Sacks of rice, a hooded heroine and blond brooms on a Sunday afternoon

31 01 2013

Sunday begun in a pretty hectic way for me. I had what seemed like a full day by the time I welcomed the sunrise. I had woken up at 3.30 in the morning – so that I could make my way down to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple for Thaipusam, an annual ritual observed by Hindus of Southern Indian origin. A spiritual journey which begins well before the day itself, it culminates in an extreme act of faith involving the bearing of a burden or a kavadi on its final leg – and one which I try not to miss. I spent a good hour and a half at the temple, crowded not just with devotees and their families and friends, but also with hundreds of curious observers and photographers, before making my way across town to the Kampong Bahru flyover, not so much for the spectacular sunrise that was always going to be a treat, but more in an attempt to capture the column of 6000 runners on the inaugural Green Corridor Run making their way down the former railway yard. Having done all that, I decided to take the rest of the morning slow and easy – before making my way down to Art Stage 2013 – an annual event which is the largest international art fair here for a calm and slow afternoon – something I was certainly thankful for.

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Art Stage 2013 which brought in over 130 galleries, the majority of which are from the Asia-Pacific, was, reading the post-event news, a huge success – it attracted  some 40 500 visitors over 5 days, and provided a platform for many emerging artists, especially from Singapore and South-East Asia to be introduced into the art world. Joining in a guided tour for bloggers’ of the fair kindly arranged by URA Marina Bay’s place management team, I was also able to get to see and (pretend to) understand the works of some of these emerging artists a little better, artists such as Zulkifli Yusoff from Malaysia whose work Rukunegara was certainly an eye-catching one which provides the artist’s take on the nation-building process.

Rukunegara 2 by Malaysian artist Zulkifli Yusoff.

Rukunegara 2 by Malaysian artist Zulkifli Yusoff.

Another eye-catching piece is an intriguing installation by Geraldine Javier entitled “Red Fights Back”. Javier who is from the Philippines retells a popular fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood through a set of images and a tree, set against a backdrop of dried leaves. Also from the Philippines, is a large mural – that of street artist Vermont Coronel Jr., entitled “High Way” which is his interpretation of the urban landscape he is most familiar with – that of Metro Manila’s major thoroughfare, EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), a landscape that is also representative of many other urban spaces. The work involves the artist painstakingly creating stencils which is overlaid and sprayed over.

A visitor takes a close look at Geraldine Javier's "Red fights back".

A visitor takes a close look at Geraldine Javier’s “Red fights back”.

The final scene in "Red fights back".

The final scene in “Red fights back”.

"High Way" by Vermont Coronel Jr.

“High Way” by Vermont Coronel Jr.

Vermont Coronel Jr.'s work involves the use of stencils which he painstakingly creates.

Vermont Coronel Jr.’s work involves the use of stencils which he painstakingly creates.

The tour also introduced us to the work of two Thai artists, that of Anusorn Charoensuk and Maitree Siriboon, both of whom we had a chance to meet. Anusorn Charoensuk’s “World Tour” is interesting in that it involves photographs taken over a period of five years against the backdrop of paintings of popular tourist destinations – in which the subjects – members of his family, express the same joy one would expect in posing in with the actual places that are depicted. It is also interesting that in the last of the photographs that we see the image of an angel, to represent the artist’s father who had passed on when the photograph was taken. Anusorn Charoensuk’s also had an interactive installation at the fair. It was one in which he invites visitors to have a photograph taken against a backdrop of how he saw Orchard Road (without having actually seen the well-known street). Painted on a zinc sheet, the backdrop shows a building what he is able to identify with the street – that of the tower of Tang Plaza.

Anusorn Charoensuk's "World Tour" taken over a period of five years.

Anusorn Charoensuk’s “World Tour” taken over a period of five years.

An interactive part of Anusorn Charoensuk's installation which he invites visitors to have a photo taken against the backdrop - this one of Orchard Road (which he painted without having actually seen the well-known street).

An interactive part of Anusorn Charoensuk’s installation which he invites visitors to have a photo taken against the backdrop – this one of Orchard Road (which he painted without having actually seen the well-known street).

