Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Fifth Column

Actually, this is my first column with Today newspaper. I just felt a vague sense of betrayal at times, criticising my own friends, who really did work pretty hard on getting info out (the Exhibition Site Officers were quite well-informed, the signboards were often helpful, us tour guides were around,they had walk-the-talk for some events, etc).

Anyway, this was printed in Today Newspaper on Wed, Nov 21, 2006, p44. Substation Artistic Director Lee Weng Choy had the following to say about it:

1) a number of factual errors in your piece, including the
designation of Low Kee Hong as Artistic Director -- he's General
Manager; Fumio Nanjo is the AD.

62 I don't know how your being a guide makes you a work of art (at
least it's not clear in the way you describe your role as a guide).
And your contention that the biennale was loved by all international
experts sounds as reliable as Donald Rumsfeld's claim that Iraq had
WMD ... (or it seems to didn't meet and talk to the people that I did).


So, in Weng Choy's eyes, I'm Rumsfeld. Quel horreur.

Here's the original text, btw, which includes the snide comment at the IMF Conference.

The Biennale Talk
s Back

An insider's review by Ng Yi-Sheng

For two and a half months, I was an artwork with the Singapore Biennale.

I'm not kidding. I was part of a project by the artist Luchezar Boyadjiev, who trained us volunteers as tour guides, giving visitors a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the art world. I got to talk about Rizman Putra's changing hairstyles and Santiago Cucullu's habit of stealing aeroplane blankets - little details that helped guests get inside the strange, brilliant minds of artists.

Now the whole shebang's over, and it's safe to say it was a critical success: I had the chance to meet jet-setting critics who'd been to every biennale from Marrakesh to Manhattan, and they were usually impressed by the art (regardless of their views of our IMF conference). It's partly thanks to the risks the curators took in displaying daring works on religion and politics - a big step forward for censor-happy Singapore.

So hooray, we won over the experts. But what about everyone else?

As a guide, I don't think we communicated enough. I met plenty of people on my tours who'd never been to a gallery before. Without guides, they were pretty lost; they said the signboards (put up late) and guidebooks ($10) didn't always give clear introductions to the work. If explanations were available, they were willing to listen; to appreciate the ideas behind the crazy displays.

Artistic director Low Kee Hong has said the next Biennale will focus on education. But communication isn't just his problem. Media coverage of the Biennale events was often heartbreakingly superficial.

Yes, some good articles were published about the opening and featured local artists. But no-one tried to interview foreign artists after they'd left Singapore - an easy matter in this age of e-mail and IDD. Instead, generous proportions of adspace and airtime were wasted on dumbing down the show - one paper kept issuing ah beng impressions of the artworks that told readers, "You won't understand this, but come anyway!"

Contemporary art is a joke, but it's the kind of joke that gets better when explained. My real ah beng friends laughed when I told them why the Orchard Road trees were covered with polka-dots: the clinically insane artist Yayoi Kusama hallucinates these patterns, but instead of taking medication, she makes art, so the world can see the polka-dotted walls of her mind.

The Biennale team's more experienced now, but they've a monster reputation to live up to, and without the buzz of S2006, the next event might not get as big a budget. So don't hold your breath for two years - try visiting the other contemporary art spaces in Singapore. Our cutting-edge artists are working smaller shows at the Substation, 72-13 and the Little India Arts Belt, with events publicised on lesser-known portals like the excellent Farm.sg.

Ultimately, the Biennale's just part of a wider arts community that doesn't have as much funding, but still tries to speak to the general public. Congrats to my friends at the Biennale, and thanks for the T-shirt. Sure, I'll miss being a work of art, but it also means I get to be human again. Eventually, everyone has to leave the museum.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

last boy @ BooksActually

I'll be doing a promotional reading at the cool new(ish) independent bookstore, BooksActually!

Thursday, 16 November
125A Telok Ayer Street
(2nd floor)
Singapore 068594

Tel: 6221 1170

They're a cool new independent bookstore within walking distance of Raffles Place. Here's a shot from when I was attending a dramatised reading of an Eleanor Wong play.

Posted by Picasa

Seeya there! I'll be baking cookies.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006


A wearable art intervention performed Friday, 10 November at Encounters 34: Beginning Belief, LaSalle-SIA School of the Arts.

