Green Zeng’s latest exhibition tackles Singapore’s electoral constituency boundaries as a metaphor for the rigidity and malleability of the country’s national identity.
Photographed weeks prior to the 2015 Jubilee celebration, Green Zeng’s photos of Singapore’s electoral constituencies run parallel to the country’s ongoing understanding and negotiation of its identity as Chinese, Malay and English. In these photos, Zeng questions who has the power to (re)construct history, as well as why and what the implications are for the people who must live out these histories.
The series An Exile Revisits the City (2011) looks at Singapore through the eyes of an exile returning to the island after a long absence. What experience or discovery initiated this series?
“An Exile Revisits The City” is a continuation of my practice and interests as mentioned above. Through the return of a fictional exile to 21st century Singapore, I have created a photographic travelogue across various historical sites in Singapore, relevant to its histories of dissent. Inspired by 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, I have used the Rückenfigur, an isolated figure seen from behind in emotively composed landscapes, to lure viewers into reflection about Singapore’s political past.
Your series of works (like the Chinese School Lessons, 2012) explores historical narratives of Singapore and how they have shaped our identities. Can you talk us through your practice and what inspired these series?
The main objectives of that series were to explore the Chinese Schools’ relationship with the anti-colonial movement, to examine student activism and the relationship between the national language of Singapore (Malay) and the Malayan identity.
Presented on a blackboard, it is covered with silk-screened images of Chinese school uniforms and texts in English, Chinese and Malay, which allude to the strong ideology of these schools. The interplay of three languages point to the important role of language in the formation of one’s cultural and national identity.
For example, the hand-written text “Tanah Air” (Motherland), “你住在哪里?” (Where do you live?) and “Motherland” respectively in Malay, Chinese and English create an entry point for a conversation between the motherlands of China, Malaya and Singapore. In multi-racial Singapore, questions on one’s origins, place of belonging and cultural allegiances are quietly examined through these visual references.
Your feature film, The Return was shown at the 30th Venice International Film Critics Week last year and several of your short films have been nominated for prestigious international film festivals. Why and how did you venture into filmmaking?
As mentioned, my medium of choice for an artwork is informed by the message of the work itself. I will use any medium that best articulates my vision. Since The Return is a work about time – a man who has lost time and is trying to regain time – so the film is an appropriate medium to articulate this.
Coming to your current exhibition, “Shifting Dioramas” highlights the issue of shifting constituency lines during elections in Singapore. This issue has been an ongoing one for the past many election cycles and is almost an inside joke among Singaporeans now. Why did you choose to highlight this now?
I have always been interested in the relationship between power, individual and the society. The National Day billboards (especially those in the Jubilee year) serve as a good entry point to examine this. I hope the exhibition will lead the public to ask some interesting questions about power and the order of things.
The photographs were taken in mid-August 2015, a few weeks before the GE2015. Thus the billboards represent the constituencies from the GE2011. There are 27 constituencies in total. However in my show, I have only presented 11 constituencies.
The shifting or changing nature of electoral boundary lines throughout the years is something I am interested in. In the photographs, I have superimposed electoral lines (of a Single Member Constituency (SMC) or Group Representation Constituency (GRC) that it belongs to) from different years over the billboard and landscape. Some photos feature a single line; others feature lines from different years. These lines appear as random shape drawings across the photographs.
Your website describes you as a multi-disciplinary artist and a filmmaker. Your work deals with social political issues. If you had to pick one word to describe yourself, what would you choose and why? Artist, filmmaker or activist?
I will describe myself as a ‘Student’ as every artwork is an opportunity for me to explore and study an area that I would like to find out more about.
- “Ifs, Ands or Buts”: Singapore’s Heman Chong at Rockbound Art Museum – February 2016 – Running from 23 January to 3 May 2016, Heman Chong’s solo show, curated by the art museum’s senior curator Li Qi, investigates the spaces between text and images, through seven new works commissioned by Rockbund Art Museum
- More than a market platform: Art Stage Singapore 2016 looks beyond sales – January 2016 – The ambitious sixth edition of Art Stage Singapore expanded its focus to include audiences as well as buyers
- Charting the languages of the future, past and present: SeMA Biennale Mediocity Seoul 2016 – March 2016 – The SeMA Biennale 2016 will see the participation of around 50 artists, whose works will engage with the uncharted languages of the future as well as the lost past and present
- Theatre of photography: Hong Kong’s Tseng Kwong Chi – artist profile – December 2015 – The Chrysler Museum in Virginia hosts a retrospective on Tseng Kwon Chi’s oeuvre showing the multi-dimensionality of the acclaimed late artist
- 4 young Singaporean artists emerge amid 50th anniversary – June 2015 – Singapore is enjoying the 50th anniversary of its independence in 2015 and the city-state’s cultural scene is featuring a rich programme of events. Art Radar explores the practices of 4 young Singaporean artists being introduced by FOST Gallery
Subscribe to Art Radar for more insightful conversations and interviews with artists