What a strange way to start of this month’s humanifesto, in an issue featuring some various aspects of the arts here in sunny Singapore. One can’t help but ask oneself (but never out loud, people might whisper that you’re a madman) if “art” serves any real function in the technocratic isle? I’m not talking here about art for art’s sake, but as an expression of a deeper human need to reorder the world around us and somehow beautify it, as if mere mortals can create anything more beautiful than a sunset or a rose.
To this, I say yes, a resounding yes, for if all the monies spent on weapons of war and oppressive police states or in the operand conditioning of entire populaces to be obedient yet well fed drones, then the world would explode in colour and vibrant beauty instead of broken body parts and cluster bombs.
So art does serve a function (and of course I’m not talking here about my favourite function of art, the revolutionary aspects), the power of an image or a word to bring about sweeping change (and isn’t it ironic that the voters in the US handed Bush his ass on the anniversary of the first day the Berlin wall came down?).
Who knows what change art could bring upon Singapore? Or is that a strictly no-go area, and the artists here are only allowed safe subjects which look nice, yet say nothing? But who says art has to foment change? Why can’t it be just a pretty picture to match your couch and bring a focus to your living room?
Screw that. I want my art to say something, however subtly, however oddly. But one thing an artist must never do is take him or herself too seriously.
Once I held a gallery exhibition of large format black and white images of landfills in Montana. The images were beautiful explorations of texture, with rust, and oxidation and the aging of nature over the artifices of man. Plus they looked damn good above your living room sofa.
One art critic from the local newspaper was there, soaking up the free wine, in the corner pontificating about how the artist (he didn’t know I was there) had meant to show how mankind despoils the environment with his refuse, yet it is nature who gets the last laugh as she subsumes man’s creations back into the bosom of her earth (or words to that effect.) His thoughts were interesting, and spoken with enough volume to gain a small crowd around to hear his pronunciations.
I decided to take the wind out of his art critic proclamations, and coming up behind him, with a hearty slap on his back said, “Hey, you guys like the pictures I took? There was all this trash laying on the ground and I had a few extra rolls of film left…”
I guess that’s why I never became a big name artist, coz I just couldn’t stand the game. Reminds me of a line form the poet Daniel Kenny “Is an artist apart from his art, are the claps but the start, is a fart but a part?”
So what’s in store in this issue’s look at the local art scene? Well, we’ve got an interview with the very talented 2006 NAC Arts Award winner Francis Ng, as well as with Edmund T. Shern, one of the founders of Imaginary Friends studio, who create art that fires the imagination yet rarely is seen in the gallery. He laments that art isn’t taken seriously here, but perhaps he doesn’t know about the groups of migrants here who take their art very seriously… and find expression with the help of Migrant Voices.