Moving on to compatriot Maitree Siriboon’s installation, open sacks of rice immediately catches the eye. The installation “Rice is Art” involves 450 kg of rice – given by rice farmers in his home village in the rice-growing Issan region of Thailand. The gift, Maitree says, represents a sacrifice made by the community which is dependent on rice harvests for a living in support of his work. The installation also involves a collection of photographs which shows the support of the rice-growing community for the creation of the installation.

Maitree Siriboon and his sacks of rice.

Maitree Siriboon and his sacks of rice.

Photographs showing the support of the community for Siriboon's efforts.

Photographs showing the support of the community for Siriboon’s efforts.

One Singapore artist whose work we were introduced to was that of Ang Sookoon. The series of works at the fair were ones that looks at items in a domestic space. ” The Waves/Waifs” is one that involves brooms made of blond hair and wood – a reference perhaps to the domesticated nature of women in society. Another piece, “Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold”, sees crystal being grown on another familiar item in a domestic setting, bread. The piece which I most enjoyed, “Weighs Like Mine”, involved a chest of four drawers. The chest is one which encourages the view to interact with it, and in the drawers one will discover what again are familiar scenes in domestic settings.

Ang Sookoon's "Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold".

Ang Sookoon’s “Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold”.

Ang Sookoon's "The Wave/Waifs".

Ang Sookoon’s “The Wave/Waifs”.

Ang Sookoon's "Weighs Like Mine".

Ang Sookoon’s “Weighs Like Mine”.

Following the Southeast Asian Art Tour, I also took the opportunity to take a leisurely look around what is the third edition of Singapore’s largest international arts fair with a focus on fostering Southeast Asia artists and galleries, photographing some of what did catch my eye, not just the installations by themselves – but how visitors and gallery staff viewed and interacted with the works on display some of which follows:

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Another Wak Hassan sunrise

30 01 2013

This morning’s sunrise taken at 6.57 am and 7.22 am:

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Mornings far from the madding crowds

30 01 2013

A place I am glad is there – at least for now, in which I find an escape from the unbearably overcrowded world Singapore has become, is a quiet and somewhat forgotten corner of northern Singapore where the former Kampong Wak Hassan once was. It has become for me not just a world where I run off to for that rare moment of calm, but also where I am able to take in the joy and the surprise that the break of day brings in the changing hues at sunrise …

6.53 am 28 January 2013.

6.53 am 28 January 2013.

6.59 am 29 January 2013.

6.59 am 29 January 2013.





A sunrise over the rail corridor

29 01 2013

It was around the time of Sunday’s sunrise under the red lightening sky that a long train snaked its way out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, a little more than a year and a half after the last train left the station. Sunday’s train wasn’t one that was pulled along by a locomotive of course – most of the railway tracks along the rail corridor have since been removed, but a human train of runners pulled along by a Kenyan who led from start to finish in what is the inaugural Green Corridor Run which is thought to have attracted as many as 6,000 runners. The race took runners along the rail corridor on a 10.5 km route from Tanjong Pagar to the former Bukit Railway Station – a distance which the trains would cover in about fifteen minutes. The race winner, Samson Tenai, 32, need just a little more than double that – he covered the distance in a time of 34 minutes 11 seconds.

Colours of sunrise, 7.09 am.

7.09 am : Colours of sunrise.

A plane is seen over the container cranes against the orangey sky at 7.14 am.

7.14 am : A plane is seen over the container cranes against the sunrise coloured sky.

The entire rail corridor which stretches some 26 km from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands has been the subject of much interest since the agreement to handover the land on which the Malaysian Government owned railway, Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), operated a railway line, was announced in May 2010.

7.20 am : The first runners are seen already building up a lead over the chasing pack.

7.20 am : The first runners are seen already building up a lead over the chasing pack. Seen in the lead is Kenyan Samson Tenai, the eventual winner of the race who completed the 10.5 km course in about 34 minutes.

