Time Out Singapore: Art Week 2016

29 Dec 2015: Gwen Pew and Andrea Cheong round up the best exhibitions, festivals, fairs and tours to check out during the nine-day extravaganza

Art Stage 2015

Art Stage 2015

Art Fairs

Art Stage 2016

Art Stage – the main event around which the rest of Art Week revolves – returns for the sixth year and is once again set to take place across four days. It features 143 galleries from 32 countries, many of which are from Asia. New elements visitors can look forward to this year include the Southeast Asia Forum, and artworks exhibited in the public areas of the fair.

Singapore Contemporary Art Show

Representing both renowned and emerging contemporary artists, the first edition of this art show is themed ‘A World of Art’. Fringe activities include artist encounters, which give visitors the chance to speak to 16 artists from around the world, as well as tours, live painting sessions and activities for the whole family.

Exhibitions

Prudential Eye Awards Exhibition

Running for the third year, this award aims to celebrate emerging artists in the Asia region. After reviewing over 100 nominations from curators, critics and art experts across Asia, the panel of judges has shortlisted three artists for each of the five categories. Their works are all on show at the ArtScience Museum, and the winners are announced on Jan 19.

Singapore Arts Club

This show features works by three local artists: Jack Tan presents an outdoor light installation, Sean Lee invites strangers to hop into bed to have their portraits taken together, and Joo Choon Lin stages a performance piece around an interactive sculpture.

Talks

Forum at NGS: Capturing the Moment

While many artworks are physical objects that you can hold and easily display, there are also those that are far more ephemeral or abstract in nature. Like performance pieces or works that degrade over time. This forum looks at the issues that institutions and collectors face when researching, documenting, archiving and conserving such pieces of art.

The talk is inspired by and runs alongside Tang Da Wu’s seminal 1980 exhibition, Earth Work, as well as a group show titled A Fact has No Appearance, the latter of which examines the impact of fresh ideas that arose in the South-East Asian art world during the turbulent ’70s.

2016 calligraphy exhibition, workshop and bilingual calligraphy forum

The practice of traditional calligraphy is alive and well today, and this inaugural bilingual calligraphy forum presents a series of lectures, discussions and demonstrations in appreciation of the craft.

Roundtable @ SAM

The second of five instalments of the series hopes to spark a conversation on ‘Art and the Big Ideas of a Small Nation’. This discussion is held as part of SAM’s current exhibition, 5 Stars: Art Reflects on Peace, Justice, Equality, Democracy and Progress.

Tours

Concrete Island Bus Tour

Inspired by JG Ballard’s novel of the same name and Tan Pin Pin’s 2003 film 80km/h, Concrete Island is a project by NUS Museum that was created as a response to those works.

It comprises an exhibition, a reading workshop, a mobile cinema programme, and a bus tour along the Pan Island Expressway, guided by architect Lai Chee Kian. Taken together, the event is an examination of Singapore’s urban history, movements, and the design of expressways.

Public Art Walking Tour

Learn more about the three new public art installations that were launched along the Jubilee Walk at the end of November: ’24 Hours in Singapore’ by Baet Yeok Kuan, ‘Cloud Nine: Raining’ by Tan Wee Lit and ‘The Rising Moon’ by Han Sai Por and Kum Chee Kiong.

Art in Motion

Back for the third edition, Art in Motion once again features 16 galleries that are part of the Art Galleries Association Singapore – including Chan Hampe Galleries, Gajah Gallery and STPI – where a series of exhibitions, book launches, panel discussions and other events are set to take place.

Festivals + Markets

Aliwal Urban Art Festival

What do skateboards, graffiti and DJs have in common? They’ll all be featured in the Aliwal Urban Art Festival this year, that’s what. For the first time, the event also has an exhibition segment entitled Cannot be Bo(a)rdered, where 16 artists from South-East Asia come together to explore youth culture through skateboard art. Other performers include The A Capella Society, DJ RZPZ and Take Two.

Art after Dark

Once the sun sets, hit up Gillman Barracks’ bi-monthly arts bash, which brings together visual art, music, performances, guided tours, talks, as well as lotsa food and booze. Eleven galleries are taking part in this edition.

The Local People x SAM Art Week Market

Eat, shop and drink to your heart’s content at The Local People x Singapore Art Museum Art Week Market. Expect over 100 locally based vendor booths, while homegrown musicians the likes of Jaime Wong, Amanda Tee, Jean Goh Seizure and Stanley Ho serenade you in the background. Top it off with drinks at The Local Soda Bar for a boozy end to your Sunday.

