We had the privilege of presenting the exhibition at the Southeast Asian Studies Symposium 2013, held from 9-10 March 2013 at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom. This was also the Symposium’s first feature of contemporary art works.
after|thought: Oxford was a documentation of the art works featured at after|thought. We had anticipated the project to be a focal point for academics and scholars to gain insights into the contemporary issues of Singapore. In addition, the works could be a means to provoke critical discussions surrounding the representation of history in official narratives, as well as the use of art to complement the study of such issues.
In choosing to present after|thought: Oxford at the Symposium, the exhibition was essentially deported into a new—and foreign—context where the show received a different kind of reception compared to Singapore. It was necessary for after|thought: Oxford to find its place in an academic symposium and amongst an international community. While in Singapore, viewers (who were mostly Singaporeans) could easily identify the iconography of 9 August 1965 and relate to the idea of the classroom, academics who visited the show in Oxford had their own alternative responses. Many were captivated by Yue Han’s Our Moment of Anguish as they were quick to pick up on the reference to Lee Kuan Yew, who was evidently a highly recognisable figure in South East Asian studies. They also spoke of him according to what they knew or read about him. It was slightly difficult for them to understand the meaning behind the works from the vantage point of a Singaporean. Overall, after|thought: Oxford was well received. Many who dropped by the show were intrigued by the perspectives coming from Singapore’s younger generation.
Although it is hoped that art can find its place in academic symposiums such as this in the future, our experience with this Oxford venture questions whether site-specific exhibitions such as after|thought could be successfully transposed into a different setting, and especially in a different country. Without the classroom space, the meaning of the show would lack the strong message about state institutions that was central to the exhibition, and this was a challenge we had to meet. We therefore chose to lay the works neatly on the table, consequently changing the way one gazed at it. The works therefore were appraised more as artefacts or remnants of an exhibition rather than art works. Nonetheless, this way of presenting likewise had its shortcomings as the integrity of the works as pieces of art became compromised. That said, this was a compromise that we, as curators, chose to take to tighten the overall concept of the after|thought: Oxford. Departing from after|thought, the Oxford documentation worked within the conceptual parameters that were set, which we felt worked best in view of the limitations.