Oct 27, 2016 - Feb 26, 2017


Singapore Art Museum

An Atlas of Mirrors

Exploring shared histories and current realities within and beyond the region, Singapore Biennale 2016 presents a constellation of artistic perspectives that provide unexpected ways of seeing the world and ourselves.

Titled An Atlas of Mirrors, the international contemporary art exhibition features site-specific and never seen before contemporary artworks by more than 60 artists across Southeast Asia, and East and South Asia.

Nine Conceptual Zones
The main title of the Singapore Biennale 2016 is woven through nine ‘conceptual zones’, or subthemes, which locate each artwork in particular curatorial contexts. These zones shape the flow of the Biennale experience,like chapters in a book or sections in a poem. Like the title – ‘An Atlas of Mirrors’ – which is built on the relationship between a collective noun (‘an atlas’ as the collective noun) and what is being thought of collectively (‘mirrors’), these zones are conceptually themed along specific collective nouns and what they hold together for contemplation and experience. Artworks located within each zone resonate on many levels, and at the same time, all nine zones coincide, intertwine and reflect each other along the conceptual continuum of ‘An Atlas of Mirrors’ as a whole. Each zone represents concepts, ideas and ways of seeing, as explored in the Biennale artworks.
An Everywhere of Mirrorings
Space and place are explored and glimpsed through mirrors and cartography, conjuring symmetrical and asymmetrical parallel worlds where the real, surreal, abstract and imaginary overlap.

The ‘membrane’ of hand-cut mirrors dissolves the definition between foreground and background by dissipating the single image into an explosion of reflections.

This installation comprises two video works. The first, About 60 kilos of wisdom, recalls a favourite saying of Lim’s mother, that wisdom is nothing more than the ability to keep a balanced state.

The second video, The falling wisdom, represents the moment when this balance is broken: Lim’s fall from the basketball suggests the reality of corporeal limits.

Kentaro Hiroki handpicks everyday objects discarded on the streets to form the basis for his works. The things he chooses are intended to be reflective of time and space: unique to the localities in which he finds them, each object has its own story to tell of the communities it was found in.

The 100 mirrored islands presents a collection of islands that, despite their overlooked status, have played significant roles in shaping the global consciousness, and have become a point of reference for global desires, as well as fears and secrets today.

'Behind the Light' proposes an exchange between the two sides of a mirror, illuminating the relationships between self, surface, society and the spiritual world.

In exploring the micro-universes of Singapore’s cultural hodgepodge, Zulkifle’s work foregrounds the otherwise overlooked auditory character of each community and the space it inhabits.

Is it possible for an artist to look beyond officially constructed maps, and imagine a different past or an alternate future? Pothupitiye attempts to do so in this series, where he re-crafts the official version of maps to tell a different story.

The maps he constructs are like palimpsests where he overlays, juxtaposes and transforms portraits of voyages, landscapes, mythical figures and other maps to re-inscribe stories of Sri Lanka’s past and present, interspersed with his own personal history.

The Panji cycle is a collection of stories revolving around the legendary Prince Panji, which originated in Java around the fourteenth century and spread to what is now modern-day Malaysia, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

Image's outlines are rendered in scripts, starting with Javanese script, then flowing out into scripts reflecting the various regions and localities that this narrative has travelled to: a calligraphic cartography charting the movement of the Panji cycle throughout Southeast Asia.

'Treasure Islands' delves into overlooked chapters of Indonesia’s colonial past, threading together geographies as disparate as the tiny spice island of Rhun in Maluku, Indonesia, and the metropolis of Manhattan in New York.

'Growing' is informed by the Buddhist concept of dependent co-origination: human beings are a unique species, yet form part of the larger whole that is Nature; both are subject to the same cycles of birth, growth and death.

In this respect, we are like the single incense stick that aspires to be singular and ‘pure’ with its own novel fragrance, yet is also part of a larger perfumed environment.

