SPOT ART 2013: The Growing Pains of Young ASEAN Artists
Posted on November 19, 2013
SPOT ART 2013 Singapore is an exhibition that celebrates the best of Southeast Asian art talent, all under the age of 30. Supported by the Ministry of Communication & Information (MCI) and the National Arts Council (NAC), the exhibition illuminates the values of collaboration, partnership, and a genuine attempt to build the foundations of a sustainable visual arts industry in Singapore. Through this collaborative effort, the exhibition and its surrounding dialogue fleshes out the difficulties facing young artists in Singapore, fresh out of school and lacking in mentorship for industry experience. But what the exhibition also offers is a platform for artists in the region to collaborate.
Drawing back to the exhibition itself, the layout is an amalgamation of paintings, illustration, print, installation, and video art. The selection committee is comprised of esteemed curators and experts on contemporary art in Southeast Asia, selecting over 200 works of more than 70 artists (out of 1500 submissions.) The exhibition prides itself on its quality, diversity; and particularly celebrates the fact that it is nestled in one homely spot. As the event organizers themselves mention, the Southeast Asian arts scene tends to be quite fragmented, so the motivation to distill this artistic incubation in one single location is a definitive gesture.
Irfan Adianto from Singapore exhibits a series of pieces about that explore the relationship between man and nature. He was inspired by instances in religions where aspects of nature would merge with mythology. Gromkyo Semper from the Philippines drawings present woodcut reminiscent prints that draws from both Roman Catholic and folk traditions, believing that the entirety of human experience and all history is there to be felt at experiential point, along with all the visual textures of heightened complexity. From Indonesia, Ahdiyat Nur Hartarta’s work illustrate a critical discussion on the current incarnation of Islam in Indonesia. In the artist’s own words, ‘With its exposure to TV and movies; […] it is no longer functioning as a guide, but a mere spectacle.’ Thus the illustration prints of movie stills, with memorable quotes, are presented to give us a taste of the hyper-sensationalised jargon that is prevalent in these films.
In the presentation of over 70 art pieces, the accompanying write-ups were brief and overarching, and it was actually mentioned during the panel discussion that this was an intentional decision. The motive behind this decision was to discourage the tendency to over-frame the artistic lens for the exhibition viewer. Indeed, this strategy did work but at times I did wish for a larger, deeper conversation going on with other exhibition participants.
Without the superimposition of a theme, the gallery visitor could, for want of a better word, remain lost in the eclecticism and variety of the art pieces. There would be a triggering sensation of looking at something of exceptional quality, and a stinging significance of the journeys each of these pieces took to get to the ARTrium @ MCI. Kudos to Jerry Gun and Mary Pan, founders and directors of SPOT ART for the inspirational and challenging task of making SPOT ART happen.
What really came through from the discussion between the organizers and intellectuals were that as much as ideals were upheld about bringing together the best young talents from Southeast Asia to one spot, there was genuine concern about the long-term projection of such a social enterprise for the future. Artists raised questions about where to go from here and took the opportunity to express real professional constraints when garnering collectors and selling their works. A salient point made by David Teh, an Arts critical theory and visual culture professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS); supplemented by Iola Lenzi, a Singapore-based curator, lecturer and critic of contemporary Southeast Asian art— highlighted the emphasis on economy in any sort of cultural discourse in Singapore. ‘Economy being the key word,’ noted Lenza, in response to a question about why sustainable public art appreciation took such a long time to take off in Singapore.
Having been in the region for a decade, Lenzi pointed out that while it may be challenging to work as a freelance cultural professional in Singapore, which also comprises of writing for publications overseas, she could understand the financial constraints faced by artists who were looking to do it in the long term. In a candid exchange with local artist Alyssa Sing, alumnus of the Art, Media and Design programme at National Technological University (NTU), she briefly quipped about the inadequate industry preparation the school equips its students with. There is a definite conversation going on between what is shared by an early artist professional and a veteran cultural critic. In fact, it is during exchanges like these that the value of such a platform is truly grasped.
Another point highlighted from the discussion was Singapore’s seeming lack of confidence for its own cultural production. In the words of David Teh, SPOT ART’s ‘lack of confidence in its own indigenous production is central and anomalous to its economy [of artistic cultural production].’
The internationalization, regionalization or festivals to the point of obscuring local production altogether is not an unfamiliar phenomenon. Yet, my humble opinion is that there have been significant waves in, not just the quality of cultural production taking place in Singapore, but a large increase in public viewership and interest too. Take the Art Biennale 2013, for example, and the recent Singapore Writers’ Festival, which featured Nordic writers and British literary canon Carol Ann Duffy herself. SPOT ART may only be at its beginnings, but one can hope it gets there.∗