Art that matters

The Star, 27 November 2011, Stories by OOI KOK CHUEN

Culture, craft and contemporary techniques mark a regional competition that highlights issues relevant to the artists.

A META-narrative linked to myths and folklore as an allegory of human greed and environmental pillage has won Rodel Tapaya of the Philippines the Grand Prize of the Asia Pacific Breweries (AFP) Foundation Signature Art Prize in Singapore.

Tapaya’s acrylic-on-canvas mural, Cane Of Kabunian which beat 14 other entries shortlisted from 130 nominations received from 24 countries, bagged SG$45,000 (RM108,500).

Three Jurors’ Prize Awards of SG$10,000 (RM24,200) each went to Daniel Crooks (Australia) for Static No. 12, Aida Makoto (Japan) for Ash Color Mountains, and Sheba Chhachhi (India) for The Water Diviner. A People’s Choice Award (also worth SG$10,000), decided by online and registration-form votes – was won by Singapore’s Michael Lee, for Second-Hand City.

Rodel Tapaya’s Cane Of Kabunian.

Malaysia’s Chang Yoong Chia was among the finalists with his work made up entirely of postage stamps, The World Is Flat.

The others were Bui Cong Khanh (Vietnam; The Past Moved), Chen Chieh-jen (Taiwan; Empire’s Borders I), Ay Tjoe Christine (in collaboration with Deden Sambas, Indonesia; Lama Sabakhtani #01), Kyungah Ham (South Korea; Needling Whisper/Needle Country), Kim Jongku (South Korea; Mobile Landscape), Imran Qureshi (Pakistan; You Are My Love And My Life’s Enemy Too), Vandy Rattana (Cambodia; Bomb Ponds), Greg Semu (New Zealand; The Last Cannibal Supper) and Yang Xinguang (China, Thin).

This is Tapaya’s second major Asia-Pacific art prize. In 2000, while studying at the University of the Philippines, he received the Nokia Art Award, which included study grants in New York and Helsinki.

Belying his age, Tapaya, 31, is a master raconteur who mines Pinoy myths – in this case, that of the Ifugao and Bontoc of Luzon, built around the supreme being Kabunian and the giant “saviour” canine from the great floods (in reference to recent flood woes in his country). He also draws from Tagalog folklore (eg the glutton who was transformed into a frog).

The judges were particularly struck by his Magic Realism approach, with whiffs of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden Of Earthly Delights.

In the wake of the Fukushima/tsunami tragedy, Makoto’s work – a Mount Fuji pile of corpses of seemingly salaried Japanese workers – is like a monument to grief.

Ash Color Mountains hints at karoshi (death by overwork, given the long hours put in by Japanese men) and the failure of capitalism, especially with the current global financial turmoil.

Schhachhi’s installation work shows animated stills of a drowning elephant (symbol of Ganesha, perhaps?) with a trail of floor lightboxes leading to it, and stacks of books on the sides. It is the 53-year-old artist’s attempt to recover the loss of cultural memory, through history and literature.

Daniel Crooks’ Static No. 12.

New Zealand-born Crooks’ single-channel video work is a brilliant experiment with non-linear representation of time: he caught an old man in Shanghai going through the fluid motions of tai chi, at times morphing into a Baconesque figure. This work expands on Eadward Muybridge’s locomotion theory, yet exudes a meditative quality.

Lee, who won the Singapore National Arts Council Young Artist’s Award in 2005, puts an emotive and anxious face to urban architecture with a thought-provoking suite of eight digital prints.

Bui’s installation, which includes a charcoal painting backdrop, records a community dispersed by the demolition of parts of Ho Chi Minh City’s historical Old Quarters.

Christine’s is by far the most violent entry: it is an actual creation of a four-metre tall, three-blade guillotine that when operated, sets off a chain reaction of a clanging cymbal of brass balls.

Ham’s covert piece on North-South diplomacy makes use of faceless North Korean embroidery workers to work on little designs she sent from the South through her network of clandestine couriers. The nine pieces that got past the stringent Pyongyang checks raise questions about artistic ownership.

Kim’s calligraphic strokes of ground steel powder simulate ridges of landscapes when seen from floor-level digital projection. It adds an innovative approach to Chinese brush paintings.

Imran’s Action Painting of blood-maroon splotches and stains on layered washi paper records with ambivalent feelings of gore and beauty, the suicide-bombing carnage prevalent in his country. He won the Art Prize in the 2011 Sharjah Biennale.