This site-specific mural comprises of two counterpoint sets. One suite is based on the surviving possessions of people in Tacloban who lived through the deadly typhoon in 2013; the other suite centres on Filipinos in Singapore and depicts the objects they brought with them here.

A Presence of Pasts
Retrospection reveals the present as a thoroughfare where all realms coincide and are mirrored – where the personal nudges collective memory, the seen implies the unseen, and legacy evokes loss and forgetting.

Within his installation of found objects is an antique ironwood boat, symbolic of journeying between the Nusantara (the Indonesian archipelago) and the larger world, as well as between the worlds of the living and the dead (in Balinese belief, the boat carries the soul to its ancestral abode after death).

Hundreds of terracotta figurines, symbolising humanity, exhibit individual expressions, even as their numbers suggest a community, and the clay, their frailty.

Sharmiza rereads and re-enacts two stories from the Malay Annals, a keystone of Malay literature, to re-examine some of the Malays’ traditional values and practices.

The episode of the covenant highlights the solemn oath made between Malay rulers and their subjects, while the tale of the swordfish attacks revolves around Hang Nadim, who saved Singapore from the attacks but was unjustly murdered by his king.

This artwork is modelled on a gate at the artist’s family home in Korea, itself constructed after a traditional scholar’s house built in the nineteenth century, and made with discarded wood from demolished palaces and other historical buildings.

Harahap reworks archival photographs to present fictive portraits of the Mardijkers, a community of descendants of freed slaves found in major cities in the East Indies (present-day Indonesia).

The superimposition of European faces on ‘native’ bodies, and vice versa, captures the fluidity and instability of identities within this community, a situation which the artist views as analogous to contemporary Indonesia’s negotiation with ‘global’ culture.

The husband-and-wife artist duo have resurrected figures from the nineteenth-century Anglo-Burmese Wars and beyond, recuperating an autochthonous historical voice against what they perceive as a colonial narrative.

Driven by his concern about a growing historical amnesia, Fyerool Darma departs from his characteristic painting practice to present sculptures of two key figures in Singapore history: an appropriated bust of Sir Stamford Raffles by Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey, and a bustless pedestal inscribed with the name, birth and death dates of Sultan Hussein Mua’zzam Shah.

Fascinated by colonial rubber plantations and the role they have played and continue to play in Vietnam, Phuong Linh explores the materiality of rubber and investigates the historical significance of the country’s rubber trees and plantations.

'History Repeats Itself' is a meditation on the history of power, seeking to make visible the legacies of colonial conquest in Southeast Asia. The burnt-out ships in this installation recall the ominous appearance of European armadas on the horizon during the early centuries of European colonialism.

Standing atop the charred ships are shadowy, cloaked figures. Their robes are made of gold-plated nutmeg, a spice once worth its weight in gold, over which countless wars were fought.

A Culture of Nature
Mirroring the dialectical relationship between Nature and Culture, Art evolves from aesthetisation and the ‘perfecting’ of Nature into myriad dimensions, and reconsiders the implications of human presence in the natural world.

This site-specific work is at once a garden of artificial flora and a labyrinth of mirrors. Entering the installation, viewers find themselves inside a kaleidoscope, where the surrounding infinite mirror images create a feeling of the loss of subjectivity.

Chou’s frame-like plexiglass containers hold heavy, dark petroleum and can also be seen as a time capsule, as the creation of petroleum in nature takes at least two million years. Moreover, the ‘painting’ stays in a liquid form and keeps flowing; it will never solidify as an oil painting does.

Latin for a “pleasant place”, the phrase Locus Amoenus also evokes the notion of an escape into an ideal landscape. In this instance, the pastoral paradise has been sited within a house of glass – the greenhouse – an engineered Eden for flora uprooted from its native soil.

Indeed, Villamael’s ‘greenhouse’ houses unusual foliage: intricate cut-outs created from archaic and contemporary Philippine maps. Coalescing notions of nature and nurture, culture and the cultivated, the work probes the imaging of the Philippines’ fraught history as the country that endured the longest colonial rule in Southeast Asia.

