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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