Relatively untouched by urban development for some 79 years of the rail’s operation through much of it, the corridor features large tracts of greenery. Interest groups and individuals have called for the preservation of the corridor for its heritage and potential for community use such as a running course, and as a unbroken bicycle path that takes one from the north of the island to an area close to the city with possible links to the park connector network. The Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, announced plans to preserve the rail corridor in July 2011. Since then, a Rail Corridor Partnership has been formed with stakeholders from both Government Agencies, interest groups and members of the public involved. Plans are currently being formulated for future use of the rail corridor.

7.20 am : The rush of runners. Some 6000 runners are thought to have participated in the run.

7.20 am : The rush of runners. Some 6000 runners are thought to have participated in the run.

7.22 am : The chasing pack makes it way past the former signal hut at Tanjong Pagar.

7.22 am : The chasing pack makes it way past the former signal hut at Tanjong Pagar.


More information on the former Railway and the Rail Corridor:





A annual walk of faith

28 01 2013

Thaipusam is perhaps the most colourful of the religious and cultural traditions brought in by the early immigrants to modern Singapore that is today celebrated on the streets of Singapore. Celebrated by Tamils from southern India during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai, the festival in Singapore is notable for the 4 kilometre procession over which devotees carry a “burden”, in the form of a kavadi. The procession which starts from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (Chettairs’ Temple) at Tank Road sees hundreds of devotees every year making their way along the route carrying kavadis which range from milk pots placed on their heads to more elaborate kavadis such as spike kavadis and chariot kavadis. The spike (or “vel”) kavadis is perhaps the most elaborate and involves the piercing of up to 108 spikes onto the body. The chariot kavadis involves the attachment of hooks to the backs of bearers which is attached to ropes pulling a chariot. Devotees often also have other piercings carried out including with skewers through the tongue and cheeks with holy ash applied to the area before hand. The piercings are said to inflict no pain as well as leave no scars (no blood is spilled as well) – devotees go through a 48 day spiritual cleansing prior to Thaipusam – which involves a strict regime of fasting, abstinence, and prayer. More information on the festival can be found at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple’s website.

Photographs from Thaipusam 2013

(Black and Whites)

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(In Colour)

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Photographs from previous years’ Thaipusam observations:

Thaipusam (2012)
Thaipusam (2011)
Thaipusam (2010)

A similar festival celebrated in the Tamil month of Panguni in the Sembawang area:

Panguni Uthiram (2012)
Panguni Uthiram (2011)





A world I would love to be trapped in

25 01 2013

One current exhibition that is certainly well worth a visit to is one that is devoted entirely to building bricks most of us would have been familiar with from our childhoods. ‘The Art of The Brick’ at the ArtScience Museum which opened on 17 November 2012 and will run until 14 April 2013, takes visitors into the world of 39 year old Nathan Sawaya, whose life-long obsession with Lego building bricks has seen him abandon his job as an attorney to devote himself to the ‘art of the brick’.

Step into the world of Nathan Sawaya at the ArtScience Museum.

Trapped, one of the brick pieces that offers a look into the world of Nathan Sawaya at the ArtScience Museum. Trapped is inspired by the artist’s feelings of being trapped. Speaking of being trapped – Sawaya’s world is one I certainly wouldn’t mind being trapped in.

I was provided with the opportunity to visit the exhibition recently by good people of the ArtScience Museum. The visit provided me not only with the opportunity to see the artist’s work, but also step into the artist’s own world seen through some of his work which includes both representative brick sculptures as well as one which explore surrealist themes in what is some of the more fascinating pieces. Sawaya’s obsession with what is indeed a very popular and timeless toy we were told began at the age of five. Not being able to get that pet dog he had wanted, Sawaya did the next best thing – he dismantled his Lego city brick set and built a dog with it which he named Boxer.

The entrance to the exhibition. The exhitbition runs until 14 April 2013.

The entrance to the exhibition. The exhitbition runs until 14 April 2013.

Sawaya decided to turn what had in his working years become a means to blow off steam. It was when he realised that his sharing of his hobby on his website brickartist.com was receiving quite a fair bit of attention that he decided to dedicate his life to being a ‘brick artist’ first joining Lego before setting up his own art gallery in New York City.

A giant FaceMask.

A giant FaceMask.

