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Look A Little Closer: Sullivan and Strumpf Tricks the Eye with Launch of Trompe-l’oeil

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A good work of art never has to beg viewers for more than a cursory glance. The Trompe-l’oeil technique in particular, plays entirely upon optical illusions, tricking the naked eye into seeing what lies beneath a piece’s initial appearance. And for art gallery Sullivan+Strumpf, this makes the perfect launch pad for their newest exhibition, offering visitors a chance to change their perceptions of the world.

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From left: featured artist Kai Wasikowski, curator Dr Mikala Tai, and Director of Sullivan+Strumpf Ursula Sullivan

Curated by Sydney-based curator Dr Mikala Tai in her first curated show in Southeast Asia, Trompe-l’oeil gathers the work of six artists within Sullivan+Strumpf’s gallery at Gillman Barracks. Although each work initially appears simple to understand, a closer look and understanding will reveal that there is far more than meets the eyes. Speaking at the media preview, Dr Tai emphasised the relevance of the work in an era where fake news runs rampant more than ever before, and a call for visitors to consider verifying their own first impressions before making a sound judgment. Can we really trust our fragile observation technique?

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Choosing a carefully selected group of artists, Trompe-l’oeil continues Sullivan+Strumpf Singapore’s focus on bridging the arts between Australia and Asia. Featured Australian artist Kai Wasikowski was present at the preview, and discussed the work he’s set up. Growing up around nature, Kai’s work has a strong focus on ecological awareness, and his Realtree series uses hydrographics to paint a tricky image, juxtaposing a photo of a real plant camouflaged with the skin of its surrounding environment, almost as if the plant itself has adopted a form of survival mimicry. Says Kai: “I’m concerned with the loss of beauty that nature faces with the increasing rise of ecological disasters”

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Kai’s other work at the exhibition consists of two iterations of a minuscule screen displaying a looping video of rushing bodies of water. For this piece, Kai was inspired by the way we experience and consume the natural world through the eyes of our phone, and this piece offers a meditation on capturing memory and the digitizing of nature, literally begging us to take a closer look in order to view the onscreen video.

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Adeela Suleman, I don’t want to be there when it happens, 2017, hand-beaten stainless steel, iron and bulb, dimensions variable

Other works in the gallery require contextual knowledge to fully appreciate. Pakistani artist Adeela Suleman’s I don’t want to be there when it happens initially appears to be a large, silver chandelier like structure hanging from the ceiling. Look closer, and it actually comprises of hundreds of silver tin birds, precariously hanging against each other as they move ever so slightly, and depending on how it’s lighted, forms a variety of different shadows upon the wall. On the abstract, symbolic side of things, each bird represents a single death claimed by violence in Karachi, stemming from its troubled history with religious and ideological conflict. In a companion piece titled After All Its Always Someone Else Who Dies, similar birds create a metallic curtain of a sorts, but their shadows cast form images of revolvers, referencing the violence and brutality which Pakistanis bear witness to even today.

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Yang Yongliang Time Immemorial (The Path), 2016 film on lightbox

If you’re making a trip down to Gillman Barracks this season, Strumpf+Sullivan should definitely be on your list of stops, and in observing these instances of trompe-l’œil, allow your own depth of perception to expand further than ever before, letting each and every day to be seen in a whole new light.

Trompe-l’oeil runs at Sullivan+Strumpf Singapore, Gillman Barracks #01-06 till 13th May. Admission is free. For more information, visit their website here

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