The latest show at Pearl Lam Galleries, Singapore, takes a look at the identities, beliefs and society in our 21st century.
Art Radar examines the exhibition, featuring artists Hew Locke, Dharma Bum, and Thukral and Tagra, among others.
Running until 25 October 2017, Pearl Lam Galleries’ latest exhibition at its Dempsey Hill, Singapore gallery gathers 15 international artists in a wide-ranging exhibition encompassing 40 works. Ranging from new media, installation, painting and sculptural works, the exhibition almost becomes a smorgasbord in itself, pulling together disparate practices and themes under the broad title of “Empirical Atlas”.
With a line-up of international artists such as Dharma Bum (b. 1972), Inci Eviner (b. 1956, Turkey), Gao Weigang (b. 1976, Harbin, China), Gonkar Gyatso (b. 1961, Tibet), Hew Locke (b. 1959, Edinburgh, United Kingdom) and Francis Ng (b. 1975, Singapore), amongst others, the exhibition crosses geographical boundaries, attempting to address some of the weightier issues that confront the world today. Locating the exhibition’s dialogue in the “post-post-colonial experience”, the exhibition aims to interrogate assumed notions, assumptions and imposed roles that exist in societies shaped by the aftermath of empire.
Consciously choosing to destabilise and deconstruct identities, personas and societal boundaries, Managing Director (Asia) for Pearl Lam Galleries, Josef Ng, states:
In our world today, we are often confronted with the regression and questioning of diversities and values. […] What constitutes class and structural inequalities? We hope that that this exhibition can play a role in recognising the multitude of identities and belief systems that exists in our society today.”
Unraveling “pretenses, imposed identities, and personas”, the exhibition brings together works from contemporary artists that draw on historical references, examining the impact that history still holds over society today. Selecting issues such as gender, body politics, spirituality and economics, the artists on show collectively present a sprawling exhibition that examines how our world is ordered today.
Inhabiting the physical space
Certain works of particular interest in the exhibition highlight the physical space that society inhabits, commenting on the structures that determine and influence societal behaviour and relations. Turkish artist Inci Eviner, for example, engages with the politics and poetics of spaces. With four works on show in this exhibition, Eviner examines spatial relations, visualising the form of the body in relation to the space it inhabits.
In her work, Staging Daily Politics No.18, Eviner positions the figures of bodies within an unnamed, defined space, examining the topology of human relations vis-à-vis their spatial positionings. Eviner’s preoccupation with space, body and architecture comes through in her film work Nursing Modern Fall (2012). Played as a continuous loop, Eviner presents her audience with an almost surrealist take on modern architecture. By fusing the space of the Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Engine Factory with that of various interior drawings by Italian architect Andrea Palladio, Eviner depicts a zone where fictional encounters take place between nurses, dressed in white uniform, and unidentified figures. The work explores the development of a universalist approach to architecture, which rejected cultural difference and instead, imposed particular systems of beliefs and assumptions. Eviner’s installation reimagines space as a stage, on which historical encounters between people and performed and presented, played out over and over again repetitively.
Similarly, Indian-born artist duo Thukral and Tagra‘s works on show grapple with the ideas of space, human relations and architecture. Interestingly, Thukral and Tagra’s works involve the interactive board game Bread Winner (2017). Drawing on the historical concept of “panem et circenses”, or “bread and circuses”, the game references a practice employed by Roman emperors which involved providing free wheat, spectacular shows and entertainment in order to placate and distract the masses, sustaining the political authority of the emperor’s administration.
A Consumer Society
Thukral and Tagra’s work creates a literal playing field, providing a commentary about the deeper workings underlying broader political and social functions. The artist duo provide similarly critical, or even cynical perspectives into the rampant consumer culture of today’s society: in their painting Per Diem- 1 (2017), the artists depict a futuristic island in the shape of a chewed up apple-core, bobbing precariously on the surface of the ocean whilst miniature worlds with houses, black and white pennants, and other structures surround it. Blending commercial and fine art, both artists present a work that seems to hint at the subtle darkness that accompanies rampant consumption practices. Although made out of steel and metal, the island balances on its whittled down core, underscoring the tension and contradictions inherent within the fantastical situation.
The fractured reality of human relations
Indonesian-born artist Melati Suryodarmo explores a different facet of mediating human relations; her film The Lover Across the Sea (2013) is a single-channel video exploring maritime life in West Sumatra, Bali and West Sulawesi. Taking cue from the stories of wives and lovers, left behind when their lovers go out to sea, the video is a poetic meditation on the human experiences of letting go, love and hope. Echoing universal themes of loss and love in human relationships, the video work looks at the experience of living in a world that is increasingly fractured in multiple ways.
Portraying Power and Authority of Empire
Another artist to look out for is Hew Locke, whose art examines the practice of portraiture and its relationship to power and authority. With four works in the show – Para (Marajo) 3 (2013), Société de Navigation Transocéanique 1 (2014), Société d’Exploitations Minières de l’Oubangui 1 (2014) and Société de Transit de Grand-Lahou 1 (2014) – Locke adds an overt reference to the economic structures that supported and reinforced empire to the exhibition.
Locke’s work uses found share certificates from the early 1900s, which are then scrawled over with fantastical, almost whimiscal drawings. Depicting exotified human figures, phantasmagoric vessels and unnamed islands, the works reference the expansion of empires into other lands, driven along by the promise of financial riches and wealth. Locke’s practice of engaging with the visual culture of Empire examines the structures of power that are inherent in these material artefacts, investigating the ways in which they still affect our lives today.
The anachronistic, multicultural world of today
Other notable artists in the exhibition include Tibet-born, London-based artist Gonkar Gyatso (b. 1961), whose practice typically involves a blend of Buddhist iconography with his own colourful, contemporary imagery. His work Shangri-La (2014) is a good example of this: a mixed media collage, Gyatso’s work incorporates a large, patchwork-like circle in the middle of his work, but with colourful English alphabet nestled in the middle of it. Dharma Bum’s enigmatic paintings entitled Portrait (2017) and Flowers by the Mountainside (2017) portray front and back views of a figure wrapped in a niqab, framed against pastoral landscapes.
Wide-ranging, broad and inclusive, the exhibition strives to hit multiple notes, encompassing a myriad of themes, ideas and commentaries on the condition of today’s world.
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