Special Focus

This year’s Special Focus centres on Something New Must Turn Up: Six Singaporean Artists After 1965, a joint exhibition of six solo presentations at National Gallery Singapore. A newly commissioned film anthology entitled ABSTRACTIONS: Filmic Readings of the Something New Must Turn Up Exhibition (7 May–22 Aug 2021)  expands on the discourses explored in the exhibition.

The anthology consists of six short films by Singapore filmmakers in response to the practice of an artist featured in the exhibition: Axis by Ryan Benjamin Lee, One After Another by Chew Chia Shao Min, Void and More by Toh Hun Ping, Mystic and Momok by Russell Morton, Quest or Quest by Chong Lii, and wanderings by Gladys Ng and Ng Hui Hsien. The films were informed by the research of exhibition curators Cheng Jia Yun, Goh Sze Ying, Lim Shujuan, Joleen Loh, Seng Yu Jin, Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Adele Tan and Teo Hui Min, and made in consultation with them. 

Rating: PG

AXIS

By Ryan Benjamin Lee

Singapore | No dialogue | 2021 | 3 min 43 sec

In Axis, a labyrinth constructed from images of grids, ladders and glass ceilings collides and coalesces into an impossible space. This film is a rumination on mall culture in Singapore, with the homogeneity and verticality of these centres of consumerism mirroring contemporary power structures and the desire for upward mobility.

This animated short is inspired by works in the exhibition Chng Seok Tin: Drawn Through A Press such as Gold Rush (1993), Social Climbers (1992) and Game of Chess (1999–2001). Director Ryan Benjamin Lee was particularly fascinated by Chng’s drawings of buildings, where lines do not connect and barely describe mass. The  sense of emptiness created points to the elusiveness of these impenetrable and monumental structures. In response, Lee presents a visual commentary on corporate ladders that have transformed Singapore’s landscape into a cluster of shiny hollow shells. 

Axis expands on Chng’s observations of the shift in societal attitudes, goals and values in Singapore towards a singular focus on material gain. Lee likens these changes to the blurring and merging of spaces through the integration of contemporary franchises into malls. Malls are connected by a sprawling network of bridges and passages that scale upwards, conflating convenience and excess.

Chng Seok Tin. Game of Chess 《人生如棋》. 1999–2001. Painted papier mâché and glue, 15 × 15 × 50 cm (per piece). Collection of the Estate of Chng Seok Tin.

Chng Seok Tin. Social Climbers. 1992. Drypoint on paper, 25 × 19 cm. Collection of Singapore Art Museum.

Ryan Benjamin Lee (b. 1997, Singapore) is a moving image artist and animator. His installations have been exhibited at local galleries like Supernormal and DECK, while his films have been presented further afield at festivals such as Ottawa International Animation Festival (2019) and Fest Anča International Animation Festival (2020). Lee’s practice uses video art, installation, GIF-making, sampling and animation to create a range of media assemblages. Grounded in an interest in the investigation of various materials, his artworks explore the relationship between physical and virtual spaces, and how our post-internet experiences seamlessly merge the two. As such, his works often have a sculptural or site-specific quality to them.

ONE AFTER ANOTHER

By Chew Chia Shao Min

Singapore | No dialogue | 2021 | 5 min 33 sec | PG

One After Another is a reading of the works in the exhibition Goh Beng Kwan: Nervous City. The film draws from paintings in Goh’s Urban Renewal series: Minaret (1973), In The Clouds There Are Dwellings (1985) and Advertisements (1962–1966). Director Chew Chia Shao Min interprets the nervousness referenced in the exhibition title as a state of longing and anxiety. She uses images of waiting, simmering and engulfment to convey the tension that arises from suppressing charged emotions. In the film, the city becomes a fever dream of discontent as the protagonist and viewer alike are trapped in transitory states—always coming or going, but never arriving. 

Chew Chia amplifies the frenetic pace of the urban environment by contrasting images of the city with depictions of stillness in nature. The juxtaposition of these images also highlights the difference between natural shifts such as the onset of decay and changes in weather, and man-made ones experienced in the city. Atmospheric, sensorial and intuitive, One After Another’s exploration of the spiritual overtones infused in textures around us suggests that it is in accepting our insignificance that we can transcend the changes in our environments.

