Image 1. Fauzi Johann, 1820-1920 (2019), composed of several works arranged as an installation.

Expectations ride high for this cohort of eight in the M.A. Fine Arts programme at LASALLE. The graduation showcase, premised on a theme of perception (here connoting all the senses, but particularly the eye) and the phenomenology of perception, had its opening last Thursday, 19 April, 2019, and was well-attended, with Dr. Eugene Tan, the Director of the National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum, spotted amongst many art academicians and practitioners.

Interestingly, the colour ‘red’, the ‘square or rectangle’ shape, and the movement in and out of frames as a significant motif seem to produce a resonating twang amongst the works, augmented by the clever juxtaposition of works to create an extra layer of spatial understandings. For example, Fauzi Johann’s recreation of a Victorian drawing room (see Image 1 above), replete with furniture and ceramic objects from the 17th to 19th century, draws heavily on the russet red paint of the walls and candelabras to add ‘mood’ to the installation, and the colour is echoed in Geraldine Lim’s organ-red The Tunnel (see Image 2 below), a work composed of multiple dangly, tactile, soft-shaped sculptures, partaking of the vernacular of grotesque, fragmented female anatomy, here connoting tentacles, limbs, orifices and wombs. The colour ‘red’ thus functions as a pairing of two distinct works that might otherwise remain unconscious of each other, but in close proximity,  Johann’s tongue-in-cheek sharp aim at issues of re-appropriation and decolonisation, through oil paintings that might at first glance appear to be of English bucolic countrysides and waterfronts, but are in fact depictions of Singaporean landscapes painted by the artist himself and given titles in Malay, ‘borrows’ a tonal hint of the violence wreaked on bodies within an imperialist history.  Meanwhile, Lim’s sculptures also subtly push Chloe Po’s work, entitled In this labyrinth I dream of you that is placed nearby (see Image 3), into the world of gothic romance and ghostly Victorian brides, with its strategically-positioned white fabric hangings and long dresses that form a set of arched corridors. 

Image 2. Geraldine Lim The Tunnel (2019), installation composed of fabric, quilt comforter, polyester stuffing, mirror, thread, wire, plastic suction cups

Image 3. Chloe Po, In this labyrinth I dream of you (2019), tissue paper, paper towels, thread, glue. Dimensions variable.
Image 3a. Chloe Po with her work, In this labyrinth I dream of you (2019)

All the works employ the ‘square’ or ‘rectangle’ shape a great deal (in fact, Johann’s ‘mood board’ is composed of many squares: all these photographs and pictures connected to a central nervous system by green taped lines), with the exception of Ng Bing Ming’s Pops and Rolls (see Image 4), which seem to exalt the art of the splatter as soft terracotta sculptures are thrown against the wall, leaving smears, which the artist augments with a series of flattened terracotta molds on the floor to look as if a behemoth has stampeded through and left dung footprints on the gallery floor (and perhaps we have…). 

Image 4. Ng Bing Ming, Pops (2019) and Rolls (2019). Terracotta clay. Dimensions variable.

If art is all shit anyway, the debunking of the search for meaning is nowhere more obvious than in Shen Xingzhou (Jojo)’s Godot-like work, The boring book, where a video projection shows the words “I’m bored” being typeset in repetitive and also myriad configurations, while a bound book lies on a podium to be flicked through that shows the dissimulation and spatial rearrangement of the same text. No longer is meaning tied to words, but rather it seems to migrate into spatial aesthetics and alphabet realignments, even though when you think about it, the meanings here are somewhat illusory as well, because the artist seems to be aiming for a paradoxical hypnotic effect through a dulling of the senses to convince you that the work is anything but boring.

Image 5. Shen Zingzhou, The Boring Book (2019), 150 pages, hard-backed book and I’m bored (2019), 2 high-definition digital video projections, 16:9 aspect ratio, black and white, silent 45 minutes.

ND Chow’s video projection The Mirror is perhaps the most straightforward articulation of movements in and out of frame of the videographer himself and the slipsliding of meaning through a verbal exchange between the subject, who is aware of being filmed, with the auteur, about the nature of being conscious about being filmed.ND Chow even names the works with evocative titles such as Outside the Frame (2019) (see Image 6) and Unframed (2018). In case you missed it the first time round.

Image 6. ND Chow, Outside the Frame (2019). HD video. 16:9 aspect ratio, colour, stereo. Collaborator: FUKAN. 3.32 minutes

Liyana Ali’s work, At Intervals (See Image 7), explores a kind of structural minimalism through found and manufactured wooden building materials. giving them a visual textuality that shifts our perception of them ever so imperceptibly. 

Image 7. Liyana Ali, At Intervals (2019), Portland cement, plywood, office pins, dimensions variable.
As interesting as it may be to see works that play with the shapes and surfaces of things, the curatorial essays invite us to consider ‘perception’, what M.A. Fine Arts programme director Ian Woo refers to as ‘the inside eye’ in his introductory essay, and Natasha Lushetich called ‘perceptual arborisation’, that is, the logic with which shapes, patterns and movements resonate with other shapes, patterns and movements to form perceptual frames and networks of meaning’. Thus, the thing that draws me is the ‘inside eye’ of the eight artists and what points towards internal preoccupations: in Johann’s case, the conjunction of the colour ‘red’ and ceramic birds acting as a kind of weather vane of the direction the cultural wind is blowing in Singapore with respect to the decolonisation debate; in Lim’s case, a kind of internal tunneling where the surreal and uncategorisable, the ‘womb quilt’ may act as a cave of comfort and body-knowledge.  

The work I was most drawn to, in this respect, was Kwek Wen Qing’s Non-places Reiseroute, 行程 Journey (2019), where the artist has created blurry digital images, laid out as a calendar of the duration of her journey (from August to November 2019 as part of a Transcultural Collaboration programme) through three cities: Zurich, Hong Kong and Shanghai.  The hazy nature of memories is quietly conveyed through transparency overlays, where one can dimly make out  buildings or streets, cityscapes of disparate cities and transient moments that have bled into each other in terms of time and place, even as each image captures and distils an impression of an exact time and place now lost to memory.  The Chinese characters, xing cheng, also convey a meaning of ‘route’ or ‘distance’, and the physical journey of traversing miles is overlaid by the journey of artmaking (symbolised by the digitals on transparencies) which is also an act of active recuperation. 

What has occurred or altered in this process of revisitation, not just for Kwek, but also for the others in their individual journeys through making art within a programme? 

Image 8. Kwek Wen Qing, Non-places Reiseroute, 行程 Journey(2019) Digital prints on transparencies. 14.8 x 21 cm

NB: Outside My Eye is on at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Gallery 1, until May 3, 2019.