanjong Pagar Distripark features solid works such as a Rirkrit Tiravanija’s large-scale tapestry installation untitled 2016 (nothing) as well as Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia, an ambitious video work reflecting on the region’s history. Meanwhile, the online space offers artworks for sale, video tours of artist studios, and conversations with leading figures. Visit seafocus.sg for details.

6. Maybe We Read Too Much Into Things

With many of us working from home, the mundane everyday objects surrounding us may have taken on a somewhat different meaning. Six artists – Aki Hassan, Daniel Chong, Kevin Fee, Genevieve Leong, Leow Wei Li, and Ryan Benjamin Lee – explore the materialities of everyday objects and their potential for transformation.

Curated by Berny Tan, the works showcased at 72-13 include sculptures, installations, videos, animation, and paintings. Visit maybewereadtoomuchintothings.com for details.

7. State Of Motion

The futuristic architecture of Marina One forms the backdrop of this art exhibition, which looks at the various elements of the science fiction genre, and the art and ideas it has inspired.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, the participating artists propose new ways of living and thinking. Visit stateofmotion.sg for details.

8. OH! Open House

Art is endless fodder for debate. And in this show cum participatory discussion, curators John Tung and Syed Muhammad Hafiz selected works from the private collections of Jo and the DUO Collection as a springboard for pertinent discussion on art.

The audience is encouraged to speak up, take sides and defend their stance, instead of passively enjoying the works. Visit ohopenhouse.org for details.

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

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