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Time Out Singapore: Steven Yip, Q Framing

28 Dec 2015:

Steven Yip

Steven Yip, 51, managing director at Q Framing

How did you first get into picture framing?

By accident. I was trained as a marine engineer, but when I was waiting for my ‘O’ Level results to come out, I spent six months at Merlin Frame Maker – probably the oldest framers in Singapore. I did NS in the navy, but I saw some old sailors on the ships and they’re all very lonely. I didn’t want to become like them, so I went back to Merlin and stayed there for ten years. I also ended up meeting my wife, Zoe, there!

You’re a certified picture framer – what does that mean?

There are two trade bodies – the Fine Art Trade Guild in the UK and the Professional Picture Framing Association in America – that offer certified programmes to promote good practice, and I flew to Las Vegas with Zoe in 2007 and we did the examination. We also use higher-grade materials.

What makes museum-grade materials so much better?

Matte boards, for instance, are divided into five grades, and the lower-grade ones will leave yellow stains over time because they contain an acidic material called lignin. The museum-grade ones are made of 100 percent cotton, which don’t contain lignin and therefore won’t leave an acid burn even after many years.

Who are your main clients?

I have a regular group of art collectors, but I also work with high-end galleries such as STPI, Sundaram Tagore and the National Gallery.

Tell us about the most valuable piece of art that you’ve dealt with.

I’d say around 90 percent of Cheong Soo Pieng’s works have gone through us [to be framed]. One of them, called Balinese Dance, was sold at the Christie’s auction in Hong Kong last November for $1.4 million. It’s the work that fetched the highest price at the sale.

Would you say that 2D works are easier to frame than 3D ones?

Every medium comes with its own challenge. Two-dimensional works can be very flimsy and transparent sometimes, and it’s also important not to retain the tension of the canvases for oil or acrylic works, because otherwise the paint might crack and peel off.

How big is your team at Q Framing?

We currently have 17 staff. I don’t hire people with prior experience, because if they come from other shops and they’re used to doing things a certain way, it’s very difficult to change their habits. It’s human nature. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

When we first started the company, it was to convince people that they should get their artworks framed properly. Framing is a very Western tradition, and people here often think it’s just about giving pictures a structure so that they can hang on the wall. But if it’s done well, framing can really protect and even enhance the work.

Would you say that’s also the most misunderstood thing about framing?

Yes, a lot of people don’t see the point in paying 50 percent more than what they’d pay at the mom-and-pop shops. I hope that will change, and people will start demanding a higher quality of framing in the future.

Time Out Singapore: ‘My Forest has no Name’

28 Dec 2015: Artist Donna Ong’s latest exhibition, ‘My Forest has no Name’, invites visitors to look at tropical rainforests from a different light

Donna Ong

Donna Ong

Stepping through the door, we immediately find ourselves surrounded by lush layers of leaves. A few parrots peer at us curiously, while a tiger and a leopard snuggle together on the far end. In the middle of it all, Donna Ong sits at her desk, carefully adding another layer onto the diorama that she’s working on. No, this is no forest – it’s the local artist’s studio, the (faux) flora and fauna all part of her upcoming exhibition, My Forest has No Name.

In it, Ong uses tropical rainforests to illustrate the gap between reality and representation: specifically, how Westerners of the 18th and 19th century painted the tropics with such fancy and exoticism. The forests depicted in paintings and sketches from that era – which were often created by artists who had never stepped foot in these places – were as accurate as North Korean propaganda. Think ferocious beasts among banana and palm trees, with half-naked natives lending credence to the half-baked notion of the ‘white man’s burden’.

The artist hopes that visitors to her show will be immersed in a romantic, imaginary world that she wishes really had existed. As a child, Ong would pore over the pages of The Jungle Book and The Faraway Tree, and dream up fantasies of forests and mountains. It’s a wanderlust that she wants to elicit – and she wants visitors to also question their own impressions, true or not, of the natural world.

‘I want people to look at the forest as a whole and from different angles,’ she explains. ‘Imagine a building with many windows. I want them to look at the interior of the building through different windows.’

The little diorama that she’s working on, which comprises cut-outs of various plants and animals from natural history books that are sandwiched between sheets of acrylic, forms the central part of the show. Several of them are placed within modified wooden lightboxes, which are dotted around a room filled with the leaves and animal figurines that greeted us.

