With Art Stage Singapore this week and a flood of visitors to town, I thought I’d reshare my take on highlights for visiting the Singapore Biennale, which runs through 26 February 2017 (this post was originally written on 26th October 2016 at the Biennale opening).
The biennale focus on ‘An Atlas of Mirrors’ was not at all lost by participating artists. In fact, I would say that they stayed straight on course, with the artworks centrally preoccupied with all things shiny and reflective, trick mirrors, maps and cartography, mythology, the paradox of being lost and found at sea.
TL;DR? Here are my very serious recommendations for a sprint through the museum in order of Instagram-worthiness and at last, for a pure moment to be present and reflect. I am SAM | I Instagram.
- Harumi Yukutake: Paracosmos. Get your ticket and head to the foyer stairs connecting the ground and second floors. Stairwell of mirrors. Enough said. This glittering expanse of hand-cut mirrors is captivating and also an engaging challenge to photograph. (Try pointing camera/phone up from the foot of the stairs or taking the stairwell straight-on from the 2nd Or bring a friend to capture your face (whole) as well as your distributed reflections.) Once you have sufficiently frustrated your modelling angles and camera autofocus, you may find solace by consulting philosopher Michel Foucault’s musings on heterotopia, the zone within parallel worlds that could both be nowhere in itself yet also access and distort other places held within.
2. Deng Guoyuan: Noah’s Garden II. Hang a right at the top of the stairs and enter the Chapel. Ladies in skirts, don a saree (provided) unless you want to hop with crossed legs through the highly reflective installation. This is a kaleidoscope of mirrors, moving mirrors not unlike the partitions in a revolving door, and candy-coloured artificial foliage. Had I known, I would have come prepared with my scuba mask and acquired all surreally gloating photos necessary for an eternity of underwater dives to come. Frolic in the different sections, catch all your reflections, and for the especially narcissistic, do be sure to take a slow-motion video against the revolving mirrors to capture your every detail in illusory movement. Once you have bedazzled yourself, prank other visitors by walking around the piece and peering in through head-level cutouts. In the dimmer lighting, you might now notice Guoyuan’s reference to Chinese scholar rocks and Song dynasty flora (not underwater coral!) however well-camouflaged by the neon hues and infinity reflections and even the Noah in the title. If you have brought your Instagram boyfriend/girlfriend, make sure to pose for a photo at the entrance and tinker with some shots through the portholes.
3. Titarubi: History Repeats Itself. Gold run here. Entering a shadowed room, you’ll find eery faceless figures standing above delicate wooden longboats, cloaked in glittering, hooded robes – at first glance like gold chain armour, and in fact, made of gold-plated nutmeg. Temporarily channel fear, colonial guilt and really all feelings into combustible concentration to photograph these golden jackets in the glimmering light. Only when your fierce energies are thus exhumed might you then notice the charred boat shells, the hollow ships. A history lesson, or several, await you in these shadows.
4. Zikifle Mahmod: SONICreflection. Saving this beauty of sound sculpture and neon metal delights for last, as there is also a bench to sit down and reflect. It is no secret that I have this thing for #lightandspace and sound and light installations. Mahmod reinvents the utilitarian if multi-tasking Asian kitchen fixture, the wok, employing the wok lids as speakers to project sounds of Singapore with a nod to the oft-tossed phrase describing this island nation as a ‘melting pot’ of Asian cultures. While oil and noodles may not be sizzling, the voices and aural textures of life in Singapore are visceral and enveloping, a sonic dream or an invitation to amble along your own memory lane.
A few honourable mentions — these didn’t make my list simply for lack of reflective surfaces:
Vanity got the best of me here and I was caught – delighted if startled – dancing with my reflection within Melati Suryodarmo’s mirror room as the space transformed to reveal the chamber ‘behind the light’. While the artist was not present on my visit, I was nonetheless taken with Suryodarmo’s investigation into the concept of ‘psychological mirroring’, that we both learn about ourselves through others as well as simultaneously projecting ourselves and influencing others. Watch this space, and be wary of trick mirrors!