Signature Art Prize: When History Becomes a Catalyst in Art Making

The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs M-16, 2015. Image courtesy of James Cohan Gallery and The Propeller Group.
Au Sow Yee, The Kris Project, 2016. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.
Yuichiro Tamura, Milky Bay – 裏切りの海, 2016. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.
Yuichiro Tamura, Milky Bay – 裏切りの海, 2016. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.
The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs M-16, 2015. Image courtesy of James Cohan Gallery and The Propeller Group.
The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs. M16 (detail), 2015. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.
Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong, ‘He was lost yesterday and we found him today’, 2015. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.
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ART021 Shanghai 2018

The triennial APB Foundation Signature Art Prize returns for its fourth edition in 2018. Organised by Singapore Art Museum, it recently announced its list of 15 finalists — works by a mix of established and emerging artists, from the Asia Pacific rim to the region of Central Asia, will be on view at an exhibition held at the National Museum of Singapore from 25 May to 2 September 2018.

With each artist dedicated to a specific medium — paintings, sculptural installation, film, archival work and so on — the show embraces today’s broad spectrum of art-making. Though the medium and artistic practices are diverse, interestingly, quite a lot of the works address history in different narratives.

TEXT: Fizen Yuen
IMAGES: Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum

 

Entering the exhibition space, on your left you will find Malaysian artist Au Sow Yee’s mixed media installation, The Kris Project (2016). In the exhibition’s narration, Au recast herself as a fictional filmmaker and trace the history of found objects from the 1950s and 1960s. A closer reading will make audiences realize the boundary between fact and fiction is blurred. By juxtaposing found footage from existing films with documentaries of wartime Malaya, the artist opens up a space of interpretation for audiences to re-construct the history with their own memories. Audiences’ role is highlighted, as they play an integral part in the process of reconstructing history. In other words, they need to have certain background knowledge of the historical context.

 

Au Sow Yee, The Kris Project, 2016. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

 

While Au Sow Yee’s work is more about audiences’ re-construction, Japanese artist Yuichiro Tamura’s Milky Bay (2016) is more about visualisation of issue. Tamura reimagines the world of Yokohama, created by Japanese writer Mishima Yukio in his novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. The artist creates the setting of the foreign shipman club and a video shot in Okinawa and Jeju Island. Through his unique visual language, Tamura weaves together a narrative of these two sites.

Japan has always been renowned for its excellence in preserving and modernising their traditional culture. In the process of viewing, however, one may start questioning the value of inherited Japanese “glory” and the persistence of historical memory.

 

Yuichiro Tamura, Milky Bay – 裏切りの海, 2016. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.
Yuichiro Tamura, Milky Bay – 裏切りの海, 2016. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

 

While the previously mentioned works require some intensive reading, The Propeller Group from Vietnam addresses the wartime and political violence throughout 20th century history with a more visual-based approach. In their work AK-47 vs. M16 (2015), the collective re-creates a one in a billion chance of two bullets, shot from opposing sides of a battle, colliding into each other. The colliding bullets, from an AK47 invented by the Soviets, and an M16 by the U.S. army, present a subtle reminder of the cost and destruction brought by war.

In the post-truth age, more and more artists use art as a tool of protest. Political art, however, usually receives negative feedback as they  are often too didactic and manipulative. This work by The Propeller Group, nevertheless, seems to differ. While the video production captures the violence, the installation creates a contrast by capturing the static moment; ambiguously evoking the aesthetics of violence in this work, regardless of its political stance. This multiple interpretation of the work leaves viewers with a lot to contemplate about this chaotic world.

 

The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs M-16, 2015. Image courtesy of James Cohan Gallery and The Propeller Group.
The Propeller Group, AK-47 vs. M16 (detail), 2015. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

 

Museum of the Lost and He was lost yesterday and we found him today (2015) is by Hong Kong-based husband-and-wife duo Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong. It portrays unidentifiable figures in a series of staged photographs that are based on images from their collection of archival material. These archival materials are mostly news clipping of incidents in the world.

The humorous and relaxing tone of the photographs, provides a fresh angle to break with the unbearable heaviness of history. Instead of putting a stake to the mainstream history, the amplified presentation and accreditation of the minor or “forgotten” characters in a museum setting explores history in a rather light way. This allows the viewers to reflect on the biases of historical representation and the “value” of every human being.

 

Leung Chi Wo + Sara Wong, ‘He was lost yesterday and we found him today’, 2015. Courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

 

Last year, two major surveys in the Southeast Asian art were After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History presented in Asia Society (New York) and SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now at Mori Museum in Tokyo, both were heavily history-focus. While there are many other nominees in Signature Art Prize who didn’t take history as the anchor of the work, these exhibitions are an undeniable demonstration of how history has deeply impacted art across the region.

The phenomenon that these history-related works leave a strong impression on audiences is worth noticing. This raises a question ‘Is history becoming a catalyst to make art appealing to its audiences?’. The result of the awards is probably an answer to the question.

113 artworks across 46 countries and territories were nominated by 38 independent, established professionals working in the field of contemporary art. And the jury panel, formed by Bose Krishnamachari, Gerard Vaughan, Joyce Toh, Mami Kataoka and Wong Hoy Cheong, will pick the winners of APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018. The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on 29 June 2018. Stay tuned!

 

 

Signature Art Prize 2018
25 May to 2 September 2018
National Museum of Singapore

 

 

Also check our coverage on SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now.

 

 


 

Fizen Yuen writes extensively on art, culture and social issues. With a  belief and interest in making the unseen to be seen, he endeavours to make an in-depth coverage of art with the simplest words.

 

 

 
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