Art Radar takes a look at “Fantasy Islands”, running at Objectifs until 26 January 2017.
“Fantasy Islands” presents the work of seven Singaporean and Indonesian contemporary artists that deal with the notion of ‘island’ and the fantasies and ideas attached to it.
Imagine an island. Are there palm trees, sandy beaches, perhaps a leafy green interior and a whispered hint of a drink with an umbrella in it? Why not forbidding, ice-bound cliffs? As one of “Fantasy Islands” curators, Kin Chui, puts it, “The idea of an island evokes a certain sort of tropical paradise – you don’t usually think about something Scandinavian,” which is one of several island-related ideas scrutinised in this exhibition at Objectifs in Singapore.
As the exhibition title makes plain, there isn’t one island in particular being explored, but islands as a category (and the fantasies we project upon them), as well as the relationship between two neighbouring, yet very different islands: Singapore and Batam. It is that combination of proximity and stark difference that formed the seed of the project, according to curator Mitha Budhyarto: “We were talking about Batam and Singapore, and how to talk about them in relation to each other, with them being so close but yet so different – that gave the project focus.”
The relationship between the two islands is one of some complexity, but some headway towards understanding it might be had with the observations that Singapore is, compared to Batam, rather wealthier and more developed. Hence, the island plays host to such phenomena as the unofficial acceptance of Singaporean currency, the development of both family-friendly resorts and a brisk vice trade, and a special economic zone for Singapore and other nations to offshore operations and manufacturing.
Interestingly, the objections of officialdom also made a curious contribution to the exhibition: Fyerool Darma’s Shroud, which would originally have been draped around the façade of the building, is instead neatly folded and weighted under a slab in front of the gallery. As the colonial-era church is gazetted as a historic site, the government agency involved limited its original display to a maximum of one hour per day, a constraint which was adapted to by performing these hour-long displays only at the beginning and end of the exhibition. Ironically enough, the artwork addresses the pre-colonial oral history of the region.
Within the gallery proper, one is immediately confronted by Ila’s Air dicincang tidak akan putus, an imposing, double-walled vitrine. Its innermost chamber displays sand and miscellaneous flotsam the artist collected from Batam, while a layer of somewhat cloudy seawater is interposed between the viewer and these collected objects. This curious display is the result of the artist’s work with a traditional fishing community in Tanjung Uma, with the flotsam forming a literal, visible artefact of the impact of increased industrialisation and trade for communities like Tanjung Uma, jeopardising fishing as a way of life. As a prism of sorts at the very front of the exhibition, curator Kin Chui quips: “Having Ila’s work placed here allows us to look at the entire exhibition through the effects, or the symptoms, of modernisation.”
This drive towards modernisation, and its attendant costs, also finds expression in Evelyn Pritt’s “Land Marks”, a series of photographs cataloguing abandoned buildings and speculative development on the island. It is not unlike the Chinese phenomenon of ‘ghost cities’, though the buildings photographed here range from individual homes to larger-scale commercial and industrial spaces – vanished and abandoned hopes and futures of every variety. One unique aspect to the artwork is the welded metal frame onto which the photographs are mounted – rather than quirkily thematic method of hanging, it is an integral part of the work, with its form referring specifically to the façade of a failed attempt to build a national park.
Speculative development and urban decay are also explored in Stephanie Jane Burt’s A Friendly Slide, which takes the form of a dangerously, improbably steep slide in shades of pastel pink and blue, atop which are perched the fragile material traceries typical of her work, suggesting a sense of absurdity and precariousness. Much as Pritt’s “Land Marks” responds to speculative development in general, Burt’s installation takes as its point of departure a specific abandoned theme park, Costarina, and the dissolution of the intended ludic functions of its structures.
Meanwhile, Ardi Makki Gunawan’s Proposal for gaze-subverting, loosely, tackles the subject of the sex industry in Batam through a combination of online and offline fieldwork—the former yields excerpts of posts on Sammyboy, a forum featuring reviews of commercial sex in the region, while the latter supplies the Hello Kitty printed fabric used in the artwork, apparently common to Batam brothels. The former, in the forum’s terse, peculiar vernacular, are embroidered on the latter, to generally surreal effect.
Eldwin Pradipta’s Keppres No. 41 Tahun 1973 takes yet another tack on the two island’s relationship – specifically, through a 1973 decree by Indonesia’s president at the time, Suharto, pushing for Batam’s industrial development whilst dubbing it the Singapore of Indonesia. The artist reads this as a sort of subsumption or overshadowing of Batam, which he renders by displaying projected footage of Batam with chintzy souvenirs of Singapore casting shadows onto the projected images. As an added touch, the shadow of Singapore’s Merlion lines up with an overlay of text, as if spouting from the statue.
In addition to these relatively sober artworks, which concern themselves with specific social themes and issues, Wu Jun Han’s Collection of Sounds on Islands presents a collection of field recordings of everyday, humdrum soundscapes. One haunting or nostalgic element to this piece is the overheard jingle for the Paddle Pop brand of ice cream, common to both islands. Though the sounds recorded might be unremarkable, everyday sounds that we might otherwise consign to the background, playback is achieved through an incredibly fragile set of tape loops – delicate enough that Wu admits: “Oh man, if I weren’t the gallery sitter, it’d be hard to pull this work off. It looks fragile – that’s the impression, that all it takes is a bump and it’s all over? That is true.”
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- Photo Gallery: “Welcome to BIRDHEAD World Again” at ShanghART, Singapore – December 2016 – the acclaimed photography duo BIRDHEAD presents a new series of work on Southeast Asia at ShanghART in Singapore
- 10 young emerging Singaporean artists – December 2016 – Art Radar introduces the 10 emerging Singapore-based artists as part of VADA’s UNTAPPED DISCOVERY 2016
- “Portals, Loopholes and Other Transgressions”: Singaporean artist Heman Chong at FOST Gallery – December 2016 – Heman Chong’s latest exhibition “Portals, Loopholes and Other Transgressions” investigates the functions of producing narratives in our everyday lives
- Indonesian artist Mangu Putra: “Between History and the Quotidian” in Singapore – in conversation – December 2016 – Mangu Putra’s latest solo exhibition draws on archival footage of Dutch colonisation
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