Representing the charred wood from ongoing deforestation activities, these evocative ‘columns of nature’ prick our conscience, yet attest to Nature’s resilience against every imaginable catastrophe.

The left side portrays the Paphiopedilum fowler, an endangered wild orchid that can be found in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The adjoining panel depicts a recently named orchid hybrid: as part of this artwork’s commissioning process,

In this durational performance piece, the artist slowly knits a body-length garment out of leeks over five weeks. Chia is of ethnic Teochew Chinese background, and the leek holds significance for the Chinese diaspora.

This artwork considers transformations between the daily-used object, the readymade and sculpture. In taking this approach the artist questions perceived reality, and examines the differences between what is true and what we see and understand.

An Endlessness of Beginnings
Contemplating cyclical time brings insight into how myths influence human conditioning; when, and why, story tells more than history; and our lives amidst timespans of elemental substances that transcend human measure.

In Lim’s imagination, this was once part of a colossal statue that guided the ships of an ancient, mythical civilisation.

In this 2016 work, Xiao explores the contrast between the Western solar calendar and the Chinese lunar one. Two long black and white stripes are juxtaposed to stand for the two calendar systems.

One of the most prevalent mythological icons in Southeast Asia is the makara, which originated in Hinduism. Depicted as a hybrid of different animals, typically half-mammal and half-fish, it has penetrated cultural, religious and philosophical discourses.

In his creation of maps, Qiu adopts a methodology that incorporates daily experience as well as a philosophical approach to thinking with graphics, and organising relationships and systems of knowledge. This map series presents Qiu’s investigation into cartographic history.

Qiu’s installation features a handblown glass bestiary of fantastical monsters, imagined as traversing between the mountains and the seas, conjuring a world of mystery that may once have been out there, but has now disappeared.

'Karagatan' portrays the eyes of residents in coastal villages across the Philippines, ranging from fishermen to pearl divers, a master boat-builder, shell traders and others.

The result of the artist’s research are delicate paintings that capture the tiny, distinctive characteristics of each subject’s eye: lines, curves and contours, which transform into unusual and unexpected portraits.

'Invisible Force' reproduces part of the sky as photographed by NASA, using almost thirty thousand industrial magnets to represent the invisible gravitational forces between celestial bodies.

'Atlas' makes use of pinball machines, collected by the artist and processed through hand-painting and refitting. The image of the Greek god Atlas bearing the night sky echoes the theme of the Singapore Biennale.

'Dust (Singapore Galaxy)' is based on a photograph of the night sky around Singapore. The seemingly random scattering of chalk dust is in fact a precise placement and measuring out of dust in relation to stellar distributions. The Chinese character for “dust” refers both to the socially under-privileged, and the ordinary and the mundane, but here it is transformed into the limitless universe.

In a titanic mural, Pannaphan presents a mapping of the Buddhist cosmos that resembles a landscape painting. Using materials raw and natural, as well as the new and mass-produced, her amalgamation of contemporary and traditional Thai art creates a unified cartography of the heavens and the earth that chronicles Southeast Asian history.

Pannaphan’s ongoing investigation of the intersecting points between Buddhist cosmology and modern science has led her to consider the concepts of change, loss, devastation and inevitable armageddon.

Lao’s History series is a rudimentary chronicle of his Hmong clan. Each panel includes a black border of motifs that symbolise ‘spirits’, and an outline of different ancestors or leaders in red, the colour of strength and courage.

Particular to Siong’s artistic repertoire are the lanky creatures – featured prominently on each panel – that represent the ‘shadows’, ‘spirits’ or ‘souls’ of her dreams, which her husband Lao, the village shaman, interprets.

In this installation, Araya has woven various stories together into a cohesive experience. Almost akin to a surrealistic dream, she invites audiences to ponder with her the karmic consequences of being entrapped within the Sisyphean cycle of existence.

This multimedia installation brings together material Atienza recorded from four oceanic journeys on cargo ships, and immerses the viewer in the constant state of flux that characterises life on board these vessels.

