Showcasing 77 artists and collectives with their respective work is no easy task. Nevertheless, the sixth edition of Singapore Biennale is able to suitably exhibit over 150 works across a breadth of diverse mediums including film, installation, sound art and performance in their desired forms. Among them are many firsts and new commissions that have never been presented in contemporary art biennales and exhibitions internationally.
Singapore Biennale has always been firm with regional history and bonds. So the six-man curatorial team, led by artistic director Patrick Flores, who is a professor at the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines and curator of the Vargas Museum in Manila, handpicked pieces that “exemplifies the transformative potential of art while reflecting on our contemporary condition and take steps towards thoughtful change”.
To know more about Singapore Biennale’s art selection process and anchor theme, we approached two curators from the SB2019 team, Andrea Fam (assistant curator at the Singapore Art Museum) and Goh Sze Ying (curator at National Gallery Singapore), to explain their creative disposition.
ESQ: What made the curatorial team decide on the theme of ‘Every Step in the Right Direction’, a work by Amanda Heng?
Andrea Fam: The Biennale title is inspired by Amanda Heng’s work ‘Let’s Walk’. The focus on her piece was to draw attention to what may be overlooked, in the case of the step and the act of walking, a simple and ordinary movement. In Amanda’s work, walking also takes on added value in promoting deliberation and sharing, connecting with pasts and each other, which the Biennale’s proposition encapsulates.
ESQ: Are most of the works site-specific?
Andrea Fam: A number of works, such as Boedi Widjaja’s ‘Black—Hut, Black—Hut’ are site-specific [meaning they are not swappable], but the majority of them are not. We have tried where possible to present works in ways that resonate with their environments, such as the groupings of works found at Gillman Barracks where several narratives directly correspond to the history of the site. The beauty of the way several of the works have unfolded is that they would have been able to converse with a variety of other sites too.
ESQ: Why the idea to not show all the works in a particular location for convenience?
Goh Sze Ying: The Singapore Biennale has always been presented across a number of venues, and this very question of space has been an interesting challenge as we consider how to combine the breadth of venues and sites involved with the conceptual impulse.
Though the Singapore Art Museum’s buildings are closed for redevelopment, the Biennale has also occasioned the opportunity to engage with the city as a whole and involve not only its traditional art and cultural institutions but to also stage work in the public and unexpected sites such as Far East Plaza.
ESQ: Tell us more on the purpose of Singapore Biennale and its focus on regional contemporary art from Southeast Asia and even greater Asia.
Andrea Fam: Historically, the countries of Southeast Asia, East and South Asia have intertwined and shared histories. With Southeast Asia as a vantage point, the Biennale aims to continue with the discussion started with the two previous editions to offer artistic perspectives which trace our common histories and cultures.
Goh Sze Ying: Even today, the conversations and relationships among the countries in the region are constantly shifting, making it important to continue to deepen and strengthen our understanding of these dynamics.
ESQ: What are some of the pieces in SB2019 that are a must-see for visitors and why?
Andrea Fam: Some must-sees are works by Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, Robert Zhao, Ruangsak Anuwatwimon, Lê Quang Hà, The Mamitua Saber Project (that includes the Bakudapan Food Study Group, Propaganda Department and Mark Sanchez), Larry Achiampong and Wu Tsang. Whilst the Biennale holds many gems, the above listed is an effective entry into considering the biennale’s different curatorial approaches by the six biennale curators. We have each located different research trajectories and the above is a sampling of such.
Goh Sze Ying: Works by Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang, Lani Maestro, Amanda Heng, Pooja Nansi and Jason Wee.
These artworks encourage and invite visitors to ‘move around the city, sensing it with more alertness to details or just getting acquainted with it for the first time with generous excitement’ [from head curator Patrick Flores’ foreword in the Short Guide]. In this sense, the Biennale resists becoming an exhibition of serial objects, exhausted with one-off visits to the key venues. Instead, this dispersal offers visitors a somatic experience, allowing, in [Flores’] words, a way for the body to thus move with the Biennale.
ESQ: Lastly, what should art practitioners and the audience do to achieve ‘Every Step In The Right Direction’?
Goh Sze Ying: SB2019 invites us to consider our relationship with our current condition and think about the decision-making process that is critical and relevant to all of us. Through the gathering of people, the public can decide on what could be the right direction with others in an atmosphere of warm encounters and possible solidarities. The Biennale works invite the audience—whether onlookers or participants—to affirm common aspirations as well as discuss differences.
Singapore Biennale 2019: Every Step In The Right Direction runs from now to 22 March across 11 venues in the city. Visit the Singapore Biennale website for more information.
Also, National Gallery Singapore is offering free admission to all exhibitions inside its venue for the month of March. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Singapore Biennale before it closes.