Proposals for Novel Ways of Being, an unprecedented initiative uniting 12 local arts institutions, independent art spaces and collectives, opens next week with two brand new exhibitions at National Gallery Singapore. Aimed to showcase solidarity within the visual arts community, the two exhibitions, An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season by National Gallery Singapore, and Time Passes by Singapore Art Museum, are helmed by independent curators, and spotlight established and emerging local contemporary artists and their work.
Both exhibitions mark significant firsts – many of the artists featured will be making their debut at the Gallery; while the independent curators helming the exhibitions will also be presenting shows at the Gallery for the first time. These collaborations speak to the spirit of Proposals for Novel Ways of Being, which aims to support the local art community and provide artists and cultural workers with a prominent platform to showcase their work during a time of need. Gallery visitors will experience diverse art works that draw them into poetic meditations on the present state of affairs in society and invite them to explore notions of caretaking and time in a world altered by the pandemic.
“As we strive to move forward together as a community in the new normal, there are many learnings to be gleaned from the changes brought about by the pandemic,” says Dr. Eugene Tan, Director, National Gallery Singapore and Singapore Art Museum. “The exhibitions offer diverse perspectives and approaches in processing our experiences of the pandemic, be it a greater consciousness of long-standing social issues that are now thrown into stark relief as a result of the crisis, or committing to acts of caretaking, as we return to public life and shared spaces following the lifting of lockdown restrictions.
“We hope visitors are inspired to make meaning out of their own experiences of the pandemic, imagine new possibilities of the future and foster stronger relationships with one another through the exhibitions and programmes presented as part of the Proposals for Novel Ways of Being initiative.”
“It’s been such a challenging time, where so many exhibitions have been postponed or cancelled, and of course, visitation has also been affected,” says Russell Storer, Director (Curatorial & Collections), National Gallery Singapore. “As national institutions, we’ve been in discussions about how to tackle it since lockdown. The idea then was to work with a range of spaces and institutions to develop projects that would be a quick response to what’s happening, to support and collaborate with each other with the arts scene coming together.”
“Our goal was to work with independent curators and artists, and the response was very positive. It was very exciting to see them all so enthusiastic, and such a rare opportunity to see them all producing at the same time, and collaborating with interesting partners who bring in creatives we don’t often work with. ” adds Dr June Yap, Director of Curatorial, Collections and Programmes, Singapore Art Museum. “The pandemic has really changed the way we look at things, and that’s something that’s expressed in the works featured in the show. We’re thinking of how we see things in a different light because our lives are in such a different light, and we’re recalibrating ideas in response to what’s happening now.”
An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season by guest curator Syaheedah Iskandar features the works of 10 young Singapore-based artists, while Time Passes is helmed by guest curator Samantha Yap and comprises works by 13 artists, 12 of whom are based locally. The exhibition offers immersive mixed-media installations, performances and site-specific artistic interventions that encourage visitors to collectively reflect on and imagine new ways of thinking and doing towards a more humane future.
Tini Aliman’s Pokoknya: Organic Cancellation, an aural performance translated into sculpture, explores plant consciousness and interspecies communication, inviting visitors to contemplate our fraught relationship with nature; while Kin Chui’s Station 13010 engages visitors in discussions of spirituality through an installation where microscopic organisms such as fungi and algae are worshipped as deities in a dystopian future.
Visitors are encouraged to re-evaluate our habit of mass consumption in Clara Lim’s 3 GHz, a mixed-media installation that comments on society’s worship of technological progress and its tendency to discard things instead of repairing or recycling them. Multi-disciplinary artist Ila’s There can be no touching here is an ongoing project that reflects on how we consume and disseminate information on assault. It explores existing and new pathways for action, actively addressing and reducing instances of harm, especially in the face of structural inefficiencies and weaknesses during a time of crisis. This project is co-curated with Samantha Yap as part of both exhibitions.
Says Syaheedah Iskandar, curator of An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season: “For a long time, art has always been part of the process of introspection, acting as a medium to ask the harder questions about the present state of things. With the pandemic, the role of art has never been more crucial.”
“From proposing new paths of action, to giving agency to other worlds to exist alongside ours, to subverting the everyday with humour; the works presented in An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season mirror the many undercurrents that the world is grappling with. Following these exercises of contemplations, I hope visitors are inspired to propose new ways of thinking and doing – of being – in a changed world.”
On the other hand, Time Passes is conceived as a corridor of time that reflects on the passage of our days as we navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The exhibition’s title is borrowed from the middle chapter of Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, which captures a movement in time that bridges the narrative’s past and future. The works presented in the exhibition, most of which are new commissions or adaptations of existing works, touch on modes of caring, living and relating, especially in a time that begets difficulties and uncertainties.
Featuring works across diverse media such as paper, rattan, assemblage, soil, paint, video and photography, visitors are invited to reflect on how our social bonds and acts of care have persisted through the pandemic. Victor Paul Brang Tun’s Frame(works) is a series of rattan sculptures made by deconstructing an unused rattan chair. His processes consider how care and compromise become mutually entwined in the creation of new forms and possibilities. In #sgbyecentennial, Fazleen Karlan draws on archaeological processes to explore the indeterminate passage of time and presents a visual record of our present through the unearthing of familiar everyday objects layered with soil and time.
Diana Rahim’s Interventions documents intimate ways of reimagining hostile architectural features in shared spaces across Singapore, while Divaagar’s immersive installation, Render Tender, takes the form of a fictional reiki studio, exploring how intimacy can continue to be performed at a time of limited physical contact.
“My hope for the exhibition is that it offers thought on the possibilities of caring and continuing. Specifically, to suggest ways of carrying on rather than just progressively going forward. I see this exhibition as a commitment towards the project of survival across our different communities that considers how we may bear difficulty and ‘yet prepare to live again’, to borrow poet Anna Akhmatova’s words,” says Samantha Yap, curator for Time Passes.
Other exhibitions and programmes for Proposals for Novel Ways of Being will open between August 2020 and February 2021. Following hot on the heels of the massive 2019-20 Singapore Biennale, Proposals for Novel Ways of Being is in fact, a far larger collaboration and initiative, featuring the works of over 170 artists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the hope of offering inspiration and hope in a changed world.
Says Russell: “This is a chance to take the time to reflect on what we do, who we’re doing for, and of course, explore the digital aspect, where we’re seizing the opportunity to reach different audiences, how can we as a society support each other through this time and do constructive things.”
Dr June concludes: “I think that people are hungry to come back to some form of normalcy, to see art and artists again in person. And for us, it’s nice to see artists actually walking through the space, and no longer restricted to just Zoom.”
“We’ve seen how adaptable and responsive artists have been, and there’s so many creative ways for them to respond to what’s happening and express what the general public and community is feeling,” she continues. “Look at Heman Chong’s artwork on the hoarding of SAM as they’re undergoing renovation; it’s a reflection of this new way of getting around, of a new social responsibility we have to track where we go, and help each other get through this together. As a community, we need to strengthen ourselves as a group, and have a conversation about what’s happening to us, and know that we are not alone in this.”
An Exercise of Meaning in a Glitch Season and Time Passes run from 4th September 2020 to 21st February 2021 at National Gallery Singapore. For more information, visit the website here