Materials: Singapore Biennale badges (X 92), Singapore Biennale tote bag, black tights, blazer and marker pen inscriptions of local contemporary artists not included in the Biennale.

Reprised Saturday 11 November at the official closing party for the Biennale. Amanda Heng said she liked it. :) Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 05, 2006

We Live in a Strange World

My sort-of-mentee, Amos Toh, has done an interview with me on We Live in a Strange World, his newsblog devoted to interviewing people in the arts community the author likes, e.g. me and Brian Gothong Tan. And I quote:

we live in a strange world lets artists have their say through conversations with the editor, strangemessages. Each feature will also gather links to resources, critical commentary and other features on the artist. One of his or her works will also be featured on strangework.

This space also hopes to give a voice to the people who provide valuable support to these artists; for who is to say that publishers, translators and curators aren’t artists in their own right, tirelessly honing their craft and the process of art like writers, filmmakers, and playwrights do?

He's also got a penchant for publishing lesser-known works of the artists at Strange Work, as well as featuring odd photographs of us on his page:

;-P The interview itself is at the following:

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Garden Re-lived! Readings for The Substation

Wednesday, 8 November 2006 The Substation Garden/Timbre 7.30 – 9.30pm $25 inclusive of one drink

Some of Singapore's most accomplished poets and musicians are getting together in support of The Substation, at a venue that has long been dear to the hearts of the Singapore arts community: The Substation Garden.

The Garden Re-lived promises to be a potent evening of poetry, music and magic under the trees. It features Robert Yeo, Yong Shu Hoong, Koh Tsin Yen, Dr Leong Liew Geok, Paul Tan, Cyril Wong, Teng Qian Xi and Ng Yi-Sheng.

Now also known as the place where Timbre music bistro bar is located, The Substation Garden is a magical haven in the centre of the city. Since The Substation first opened its doors in September 1990, the Garden has been the site of memorable ­­-- even legendary ­– arts events, many of them 'firsts' in Singapore. There were the Round-the-Clock gigs by local rock bands, storytelling under the bodhi tree, the Word of Mouth poetry readings, flea markets, plays, and special events like Kuo Pao Kun's Tree Celebration of 1991, one of the
earliest multi-disciplinary arts events in Singapore which included installation art, plays, and readings around the theme of nature.

The Garden Re-lived will recall these special moments in The Substation's history, while looking forward to the future and celebrating Singapore artists' spirit of generosity. The poets and musicians are giving their time and talent pro bono, in support of The Substation. True to the spirit of the Garden, a place which has weathered many changes yet carries a timeless quality,
The Garden Re-lived is a reminder that there are larger things than our individual day-to-day concerns.

And that's not all: The Garden Re-lived will kick off a new series of performances and readings in The Substation Garden, running through 2007. The series will include a new reading/performance inspired by the 'relay reading' of the Jean Giono novella The Man Who Planted Trees, read by Kuo Pao Kun and other performers/dramatists during the 1991 Tree Celebration.

The series is presented by The Substation, produced by Richard Chua (Artistic Director, Little Red Shop, a new local theatre company) and directed by Jonathan Lim (creator of the Chestnuts comedy show and Associate Artistic Director of Wild Rice).

With support from: Timbre, Gatecrash, zeropointfive, Little Red Shop and Crashout.

Event Details:

Title: The Garden Re-lived! Readings for The
Date: 8 November 2006
Venue: The Substation Garden/Timbre
Time: 7.30 – 9.30pm

Tickets: $25/ $18 inclusive of one drink, from
Gatecrash (excludes ticketing charge).
or The Substation Box Office, 45 Armenian Street, tel:
6337 7800 (opens 12 – 8.30pm, Mon-Fri).
Enquiries: 6337 7535 or 6337 7800

Website: www.substation.org

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Blox Populi

Shazam! Breathe Poetry has featured my poem "kami/kaze" on their poetry-sharing livejournal. They even took the trouble to do all the capitalisation and alignment properly (which is a bitch in html). You have to be flattered when one is talked about by people you don't know - especially when they've got no career incentive to be investigating local poetry.

Plus I'm on the same page as Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams and Margaret Atwood. Not bad company, huh? :-D.