An exhibition will open on the 11th of November at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) which would feature 15 contemporary works of art, finalists in the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize shortlisted from over 130 nominations from 24 countries in the Asia-Pacific. Together with several other bloggers, I had a sneak preview of the exhibition yesterday evening, during which we were not just given an excellent guided tour by Senior Curator Joyce Toh, but also had a chance to hear the first hand explanations of three of the artists: Kim Jongku, Michael Lee and Bui Cong Khanh, about their shortlisted works.
Amongst the works that caught my attention was Korean artist Kim Jongku’s ‘Mobile Landscape’, Vietnamese artist Bui Cong Khanh’s ‘The Past Moved’, Aida Makoto’s ‘Ash Color Mountains’ and a striking collection of 9 photographs by a New Zealand photographer of Samoan origin, Greg Semu, ‘The Last Cannibal Supper’. ‘Mobile Landscape’ is interesting from the perspective of the use of steel powder which the artist had painstakingly ground to add a third dimension to two-dimensional traditional calligraphy and landscape ink paintings showing the meeting between the horizontal and vertical plane through a camera on a ground and a projection on a screen.
Vietnamese artist, Bui Cong Khanh, on the other hand, uses two-dimensional backdrops – almost life-size charcoal-on-paper sketches of soon to be demolished areas of his hometown Ho Chi Minh City in front of which he invites residents as well as outsiders to pose for photographs (which are also on display), to document a space and time. What is interesting is his observation of the reactions of the different individuals that pose for a photograph – with residents being easier to photograph as they felt at home in the recreated surroundings, compared to non-residents who took more time to be at ease.
One work that certainly was thought-provoking for me is Aida Makoto’s ‘Ash Color Mountains’ which resembles a traditional depiction of a soft mountainous landscape, which on closer inspection, reveals a pile of bodies – that of faceless white-collar workers. We are told that this conveys an underlying sense of violence and destruction that often characterises many of the artist’s works.
The most provocative work was for me Greg Semu’s ‘The Last Cannibal Supper’, a series of 9 photographers which features Semu himself at the centre of the work which explores the religious colonisation of the Kanak people of Noumea at a symbolic last supper in which the people leave their traditional and cannibal ways to adopt the ways of their colonial masters. Central to the work is the re-enactment of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper using local actors and with a local setting with palm branches, flax walls, and shells. Semu grew up in a religiously indoctrinated family, and recalls everyday of his childhood looking at a wall size rug of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece hanging above the fireplace in the family home. The other photos include the use of other iconic images in western art, including the re-enactment of a Pietà.
The exhibition is on until 4 March 2012. The winner of the Grand Prize (SGD 45,000) and three Jurors’ Choice Award recipients (SGD 10,000 each) will be announced on 17 November 2011, selected by an international jury which comprises a panel of five eminent art experts: Mr. Fumio Nanjo, Director, Mori Art Museum; Mr. Gregor Muir, Executive Director, Institute of Contemporary Arts London; Mr. Hendro Wijanto, leading Southeast Asian writer, critic and curator; Mr. Ranjit Hoskote, Curator of the India Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and leading South Asian poet-writer, curator and critic, and Mr. Tan Boon Hui, Director, SAM. A People’s Choice Award will also be presented to the public’s most loved work and the public is encourage to nominate their favourite finalist work for the award online at www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/signatureartprize from 1 October 2011 or cast their votes in person at the Asia Pacific Foundation Signature Art Prize 2011 Finalists Exhibition. Those who vote will stand the chance to win an Apple MacBook Air, or receive one of 20 limited edition commemorative catalogues about the Prize, the finalists and their artwork.