5 most immersive works at the Singapore Biennale 2013

The fourth edition of the Singapore Biennale is as most biennales go, an understanding of the world’s goings-on seen through the hands of contemporary artists. Some of the works are of a drive-by nature and others can only be enjoyed in deep thought. Here are some of the installation works we’ve identified as most absorbing, so you can better plan your time when the Singapore Biennale 2013 opens Oct. 25 (through Feb. 16, 2014).

AX(iS) Art Project (Philippines)
Singapore Art Museum. The film will be screened on Oct. 26 at 7pm and Oct. 27 at 2pm, at the Moving Image Gallery, SAM at 8Q. Free.


Probably the Singapore Biennale space that is richest in culture is this collaborative work that features bulols (figurines) by a variety of story-telling wood carvers, a floor-to-ceiling “tree” portraying the salt trade in Baguio, as well as a corner dedicated to Kidlat Tahimik’s idea of Hollywood VS. indie (see photo). The entire project is an indigenous arts immersion, but take some time to draw interpretations exclusively from Tahimik’s installation before watching his film Memories of Overdevelopment Reduxwhich has been in the making for the past 33 years. 

Ghost of Capitol Theatre (Singapore)
SAM at 8Q


Part of award-winning Singapore director Royston’s Tan drive to document the city’s disappearing places, this dance film — a collaboration with Kuik Swee Boon and T.H.E. Dance Company — is an ode to Singapore’s oldest theatre, Capitol. Using actual seats salvaged from the theatre as a pivot, Ghost of Capitol Theatre is an enchanting, evocative interpretation of concepts like memory and progress. 

Mandi Bunga (Sharon Chin, Malaysia)
Oct. 26, 6pm, venue TBC. Free.

The mandi bunga (flower bath) is known within Malay cultures to be a ritual of pure mystique, which later evolved in modern society to become an unspoken topic. To watch 100 people — the artist’s collaborators, who’ve earlier worked with her to fabricate the costumes — go through this symbolic cleansing process in an open space is an opportunity will probably never come your way again. Documentation of the performance will be installed at the Singapore Art Museum as part of the artist’s Biennale presentation. 

Payatas (Oscar Villamiel, Philippines)
Singapore Art Museum

It hits you before you even enter the room — the heavy musk that comes only with things that have aged or gone through specific turmoil. And when the doors close behind you and the last strip of light disappears, that’s when the transfer really happens. Oscar Villamiel’s meaningful masterpiece (see top photo) — a dank room filled with thousands of discarded dolls (only half of his what he’s collected from garbage heaps over a two-year period), bamboo rods and wood chips — represents life in Payatas, a Manila landfill (read: humongous garbage dump) where about 200,000 people reside. At worst Villamiel’s offering is a reiteration of the old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. At best, it’s an awakening to the many facets of poverty. End your experience on a positive note — in the “hut” of the installation is a little drawing of a lost child with a prayer subtly inscribed in it. 

Specula (Nguyen Oanh Phi Phi, Vietnam)
Singapore Art Museum


American-born Vietnamese Nguyen’s work is accurately timed — Specula (“mirror” in Latin”) is a cave-like structure made out of fibre-glass plaster and painted with lacquer, a medium that represents Vietnam’s complex history, represents a moment in time where it’s common to have an identity broken into transatlantic parts. Nguyen urgest visitors to spend some personal time with the installation that’s been built into the former cathedral of St. Joseph’s Institution, to observe the culturally-inspired shapes and patterns that adorn the walls and to see what kind of feelings translate.





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