Art What! Arts Preview Singapore Art Week 2021

Singapore Art Week 2021: Choy Ka Fai’s CosmicWander – Expedition at Tanjong Pagar Distripark

Screenshot 2021-01-15 at 7.13.10 PM

Singapore Art Museum (SAM) presents CosmicWander: Expedition by Berlin-based Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai from 16th January to 21st February 2021 at Tanjong Pagar Distripark. SAM’s first exhibition of the year kicks off its 2021 programme calendar, which will see the museum continue to actively offer contemporary art experiences across Singapore at satellite venues and on virtual platforms, while SAM’s buildings undergo redevelopment.

Audiences can look forward to a line-up of exhibitions, public and education programmes, art residencies and community outreach initiatives island-wide. CosmicWander: Expedition, which is also part of Singapore Art Week 2021, is a work-in-progress presentation of Choy’s ongoing research into the metaphysics of the human body, taking the body as a conceptual device for explorations into “post-human” choreographic ideas and alternative states of consciousness.

CosmicWander: Expedition offers insight into Choy Ka Fai’s artistic process, highlighting his multi-faceted art practice, which situates itself at the intersection of dance, media art and performance. Ka Fai’s practice resonates with SAM’s commitment to present multi-disciplinary and innovative exhibitions that combine technology, multimedia and performance. As an experiential platform, CosmicWander: Expedition offers audiences an immersive art experience that challenges and opens up new ways of how we perceive the world, an undertaking SAM is committed to as a contemporary art museum,” says Dr Eugene Tan, Director, Singapore Art Museum.

Choy Ka Fai, Photo Credit: Katja Illner

The exhibition is an investigation into the human desire for transcendence, through exploring shamanic dance cultures in Asia. Having ventured into the region in search of spectacular trance experiences, the artist has met over 50 shamans and filmed extraordinary dance rituals, from the wilderness of Siberia to the mythological practices in Java. Set up as an experiential installation, it features the artist’s perspective on humanity’s attempt to connect, to question, and to perceive and interact with different states of reality. Stories and images composed from his invigorating encounters with “altered states” are weaved with the artist’s speculations, resulting in a choreographic sequence of moving images, text and spectacle, inspired by practices observed in Singapore, Indonesia, Siberia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Elaborating on his research and practice, Choy explains: “I imagine new futures of the body by appropriating technologies and narratives where lines between the spiritual and the secular, the virtual and the material, are blurred to project a new choreography of the body. CosmicWander: Expedition invites you to commune with us, and to think about our bodies and our spiritual states in these strange times.” For CosmicWander: Expedition, Choy presents his project in three parts — an exhibition comprising video installations and a costume; a multimedia performance; and a lecture.

All this takes place in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, sanctuary-like in its cavernous space. We watch an almost absurdist fashion show, where various mediums are dressed in their respective ritual garb and explain their craft.

Standing in the centre of the space and taking off our shoes, it feels as if we’re almost stepping into a sacred place. We hear a disembodied voice that seems to be addressing us, immersing us in this spiritual atmosphere. Seeing all these different cultures and religions on show, we’re exposed to new perspectives, changing the way we look at the world around us, with this 360-degree view of it all consuming us.

It is these rituals that give us deep insight into Choy’s understanding, and his interest in such spiritual matters, stemming from an initial curiosity in the topic from YouTube videos, to full on dedication to document and research such practices, with so much behind-the-scenes hard work that goes into each piece – a 7-minute video, for example, can require as much as four days of filming.

As Singapore Art Museum/National Gallery Singapore director Dr Eugene Tan explains, while this work was originally meant to show in 2020, COVID-19 put a wrench in the plans, and it was always the plan to find the perfect space to put up the work – and now, that comes in the form of Tanjong Pagar Distripark.

The Wanderer, a six-channel video installation, is an omnibus of supernatural dance experiences of contemporary shamanic practices in different parts of Asia, each corresponding to a natural element such as metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Getai of Virtual Gods, a five-channel video installation, presents a fictional band of spiritual beings of various Asian descent dancing to hit songs and familiar tunes, in a show of cultural harmony, from Ne Zha to Kali.

This alternative virtual concert interweaves the secular world of pop culture with speculations of future spiritual entertainment. Uncle Ho who can recall your future lives, is a hypothetical design of the Vietnamese Len Dong Shaman’s ritual costume, inspired by the revolutionary “Uncle Ho”, in anticipation for his imminent immortalisation as the newest God in the celestial system of the Dao Mau belief.

CosmicWander: Vogue is a tele-presence performance experiment based on Choy’s research into the possible co-existence of divine embodiments of different lineage within one spirit medium. The multicultural voguing party will be led by Norwegian-Thai dancer Sun Phitthaya Phaefuan, with music performed by local artists NADA (Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari) and Cheryl Ong. CosmicWander: Destination is a lecture by supernatural dance explorer and founder of CosmicWander, Choy Ka Fai, who will trace his creation of an agency which provides spiritual journeys and conceptual travel, and discuss his encounters of bodily transformation in trance.

In addition, the exhibition features materials from Choy’s CosmicWander research, such as video interviews and readings. Audiences can also tune in to a conversation with the artist and a panel of speakers titled CosmicWander: Transcendence, where they will discuss the desire for self-transcendence and the influence of digital technology on systems of belief.

CosmicWander: Expedition runs from 16th January to 21st February 2021 at Tanjong Pagar Distripark as part of Singapore Art Week. More information available here and here

Attend the CosmicWander livestream panel on 30th January 2021, with more details here

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