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Art What!: Sugar Pills For A Bitter World at Objectifs

The world is absurd, and curator Daniel Chong is ready to prescribe sugar pills for it. In what he calls a “post-truth, late-stage capitalist, populist, Anthropocene”, Chong offers sweet relief through a new brand of humour—commonly known as “Gen-Z humour”, “TikTok humour” or “Post-Dada irony”—in the form of an upcoming exhibition opening on 23 September at Objectifs, titled Sugar Pills For A Bitter World.

This latest exhibition curated by Chong, who is the recipient of the Objectifs Curator Open Call 2022, brings together the works of 5 artists, each of them presenting their own sugar pills, or placebos, to process and guide them through our age of absurdity. Individually, the works are honest responses to the chaos of our era, sitting between the poetic and the hilarious. Collectively, the exhibition functions as a sampler – a conceptual pillbox.

Calculated Luck by Desiree Tham

The exhibition features new and ongoing works by Desiree Tham, Eng Kai Er, Mike HJ Chang, Ryan Lim Zi Yi and Yeyoon Avis. In Mike HJ Chang’s works Cinema-Going-Surrogates (2016–ongoing) and The Thief, the Storage, and the Trap (2016–ongoing), the works take the form of figures with camcorders for eyes that watch films, to an apparatus that cleans endlessly and to no end. Chang’s photographs and sculptures comment ironically on the excess of media and goods in late stage capitalism; his surrogates perform these actions on our behalf so that we can consume more, to the point of redundancy.

In a bid to improve her inauspicious year at work, Desiree Tham’s work Calculated Luck (2022) applies the principles of feng shui to sculpting a towering artificial tree using modern day materials such as surveillance cameras and office stationery. The work speaks to Tham’s longstanding practice of using feng shui philosophies as a starting point from which to examine the pursuit or rationalisation of abstract goals such as luck, happiness or future wealth, underlined by the somewhat absurd combination of materials used to build the tree. It is a nod towards the modern day pursuit of wellness parsed through the anxiety and stress that often accompanies urban life in the 21st century.

Other works by Yeyoon Ann Avis, Eng Kai Er, and Ryan Lim Zi Yi respectively unpack the contemporary practice of mindfulness, the dynamics of holding a conversation, and Singapore’s perceived geological stability.

Cinema-Going-Surrogates by Mike HJ Chang

Reflecting on his curatorial journey in materialising Sugar Pills for a Bitter World, Chong says, “This show is extremely apt for our times. These artists aren’t proposing solutions for world peace, but they help us understand how to cope with such pressing times. I initially struggled a lot with trying to articulate this idea and it took many conversations with my Curator Open Call mentor Sam I-shan to help me unpack this. She truly respected my perspective, but also made clear the blind spots in this exhibition. Working with her through this programme is an extremely rare opportunity in our industry and one that I hold close to my heart”.

Heading into its fourth year, the Objectifs Curator Open Call is part of the Centre’s ongoing effort to broaden perspectives by supporting curatorial research and innovative ways of presenting image-based work. Says Chelsea Chua, Programme Director at Objectifs, “Curator Open Call remains unique in the Singapore visual arts scene in that it provides mentorship and support to emerging curators to strengthen their practice. The programme’s focus on curators underlines the importance of taking a holistic approach towards developing a thriving arts ecosystem”.

Sugar Pills for a Bitter World runs from 23rd September to 6th November 2022 at Objectifs – Centre for Photography & Film. The exhibition programme will include free guided tours by Daniel Chong on 15th & 30th October, as well as a discussion between Daniel Chong and this year’s Curator Open Call mentor Sam I-shan on 24th September. Admission to the exhibition is free. Registration is required for the programmes here.

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