Singapore Art Museum embarks on an artistic exploration of the ocean

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Singapore Art Museum embarks on an artistic exploration of the ocean
Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan, Passage III Project Another Country, 2009. Image courtesy of SAM.

SINGAPORE.- In its latest exhibition, Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas, the Singapore Art Museum embarks on artistic explorations of the ocean, as seen through the eyes of contemporary artists. Odyssey comprises contemporary artworks drawn from SAM’s permanent collection, artists’ collections and new commissions. The exhibition presents artworks by 11 artists from Singapore, Southeast Asia and beyond, as well as a Research Room that features loans from the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum’s collection. Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas takes place until 28 August 2016.

Featured in Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas are artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan (Australia/Philippines), Choe U-Ram (South Korea), Pratchaya Phinthong (Thailand), Rashid Rana (Pakistan), Sally Smart (Australia), Wyn Lyn Tan (Singapore), Richard StreitmatterTran (Vietnam), Entang Wiharso (Indonesia), and Ashley Yeo and Monica So-Young Moon (Singapore and South Korea).

Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas explores ideas pertaining to the origins of life and personal histories and identities, and provokes contemplation of the tempests that batter our sails on this journey through life.

The Artworks
As the conceptual dock from which Odyssey departs, The Research Room contains maritime artefacts and reproductions that trace humanity’s relationship with the sea, as well as a research library with books from the National Library Board, Singapore. Featuring loans from the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum’s collection as well as tools of navigation and conquest, these artefacts recount both actual and fictional voyages, highlighting the exhibition’s artistic explorations of the oceanic theme as well as its metaphysical implications.

Singaporean artist Wyn Lyn Tan presents an intimate yet distant encounter with the Arctic landscape in a time-lapse video, Adrift, as she captures the austere yet entrancing seas from a porthole within her cabin as she undertook a 16-day journey around the Arctic Circle.

Exploring waters of a different world entirely is Thai artist Pratchaya Phinthong with Algahest, an artwork from SAM's permanent collection. A planet 600 light years from Earth, Kepler-22b was discovered with water on its surface, thus suggesting possible existence of other life forms, as well as its potential as a planet for habitation by future human civilisations. Visitors are invited to view a painting of the planet through a moveable window filled with water, earth and air – building blocks necessary for life – thus reconstituting with every turn the possibilities of humanity’s future existence.

Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso’s Breathing Together is an underwater “memory-scape” – a surrealistic mixed-media mural riddled with enigmatic fragments of the past, such as becaks (pedicabs) which were outlawed by the government and disposed of in the sea, and vestiges of sea lanes used for trade during the colonial era.

Reflecting on the real-world influence that animals, specifically whales, have on humans, Vietnamese-American artist Richard Streitmatter-Tran’s A Short History of Man and Animal is a wooden boat with a set of bones placed within its hull, highlighting how fishing boats inherit the physical characteristics of whales. Meanwhile, his other work, The Cerumen Strata, simulates the earwax plugs that collect in the cavity of whales’ ear canals, which can be an indicator of the health of the ocean in which the mammals had lived.

Australian artist Sally Smart's multi-layered assemblage of cut-out elements, titled The Exquisite Pirate: Odyssey, reflects on the symbolism of the ship as an image of colonialism and personal odysseys, as well as the notions of personal and social identity and cultural instability.

Pakistani artist Rashid Rana’s Offshore Accounts-1 is a monumental, monochromatic seascape comprising thousands of miniature images of trash and colonial ships, representing the seas that belie the legacies of colonial trade and empire, as well as the destructive wastefulness of contemporary consumerist culture.

Ashley Yeo and Monica So-Young Moon, from Singapore and South Korea respectively, present Ocean’s Room, an assemblage of objects – ink paintings shrouded in silken gauze, hovering ceramic whales and a dress crafted from voluminous layers of silk, upon which digital renderings of marine snow is projected – that attempt to articulate a unified personification of the sea.

Evolving from their personal experience of relocating from the Philippines to Australia, Filipino husband-and-wife artist duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan addresses issues surrounding journeys, diaspora and social dislocation through their installation, Passage III: Project Another Country.

The biomorphic kinetic sculptures by Korean artist Choe U-Ram, Ultima Mudfox and Una Lumino Callidus Spiritus, are inspired by the silhouette of a dolphin and colonies of barnacles respectively. Composed of metal, motors and machinery, these sculptures come with artist-written mythologies which tell of their evolution and adaptation.

“As the companion exhibition to our annual children’s contemporary art exhibition, Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea, Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas invites visitors to rethink idealised notions of seascapes and voyages through the artists’ representations and redefinitions of the ocean's mysteries. At the same time, we hope that the contemporary artworks in this exhibition inspire contemplation of issues relating to human nature, our relationship with the sea, and the spirit of exploration and discovery,” says Ms Tan Siuli, Curatorial Co-Head, Singapore Art Museum.

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