Singapore Biennale’s 5th edition “An Atlas of Mirrors”

Posted on December - 14 - 2016

Photo: Scoop Art

Photo: Scoop Art

Photo: Scoop Art

A few years back Singapore would be easily dismissed as an important tourist destination on anyone’s list, by now the financial capital has rapidly grown into one of Asia´s most exciting cities. From the buzzing streets of “Little India,” to the city’s new iconic mind-boggling skyscraper Marina Bays Sands, the city is a built on high contrasts offering a window into a high-tech city actively retaining its historic identity.

As part of Singapore agenda is the development of cultural policies that are aimed at promoting national artists and placing the cities on the map as one of Asia’s art capitals. Of the key institutions in this endeavor is Singapore Art Museum who promotes the interdisciplinary art practice, binding science art together through research-led and evolving curatorial exercises.


Photo: Scoop Art

As a result of this interest in the arts, the Singapore Biennale was born in 2006 and this year it hosts its 5th edition with 63 international artists participating from 19 countries from South East Asia, East and South Asia. With Susie Lingham as Artistic Director, the titled chosen for the Biennale was “An Atlas of Mirrors” and revolves around the processes and tools that man has used throughout history to understand and navigate the world around him.

As a spectator from the other side of the world, not as acquainted with Asian art as I would like to be, the Biennale hits a nostalgic and personal note. Mirrors reflect the self and map trace the space occupied by men, both work synchronized to build or rebuild identities that have been threatened by external as well as internal forces or forgotten by time. Artworks were the conclusion of profound observation and critical research sometimes combined with personal experiences and backgrounds, with the aim of creating works that reconcile past with present in the hopes of constructing a congruent and harmonious result.

The Biennale originates with the question of where we are, how do we see the world? To answer this, artists bent standard conventions and aimed at creating significant and profound artworks that dealt with themes of space, time, memory, nature, boundaries, agency, identity, displacement and absence.

The many works of art present a challenge to see in just one day since they are scattered in 7 different buildings. Beginning at the National Museum of Singapore, the impressive installations of David Chan, Subodh Gupta, Debbie Ding and Perception3 are hardly missed. At the entrance, contrasting with the white and immaculate columns that support the museum a colossal sphere-like structure consisting of over 3,000 thousand used pots sits in the roundabout. The work by Indian contemporary artists Subodh Gupta plays on the idea of abundance and deprivation. Up-close old pots and used kitchen utensils dangle delicately from monofilament threads. Each piece has a story in it, and it has been taken from its original environment to be given a new significance. Collected through a period, Gupta steps away from his usual sterile stainless-steel structures into a more humanistic approach to the utensil. Worn out by time and charged with personal histories, Cooking the World refer to parallel realities that coexist in today’s globalized world.


Photo: Scoop Art

On the way to Singapore Art Museum, among the green gardens, two mirror structures sit across one another, exchanging short and concise statements, as an aphorism. There are those who stay/There are those who go by the duo Perception3 suggests multiple readings to anyone who stands between the laconic affirmations.

Over at the SAM, the stairways are invaded with hundred of hand-cut mirrors, reflecting and dissipating the idea of a contained space. Paracosmos by Japanese artists Harumi Sukiyaki combines medium with the environment in which the mirrors are located. Strategically placed in an area where change occurs, the mirrors act like paradoxical devices, altering realities and creating parallel spaces, working as a non-place between spaces.


Photo: Scoop Art

On the top floor pieces like One Has to Wander through All the Outer Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End by Chinese artists Qiu Zhijie was an absorbing installation taking up the entire room. The artists created wall-sized canvases to display his multi-disciplinary investigation on map-making and historical conquest voyages, a time in which ambitions for Utopia were put to the test by the fear of mysterious legendary creatures. The installation plays on the relationship of fear, imagination, and idealization, where hand-blown glass creatures and fictitious maps suggest a forgotten mythological world.

An aspect that is palpable in the Biennale is the deep-rooted relationship with the sea. Martha Atienza, a Philippine artist with Dutch heritage, shows in her multimedia installations Endless Hours at Sea the tumultuous relationship between man and the ocean. The work hits close to home and tests her beliefs of identity since her whole family has been involved in the maritime industry and her upbringing was multicultural. Another Philippine artist Gregory Halili pays homage to people whose lives are bound to the ocean in a poetic and touching installation encompassing miniature portraits of coastal people done delicately in mother-of-pearl shells.


Photo: Scoop Art

The overall atmosphere laid out by the Biennale is about analytical contemplation and deep reflection. Many of the works glide in poetic and subtle observations; others boast a strong postcolonial critique, but all-around the Biennale feels personal and engaging with the intent of shortening the gap between foreigner perceptions and local convictions. It succeeds in avoiding falling into the familiar pit of pretentious spectacles and manages to uncover qualities that are shared throughout space and time, in parallel realities, inevitably coexisting with one another.

Art is universal and a vehicle for knowledge and connection and in Singapore is aware of it. That being said, “An Atlas of Mirrors” is a testament to the great art being produced in the region and is surely worth anyone’s attention. The event will run until February 26, 2017.

By: Gabriela Martínez de la Hoz


Photo: Scoop Art