There’s a sinister story to the serene Monet-like ponds in Rattana’s padi fields, especially in Kompong Chom near the Vietnamese border. The ponds, some measuring five-by-five metres, were the result of American “collateral damage” bombing during the Vietnam War (1964-75).

During his artist’s residency in Caledonia last year, Semu used the Kanak actors of Noumea to parody Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. It shows how a community with a history of cannibalism has been impacted by religious colonization.

Chang’s tapestry, which features thousands of stamps painstakingly cut and glued together, is a statement about traditional ways of doing things, as well as a loose compendium of selective human history.

Yang’s work of carved/chipped femur-like tree staves is audaciously presented as deformed sculptures.

Winners of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize, 2011, (from left) Sheba Chhachhi, Michael Lee, Rodel Tapaya, Aida Makoto and Daniel Crooks.

Judges of the Signature Art Prize observed that the entries “reflect the artists’ sophisticated responses to contemporary issues facing their region in a highly interconnected global present. They also showcase the range of media and techniques used in contemporary art-making. The artists extend and enrich their practices in diverse ways: by engaging with a heterogeneity of craft cultures, by addressing the fine-arts legacy, and through the critical application of new technologies.”

On the panel were Fumio Nanjo (of Japan), Gregor Muir (Britain), Hendro Wijanto (Indoensia), Ranjit Hoskote (India) and Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui.

The competition, organised by the Singapore Art Museum and sponsored by the APB Foundation, honours artists whose works represent a significant development in contemporary visual art in the Asia Pacific region. It thrives on a system of nominations from selected “moles’ in the respective countries, and has no restrictions on the scale, size, medium or theme of the work.

“Artists” of all ages and persuasions can compete. As proof that reputation doesn’t count in the overall judging of a work, a major casualty in the preliminary round, for instance, was Australia’s Tracey Moffatt.

This year, the APB Foundation doubled its funding of the Signature Art Prize (for five editions) from SG$2.25mil (RM5.39mil) to SG$4.45mil (RM10.6mil). It also expanded the award’s outreach to double that of only 12 countries taking part, when it was launched in 2008. That year, Malaysia’s Ahmad Fuad Osman was one of the three Jurors’ Prize winners.

• The works of the Signature Art Prize winners and finalists are currently on show at the Singapore Art Museum until March 4, 2012.

For details on the exhibition, talks and outreach programmes, visit Singapore Art

Crazy Challenge

THE past decade has been a merry-go-round of art shows and residencies all over the world for Chang Yoong Chia. Indeed, he could not make it for the opening of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize as he was in Chongqing, China, for its Biennale.

But Chang, 36, was present at the awards ceremony at the Singapore Art Museum on Nov 17. Although he did not make it to the winners’ circle, it was a feat for him to be among the 15 finalists.

His entry, The World Is Flat, is a collage made up entirely of thousands of Commonwealth postage stamps. Some were chosen for sheer colour harmony and others, for the cutouts of well-known personalities, flora and fauna. The work looks fragile as it does not have any backing; the pasted overlaps hold it together.

As stamps are often state-sanctioned, Chang arrogates himself the power to toy with stereotypes and symbols and post-colonial tensions. There’s even a tinge of humour when he puts the head of evolution theorist Charles Darwin on the body of an ape, masquerades a Spanish monarch as Hitler, and shows Queen Elizabeth II dining at a table laden with treasure, with four other versions of herself.

Chang Yoong Chia with The World Is Flat.

Asked how the idea of pasting stamps together came about, Chang said he was always driven and challenged by “crazy ideas”.

But he is not a slave to materials, especially conventional ones. He has used thread and needles (in Quilt Of The Dead), termite wings, human hair, seashells, eggshells and bones (Flora & Fauna Series), ceramic spoons and plates (Narratives).

“I like to use everyday materials, find their expressive or ‘magical’ potential, and transform them into artworks so they can be seen from a new perspective,” he says.

Chang’s wanderlust started in 2002, when he took part in the Khoj Artist Workshop in Mysore, India. Then came his residency at Rimbun Dahan in 2006, and he has been country-hopping ever since.

His CV includes the 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in Japan (2005); Asian Art Now, C21, Blackburn, Britain (2007); the 14th Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh (2010) and residencies in Gwangju, Korea (2007), Chiayi, Taiwan (2007), Sapporo, Japan (2008), Yogyakarta, Indonesia (2010) and Pinyao, China (2010). He received a Goethe-Institute scholarship to Berlin in 2007.

But his defining solo exhibition was 2nd Seven Years: Quilt Of The Dead, held in Kuala Lumpur two years ago.