Analysis out of the box

Contemporary art in Singapour in 3 key concepts

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | An active artistic scene emerged in Southeast Asia in the 2000’s - crystallizing in Singapore - and is becoming known in the West. Art Paris Art fair #2015 presents 8 flagship Singapore galleries while the Palais de Tokyo explores « L’archipel secret » , an exhibition conceived by Khairuddin Hori with the support of « Singapore in France - the festival ». 3 key concepts for understanding this economic and creative hot zone whose singular identity comes out of a natural profusion of cultures, ethnicities, religions and languages.

Carte de l’Asie du Sud-Est © DR
Carte de l’Asie du Sud-Est
© DR

A virtuous economic dynamic

Singapore and the entirety of states that form Southeast Asia constitute an active zone of maritime commerce at the intersection of three bodies of water : the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific zone. It’s an unparalleled zone of passage, mixing and cultural and ethnic cross-pollination. Independent since 1965, Singapore is today called « the little Switzerland of Asia ». Like Hong Kong, it has built upon its Anglo-Saxon foundations, exploiting a primordial economic and geostrategic region through its position at the entry to the Strait of Malacca. This happy cultural dynamic combines a market where the state is directly involved - 50 public companies produce 60% of the GDP - and actively promotes creation, with a concrete rise in the 2000’s, as creation became valorized as a means of spreading influence.

Singapore concentrates cultural attributes and markets

The former British trading post of the 19th century ahs become a global economic center of the 21st century and is now investing in a wide range of cultural endeavors : Art and Sciences Museum welcomes international travelling exhibitions, the Singapore Art Museum (Deutsch Bank is the principal sponsor) is repositioning itself in contemporary art, the National Gallery Singapore, with its sponsor DBS Bank of the Philippines, focuses on regional cultures from the 19th century to the present day (opening in 2015). Cultural events are integrated into the international ecosystem : the Singapore Biennale, the Prudential Eye Award founded by the British collectors David and Serenella Ciclitira in 2014, an « art-week » during Singapore Art Stage, a competitor to Hong Kong Basel, directed by Lorenzo Rudolf (former director of Art Basel). On the market side, two other important developments : the construction of a contemporary art gallery neighborhood in Gillman Barrack and the Singapore Freeport, whose high-security platform was launched in 2010. These infrastructures constitute a launching pad, with Singapore seeing itself as a pole of Asian culture, positioned at the cultural and economic crossroads of Greater Asia.
Conversely, outside Singapore cultural institutions default; creative scouting and cultural education are generated by private initiatives such as patron/collectors like Dr Oei’s OHD Museum, inaugurated in 2012 in Magelang (Indonesia), alternative spaces, and by artists themselves in a spirit of sharing, like Eko Nugroho at the Java center in Yogyakarta.

A syncretism of imagery moving toward a universal esthetic

Contemporary creation in Southeast Asia, marked by its diverse origins, reveals a syncretism of imagery founded on shared axes :
- Local-global culture : artists and creators, connected to the West and the rest of the world, absorb everything while participating in their root identity; they integrate mediums without hierarchy, easily navigating between vernacular tradition and Western cultural concepts, according to a process of infiltration.
- A subversive spirit implicit in creation : artists living in states with no tradition of freedom of expression express resistance and engagement through a natural strategy of infiltration opposed to Western strategies of confrontation and the oblique strategies used in China. As such, vectors of participative transmission and sharing are means to an end as much a vital esthetic form (ref : « Relational esthetic » formalized by Nicolas Bourriaud).
- A « trans » -spirit : the porous path of ideas and imagery is amplified in these maritime crossroad regions, where the climate is hot and humid and a luxurious ancestral nature influences behaviors. From an esthetic point of view, this engenders creation that explores and infiltrates corporal and sensory fields, a visual narration that imagines passages from the real to the surreal, and in a transversal approach to materials, generations, time and space.

Understanding the fundamentals of the artistic scene in Southeast Asia could help us perceive constituent elements of global culture in the making.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely
Publié le 17/03/2015
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Carte de l’Asie du Sud-Est © DR

Carte de l’Asie du Sud-Est
© DR