A Breath of Wills
Encountering injustice, selves resist, sometimes acting on behalf of others, often at personal cost; yet the silenced, in finding their voice and agency, also face the limits of representation.

'Putar Alam Café' is an interactive space with a transistor radio, a television broadcasting a news channel (with the volume muted), and recent works by the artist.

'China Action' is another of Wen’s signature works, documenting the Beijing-centred yet nationally influential art movements of the 1980s and 1990s, with a particular focus on the emergence of performance art and its impact on contemporary art.

'Ling Long Tower' by Zang Honghua is inspired by Wen’s two films and investigates the Songzhuang Artists Village in Beijing. These three films capture the Chinese art world from the 1980s to 2011 in a humorous and quick-witted style, as it vigorously yet chaotically evolved from its earlier ‘wild’ state into a mature presence in the global art world.

Building on Chandrasekaran’s exploration of body and identity, this installation – in the form of “an intention to walk” – focuses on the thousands of Indian convicts who, from 1825 to 1873, were transported to Singapore and served their sentence as manual labourers.

A map of Myanmar, painstakingly constructed of a thousand squares of sculpted Shwe Wah soap, testifies to the artist’s tumultuous life. While in prison for almost seven years, he made art on scraps of fabric, prison uniforms – and in soap. From a bar of soap, he carved a little captive human figure, trapped within the claustrophobic confines of four walls.

As an artist-in-residence at CJC and the Courts, Tan attended court proceedings, listened to the soundscape of the courts, paying attention to the use of voice, and documented what he heard as drawings. The artist turned his drawings into graphic scores, which were then interpreted and sung by the Anglo-Chinese Junior College Alumni Choir.

A Share of Borders
Walls and boundaries bear witness that overlapping territories are strategically and ideologically mapped and staked; yet is there common ground, belonging to neither party on either side of the drawn line?

This work features laboriously and painstakingly hand-cut paper and laser-cut metal sculptures that translate the continually expanding urban physical landscape and terrain of Singapore into abstract visual and sonic contemporary expressions.

Presented as an imagined island sculpture together with three ‘music boxes’, the artwork incorporates ‘data points’ that are composed of impressions made on physical features such as pavements, paths, walkways and roads.

Repetitive frames of barren land with no significant geographical or political identity: this land could be anywhere, as the title of the artwork suggests, and yet it is not. It is one of the most contested territories in recent history, over which lives have been lost and wars have been fought: the border that separates India from Bangladesh.

These photographs explore not only people’s political relationship to land, but also the effects of aggressive industrialisation.

'Another Chronicle of Loss' and 'Shadows, Stains' are informed by the poems of Kashmiri poet Aga Shahid Ali, while Sheikh’s extensive use of stencilwork alludes to the latticework typical of vernacular Kashmiri architecture. Her paintings are a multifaceted meditation on the nature of destroyed beauty, the necessity of memory, and the forms and adequacy of memorialisation.

In 'Srinagar II', Soi explores the plurality of influences in Kashmir and the migratory nature of forms and images through the papier-mâché tiles. The slideshow of Sufi shrines and other images are an ongoing visual diary of Srinagar that Soi constantly updates.

Gupta explores the material culture of Kashmir through the pheran – a garment that is used widely by men, women and children across class and religion in this region. He sees the pheran as a symbol of Kashmiri identity that has witnessed the political, social, cultural and aesthetic changes that have taken place in the area.

Kak curates 30 photographs by five photojournalists – Meraj ud-Din, Javeed Shah, Altaf Qadri, Showkat Hussain Nanda and Syed Shahriyar Hussainy – to excavate photography as a key artistic practice that has emerged from 25 years of endemic conflict in the Kashmir valley.

A Flow of Identities
Entangled in the contingencies of experience, the concepts and formation of national, regional, cultural and individual identities are recognised as mutable and ever in flux, wavering between being and becoming.

