SINGAPORE (VNS) — Low murmurs and the soft sounds of chewing and swallowing reverberate in a darkened space in which loom life-size image projections of 19 individuals.
The installation of Nguyen Trinh Thi is among the 15 artworks shortlisted for the final round of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation’s Signature Art Prize 2014.
An exhibition of these artworks has opened at the Singapore Art Museum.
Thi documented artists, curators and writers, besides key figures of the independent contemporary art scene in Ha Noi, as they ate a food item of their choice, stated their name and identified what they had just consumed.
Then she used projectors to show their images on life-size slabs with the aim of creating a three-dimensional effect, said Thi.
The installation impressed the audience as they felt they were standing in front of real people, touching them, seeing their movements and hearing them eat food.
With Unsubtitled, Thi continues her investigation into the history and development of the place and the role of contemporary artists in society.
“The figures in the work assume complex positions. On the one hand, their stances evoke the control and scrutiny pervasive in the cultural scene in Viet Nam, and yet their commitment to their artistic practice and individual identities is symbolically asserted by the sustaining and natural act of eating.
“Even as the artists engage in a collective performance, their individual identities remain distinct through quirks of attitude, action and voice, besides attire,” she said.
Thi pointed out that contemporary Vietnamese artists face many difficulties in the domestic art environment, such as cultural authorities’ management, the lack of art space suitable for their works and the audience’s appreciation.
“Regarding contemporary art, the artists venture into arts and new experiences,” Thi said.
“They require the audience to have knowledge, sympathy and curiosity to discover different layers of the artwork.”
Founded in 1994, the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation is involved in a variety of initiatives, including funding of the arts.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the APB Foundation, and the third edition of the Signature Art Prize, which has seen tremendous growth since its inauguration in 2008.
Spanning various genres, the Finalists Exhibition presents 15 works produced in 13 countries and territories, namely Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
Liu Jianhua’s porcelain artwork Trace is based on the principles of Chinese calligraphy. The elements of Trace use and evoke some of the most historically important Chinese inventions, which have been developed and refined over centuries into full-fledged art forms such as ceramics and ink painting.
Thai-based Arin Rungjang’s monumental Golden Teardrop brings heavy, ancient beams from an old Ayutthaya house and iron trusses from a post-war factory into the museum gallery.
Together, these structures frame a delicate sculptural object made of almost 6,000 drops, referred to in the work’s title.
Meanwhile, South Korean Choe U-ram’s fantastic metallic creature – at once robotic and chimerical – Custos Cavum (Guardian of the Hole), which seems to move and breathe, lies at the heart of the museum.
The other artists have used unusual materials. For instance, Robert Zhao Renhui evokes a peculiar parable with Eskimo Wolf Trap, often quoted in sermons, and recreates a snowy landscape with almost 400kg of bicarbonate of soda.
The site of Melati Suryodarmo’s work I’m a Ghost in My Own House has more than 150kg of charcoal and is on the central glass porch on the second floor, overlooking the front of the museum.
The exhibition comprises the works of the best artists in the Asia-Pacific region and represents a significant development in the regional contemporary art landscape in recent years, said Susie Lingham, PhD, director of the Singapore Art Museum.
“The shortlisted works truly demonstrate creative exploration of art forms and mediums, and are conceptually well-wrought at the same time,” she added.
“Diverse social, cultural and political issues are engagingly and accessibly expressed in these extraordinary artworks, where each embodies the transformative quality of art.
“They each, in their unique way, reveal the power of contemporary art as a meaningful experience. We now witness the rich diversity and imagination of the Asia-Pacific region.
The jury panel has five eminent people, namely Lingham, Chinese independent art curator and critic Feng Boyi and Director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Luckana Kunavichayanont, as well as Director of Queensland Art Gallery Chris Saines, and Director of KHOJ International Artists’Association in India Pooja Sood.
They selected the best entries from 105 nominated artworks from 24 countries and territories.
The exhibition will run till March 15 next year at the Singapore Art Museum, while the names of the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on January 22.
A series of programmes including curatorial tours, educators’ talks and sensory workshops will also be organised.
The APB Signature Art Prize is worth S$100,000 (US$77,000), with S$60,000 for the Grand Prize and S$15,000 each for two Jurors’ Choice Awards.
A People’s Choice Award of S$10,000 will be given to the artwork that receives the highest number of public votes via on-site and online submissions.
Vietnamese people can cast their votes for Thi’s installation at www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/signatureartprize.
Those who vote will also stand to win prizes.