Time Out Singapore: Alternative SG50 Logos

6 Aug 2015: We got ten artists and designers to put their spin on the unfortunately ubiquitous SG50 logo. They’re way better than the actual thing, if you ask us. Here are three examples

Wanton Doodle - SG50

By Wanton Doodle

‘It’s often said that the people make a nation, but I feel that our city’s skyline also speaks volumes. This pieces personifies the past structure as they co-exist with current and future ones.’

Yen Phang - SG50

By Yen Phang

‘I was exploring the idea of (an also paying tribute to) Singapore as a garden city, particularly the beautiful improbability of man-shaped nature within an urban city.’

Darren Soh - SG50

By Darren Soh

‘I used People’s Park Complex as the backdrop. It’s neither new nor fancy, but it embodies a small island growing into nationhood when it was built in the ’70s.’

Time Out Singapore: ‘Moving Light, Roving Sight’

Moving Light Roving Sight

26 Jan 2015: Since it formed in 2000, Tokyo-based collective teamLab have aimed to make ‘the border between technology, art and design more ambiguous’. Local viewers may have seen their quirky digital works at Art Stage, the 2013 Singapore Biennale or Ikkan Art Gallery; the latter will host a group show that includes a new teamLab installation. Only this time, it’s going to be even more of an impressive visual feast.

The work, ‘Flowers and People, Cannot be Controlled but Live Together – Dark’, will see ‘the floor, the walls and the spaces in between completely transformed into art,’ says Toshiyuki Inoko, founder of teamLab. Musician Hideaki Takahashi has created an accompanying soundtrack to make the whole experience even more immersive and visceral.

Inspired by cherry blossoms in the mountains of the Kunisaki peninsula in Japan, the piece explores the relationship between mankind and nature. ‘The boundary between the work of nature and the work of humans is extremely vague,’ Inoko explains. But rather than creating a painting or sculpture to dissect this notion, teamLab chucked technology – a product of man – into the mix.

‘Digital technology allows us to express ourselves in ways that weren’t possible before,’ he continues, adding that technology also brings viewers closer to both natural and digital landscapes. ‘By creating an interactive relationship between the viewers and the artwork, viewers become an intrinsic part of the artwork,’ he concludes. ‘And by turning physical space into art through digital means, the space can form a strong relationship with the people within it. I believe that this potential allows for a stronger connection between people and the space around them.’

Time Out Singapore: Dawn Ng’s ‘Windowshop – A Modern Day Cabinet of Curiosities’ Preview

The 31-year-old darling of the local art scene, Dawn Ng, tells Gwen Pew about her new show at Chan Hampe.

Dawn Ng. Image courtesy of Chan Hampe Galleries.

Dawn Ng. Image courtesy of Chan Hampe Galleries.

27 Dec 2013: Whether it’s through her lovable inflatable bunny, Walter, or her whimsical collection of boxes in Sixteen – which sold for $60,000 at Art Basel Hong Kong last year – you’ve most likely come across the work of Dawn Ng one way or another. To kick off 2014, the 31-year-old darling of the local art scene presents her newly-created Windowshop at Chan Hampe.

‘Growing up, I‘ve always had a fascination with cabinets of curiosities built during the most lavish years of Renaissance Europe, which were known as wonder rooms. They were the ultimate collector’s paradise,’ she says. ‘But Singapore is a city with such a brief history and virtually no memory as we move at such a pace of change; Windowshop is my own personal memory theatre in the context of Singapore’s own Golden Age.’

The exhibition consists of more than a thousand individual items that she sourced from over 30 junk shops, most of which will be held in custom-designed glass cabinets. One of the highlights is a piece called ‘No Point Losing These’ – ‘a waterfall of over 300 vintage marbles that are set at various heights, distance and widths apart, [and] stands as a time capsule of a particular era of childhood gone by’, as described by Ng.

‘You and Me’ is a white-marbletopped ping pong set: ‘I won’t say too much since the meaning of this piece lies within its engraved texts, but the proliferation of the ping pong table in local hipster culture is hilariously unrivalled. It deserves to be immortalised in stone. That’s just what I did.’