Goh Beng Kwan. Urban Renewal《市区从建》. 1977. Household paint, acrylic, rice paper, fabric and glue on canvas, 80 x 90.5 cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Goh Beng Kwan. In The Clouds There Are Dwellings《白云深有人家》. 1985. Acrylic, ink and rice paper on canvas, 122.5 x 183.5 cm. Gift of Teresa Koh and Howie Lau. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Chew Chia Shao Min (b. 1991, Singapore) is a filmmaker whose works move fluidly between documentary and narrative storytelling. Her short film, May and June was presented at the Singapore International Film Festival (2018) and Oslo Independent Film Festival (2019). Chew Chia wrote Wanton Mee—a feature film directed by Eric Khoo which premiered at San Sebastian Film Festival (2015) and screened at Berlin International Film Festival (2016). She co-directed Sementara, a feature-length documentary that won the Audience Choice Award at the Singapore International Film Festival (2020). Chew Chia graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with an MFA in writing and directing.

VOID AND MORE

By Toh Hun Ping

Singapore | No dialogue | 2021 | 18 min 45 sec

Void and More is an abstract animation of paper, light and shadow. This short film articulates director Toh Hun Ping’s ruminations on nothingness and existence through  experiments with paper folding and creasing, elementary geometry, aleatory operations, visual motion illusions, and moving image-making with material reliefs.

The film is inspired by the artistic practice of Lin Hsin Hsin, presented in the exhibition Lin Hsin Hsin @speed of thought. It explores themes in her artworks such as the void, the infinite, the cosmic universe and human existence, the marriage of art, mathematics and science (especially astrophysics), as well as the tactile and the organic.

Toh looked to Lin’s Time and Music series, specifically her paintings Nebulae (1982) and Solar Emission (1982), and the visual language used to express her fascination with astronomy. These works exemplify Lin’s use of mixed media and textured effects to suggest the organic forms and forces one might encounter in a journey through space.

Void and More is also influenced by Lin’s experiments with form and tactility in her paper collage works and relief sculptures, which are remarkable for their playful and inventive manipulations of paper with mixed media. These effects can be seen in her artworks, Reasoning Mechanism Intrinsic and Reasoning Mechanism Extrinsic (both made in 1985). 

This film features flashing lights.

Lin Hsin Hsin. Ahead of Time. Time Series. 1991. Oil on canvas, 138 x 178 cm. Collection of Singapore Art Museum. Copyright © 2021. Lin Hsin Hsin. All Rights Reserved. Mobile~tainment®, Frog®.

Lin Hsin Hsin. Son et lumiѐre. Music Series. 1986. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 137 x 130 cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore. Gift of Thio Gim Hock. Copyright © 2021. Lin Hsin Hsin. All Rights Reserved.Mobile~tainment®, Frog®.

Toh Hun Ping (b. 1978, Singapore) is a video artist and film researcher. His video works explore themes of mental instability, alternate realities, resistance and existence. He employs experimental moving image-making methods such as scratching film, bleaching photographs, merging materials like mud with stills, and creating stop-motion animation with ceramic reliefs. Toh’s works have been exhibited locally and internationally in cities like Hong Kong, Paris, Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, Boston and Bangkok. As a researcher, Toh started the Singapore Film Locations Archive, which showcases screen memories of Singapore and traces the transformation of its urban and rural landscapes in films made in the 20th century.

MYSTIC AND MOMOK

By Russell Morton

Singapore | In Malay and English with English subtitles | 2021 | 18 min 10 sec | PG

The human voice is unique to every individual. It is an unseen force that emerges from within, akin to the spirit or soul, and a key element in Mystic and Momok. This film reflects on the philosophy and methodology of Mohammad Din Mohammad (1955 –2007), a polymath known variously as a mystic and traditional healer, actor and musician, silat master and collector of Southeast Asian cultural objects, painter and sculptor

Mystic and Momok documents the process of creating a musical composition for Mhd Din, devised by a computer algorithm, Momok, which was developed by the artist bani haykal. Capturing voice samples from Mhd Din’s family alongside newer and less familiar voices, Momok arranges these samples into a musical composition that accompanies a silat invocation by the late artist’s brother, Sadiq M Din. 

Referencing archival photographs in the exhibition Mohammad Din Mohammad: The Mistaken Ancestor, including photographs of the artist at work and in his everyday life, Mystic and Momok weaves together collective memory, personal anecdotes and documentary images as an homage to the artist and his legacy.

Mohammad Din Mohammad in front of his home with different components of his assemblages, 2000. Image courtesy of the Estate of Mohammad Din Mohammad.

Mohammad Din Mohammad posing inside a human-scale fish trap in Perak, Malaysia, mid-1990s. Image courtesy of the Estate of Mohammad Din Mohammad.