The 52 large-scale brick pieces at the exhibition are displayed across eight galleries. In the first gallery, we are introduced to the artist himself, with several pieces through which Sawaya reveals some of his personal take on himself. The gallery includes several ‘iconic’ pieces including ‘Yellow’ and ‘Swimmer’. My personal favourite among the works in the gallery is Yellow which depicts a human torso tearing its chest open. Thousands of toy bricks can be seen to spill out from the gap. The work represents the artist’s personal metamorphosis and transitions and is said to capture his emotional journey in which the artist opened himself up to the world.

Yellow - which represents Sawaya's personal metamorphosis and transitions, and captures his emotional journey.

Yellow – which represents Sawaya’s personal metamorphosis and transitions, and captures his emotional journey.

Another piece in the Introduction Gallery - 'Hands' which depicts a dream Sawaya had in which he loses his hands.

Another piece in the Introduction Gallery – ‘Hands’ which depicts a dream Sawaya had in which he loses his hands.

The seven other galleries are no less interesting. The next one we come to is the Catwalk Gallery where works are displayed on a runway like platform. Works here that caught my eye were Circle, Triangle, Square and Everlasting. Another interesting gallery is the Portrait Gallery, where there are some familiar faces in 2D – all made again from Lego bricks which I thought was rather amazing. Among the portraits are those of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. What is interesting to learn about is the approach that the artist takes when creating a 2D portrait is that he starts off with the eyes – after which he says everything falls into place. The choice of colour is also important we are told. Sawaya, despite his talent in creating 2D likenesses of famous personalities with Lego bricks, we are also told, does not like to take on commercial commissions for 2D portraits for fear that he may offend clients should the work not come out right.

Circle, Trangle, Square in the Catwalk Gallery.

Circle, Trangle, Square in the Catwalk Gallery.

Everlasting.

Everlasting.

Close-up of a portrait of Janis Joplin.

Close-up of a portrait of Janis Joplin.

Close-up of a portrait of Bob Dylan.

Close-up of a portrait of Bob Dylan.

And one of Jimi Hendrix.

And one of Jimi Hendrix.

Our very able guide Dina, speaking on Courtney Yellow - a portrait of Sawaya's then girlfriend (and now wife) Courtney Simmons.

Our very able guide Dina, speaking on Courtney Yellow – a portrait of Sawaya’s then girlfriend (and now wife) Courtney Simmons.

Another gallery which I did take my time to look at was The Emotion Box which has pieces all of which seemed to have a deeper meaning in them. Stepping into the gallery one encounters works that are mesmerisingly fascinating such as Mask, Ascension, Grasp and Trapped. There certainly are deeper meanings that one will discover in the works. Ascension depicts the artists desire to ascend to a higher place without experiencing death, whereas, Grasp refers to the many people telling the artist ‘no’ – people he would like to rid his life of.

Mask.

Mask.

Ascension.

Ascension.

Grasp.

Grasp.

One work that will certainly impress is a six metre long one – a T-Rex skeleton at the Art of Play. The last gallery is where you will find a brick sculpture of a familiar sight – that of the ArtScience Museum itself. The piece was specially commissioned by the ArtScience Museum and was created without the artist having actually visited the museum, and purely from 2D images.

The six metre long T-Rex skeleton.

The six metre long T-Rex skeleton.

One of the ArtScience Museum.

One of the ArtScience Museum.

Peace.

Peace.

The exhibition also has several areas which allow visitor interaction, including light and sound displays, a photobooth, a Play and Build area and an area where visitors can attempt to recreate Sawaya’s rain. The exhibtion is open from 10 am to 10 pm daily (last entry is at 9 pm). More information on the exhibition and ticket prices can be found at the ArtScience Museum’s website.

Writer in The Drawing Board gallery.

Writer in The Drawing Board gallery.

Interacting with light.

Interacting with light.

Photobooth.

Photobooth.





A sunrise from 5 years ago

20 01 2013

It was close to the time of when this photograph of the sunrise over the South Channel separating the island of Penang from the mainland was taken that I wrote the first words of this blog. That was some five years ago today on 20 January 2008, which does make it the blog’s 5th Anniversary today (although I only began actively maintaining it from May 2009).

A sunrise 5 years ago.

A sunrise 5 years ago.








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