There will be a few items that visitors can interact with, including a merry-go-round, a salvaged coinslot and a pair of iron binoculars, but the junk shop curiosities will only form half of the show – the other half are iconic objects that Ng created as she felt they ‘were representative of this day and age’.

‘This exhibition is representative of my own documentative obsession as an artist and a mirror of my generation’s infatuation with the past. It sheds light on our human fascination with keeping things, and begs us to question that which is truly priceless,’ she explains. And as for how she managed to overcome the financial aspect of sourcing so many intricate items, her answer is simple: ‘Some serious bargaining skills! It’s all part of the fun.’

Time Out Singapore: Robert Zhao Renhui

Robert Zhao Renhui has become one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed artists through his single-minded obsession with zoology. As he unveils his latest series – focusing on birds, bees and flowers – Gwen Pew heads to his studio to meet the man behind the camera.

Robert Zhao Renhui in his studio. Image courtesy of Morven Koh.

Robert Zhao Renhui in his studio. Image courtesy of Morven Koh.

5 Dec 2013: The bright yellow door is unlocked, the lights inside flicker on, and into a jungle of creativity we tumble. There’s almost too much to take in all at once: on the central table alone, there’s a box filled to the brink with iridescent beetles in packets, a fake yellow flower with long tassels pokes its slender neck out from a shiny bronze vase, a dead fish lies pickling in a jar with a few other bugs next to a microscope. The rest of the room brims with books, shelves, boxes and framed photographs of landscapes and various animals lining the walls.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that we had stumbled into a zoologist’s laboratory, but this is actually the studio of Robert Zhao Renhui, tucked away on the fifth floor of Goodman Arts Centre. ‘It’s sort of like my brain, don’t you think?’ says the 30-year-old artist, surveying the space with quiet pride. ‘I work over there, I talk over there, I sleep over there – next to the bookshelves – but only when I have to work late…’

The whimsical nature of the studio reflects that of the man himself, who has a tendency to pause in the middle of his explanations, as though lost in his own stream of consciousness, and fluently flits between speaking about the real world and the one that he has conjured up through his photographs. He is, however, crystal clear about at least one thing: ‘I am not a zoologist or a scientist. I am an artist,’ he states emphatically. ‘People assume that I like animals just because of my work, and I do like them, but as an artist I’m interested in finding out why I like them and what makes me want to look at them.’

His fascination with animals started at an early age. He remembers always wanting to go to zoos wherever he went, and started collecting and taking photos of roadkill – which he kept in jars filled with alcohol – when he was 16. Today, he is known for his award-winning images of animals and the natural world in general, and operates under a fictional society called the Institute of Critical Zoologists. If you look under the ‘History’ section of the website, it says that the institute was founded in 1996 as a merger between Japanese and Chinese animal centres. In reality, however, Zhao established the platform in 2008 during his time at the Camberwell College of Arts in the UK. Furthermore, most of the life-like animals in his pictures are, in fact, usually either dead or realistic-looking models and toys collected from various sources, including pet shops (where he buys most of his dead fish and birds) and donations from various friends.

‘Living animals are too difficult to work with. They’re always moving and you can’t control them,’ he says. ‘I’m not really trying to mess with people’s heads. I just want to challenge the way we see things and prompt my audience to be more reflective. Institutes and photography are both authoritative sources, and I want people to question them. I’m against reading everything too simply.’

2013 has been a busy year for Zhao. He was one of six local artists to be selected to take part in the President’s Young Talents exhibition earlier this year, and is currently showcasing his expansive series, A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World, at the 2013 Singapore Biennale (on display at the Peranakan Museum), which is essentially an encyclopaedic series of portraits of over 50 domesticated animals or species that have learned to adapt to man-made environments.

During his research for the project, one thing that captured his interest in particular was a species he calls the ‘blood bee’. ‘It’s this kind of bee in New York that started producing red honey,’ Zhao explains. ‘And they found out that it’s because they’ve been drinking juice produced at a cherry factory.’

As he delved deeper into the world of bees, another series of works began to form. He found out that bees, along with most insects and birds, see and communicate in the ultraviolet spectrum – so attempting to present the world as they see it, Zhao shot a series of images with a handheld UV light. Each shot consists of six or seven different photos, all stitched together on Photoshop, where Zhao also enhanced the UV colours digitally.