Darmawan’s work continues his interest in the peripheral histories of capitalism and their relationship with contemporary life. Its entry point is the Singapore Human Resources Institute, established in 1965 to promote excellence in human resource management and development – an integral role then, as now, for Singapore’s economic development.

The installation comprises objects once found in offices and domestic environments in Singapore as well as Indonesia, in an imagined space commemorating the institute’s achievements.

The work engages with the history of the Japanese occupation of Brunei during World War II, as well as the artist’s personal family history. Two series of images are cast as projections on either side of a fabric screen.

In this installation, Takekawa continues his experiments with maps, realised with irreverent humour. It comprises a set of tables holding board games and maps, with paintings and prints on the wall that elaborate on the historical and social themes of the work.

Ky traces the history of pattern-making back through time and space. Incorporating examples of Peranakan lace and embroidery patterns (obtained from Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and Korea), the artist imprints, etches and prints them over Khmer motifs using intaglio printing and Khmer engraving techniques – thus forming hybridised patterns that amalgamate the multiple layers of aesthetic influence in Peranakan and Khmer cultures.

A Somewhere of Elsewheres
Displacement, homelessness and alienation in migrant experiences disorientate, amplified by growing distrust and fear, and the ongoing threat of the violence of war; still, a dream of belonging somewhere glimmers.

In Suleman’s decorative, stylised paintings on found ceramic plates mounted on elaborately carved wooden frames, she uses the images of Persian and Mughal miniature painting to create a critical visual vocabulary for her contemporary narratives.

While the traditional miniaturist’s repertoire consisted of idyllic landscapes and courtly scenes, Suleman’s works are replete with the imagery of bloodshed, death and violence.

Khanh combines the woodworking craftsmanship of his ancestral province of Fujian, China, with the cultural identity of central Vietnam, to investigate and highlight the geo- and sociopolitical tensions between Vietnam and China.

This installation is an expansion of Niranjan’s original Koboi Balik Kampung (The ‘Koboi’ Returns Home) series, where he explored personal and family narratives, as well as the cultural, political and social landscapes of Malaysia. It reflects Niranjan’s psychological and sociocultural consciousness as an artist living and working in Canada, and as a Malaysian citizen.

Juxtaposing the large, minimal sculptures of shop-houses (heritage buildings which are sometimes used as dormitories for hundreds of workers today) alongside rust-transferred drawings and cement sculptures, Barman explores the parallel realities of the migrants’ experience – the house they live in in Singapore and the ‘home’ they dream of in Bangladesh.

A Past of Absences
Reimagined from unusual perspectives, marginalised histories and fictive micronarratives seek the fissures in the landscape of memory, and find the chasms in history – gaping between individuals, communities, nations and regions.

Kra-Tua Taeng Seua is a traditional folktale about a tiger hunt, once well known throughout southern Thailand. In recent years, the number of traditional theatre troupes performing the play has diminished. Collaborating with one such group, the Wat Khuha Sawan Folk Play Company, Sakarin reimagines the folktale as a work of art reflecting life in a megacity.

Commingling fact and fiction, The Great East Indiaman revisits Sir Stamford Raffles’ landing in 1819, which led to the founding of modern Singapore. In place of the triumphant European male protagonist, the artist recasts the narrative as a fantastical tale of a mythical, now-extinct species of whale that brought Raffles to these shores.

Cooking the World is made of used aluminium vessels that are inscribed with personal histories. They refer to the parallel realities in a globalised, consumerist society: surplus and affluence on one hand, dearth and deprivation on the other.

In this work, Ding presents a life-size freestanding replica of a household bomb shelter, a room introduced by Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1997 that must be maintained as such for emergencies.

This work explores the idea of ‘staying’ and ‘going’ as what the artist-duo calls “two perspectives of a single decisive moment”. Two mirror-finished walls face each other. One bears the phrase, “There are those who stay”; the other, “There are those who go”.

Ahmad Fuad’s installation takes the form of a memorial, featuring a portrait and a statue of an imagined Enrique, together with video documentation, artefacts and copies of documents.

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