Art What! Visual Art

Art What!: Singapore Biennale 2022 aka ‘Natasha’ to focus on participatory artworks and relational aesthetics this October

What’s in a name? For the Singapore Biennale 2022 (SB2022), which has been christened ‘Natasha’ by the four Co-Artistic Directors, Binna Choi, Nida Ghouse, June Yap and Ala Younis, the very act of even being given a name changes the relationship one has with it, transforming the Biennale from an event to a concept encouraging fellow artists, collaborators, and audiences to re-discover ways of seeing and relating to the world. The name also encapsulates Natasha’s focus on relational aesthetics and participatory artwork that will characterise much of the Biennale.

Organised by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and commissioned by the National Arts Council, Singapore (NAC), Natasha will run from 16th October 2022 to 19th March 2023 across various locations in Singapore. The line-up of artists and collaborators have been invited from Singapore and Southeast Asia as well as Germany, India, Jordan, South Korea, the Netherlands, and other geographies of the world, whose disciplines span visual artists, musicians, writers, researchers, academics, and art professionals. 

‘What would it take to see beyond the preoccupation with the spectacle?”
Singapore Biennale 2022 Co-Artistic Directors; From left: June Yap, Nida Ghouse, Ala Younis, and Binna Choi.
Image courtesy of Singapore Art Museum.

SB2022 Co-Artistic Directors, Binna Choi, Nida Ghouse, June Yap and Ala Younis, said, “While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we used to live by suspending ordinary life, and causing the loss of many, we now witness a process of normalisation, whether voluntary or forced. Many biennales have also celebrated this ‘return’ post-pandemic, with a renewed hope for a world different from what we live(d) in. Visiting Natasha is not only to return, but to be conscious of the values most intensively experienced during the pandemic: intimacy, living the unknown, the capacity to adapt, realising other possibilities of living and relating to the world.” 

On the process of working together to co-curate and co-parent Natasha, Ala Younis comments: “Working together, our main differences came about in the way we execute and run the processes, where we find mutual ground for artistic exchange and knowledge about how we work, and there’s this sense of resonance when working together.”

While the name ‘Natasha’ has Russian origins, the name was chosen before the outbreak of the Russo-Ukraine war, and was chosen for its commonality around the world, as recognised by the Co-Artistic Directors. In selecting such a common name, Natasha then hopes to produce and provoke a variety of reactions from visitors and artists, each coming in with their own impressions and developing a unique relationship with this name, and the ‘person’ the Biennale becomes according to how one interacts with it. In a way, it is meant to break down the barriers between people, particularly after so much isolation and distancing over the course of the pandemic, and recognise our collective coexistence, and together, give meaning and significance to Natasha. This act of naming encourages the embracing of intimacy and spontaneity towards the transformative potentials in life and relationships within it — from self to others, from human to non-human, from living to non-living and vice versa, and beyond.

Heman Chong and Renee (Courtesy of Heman Chong and Renée Staal)

As mentioned, artworks are primarily participatory in nature, with projects that create spaces for interaction, reflection and which invite public participation, while also placing heavy emphasis on the concept of collaboration. For example, “The Library of Unread Books” initiated by Heman Chong (Singapore) and Renée Staal (Netherlands / Singapore) will transform a retail unit into a reference library comprised of donated books belonging to individuals that remain unread. The books are accessible to anyone who visits the library, returning them to a common resource pool. Valentina Desideri (Italy) and Denise Ferreira da Silva (Brazil) will bring their ongoing studio process to SB2022, which facilitates collaborative studying and experimenting with different tools for reading and healing within the exhibition space. Materials and reading tools are provided for the public to engage with, and the artists will also conduct workshops within the space.

Valentina and Denise, SENSING SALON @HANGAR LISBON 2020

A selection of works in SB2022 delve further into Natasha’s interests in drawing attention to and discussing the facets of life which connect or intersect with creating, writing, encoding and navigating each other and the world. Artists such as Assem Hendawi (Egypt) draw perspectives from various disciplines to explore an artificial intelligence programme that aims to create a planned economy and manage infrastructural commons across Africa. Similarly, Kiraṇ Kumār’s (India) work looks at the life of pioneer computer scientist Alan Turing (1912–1954) through a piece of speculative history.

Zarina Muhammad, who will be producing work on Singapore’s offshore islands for Natasha (Courtesy of Singapore Biennale)

Offering different readings of histories, social practices and myths are works by artists such as Natasha Tontey (Indonesia) who will present a different interpretation of Minahasan society and ritual; Wu Mali (Taiwan) whose project researches stories arising from the locals of the Cijin region. In addition, Elina Waage Mikalsen (Norway) will explore the cultural meaning and narratives of fire in Sami traditions; and Doa Aly (Egypt) explores the space of excavation as an aesthetic and forensic encounter, where the fidelity of historical interpretation is put into question. 

The invited works and interventions are presented in close conversations with a variety of environments across different places in Singapore. Among these sites is Tanjong Pagar Distripark (TPD) where SAM is located. TPD is situated in a historic port, where logistics and thousands of containers make the surrounding landscape. Natasha will present works, including many new commissions, on two levels in TPD, as well as at Sentosa Cove, before a ferry trip takes visitors to Lazarus Island and St John’s Island where the journey with Natasha continues. Spaces such as Yan Kit Playfield, Regional Libraries, SAM Residencies, are also taken as Biennale venues, and will allow for everyday engagement with the general/unintended public, in line with SAM’s focus as a constituent museum, and bringing art to different communities in Singapore.

The remaining artists, artworks and programmes will be announced in October 2022. 

Singapore Biennale 2022 aka Natasha runs from 16th October 2022 to 19th March 2023. Tickets and more information available here

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