‘Oh, I bought these from antique shops. Some of them are from Carousell,’ Ong giggles as she gestures towards her exotic porcelain menagerie. ‘When I went to collect these from people’s houses, sometimes the owners would ask me what I’m planning to do with them. I’d try to explain that I want to use them for an exhibition, but sometimes they don’t really get it.’

Besides the figurines, the other works on display include photographs of artificial rainforest landscapes that Ong found within hotels and botanic gardens around the world. There’s also a treasure chest filled with items like guns, bones and condoms – things that have been linked to the jungles in various newspaper articles that she collected – to expose the dark side of the woods, lest we miss the forest for the trees.

Time Out Singapore: Brian Skerry’s ‘Ocean Wild’

23 Dec 2015: Brian Skerry, an underwater photojournalist who shoots for ‘National Geographic’, is in town to talk about his life beneath the waves

Brian Skerry

Photo: Brian Skerry

While you were perfecting that Double Windsor on your tie or applying the final touches of eyeliner this morning, there’s a good chance that Brian Skerry was swimming among sharks. As one of the world’s most renowned underwater photojournalists, the 53-year-old has clocked over 10,000 hours taking images of marine wildlife, often on assignment for National Geographic magazine.

Skerry’s fascination with the sea began at a young age. ‘I remember going to the beach as a child in New England [in America], where I lived, and looking at the waves and wondering about the animals that were down there,’ he recalls. ‘I very much wanted to explore and solve some of those mysteries for myself.’ And he did.

He learnt how to scuba dive at 15, and picked up photography a year later. He naturally combined those great loves and, more than two decades after he first released a camera shutter, he finally achieved his dream to shoot for National Geographic.

Through his award-winning images, Skerry invites viewers into a stunning, yet silent, world of colourful reefs and gentle giants. Like one of his most recognisable shots: it depicts his assistant at the bottom of the sea floor around the Sub-Antarctic region of New Zealand, dwarfed by the hulking presence of a Southern Right Whale.

These are among the issues that the photographer hopes to address in his upcoming talk here as part of the National Geographic Live series. But he reassures us that it won’t be all doom and gloom: ‘We’re at a moment in time when we know the problems that we didn’t know before. I think we’ll be in a much better place ten years from now, but it does require us to see, and it does require us to act. And hopefully that will continue.’

Time Out Singapore: M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2016

17 Dec 2015: Beauties and beasts roam the stages of this year’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, which returns with the theme of ‘art and the animal’. We pick out four productions that’ll unleash your wild side

Doggy Style

‘Doggy Style’

The Shape of a Bird

Enter a wondrous world of birds and cicadas in this new work by local playwright Jean Tay, starring Tan Kheng Hua, Brandon Fernandez, Jean Toh, Thomas Pang, and a bunch of puppets. It’s a world that’s dreamt up by an imprisoned writer who defiantly refuses to cave and make a confession – instead, she writes allegories of her situation to her daughter. As her fiction and real world collide, however, she’s forced to pick a side between the two.

Doggy Style

This wordless, hour-long production by Switzerland-based American dancer and choreographer Joshua Monten uses a mix of dance and sign language to take a playful look at the behaviour of dogs and their relationship to humans. On the one hand, they’re our loyal companions. But on the other, we’re their masters. How has this connection been forged, and where will it go?

Human Bestiary

Our friends at Time Out Mexico have said that Mexican company Principio…’s play ‘leaves a pessimistic feeling about men but [it is] optimistic about humanity’. Using technology and multimedia platforms – plus a live DJ set – this work is a documentary that examines our place within the global ecosystem. It tells the story of all the precious flora and fauna that we’ve destroyed, and questions how we got to where we are today and when it all started going wrong.

Hyena Subpoena

Hyenas have long had a bad rep – which child who grew up on The Lion King could love those ‘evil’ creatures? Yet, they are also perhaps one of the most misunderstood. This play by Canadian writer and performer Cat Kidd follows the story of Mona Morse, who left civilisation behind and go into the woods. She comes across an Ark’s worth of animals, from lions to antelopes and elephants to hyenas, and uses each to link back to some of the harshest – and most darkly comical – life lessons in her past.

The Guardian: Gallery & Co.