Russell Adam Morton (b. 1982, Singapore) explores folkloric myths, esoteric rituals and the conventions of cinema in his filmic and performative works. His films include The Forest of Copper Columns, which won the Cinematic Achievement Award at the Thessaloniki International Short Film Festival (2016), and Saudade, which was commissioned by Asian Film Archive for State of Motion: Rushes of Time and screened at the Singapore International Film Festival (2020). Morton was also Director of Photography for Ang Song Ming’s Recorder Rewrite, Singapore’s entry for the Venice Biennale in 2019. His first feature film project, Penumbra, is currently in development.

QUEST OR QUEST

By Chong Lii

Singapore | No dialogue, with English subtitles | 2021 | 6 min 35 sec | PG

Quest or Quest traces Chong Lii’s personal encounter with the exhibition Jaafar Latiff: In The Time of Textile. The film takes aesthetic and narrative cues from fantasy and science fiction tropes, adapting fragments of Jaafar Latiff’s batik works into a metaphysical landscape. Microscopic visualisations of warp and weft of the textiles enmesh with vignettes of an alternate fictional environment, mapped by an unnamed consciousness. Fragmented scenes of parks and wharfs, pixels and scans emerge at different scales to create an intoxicating headspace of terror and euphoria.

More obscure aspects of Jaafar’s practice, such as his foray into computer graphics in the 1990s, are highlighted through a focus on non-human perspectives and dissonant settings. Quest or Quest seeks to reconsider Jaafar’s practice through an alternate lens, interweaving glimpses of Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) deep fakes, an image synthesis technique that generates faces based on machine learning, into a multi-layered landscape.  

Works that inspired this film include Jaafar’s Wandering series, Fortune Teller (1967), Self Portrait (1989) and Sea Port of Singapore (1987). The film features artworks at 20X to 200X magnification under a Keyence VHX- 6000 digital microscope, courtesy of the Heritage Conservation Centre.

Jaafar Latiff. Self-Portrait 24/89. 1989. Batik, 95 x 146 cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Jaafar Latiff. Wandering Series 8/79. 1979. Batik, 90 x 120 cm. Gift of the artist. Collection of National Gallery Singapore.

Chong Lii (b. 1994, Singapore) is an artist and filmmaker who explores merging or levelling disparate spaces, objects, people and images in his works. A graduate of Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, his films and installations have been exhibited across the world in spaces such as the EYE Filmmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, and SSBA Salon Culturele Deeltjesversneller van de Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam. They have also been featured in the VIVO Media Arts Centre in Vancouver, Singapore Art Museum and National Gallery Singapore, and the Athens Digital Art Festival.

WANDERINGS

By Gladys Ng and Ng Hui Hsien

Singapore | No dialogue | 2021 | 10 min 37 sec

wanderings is inspired by Eng Towʼs sensitivity to colours, materials, and the rhythms of nature. Explorations of paper, fabric, and natural elements invite the viewer to enter an intimate, meditative world infused with light and shadow, density and void. The process of making this film was directed by chance and the senses, reflecting the intuitive approach to artmaking explored in the exhibition Eng Towthe sixth sense

The film creates space for imagination and new perspectives by defamiliarising known elements. This play on visual perception is similar to the optical illusion in Eng Tow’s works like Irama Lagun (1986). For example, Emerging Spheres (1972–74) was framed in an extreme close-up shot and filmed in a way that suggests movement and the ever-present possibility of change. At the same time, the film references works such as Eclipse (1983) to shift our attention towards the intangible and the infinite.

Eng Tow. Emerging Spheres. 1972–1974. Resin, 24 x 12 cm. Collection of the artist.

Eng Tow. Irama Lagun. 1987. Acrylic on stitched cloth, 112 x 122 cm. Deutsche Bank Collection.

Gladys Ng (b. 1988, Singapore) is a writer and director whose works have garnered awards at numerous film festivals. Her films have been in competition in many film festivals including Singapore International Film Festival, where her film My Father After Dinner won Best Singapore Short Film in 2015. She was commissioned to make The Pursuit of a Happy Human Life, which opened the 2016 edition of the Singapore International Film Festival. Her film Under the Same Pink Sky for 15 Shorts, a collaboration between NVPC and Blue3Asia, won Best Directing and Best Editing awards at the 2020 National Youth Film Awards.

Ng Hui Hsien (b. 1982, Singapore) is an artist, writer, and researcher. Her art practice uses photography to explore themes such as consciousness, the nature of reality, immateriality, and interconnectivity. Ng’s work has been internationally exhibited in institutions and festivals, including the Shanghai Art Book Fair (China), Martin Parr Foundation (UK), Objectifs Centre of Photography and Film (Singapore), Photo Bangkok (Thailand), Obscura Photography Festival (Malaysia), Dali International Photography Festival (China), Athens Photo Festival (Greece), ZK/U Berlin (Germany) and a solo exhibition at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography (Iceland).

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