The finished collection of nine photographs, named The Last Thing You See, opened last month at 2902 Gallery and will be showing until the start of January. Part of the idea, says Zhao, is to question the idea of vision and our understanding of what living things see.

‘You know, there are these spiders that spin very intricate webs in the forests and we’ve been mystified by them for ages, because surely they’d want to keep a trap invisible. We used to think that it’s to warn humans so that we don’t step on them,’ Zhao explains. ‘It wasn’t until recently that we realised that under UV lights they look like flowers to insects – flowers communicate with bees through UV to guide them to where the pollen is – so they will get confused and fly straight into it. Sometimes, our vision is more limiting than informative.’

While he has travelled far and wide – from the Arctic to deserts – to shoot his images, the current series are all shot locally; the orchids and birds were photographed at the Botanic Gardens and Jurong Bird Park respectively. As he puts it, ‘Singapore is a fruitful place to work. There’s more support and resources; I know where everything is and things get done faster.’

From the teenage roadkill collector messing around with his dad’s camera to a nationally-beloved photographer whose star is still on the rise, Zhao has certainly come a long way – and he has no intentions of stopping here. He doesn’t think that he’ll be moving away from working with animals and nature anytime soon, but looks forward to continuously refining his style.

And as for what happened to all those dead animals in jars that he painstakingly kept over the years? ‘I just threw them all out. I always thought that I could do something with them one day, but there really wasn’t much I could do. And it was just getting kind of gross,’ he says. ‘Yeah, just… gross.’

Time Out Singapore: Guo Yixiu

The fourth edition of the Singapore Biennale – one of the largest events on the local arts calendar – has officially opened. In this first of nine video interviews with artists from various artistic and cultural backgrounds, Gwen Pew delves into the brain of multi-disciplinary artist Guo Yixiu and find out who the man in her colourful installation piece really is.

Time Out Singapore: Qiu Jie

Now aged 52 and based in Switzerland, Qiu Jie was born in Shanghai and grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution, a period that had a huge impact on him as an artist. Gwen Pew finds out more.

A rather dashing Qiu Jie. Image courtesy of the artist.

A rather dashing Qiu Jie. Image courtesy of the artist.

8 Oct 2013: Now aged 52 and based in Switzerland, Qiu Jie was born in Shanghai and grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution, a period that had a huge impact on him as an artist. Children were only sent to school for a few hours each day at the time – mainly to learn about the greatness of the Communist Party – and so the young Qiu passed his time by learning how to draw.

‘Chinese people have a tradition of studying a lot and as they had a lot of time at home, they used to practice music, dance or drawing more intensively than before the Cultural Revolution,’ he explains. ‘When I started to learn how to draw [at the age of ten], the only images I could copy were propaganda images. You could say I did not have the choice.’

Qiu went on to graduate from art schools in Shanghai and Geneva, and is now best known for creating works in pencil that merge images from the historic East and contemporary West. Around 30 of those pieces are on display at Art Plural this month, featuring sentimental portraits by a man caught between two worlds.

‘Today, I am inspired by [Chinese propaganda] but also by images in Western adverts. Both represent my identity and my education in China and Switzerland,’ Qiu says. ‘It is not difficult to express this contradiction in my work because I am living it every day. However, this confrontation is hard to live with, and so I always feel the need to show that in my drawings.’

Time Out Singapore: Singapore Biennale 2013

Two curators tell Gwen Pew why art newbies should take the time to visit this year’s Singapore Biennale.

A work by local artist Ng Joon Kiat. Image courtesy of Osage Gallery.

A work in local artist Ng Joon Kiat’s ‘Maps’ series. Image courtesy of Osage Gallery.

5 Oct 2013: Founded in 2006 as a platform to stimulate dialogue between works by local and international artists, the Singapore Biennale quickly established its reputation as one of the largest art events on the country’s cultural calendar. Held every two years, this fourth edition returns with a bold theme of ‘If the World Changed’ this month, and while the quality of artworks remains stellar, a lot of changes and improvements have also been made to the structure of the exhibition.