14 Dec 2015: It’s not always a case of avoiding the ‘exit through the gift store’ bit. These striking and creatively stocked museum shops are worth a visit in their own right

20151210_183630.jpg

The much-hyped National Gallery Singapore finally opened at the end of November, and it has partnered with a new collective called “& Co.” to launch a shiny shop called Gallery & Co. Only one quarter of it is ready – the rest is expected to be unveiled by January 2016 – but it’s already chock-full of cool souvenirs. On top of exhibition catalogues and postcards of artworks, visitors can expect unique keepsakes, such as umbrellas and soaps inspired by notable pieces of art on show, minimalistic marble clocks, and characterful accessories and clothing. A well-known cafe, Plain Vanilla, has also opened a branch there serving a selection of breads, pastries, and cupcakes.

Time Out Singapore: ‘Beauty World’ Review

10 Dec 2015: Gwen Pew cha-cha-chas her way through the beaded curtains to delve into the sleazy ‘Beauty World’

★★★★☆

Beauty World - Alfred Phang

Photo by Alfred Phang

As one of the first locally produced English-language musicals, there’s no denying that Dick Lee and Michael Chiang’s Beauty World holds a special place in Singapore’s theatrical canon. Twenty-seven years and five stagings later, it’s still a charming production that leaves the audience both entertained and aching for a happier ending.

Set in the glamorous, seedy ’60s, the show follows 19-year-old Ivy Chan Poh Choo as she travels from Batu Pahat in Malaysia to Singapore in search of the parents who abandoned her at birth. A jade pendant is her only clue, and it leads her to the murky realm of cabaret nightclub Beauty World, where the music is hot, the girls bitchy and the drinks strong. What follows is a tale of love, jealousy and betrayal.

This production is nowhere near as glitzy as Wild Rice’s 2008 version, and instead chooses to highlight the grittier aspects of the story. This is reflected in an ingeniously designed set created by Wong Chee Wai – the cabaret nightclub oozes sleaze, while a sense of desperate loneliness lingers in the yellowed, peeling walls of all the other spaces. Within these dirty walls, a brilliant bunch of colourful characters come alive.

The cast have big shoes to fill, as Beauty World has an illustrious alumnus that includes Claire Wong and Lim Kay Siu. But fill it they do. The role of Ivy is confidently taken on by Malaysian jazz singer and actor Cheryl Tan, who succeeds in depicting Ivy’s wide-eyed naivety while holding her own as a strong-minded heroine. Her angelic voice also brings out the best in Lee’s score, still catchy after all these years. Likewise, Janice Koh, Timothy Wan and Frances Lee – who play Mummy, Ah Hock and Rosemary respectively – evoke such depth and sensitivity in their characters that it’s easy for us to root for them.

Mediacorp actor Jeanette Aw’s role as the nightclub’s queen bee, Lulu, should have been one of the biggest highlights of the show, but her performance underwhelms. She’s got the whole sexy temptress thing down pat, and yet she never comes across as either vicious or tragic. Her big scene takes place right at the end, but she is unable to convey the full spectrum of emotions and bring home the full weight of the moment. She sobs, but somehow, her tears just don’t say enough.

Still, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable riot of a show. It’s not one that leaves you satisfied – it is, after all, set in a world where beauty is only skindeep – and a trail of broken dreams is left hanging in the air. But hey, life is a cabaret, old chum, so come to the cabaret.

Time Out Singapore: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ Review

8 Dec 2015: There’s nothing like winding down at the end of a big, action-packed year with a big, action-packed pantomime. And who else can we count on delivering that but Wild Rice? This time, the company took on Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and turned it into a full-fledged song-and-dance show. Here are five magical elements that make the – very localised – production such a delight for the whole family.

The Emperor's New Clothes

The cast

The great Lim Kay Siu leads a brilliant cast of emerging and established talent. The Sam Willows’ Benjamin Kheng and fellow pop singer Sezairi have a wonderful dynamic as the tailors Nathan and Khairul, while Andrew Lua, Siti Khalijah and Benjamin Wong make for the ultimate comedic trio as government ministers.

The songs

The music is without a doubt the strongest element of the production, brought to life by three musicians as well as the actors themselves (who knew Lim Kay Siu could play the violin so well?) It took every bit of self-restraint for us not to triumphantly yell out the lyrics to ‘Naked as My Butt’ as we exited the theatre.

The costumes (or lack thereof)

The play revolves around the 50th edition of the ‘NDP’ – that’s ‘New Dress Parade’, natch – as there’s nothing Emperor Henry Lim Bay Kun adores more than his clothes. In fact, he decided that an air-conditioned dome would be built over his kingdom just so he could break out his Fall/Winter pieces.

