by Sukanya GargNov 13, 2019
In the past few decades, the world has seen a significant shift in economic potential from the West to the East in what has been dubbed the ‘Asian Age’ by many. Asia has opened its doors to cultural and financial development, and the contemporary art industry has followed in close pursuit. The Singapore Biennale made its debut in 2006, with the ongoing edition being the sixth event. “The Singapore Biennale plays an important role in positioning Singapore as a destination in Southeast Asia for contemporary art. It serves as a critical platform to showcase the unique explorations and perspectives of the region’s artists, including those from Singapore,” says Rosa Daniel, co-chair of Singapore Biennale 2019, in her note to visitors of the festival. The 2019 edition opened on November 22, 2019. The Biennale is spread across 11 venues from National Gallery Singapore, Singapore Art Museum and National Library to cultural institutions like Esplanade and LASALLE College of The Arts.
Titled Every Step In The Right Direction, the festival navigates ideas around the responsibilities of the artist and the resulting space held by artistic methods in today’s unpredictable socio-political environment. The Biennale is curated to engage the viewer in an active dialogue about the conflicting nature of our man-made environment - solidarity in the midst of divisiveness, acceptance during the time of borders, spirituality in an age of materiality - creating interaction through art trails, assemblage workshops as well as poetry, drama and craft sessions. The Singapore Biennale 2019-2020 features over 50 artists from across the world working with traditional and new media. The festival is an exciting mix of noted creative legends and rising talents in a multi-faceted conversation about the future.
Berlin-based American artist Wu Tsang’s 2-channel overlapping projection installation talks about the growing migration crisis, while London-based Indian artist Temsüyanger Longkumer creates discussion around history, memory, spirituality and ecology while examining his Naga roots as a foundation for understanding diasporic culture today through a series of terracotta sculptures.
A major highlight at the Biennale is Amanda Heng. She is the first Singaporean to be awarded the Benesse Prize, an award created and supported by Benesse Holdings, a Japanese education and publishing company, since 2006. Born in 1951, Heng is an artist who was one of the five shortlisted nominations for the prize. She is a LASALLE College of The Arts graduate and her practice is centered around initiating conversation about challenging social circumstances of the present. A feminist in her own right, Heng’s work discusses the politics of gender, the complexities of labour and other everyday issues. Heng uses performance with elements of interactivity, making the audience a priority in her work rather than a peripheral consequence of it. Her engagement with performance as a medium began at a time when it was still largely unheard of in Singapore. She has been the initiator of many discussions in her art in the past, all of which are still relevant today. She is perhaps best known for her performance Let’s Walk (1999), which she reprised at the Singapore Biennale in a larger project she calls Every Step Counts (2019), where she reflects on the limitations of the ageing body and the impact of the rapidly changing social and cultural environments she observes around her.
In an effort to create engagement between viewer and artwork, the Singapore Biennale is also hosting a variety of workshops, talks, performances and other programmes to break down the seemingly high walls that divide art and viewer in conventional art spaces. The Singapore Biennale will run till March 22, 2020.