Thursday, 28 August 2014

Curatorial Roundtable 02 | Dis-positions: Between Artistic Practice and Curatorial Practice


Date: 4 September 2014, Thursday  
Time: 6.30 - 9.00pm
Imagination Room, Level 5, National Library Building

Free admission with registration.
To register, please email or call 6516 8817.

Anca Rujoiu (Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore)


Michael Lee

Florin Tudor

While the debate on the intersections between the artist and the curator continues, much of such discussions and theorisations continue to move at the expense of discerning the local contexts within which they are articulated. This session is an attempt to add to this ongoing debate concerning artistic practice and curatorial practice; but at the same time it insists also on a plurality within this discussion by examining the different contexts where artistic practice and curatorial practice may meet.

About the Curatorial Roundtable Series
Presented in conjunction with Curating Lab 2014, the Curatorial Roundtable public talk series gathers together curators and artists working across different fields of research and engagement, to discuss the boundaries of curatorial practice. Amidst the increasing attention paid to the role of the curator, this series aims to probe further into the limits of curatorial practice. Although presented primarily for the participants of Curating Lab 2014, the Curatorial Roundtable is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the curator and the audience, providing opportunities for interaction and stimulating discussions on curatorial practices and processes.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


by Luca Lum 

I’ve travelled to New Zealand a total of nine times since I was three years old; time is slow there, its land is vast and flat and its horizons infinite, bereft of obvious marks of civilisation.Coming from the world I was accustomed to (sky crowded in by a dense halo of concrete fortresses) it always seemed like a kind of terra nullius or arcadia, some post-human earth. 

Now all my travels to other places are always haunted by the spinning disorientation of spatial difference set in motion by my early visits to New Zealand. New Zealand was Other; I was Other. No matter how many times I visited, whenever I arrived I was always estranged.

Travel to all places me is precisely that feeling of estrangement, of being shorn apart and set adrift of being somewhere and at the same time nowhere, as though my feet can’t quite find a firm hold, my vision disoriented by an elusive horizon. 


In Hong Kong I am greeted by a ghost -- a black dog of cement, heat, and noise. A spectre of the metropolis: home. The horizon is rimmed with rooftops and my steps find their footing. Gravity challenges the evidence of movement: the passport stamps, the tired eyes. I stare at the concrete and feel humidity cocooning my skin and I feel not quite elsewhere, not quite nowhere. It feels as though I’ve stepped out my front door to another street in the same old world.


I find small differences that pool into larger ones. I catch them like the drips from air-conditioning that fall into my eyes: the chatter of Cantonese; the labyrinthine fretwork of streets that curve and weave in and out of each other; the city’s patch-work of the old and new; the vibe of the place, a kind of restlessness — a buzz, a trajectory, a momentum.

“How’s HK?” a friend asks on Facebook Messenger, “I remember I didn't really like it because it was so noisy and cramped. Like Singapore, but worse.”

It’s the second day and already it seems as though I have seen so much, as though I have been here for years. Hong Kong shakes you awake with its surprising turns and its unceasing rhythms. Every sense in my mind and body is like a hypersensitive needle on a scale, tremblingly registering each new stimuli. Moments are full-bodied, deep and vivid. I absorb everything.

We were at Spring Workshop the day before, an independent art space known for its artist residences. I’d never seen a space for artist residencies, and for some reason I’d anticipated cramped rooms with poor ventilation and demanding government overseers. Spring Workshop looks like the HK equivalent of a New York loft. Located in an old industrial site, its grubby, garage-like exteriors give way to slick, pristine interiors — a long, open-concept space with moving partitions that render the site malleable. It’s relaxed, independent, fluid — a form that mirrors its function — to provide a space outside of the main bustle of Hong Kong to develop one’s praxis. Away from the hum and distractions and beat of the main city the mind is flushed clean and its contents can be examined and sieved like panned gold. It’s less a return to Romantic purity than the feeling of needing to be ensconced Elsewhere in order to work — to be at a distance from noise — things, phenomena, people — in order to think clearly, to inhabit the mind more fully.

“I love it here”, I message back. I tell them Singapore feels sluggish by comparison, dogged by a certain lassitude, a complacency. A friend from California once remarked while we were queueing for the shuttle bus at Marina Bay Sands, Sentosa, that he found Singaporeans really trusting and kind of naive. I was startled for a moment, but then I took a close look at the people around us: they stood slouched, eyes glued to their phone screens, vacantly staring into space with vaguely lobotomised expressions. They trusted their environment. It was not going turn against them — no gum, no guns in this sin city without the sin, a dream pristine brought to you by an urban anaesthetic.


I trawl the streets of Hong Kong on our day off. On Google Maps on my phone the streets seem precise and logical — but I’m lost once I steer my eyes to the pavement and the sky. The edges of buildings are variegated and lines do not align to the lines on my map. I enjoy getting lost.  My limbs are tired but enlivened. I walk with my back erect.

That night I go to a rooftop bar in Central HK with two friends, J & V. J had studied Literature and Art History, while V studied business. We’re outliers at the bar, kids in comparison to the well-heeled, cosmopolitan financier types swirling liquor over low tables.

I’d met one of my friends in Singapore about a month prior. I’d taken her around the “Unearthed” exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum because she wanted me to show her the local arts scene. She told me she was happily surprised that Singapore seemed so vibrant in that regard — according to her, Hong Kong was dead by comparison.

“Our institutions are not good,” she said. “Our art museums are terrible.”

I was surprised. I fill her in on the places we’d visited and the people we’d talked to — the Asia Art Archive, Claire Hsu, Chantal Wong; Para Site, Cosmin Costinas. “Hong Kong seems a lot more interesting to me. There is something about the city’s chaos that seems to afford greater latitude for creative work,” I tell her, “It’s less centrally regulated.”