‘This may be Singapore’s fourth biennale, but it’s a first in many ways,’ says Tan Siuli, a curator at the Singapore Art Museum. ‘For one, this is the first time we have done without an Artistic Director for the Biennale [and instead] have a team of 27 curators from around the region.’ Among the curators are a number of notable local faces, such as Charmaine Toh of Objectifs, Tamares Goh, programming officer at the Esplanade, and Seng Yu Jin of Lasalle and The National Art Gallery.

Each curator proposed a few artists to work with for the Biennale, which means there’s plenty for art lovers to feast their eyes on, from paintings to installations and photography to sculptures from over 100 artists around the world. One particular draw, says Tan, is the strong regional focus: ‘This edition has a very strong focus on South-East Asia [and features many] artists who are not on the usual international biennale circuit, so this is going to be a biennale of discoveries.’ Look out for works by President’s Young Talent winners Zhao Renhui and Liao Jiekai, plus largescale commissions by artists such as Suzann Victor, who will create a rainbow circle at the National Museum, and Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi, who will take over SAM’s chapel with a work of Vietnamese lacquer.

And even if you’ve never been to an exhibition before and don’t know anything about contemporary art, the curators promise that it’s still worth taking the time to go check out the Biennale. ‘To quote the Dalai Lama, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”,’ says Tan. ‘It is precisely the experience of exploring the unfamiliar that expands our mind and spirit; there is bound to be something to marvel at and something to fall in love with.’

Aware that contemporary art may be difficult for some to enjoy, curator Seng advises that one should ‘approach contemporary art with an open mind and critical attitude, and be prepared to end up with more questions than answers, as contemporary art engages with the viewer as an active and critical agent rather than a passive one.’

‘It is worth remembering that contemporary art is “contemporary” – it is very much a product of our time, and more often than not, [it] engages with the issues and ideas of our time,’ adds Tan. ‘Also, don’t expect to like everything. There are bound to be some artists and artworks that appeal to you more than others, so take that as a starting point – find out more about the artist, his or her practice and other works, and from there it is easy to find other artists whose works or styles are similar to what you like. This will gradually broaden your knowledge and appreciation of the contemporary art world.’

Furthermore, there will be a range of activities on the side for visitors to gain a broader understanding of the artists and artworks involved (see sidebar), so there are many ways to help art newbies take their first steps. ‘And don’t worry,’ concludes Tan reassuringly. ‘The Biennale won’t bite!’

Time Out Singapore: Mary-Ann Teo

After a ten-year hiatus, local photographer Mary-Ann Teo makes a comeback this month with a show of images shot by a pinhole camera made with a rubbish bin. Gwen Pew takes a closer look.

Mary-Ann Teo at work on her latest series, 'Through A Pinhole'. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mary-Ann Teo at work on her latest series, ‘Through A Pinhole’. Image courtesy of the artist.

3 Sep 2013: I developed an interest in photography in primary school because I felt I saw things differently from others,’ reminisces local photographer Mary-Ann Teo. ‘I would photograph drains with an Instamatic camera because they looked like pretty streams with their rust-stained concrete.’

Although the 39-year-old is now a full-time photography and art theory lecturer at various schools – such as Lasalle and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) – and has not held an exhibition since 2003, Teo never lost her gift of seeing the world in quirky ways. This month, she makes a comeback with cool images shot with a rather unusual contraption: a pinhole camera made from a recycled rubbish bin.

‘I’ve constructed pinhole cameras with the usual containers such as Milo and tea tins and boxes before,’ she says, while also admitting that this is the first time she has used something a bit more unconventional to snap pictures with. ‘The bin is suitable since it is round, which would give me a slight wide-angle effect in the images,’ she explains. ‘It has a proper lightproof cover and it was already black, so the only thing I had to do with it was to pierce a hole through one side of the bin and make a cover for it. It’s good for placing around the areas I wanted to photograph, and only took me half an hour to build.’

Regarding her hiatus from exhibiting, Teo says: ‘I am trying to get back into practice again, and create more interest in pinhole photography in the age of digital media at the same time. Pinhole photography is the simplest form of capturing images. It’s back to basics and one can get amazing photographs out of this.’

