3. Art and Space

In conceiving the exhibition, we wanted to work with the dynamics that the space provided, instead of eliminating the narrative of the room by creating a ‘white cube’. Aptly, Goodman Arts Centre, where the exhibition was held, was an old school compound that housed Tun Seri Lanang Secondary School from 1962 to 1995, LASALLE College of the Arts from 1992 to 2007, followed by School of the Arts (SOTA) from 2007 to 2009, and the room we were given for the exhibition was typical for a Singaporean classroom. For younger Singaporeans – the five of us in the curating team included – encounters with 9 August 1965 were fed to us in history lessons in such classrooms, and the space itself had a narrative that could not be ignored. We thus decided to assign spaces for each artist to work with.

Tse Hao Guang’s piece Merging and Separating was written on the classroom’s whiteboard, a space that one can associate with the authority and power of knowledge imparted. He describes his work as “a poem liberally interspersed with quotes from disparate sources, collectively commenting on the problem of looking back and learning from 9 August 1965”, and in the process questioning the idea of legitimacy of knowledge presented on such a medium. Joel Yuen presented 8 similar photographic prints titled With or Without You on tables that are commonly found in Singaporean classrooms, a metaphor for the reproduction and consumption of information by individuals in a classroom space. Teow Yue Han’s video work, Our Moments of Anguish, a cheeky take on the famous black and white television footage of Lee Kuan Yew in tears as he announced the separation of Singapore from Malaysia to the Singaporean public, was projected on the back wall of the “classroom” – a literal act of looking back at a past event reinterpreted. The constant repeat of Lee’s words voiced by different actors was also an intrusive element that set the climate of the exhibition space.

The artists were recruited into this project as co-creators and collaborators to the exhibition, and not merely as participants. Each artist was given archival material on 9 August 1965 which they took as their departure point to respond to and eventually conceive art works that reflect their own consciousness of the event. This, we felt, allowed both artists and curators to better express their personal understandings and experiences of the memory of 9 August 1965.

The ‘classroom’ on the opening night of the exhibition.

From left: Hao Guang, Joel and Yue Han – our artists for after|thought.

The Artists

Joel Yuen

Joel Yuen is an artist working with photography, video, and performance art. He is interested in the collapsed notion of urban mythologies, history, and the re-interpretation of secular rituals. He received his MA in Fine Art from Chelsea College of Art & Design, is a recipient of the Artists and Collectors Exchange Bursaries Award (London), and winner of the 27th UOB Painting Of The Year Competition (Singapore).

Notable exhibitions include The Singapore Show: Future Proof at Singapore Art Museum at 8Q, Xhibit at Menier Gallery (London), and Seeing in the City at Guildhall Art Gallery (London). Yuen was also working on a performance art piece entitled Anthem, which he presented at Art13 London in March 2013.

With or Without You uses the different visual elements of the newspaper in an attempt to investigate the role of print media in shaping and re-presenting Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. Joel produced eight unique mix media prints of Singapore superimposed onto photographs of the sea that separates both countries. In the center of each print are the words “Talak Talak Talak” or “Merdeka”.

Artist’s statement: With or Without You

The headline “Singapore is out” was on the front page of The Straits Times a day after Singapore separated from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. To the Malaysians, the words talak, talak, talak is synonymous with the Tunku’s decision to divorce Singapore from any associations with the Malaysian central government. To Singaporeans, the separation means merdeka; independence and freedom for the nation. As the media tried to digest and propagate the news, should one view this significant day as one with apprehension or jubilation? If race issues, political ideologies and geopolitics were not handled in measured terms, what would the separation mean for Singaporeans today?

With or Without You is an experimental photographic work that brings together issues of semiotics, geography and visual representation in terms of a re-examined 1965.

Teow Yue Han

Teow Yue Han is an interdisciplinary artist with a keen interest in gestures and interaction. Not confined to any medium, he seeks to explore Not confined to any medium, he seeks to explore the aesthetical residue of identity and the intersection between physicality and technology. He received the prestigious Art Elective Programme (AEP) Scholarship in 2004 and continued to exhibit his final year project at the 2007 AEP Exhibition held at NAFA. Yue Han graduated from NTU School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) in 2012 with a BFA in Digital Filmmaking. He has performed locally at Fetterfield, R.I.T.E.S., Night Festival 2010, NOW! and exhibited internationally in London and Beijing.

Yue Han reproduced Lee Kuan Yew’s announcement of the separation using individuals representing our four main ethnic groups. They re-enacted Lee’s groundbreaking speech, following closely the original words spoken. It was interesting to watch the responses of the public, which varied according to each video being shown. Some found certain parts of the video humourous and burst into laughter while others were remained serious throughout. Our Moment of Anguish interrogates the methodology employed by museums to represent national issues and history, and also reveals the gaps of representation in trying to invoke the same feelings as experienced in the past, in the present.

Artist’s statement: Our Moment of Anguish

Reflecting on the convergence of the ‘events’ and ‘personal’ paths during the final lap of the Singapore History Gallery journey, Our Moment of Anguish explores the disjunctures that occur as the individual relates to an event in the past. Having people from all walks of life re-enact and appropriate the famous moment in Singapore history where Lee Kuan Yew broke down as he announced the separation, the work questions the validity and significance of this famous footage in the consciousness of the contemporary present, and observes the changes in tone of interpretation as it is re-presented.

Tse Hao Guang

Hao Guang is a writer interested in form and formation, quotation and creativity, lyrics and line breaks. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ceriph, Coast, QLRS, OF ZOOS, The Ayam Curtain, This City is a Strange Song, Microcosmos and LONTAR. He is involved in the Mentor Access Project under the guidance of Alvin Pang. A chapbook, hyperlinkage, is forthcoming from Math Paper Press. He can be found online at www.vituperation.wordpress.com.

Merging and Separating is a site-specific literary artwork that examines the educational textbook in its narration of national history. Purposefully written on a whiteboard, the artist created a poem using quotes from a myriad of sources, ranging from historical documents to lyrics from a song. Annotations are made to indicate the source of the quote. As a visual work, one sees a narrative literally formed by the merger and separation of words as the texts are extracted and recomposed into new sentences to form a different story, thus also symbolising the merger and separation of Singapore and Malaysia. It also suggests that the separation of these quotes easily renders the message of the text meaningless, and so pointing out the fragile nature of writing history.

Artist’s statement: Merging and Separating

Displayed on the whiteboard is “merging and separating”, a poem liberally interspersed with quotes from disparate sources, collectively commenting on the problem of looking back at and learning from 9 August 1965. At the same time, it describes the breakdown of a marriage between two history teachers. Proper attribution of sources is given through lines that link each quote to its author or speaker, cited in the margins.

It is hoped that viewers will come to appreciate the impossibility of pure objectivity and the inevitability of political intervention in learning. Just like Singapore, the quotes merge with the poem, separating from their original context, just as men and women come and go. Is this new text a work of art or is it a monstrous derivative? An academic endeavour, or a human relation? Both, perhaps.

We believe all learning objectives will be met.

One thought on “3. Art and Space”

  1. Propaganda and spin.

    This exhibition should have shown how it’s executed, and how it’s done today. The relevance, the continuity.

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