To be given a chance to represent Singapore at an international level is a rare and incredibly prestigious opportunity, be it in the realm of politics, sports or the arts. So to do so at one of the oldest and most renowned Biennales in the world is certainly a golden opportunity, and at the 58th Venice Biennale held from 11th May to 24th November 2019, that position will be filled by local artist Ang Song-Ming and curator Michelle Ho.
Ang and Ho form the artistic team who will be presenting a new exhibition at the Biennale’s Singapore Pavilion, making Singapore’s ninth participation in the Biennale since 2001, and this time around. Titled Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme, the exhibition takes its title from a series of concerts organised by Singapore’s then-Ministry of Culture in the 1970s and 80s to encourage public appreciation of the arts. This multidisciplinary presentation will span various media, drawing from experimental music to amateurs, countering the state-driven vision of Music for Everyone.
A major component of the presentation is Recorder Rewrite, a new work based on the recorder, a music instrument which any Singaporean would be familiar with as a key part of their music education in primary school, while Ang will also continue developing on earlier works such as You and I, in which he compiled and mailed out personalised CD-R mix-tapes to anyone who wrote him a letter. It makes complete sense why Ang would tackle such a topic, as an artist whose main concern has often surrounded how music is produced, disseminated and consumed. Drawing on the dialogues that can exist between experimental music and conceptual art, Ang also frequently explores how he can meaningfully involve of members of the public in the creation of his works.
Says Mrs Rosa Daniel, CEO of NAC and Co-Chair of the Singapore Pavilion Commissioning Panel: “Singapore’s participation in the Venice Biennale remains an important platform for us, as it provides our artists with significant opportunities to showcase the best of Singapore art on the global stage and to develop critical international connections. Ang’s work appeals in that is both cutting-edge yet nostalgic, and international yet personal all at the same time, offering audiences unusual insights into Singaporean life on a variety of levels, through the universal concepts of music and sound.”
Says Ang, who was a recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2011 and has had his works featured at various museums and galleries internationally: “Says Ang: “Music can take on many different forms – from physically in a manuscript or score, to videos to a live performance. There are so many ways of digging deep, exploring our preferences and why we treat certain forms the way we do, like ‘guilty pleasures’.”
“I’m very honoured and excited to be representing Singapore,” he continues. “Having seen many of our previous presentations in Venice, all of which have been complex and meaningful in their own ways, I hope to present an exhibition of similar depth and nuance.”
Previously, Ang and curator Michelle Ho worked together in February 2018 on the group exhibition Exceptions of Rule, exhibited at the ADM Gallery, which Ho is Gallery Director of. Says Ho: “Previous presentations at the Singapore Pavilion have dealt with the themes of identity, historical memory, and the complexities of land and coastal geographies. I’m glad that public participation as a critical force in art-making will be highlighted in the upcoming presentation, through Song-Ming’s practice that investigates our encounters with music, and music-making.”
She concludes: “In Song-Ming’s work, we hope to present our own personal and culturally specific stories and show foreigners these aspects of our life growing up. Even things like the recorder, which may not be unique to Singapore, is something that has become a key part of our curriculum. My job is to make sure that all of Song-Ming’s work flows and that he achieves his vision – that music should be for everyone.”
The 58th Venice Biennale will run from 11th May to 24th November 2019, with plans to return to Singapore thereafter for a homecoming show. For more information, visit the official Venice Biennale website here, and NAC’s website here