After her self-created contraption was made, Teo went out exploring the Kampong Glam area and ended up creating a series of around 15 intriguing photographs, which will be displayed at her solo show at Objectifs. All of them are in black and white, as it is her preferred style. ‘I find colours distracting,’ she explains. ‘There is a peculiar mystery to black and white. It’s quiet and strong.’

Teo admits she chose Kampong Glam as her shooting location mainly as a matter of convenience, as Objectifs was located nearby – after each shot, the paper negatives (still inside the bin) would need to be brought back to the gallery immediately to be developed. She adds, however, that ‘it was also a great opportunity to learn more about the history of this area. The Kampong Glam that used to be was very different from what it is now, even though it’s still an area for social gathering.’

Aside from the exhibition, Teo will also be conducting a workshop (on 7 Sep at Objectifs) to explain how pinhole cameras work. ‘I will be teaching participants how to make a pinhole camera, and they can take as many photos as time allows them,’ she says. When asked whether she’ll be bringing out her rubbish bin pinhole again in the future, she says with a smile, ‘I may use the camera for the workshop, and I am definitely keeping it for future projects as well. It’d be good to construct another camera with something different in the future, too!’

Time Out Singapore: Heman Chong

Born in Malaysia and raised in Singapore, Heman Chong, 36, is best known for his conceptual and often interactive pieces. His current solo show will feature three of his works, including the 100-photo series A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1). Chong will also be launching his monograph, The Part in the Story Where We Lost Count of the Days, at the exhibition. He tells Gwen Pew more about Short Story.

XXXXXX by Heman Chong.

‘A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1) #71’  by Heman Chong.

27 Jul 2013: ‘I started the work without thinking of it as a narrative, but more as way of taking notes of the environment around me. The oldest photograph actually dates back to 7 December 2004, and the newest is dated 27 July 2012.’

‘I never deliberately decide on my locations, but one of the things that I do a lot in Singapore is to take very long walks, and most of these images are shot while I walk across our city.’

‘One of my favourite works is ‘A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1) #71’ [pictured], a photograph of a small handwritten sign by the owners of Sunny Bookshop announcing their move from Far East Plaza to Plaza Singapura. I collect photographs of handwritten signs by Singaporeans as a way of documenting a certain aesthetic present in how we communicate with each other in public. Also, I would often meander by Sunny Bookshop during my walks to buy a book. It has been a ritual for me for many years. I was very sad when it disappeared. So this one photograph has many meanings for me – one that’s of a collective memory that a group of Singaporeans share, but also a very distinct formal logic of aesthetics.’

Time Out Singapore: Thomas Yeo

Thomas Yeo, one of Singapore’s most renowned second-generation artists and Cultural Medallion winners, holds a fundraiser for The Substation and talks to Gwen Pew about his new series, the idea of change and how to approach abstract art.

'Ocean World 1' by Thomas Yeo.

‘Ocean World 1’ by Thomas Yeo.

30 Jun 2013: ‘There are two new series in this show: Ocean and Construction.

‘The Ocean series was inspired by National Geographic programmes, as well as from my past experience in scuba diving, so I decided to do a series on fish spawning – but not in a realistic way.

‘The Construction series began after I was confronted with construction work wherever I went in Singapore. In fact, one can hardly escape it if you happen to live in town. As my surroundings were dusty and noisy, I went to my studio in Telok Kurau, hoping to have some peace. Unfortunately, the workers in Telok Kurau started to excavate the drain and the work went on for weeks!

‘Change can bring life into a city, but quite often, destruction and creation go hand in hand. If we have to destroy our history in order to have a new city, then we have to tread carefully. The speed at which change takes place can create confusion for the older generation. However, change is inevitable. No place can stand still.

‘Both series are very different from anything I have done in the past. I am hoping to create awareness through my works, but there is no short cut or quick fix to understanding abstract art. It requires plenty of time and effort. Go to the library and read up on it and, best of all, visit as many art exhibitions as you can. Nothing like confronting the art work head on! As time goes on, you will begin to enjoy the new language of art.’