Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Last week I started a voyage. Not around the globe or an exotic location but a venture into the streets of the city I live in – Bandung, Indonesia. So this is the basic idea: I am going around the city by angkot – minibus public transportation – each time I will take a different route to end up at a different terminal. Last week I started by taking the Dago-Kalapa angkot from Dago, nearby my home in Kanayakan, to the terminal Kebon Kalapa (for those of you who are familiar with Bandung, this is just south of alun-alun and just north of monumen lautan api; see the map above for the pointing finger). So far it has been lots of fun – seeing a new part of the city where I have lived for the better of the past eight years, joking with the drivers, having coffee at the terminal – while at the very same it has so far been pretty exhausting – beside the five odd hours I spent per week in the angkot to go from my home to my office vice versa I spend now numerous extra hours on the streets riding the city’s minibuses. The goal is not only the see more of the city I call my home but also to try to find new ways to write (about) the city. For my first impressions of the Kebon Kalapa terminal see the next post.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Recently, I read Andy Merrifield’s book on Guy Debord. Debord is the author of the 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle, which he also turned into a movie, in both book and film he claims that social relations are mediated by empty signs (images, logos, brand names, celebrities, spin doctors, marketing, pr, etc.), and he is one of the founders of the Situationist International. Merrifield writes about the eighties: “just when the Right was triumphant about its ‘meta-narrative’ of the market, the Left started to proclaim its incredulity to all meta-narratives, to all big stories about humanity and progress. Soon they’d begin to proclaim a viewpoint called ‘postmodern’. […] Thus the paradox: the Right had set off on its long march across the entire globe, dispatching its market missionaries, spreading TINA [There Is No Alternative] doctrines, cajoling here, oppressing there, using heavy artillery to smash anything in its path. At the same time, the Left had embarked on an intricate philosophical debate about the meaning of meaning.” The Left criticized here is what Richard Rorty calls the Cultural Left. The Cultural Left is busy reading books while the Right declares the end of history and, thus, blocking political/ideological discussions – and much needed change. No longer believing in a less cruel world (cruelty is the worst vice according to Judith Shklar, because it leads to fear), no longer believing in a world less humiliating (Avishai Margalit claims that humiliation is caused by an attitude that economic inequality is morally deserved and thus should bring an array of privileges) is cynical. One approach is what Debord called détournement, i.e. we turn TINA on her head, so we will again have the possibility to see new openings and act accordingly. Debord: “a lie that can no longer be challenged becomes a form of madness.”
Singaporean Michael Lee’s work Office Orchitect investigates the relationship between space and desire. For this work, Lee invented the fictional architect KS Wong (1911-1982?), a child prodigy who started designing at the tender age of eleven. At the third Singapore Biennale open house, Lee presented models of several of Wong’s designs, one more outlandish than the other. Lee says: “When objects and spaces lose their utilitarian functions, their aesthetic ones come to the foreground.” Aesthetics is the fine art of expressing as such. Aesthetics is according to philosopher John Dewey not a special realm of experience; he states that art is “a quality of doing and of what is done.” Art is thus a form of activity, i.e. the interaction with our world. Alienation – from nature, from others, from one’s self, from our creations (including the built form) – makes the aesthetic experience close to impossible. Today, the utilitarian (including the monetary) perspective is the dominant way to perceive the forms in our world. Marx, according to Zizek, said of alienation: “they do know it, but they are doing it.” Today, so claims Zizek, we should define alienation as: “they know very well what they are doing, but still they are doing it.” In short, our alienation has taken a cynical turn.
Lee tries to imagine a different Singapore. However, Lee calls Wong ‘anally rigorous’, how can a person who is excessively orderly and fussy be a catalyst to imagine an alternative for the excessively ordered Singapore?
In this week’s issue of the English edition of Indonesian weekly Tempo Magazine my review of the Singapore Biennale will be published.
The photo above is by SB2011. For more photos of Michael Lee’s work see here.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Jakarta’s elite wants to learn – or copy? – from Singapore. However, what is copied? The high-rise buildings and mega shopping malls. What lessons are missed? Compared to Singapore, in Jakarta there is not much green space – asphalt and concrete rule – and in Jakarta private car ownership isn’t limited. Therefore, unlike in Singapore, in Jakarta air pollution is rampant. (The photo above was taken in Singapore – when was the last time Jakartans enjoyed a blue sky? – and this photo is not manipulated to make my point.)
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Each and every society has it own fair share of contradictions; Singapore hides – repressed by the state – them fairly well. In Indonesia, contradictions lay out in the open. In Singapore it requires reading in-between-between the lines. Indonesians seemingly embrace contradictions. For example, they envy as well as loath Singapore. They envy Singapore for the fact that things work properly, public transportation is a case in point. They envy Singapore’s prosperity. On the other hand, they would fear and loath if their cities would become as ordered as Singapore, they would find such order utterly boring and repressing.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The only Indonesian contribution to the Singapore Biennale is by the Jakarta-based artist collective ruang rupa: Singapore Fiction, which is their usual gleeful mess. But at the Singapore Art Museum, one of the venues of SB2011, two parallel exhibitions can be visited: It’s Now or never II, New Contemporary Art Acquisitions from Southeast Asia and Negotiating Home, History and Nation, Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991-2011. Many of the big names of the contemporary art scene in Indonesia are present at these two parallel events, and hopefully, one day, these artworks will be shown again in Indonesia. Titarubi’s work Bodyscape is one of these artworks (earlier it was shown at CP Biennale 2005 in Jakarta, which was closed down after attacks by FPI because the joint work Pinkswing Park by Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar was considered ‘immoral’). In 2008, Titarubi made an on-site work for the National Museum of Singapore: Surrounding David, after Michaelangelo’s David, however, Titarubi’s David is much taller. Titarubi’s David was subsequently censored, its genitals had to be covered – its private parts needed to remain private.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei says that the only thing an artist can do is to raise questions. A biennale is a cacophony of questions. And we – we art lovers – add even more questions. And sometimes a title is enough to trigger our imagination, like this one by Australian Robert Macpherson: I see a can of paint as a painting unpainted.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
“The act of seeing with one’s own eye.” This text is a reference to a movie by avant gardist Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) and it is a literal translation of autopsy. The scribble is part of the work of Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov. However, he didn’t actually come to Singapore, because is scared to death of flying. He invited Singaporean filmmaker and artist Liao Jiekai to come to Sofia and on his return he created the work for Solakov.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The great thing about visiting an art exhibition not in a museum or gallery specifically designed for art – the so-called modernist white cube – but in, for example, an abandoned building is that our senses are opened up to the poetry of the unexpected by hoping for surprises in untidy corners. One of the venues of the Singapore Bienalle is the old Kallang airport. In a hangar stands Elmgreen&Dragset’s installation ‘Deutsche Scheune/German Barn’ (bit too neat for a barn though), I walked around their installation (the barn seems to be life size) when something in the far end of the hangar caught my eye (see photo above). Most likely this is not an artwork in any traditional sense, but it reminded me of what Michel Foucault wrote: “Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?”