The set

The set here is, typical of Wild Rice productions, a sight to behold. We’re especially impressed by the dungeon scene, during which the huge birdcages used to imprison innocent people whom the Emperor disliked cinematically haunt the stage.

The jokes

A panto ain’t a panto without the laughs – and there’s certainly no shortage of that. Case in point: Khai No Surname and Nate No Surname’s tailor shop is a mash-up of their names, ‘KNN’. At the Emperor’s request, the name gets upgraded to include ‘Costume Custom Bespoke’ at the end, which also gets abbreviated. We’ll leave it at that.

Time Out Singapore: Best of 2015 – Arts

25 Nov 2015: We round up the top highlights of this year’s cultural calendar

National Gallery Singapore 2

Photo by National Gallery Singapore

Best theatre festival

Singapore International Festival of Arts

Helmed by festival director Ong Keng Sen, the Singapore International Festival of Arts returned this year with a theme of ‘Post-Empires’, a decidedly local flavour and an ambitious mini dance festival on top of it all. We especially loved Wild Rice’s Hotel and Drama Box’s It Won’t Be Long – The Lesson.

Up-and-coming actor

Thomas Pang

He’s 24 years old and just finishing up his final year at Lasalle, but we were very impressed with Thomas Pang in his professional debut earlier this year. Taking on the role as Billy in Pangdemonium’s production of Tribes, he was quietly confident and portrayed a difficult character convincingly. We’ll be keeping our eye on this rising star for sure.

Biggest arts hero

Sukki Singapora

Sukki Singapora is beautiful, brainy and brave. Not only did she teach herself the art of burlesque by watching YouTube videos, she took on the Singapore legal system and convinced the authorities to legalise the dance form earlier this year. On top of that, she’s set up a programme to bring arts to underprivileged and vulnerable kids. Can we love this lady any more?

Best new arts series

Art after Dark

Gillman Barracks is quiet on most days, but the arts cluster comes alive at Art after Dark, a bi-monthly party that brings together visual art, music, performances, guided tours and talks. Paintings are always easier to digest with a glass of wine and a burger, we say.

Best new arts venue

National Gallery Singapore

Here’s a no-brainer. The National Gallery is without a doubt the most important addition to the Singapore visual arts scene this year. Spanning a whopping 64,000 square metres, it’s home to thousands of works by local and regional artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Time Out Singapore: Best of 2015 – Attractions

23 Nov 2015: Not as though we didn’t have enough already, we list the talks-of-the-town of the year

The Karting Arena (Best New Attractions 2015)

Coney Island

Also known as Pulau Serangoon, Coney Island reopened in October. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnect with nature – and maybe play a game of ‘spot the cow’ – then this is the place to be. Try to book a free guided tour on the NParks website if you want to see a few hidden spots, including the former mansion of the Haw Par brothers.

Lee Kong Chian National History Museum

Opened in April, the uniquely shaped museum is home to 2,000 specimens of South-East Asian plants and animals, which are spread across two floors and 15 zones. The highlight, though, has got to be the three 150-million-year-old dinosaur fossils.

Indian Heritage Centre

With a glowing glass façade inspired by stepwells that are commonly found in South Asia, the Indian Heritage Centre has a wealth of artefacts that are dotted around five galleries. They document and explore the history and culture of Indians, especially in relation to Singapore, all the way from the 1st century to the present day.

The Karting Arena

The opening of The Karting Arena may have been delayed by a few months, but we’re glad it’s finally here. It’s the first place in town to boast a fleet of electric go-karts, which means they produce little noise and no fumes. These can still reach speeds of 30 to 50km/h, though, just like their gasoline-powered brothers.

New rides at Universal Studios Singapore

The kid-friendly Puss in Boots suspended roller coaster doesn’t go any faster than 36km/h, so little ones can go get in on the action, too. The journey follows the fearless feline as he searches for golden eggs to save an orphanage from closing down. For older tykes, though, we’re thrilled that the Battlestar Galactica reopened after a two-year closure.

Katapult Trampoline Park

If you’re looking for a place to let the kids go wild, this is it. The main court features more than 30 interconnected trampolines, and there’s also a whole bunch of other activities for bouncy fun times, including ‘slam dunk’, ‘wall run’, and, for daredevils, ‘free fall’.