Grow Some Funk Of Our Own…

by Lee Wen

RITES #6, Friday 23 July 2010, 7.30 pm
Venue: Brother Joseph McNally Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.

Three reasons why I was nervous as the evening began. My wife and son from Tokyo, whom I had not been with since April, were in town. It was our first RITES gig at Institute of Contemporary Art (ICAS). And Mayo Martin, who inspired me to start this blog had not showed up yet as we started …sigh.

The gallery filled up with more people than expected as I welcomed the audience, announcng that this gig was the beginning of our new collaboration with ICAS. Thanks to Charles Merewether, the new director of ICAS, for inviting us to work together. Hopefully this partnership will at least take some weight off our shoulders and help us to do more in working towards the other much neglected aspirations as outlined in our inception statement. The program was quite appropriate in comprising four young artists all giving us presentations that were leaning towards self-biographical references.


Jacklyn Soo made a narrative of growing up in Singapore’s ever-changing “picturesque scenario”. Her speech using bits of Malay, Chinese, and English, two masked assistants and a ghetto blaster remind me of attention seekers at shopping malls doing some promotional gig. As she went through her story moving atop a vanguard sheet map clearly marked sectors of north, south, east, west, central, she stripped down into a golden dance costume and black leotards while her assistants sprayed water over her. I found it hard to hear clearly whatever she was seriously tying to say as the loud awful forgettable music kept jugging on in the background. Soo apparently did not had an easy time growing up as she ended entangling herself with connected rubber bands, stretching them as they were anchored around her neck, ankles and wrists. Her assistants finally boxed her up with the map she had been standing on, and handing out colored pens to the audience to write comments on Singapore. Jacklyn’s actions in shiny costumes, masks and music came across as a painful self portrait of a life exposed and entrapped in totalitarian kitsch and cliché. I hope she learns to grow out of it.

Yusa Zhuang is a prolific poet, writer and editor of Walnut Literary Review, a new bimonthly online journal featuring new writings from Singapore. Beginning with double projections of photographic and painting portrayals of Arshille Gorky and his mother it was an eye opener introduction to his poetic portrayal of his mother’s love for literature and art, paralleling succinctly his independent frame from growing out of a tense relationship between two poets. His poems gave an insight to his difficult relationship with his mother, Wong Sin Yah who was detained for demonstration during the turbulent 60s years in Singapore.

Roan Lizhen squeezed out ultramarine blue paint onto paper stretched and stuck on the wall to make images of a large eye to face the other from opposite edges of the paper. She then squeezed out the words “What have you been doing?” and “I swim in systems.” in reply over the space between the eyes as if a conversation was going on between them. She then licked them into unrecognizable amorphous shapes of blue like an abstract painting. The quiet seriousness of her statement emerged with a lighter vein as we watched Lizhen licked the words into an abstract painting. It may seem anachronistic to use the painting medium to make performance art, usually denoting the protagonist’s attachment to a traditional preferred medium or perhaps we should continue to provoke questions to the tyranny of painting in art through actions again and again.

Many found the Kelvin Atmadibrata’s “Baby’s Breath” more accessible as expected from performance art presentations. With a video projection of a baby crying at the background, he threw tiny white origami looking like sweets to the front open space and later offering them to the audience. After which he started to plant baby’s breath onto a sponge he attached on top of his head. Gathering some of the tiny white origami he put them through a blender together with some of the flowers and fed the resulting concoction to the video projected baby’s open mouth and to himself. Kelvin then blindfolded himself and offered an old Chinese popular sweets, white rabbit brand with out stretched hands to the audience, walking out still blindfolded and led by the recipients of his offerings perhaps, leading us back to innocence.

It would be difficult to say if I liked or disliked what I saw. Despite any weaknesses, they all had a presence that showed a real desire to speak out and made images and impressions to me like an understated surprise. If only we look more seriously into our own backyard and allow the young artists here a platform of elevated earnestness and an interested audience, something good will grow from it.

(All photos by Jason Lee)

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