3 emerging Singaporean artists to watch

Like many of its Southeast Asian counterparts, Singapore has a complicated cultural heritage, one that is a conglomeration of racial, religious, regional and global influences.

Art Radar presents the research of three artists contributing to enrich Singapore’s arts and culture scene.

Weixin Chong, "Sous-vide/ 真空" series, 2016.

Weixin Chong, “Sous-vide/ 真空” series, 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Over the years, Singapore has taken great pains to develop its art scene and consolidate its complex cultural landscape. The opening of National Gallery Singapore in 2015 marked the nation’s continued investment in the study and promotion of the region’s modern artistic history. Last year, the Singapore Art Museum hosted the fifth edition of the Singapore Biennale, which showcased contemporary artists from Southeast, East and South Asia. Institutions such as the Institute of Contemporary Arts, LASALLE College and NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (NTU CCA) have also provided opportunities for contemporary artists to showcase their works.

These efforts have supported a burgeoning art industry that grapples with a rapidly changing Singapore, Southeast Asia and the world at large. This article highlights three Singaporean artists whose work captures the daily experiences of being in Singapore and perceiving the world beyond it.

Zulkifle Mahmod, ‘Resonances: Readymade Sound Sculptures’, 2016, wok covers, utensils, 32-channel mircocontroller connected to a Midi player, installation view, “The Making of an Institution”, 11 February – 7 May 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy of NTU CCA Singapore.

Zulkifle Mahmod, ‘Resonances: Readymade Sound Sculptures’, 2016, wok covers, utensils, 32-channel micro-controller connected to a Midi player. Installation view, “The Making of an Institution”, 11 February – 7 May 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

1. Zulkifle Mahmod

When John Cage presented Water Walk (1960) on the popular television show I’ve Got A Secret, the host called it “interesting”. In the performance, Cage toyed with everyday objects: banging on a piano, squeezing a rubber duck, and lifting the lid off a pot of boiling water. The cacophony of sounds became a symphony that left the audience amused and bewildered.

Zulkifle Mahmod follows in the lineage of sound artists who create whimsical sound installations with readymade objects. In “The Making of an Institution” put forth by NTU CCA, Mahmod presented an experiential installation entitled Resonances: Readymade Sound Sculptures.

Zulkifle Mahmod, ‘Resonances: Readymade Sound Sculptures’ (detail), 2016, wok covers, utensils, 32-channel micro-controller connected to a Midi player. Installation view, “The Making of an Institution”, 11 February – 7 May 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Zulkifle Mahmod, ‘Resonances: Readymade Sound Sculptures’ (detail), 2016, wok covers, utensils, 32-channel micro-controller connected to a Midi player. Installation view, “The Making of an Institution”, 11 February – 7 May 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Built out of wok covers and kitchen utensils that are commonly found in Singapore, these metal structures were activated by motors. They awkwardly tapped and banged against each other to produce a deliberately clumsy reverberation of dissonant sounds; harsh tones that were both familiar and jarring. The effect was a sensuous, aural experience reminiscent of being in a hawker centre in Singapore, listening to the fans spin as hordes of people queue in patient anticipation for their daily meal on another humid day.

Melissa Tan, ‘If You Can Dream a Better World You Can Make a Better World or Perhaps Travel Between Them’, 2016, installation view, Singapore Biennale 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

Melissa Tan, ‘If You Can Dream a Better World You Can Make a Better World or Perhaps Travel Between Them’, 2016, installation view, Singapore Biennale 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

2. Melissa Tan

The Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors presented a strong showing of local artists, among them was emerging artist Melissa Tan. Trained as a painter at LASALLE College of the Arts, Tan is interested in topography and transience. Mimicking the slow and arduous process of rock formations, Tan hand-cut paper and laser-cut metal sculptures as part of her artwork entitled If you can dream a better world you can make a better world or perhaps travel between them at the Singapore Biennale in 2016. In one of her installations, Tan created a “music score” based on Singapore’s physical landscape.

Melissa Tan, detail shot of ‘If You Can Dream a Better World You Can Make a Better World or Perhaps Travel Between Them’, 2016, installation view, “Singapore Biennale 2016”. Image courtesy of the artist.

Melissa Tan, detail shot of ‘If You Can Dream a Better World You Can Make a Better World or Perhaps Travel Between Them’, 2016, installation view, Singapore Biennale 2016. Image courtesy the artist.

The notched patterns of the “score” were derived from images of pavements that the artist photographed in Singapore and, later, carved into white strips of paper. Like braille, those textured engravings contained translations of Singapore’s built terrain. They contained messages of one’s physical encounter with the city that you could decode by turning a handle of a music box.

Juxtaposed with Mahmod’s Resonancesand its provocatively discordant sounds – Melissa Tan’s installation gives melody to a different experience of Singapore’s landscape. Born out of a specific geographic context, the ethereal sounds from the installation highlight the ephemeral, poetic and universal nature of a cross-cultural, daily activity: walking.

Weixin Chong, ‘V-back high leg, Under dress 0.2 series’, 2016, graphite on black tissue paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Weixin Chong, ‘V-back high leg’, from “Under dress 0.2” series, 2016, graphite on black tissue paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

3. Weixin Chong

Weixin Chong considers her artistic practice as nomadic. Exhibiting in and travelling to a variety of places including London, Paris, Seoul and Singapore, this young artist explores the intricacies of human relationships through material metaphors. Chong creates art that responds to the environment she inhabits while being keenly aware of her own perceptions. In Sous-vide/ 真空, Chong collaborated with artist Pauline Cambrai Emond to collect and display discarded clothes found on the streets of Belgium. The work was a response to the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The collaboration was followed by Chong’s series Under dress, which was first shown at BAU 13: DRESS CODEX, Italy.

Weixin Chong, ‘Demi-cup', from "Under dress 0.2" series, 2016, graphite on black tissue paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Weixin Chong, ‘Demi-cup’, from “Under dress 0.2” series, 2016, graphite on black tissue paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

“Under Dress” began with 150 drawings of undergarments and lingerie, and is an ongoing project. The sensuous subject matter is accentuated through Chong’s delicate graphite drawings on gossamer black tissue paper. Her detailed renderings of the contours of each garment leave no surface of that intimate fabric unobserved, untouched. She labels – in careless, cursive lettering – each drawing: demi-cup, V-back high leg, soft backless. Chong’s transition from exploring states of dress and undress from a global to a personal perspective epitomise her artistic practice of skimming the surface of human desire and power, feeling, with utmost sensitivity, the outlines of things closest to us.

Jean Wong

1871

Recent topics: Southeast Asian artists, biennales, biennials, emerging artists, drawing, installation, events in Singapore

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