“Ghosts and Spectres—Shadows of History”: discussing historical narratives and identities at NTU CCA – symposium summary

Art Radar has a look at what was discussed at NTU CCA Symposium “Ghosts and Spectres—Shadows of History” on 28 October 2017.

Within the framework of the current exhibition running until 19 November, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art in Singapore brought together the four participating artists, curators and scholars from the region to discuss the varied historical narratives and identities in modern East and Southeast Asia.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History” 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

In celebration of its fourth anniversary, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore) hosted a symposium in conjunction with its current exhibition, “Ghosts and SpectresShadows of History”. “We work on multiple ways to expand upon the topics mentioned within the show,” explained the curator of Outreach and Education, Magdalena Magiera. For this event, the national research centre invited three of the exhibition’s participating artists – Ho Tzu Nyen, Nguyen Trinh Thi and Park Chan-kyong as well as curators and scholars from the region to discuss the varied historical narratives and identities in modern East and Southeast Asia.

Through comprehensive talks and lively panel discussions, the speakers provided keen insights into the region’s layered histories. Here are some key ideas that were raised over the day’s event.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Unspoken histories

Discussions took place against the backdrop of centralised historical narratives and the premise that history is (commonly viewed as) a linear record of time. “Shadows of history” refer to the people and cultures that are marginalised or left out of traditional, and sometimes state-constructed, accounts of the past. By presenting alternative perspectives on a wide variety of issues – from communism in Malaya to post-Orientalism in Korea – the artists in the exhibition complicate standard narratives and call into question the idea of a uniform historical “truth”.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

The use of archival processes in artistic practices was highlighted during the discourse between scholars and artists. By appropriating images and video footage from pop culture, historical documents and the media, artists imbue these sources with their own subjectivity. The subversion of the images’ original content frustrates linear histories. Through the videos presented in “Ghosts and Spectres—Shadows of History”, the artists re-examine and re-interpret traditional narratives and demonstrate that history can be paradoxical and difficult to schematise.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

The role of the artist

Nguyen Trinh Thi, Ho Tzu Nyen and Park Chan-kyong presented riveting talks about their artistic motivations, concerns and processes working with the moving image within the political and cultural landscape of Asia. The artist is not a scholar, ethnographer or historian. Yet, the artist can assume all of these roles while evading the methodological boundaries of institutionalised vocations. This allows for greater ambiguity in the artistic process, and allows artists to create their own frameworks for creative inquiry.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

In a panel discussion Nguyen Trinh Thi, Ho Tzu Nyen, Dr Roger Nelson and Dr June Yap discussed the artists’ practices as driven by a combination of curiosity and sense of urgency. However, there remains the lingering notion that this sense of urgency is undermined by lack of resources, access and a readily available audience for independent artists in the region. In a geopolitical landscape that does not freely embrace the maverick artist in civil discourse, the question of the artist’s responsibility to the spectator was raised. “More than making conceptual work, we still have to make beautiful work,” answered Nguyen Trinh Thi, “there has to be something beautiful about the medium.”

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

The moving image

The artist wields and tempers the authority of the moving image. “Photography [and video] have evidentiary force, the inherent ability to make a traumatic past real,” stated Dr Clare Veal in her lecture on Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the fourth artist in the exhibition. In a region where remnants of Cold War history still echo in its cultural landscape, the moving image is able to capture hauntings of the past. The artists in “Ghosts and Spectres—Shadows of History” wrestle with history and the moving image. For Nguyen Trinh Thi, there was apprehension of speaking on behalf of communities she encountered in her work. There is a fine line between subjectivity and a sense of “truth” embedded in the filmic medium that the artist has to maneuver.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

The tension between truth and subjectivity is further complicated through the use of appropriated film and cultural imagery. “Cinematic practice has the potential to animate rather than repeat images in terms of clichés,” argued Dr May Adadol Ingawanij in her keynote lecture. This enables the artist and the viewer to re-see and, by extension, re-think historical and cultural meaning imbued in images. Ho Tzu Nyen spoke about the original meaning of appropriated videos haunting perceptions of his films, while Park Chan-kyong discussed the incorporation of traditional rituals into his films and making ideas of Orientalism flexible.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October, 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Symposium: “Ghosts and Spectres – Shadows of History”, 28 October 2017, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

The moving image has a power to captivate both its maker and its viewer. In her lecture, Dr June Yap spoke about an urgency to relook and retell the history of writing and of artistic endeavours that are born out of courage, desire for truth and, perhaps, even justice. The videos in “Ghosts and Spectres—Shadows of History” showcase unrepresented historical legacies and, in so doing, offers the audience an opportunity. It challenges them to ask:

what do I not know and what do I do with what I now know?

Jean Wong

1934

Related Topics: Lecture and talks, conference, forums, curatorial practice, events in Singapore

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more talks and discussions on contemporary art

Comments are closed.