Space is a significant factor here — like Singapore, Hong Kong also faces incredible land-shortage, but my sense is that its approach to urban planning is different. I see it in the patchwork character of the city. I wonder about Hong Kong’s land-use policies and to what extent they were centrally controlled and to what extent market-driven, and how that influences its art ecology. I ask my friends, but they’re not certain.


On our way to Kowloon to obligate my desire to visit Chungking Mansions, my friends and I pass a booth raising funds for “Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP)”, a proposed nonviolent occupation protest for universal suffrage set to take place in Hong Kong’s Central Business District in July, just outside one of the MTR stations. “You should go,” V says, “This is another part you have to see. People from Hong Kong love to protest.” I tell her sure, I’d love to, but by then I’d have flown home.


Chungking Mansions is gaudy and bright. The main shopping area is lit to a full glare under florescent lights and is relatively organised and clean. It’s filled with mostly South Asian and African migrants. A dense node of migrant activity and littered with stores selling knock-off Casio watches and cheap electronics, it's a colony, an ant’s hive of transplants in the larger hive of Hong Kong, and reminds me of Lucky Plaza. The biggest difference is that its occupants are mostly male.

“I don’t know why you want to come here.” V says, “There is nothing special about this place. A lot of tourists come here now.” I spy American tourists marked out by the authoritative way they take up space and their fanny packs and big cameras slung around their necks. The dark, labyrinthine vision presented by the vision of Wong Kar Wai in Chungking Express is probably elsewhere in the building, in the dense tunnels above the white glare. As though the otherness we seek is kept inside the deepest reaches of the hive, not allowed to spill out onto the streets. The furthest we get to piercing its interior is taking the elevator (cramped, and monitored by CCTV) to the “The Delhi Club” and peek in through the slip of glass at the door.


On our last day we head to Asia Society to catch Xu Bing’s exhibition, It Begins with Metamorphosis. It’s situated next to the British Embassy in a quiet, affluent-looking neighbourhood dotted with posh hotels. We cross a large rooftop space used as a garden. There were mostly student visitors at the exhibit, gaggles of children from the French or British school.

The space has high ceilings, and looks like a tomb. A central axis runs through the gallery, and from the start of the exhibition you can see the artwork right at the end, beckoning with its aura. Except for the noisy children — who don’t know any rules and who probably wouldn’t care to obey them even if they did — the space is filled with a religious quiet. It’s hallowed ground. It’s another kind of otherness, the otherness of world sealed up around itself.

Monday, 18 August 2014

journal | Honestly Speaking: Controlling Art’s Enigma

by Wong Yeang Cherng

A few weeks ago, I attended a curators’ discussion at the CCA with June Yap, curator of No Country and Zoe Butt, the curator of San Art. The discussion about the craft of curating was engaging, informative and very illuminating. June went in-depth to discuss her championship of a curatorial strategy that encourages exhibitions to pose narratives but at the same time refrain from curtailing other forms of interpretations. Yet, from all that was said that night, the only sentence I remembered verbatim was June’s deceivingly perfunctory comment, “You don’t see it there but it is,” — it being the context and meaning (or narrative) of the art piece. But, how can I know it without being able to see it?

Art, especially contemporary art, by its very nature can be abstract. And at most times, it is too abstract for a self-certified art goon like me. I am certain I suffer from one of those symptoms outlined in Shubigi Rao’s prognosis of the deranging effects of art on the brain in her lecture-performance Visual Snow. Each time I view a show at the art museum, I leave feeling confused. To be fair, I do take a while to give myself a chance to converse with the artwork, to try and put its presence into perspective. But more often than not, I tune out, often too quickly (the same way I would when someone starts nagging). Yet, I see other visitors deep in discussion, pointing this way and that way, gesturing at the little details and flailing their arms to make a statement about what they saw. And all I could think of is what I should eat for lunch.

As someone who has never engaged with art at a level that would help make the vicissitudes and uncertainties of art works understandable, I sincerely feel for those who are intimidated by art and who choose to leave the museum minutes after entry because they simply catch no ball*. As a student of history, I am comfortable handling crumbling pages, yellowed documents and never-ending stacks of academic books dog-eared by years of incessant flip-throughs, but certainly not art. Yet, as part of Curating Lab, I have to not only handle art but but curate my first art exhibition early next year. It’s exciting but also, quite unsettling.

So I guess the trip to the Asia Art Archive (AAA) couldn’t have come at a better time. About a week and a half into the programme, we visited the rather nondescript, cosy, two-storey research facility nestled in Hollywood Centre. I truly appreciated the visit. AAA made everything about art curating make sense to me.

Maybe it was the Mapping Asia exhibition, or that I was greeted with the familiar claustrophobic atmosphere of a library, but it was at AAA that I began to feel comfortable with art. All the while, art befuddled me because I know nothing about what I see. Or worse, I know nought about what I ought to see. And it was at AAA that I began to know what I want to see in art and art exhibitions — context. Since that visit, art curating appears more grounded in information and that made all the sense to me. Art became as much an expression of research as it is creativity and inspiration.

I like shows to tell me what I need to know about the art. Of course, we can all agree to disagree. Some people would rather look at art in itself, without insisting on knowing the context before assessing the art work. I wouldn’t but that’s just my preference. And I realised how important this is. One needs to remind oneself that beyond curating for the audience, the artist or the institution, one also needs to curate for himself or herself. One also needs to know (or rather admit) what he or she doesn’t know and wants to know from an exhibition. In time to come, I am more certain that the end product will end up being true to the curator’s ambitions.

Sure, even after the fieldtrip, I am still cautious about art curating. After all, I am still a greenhorn. I still spend most of my time in the museum staring at art pieces without anything substantial forming in my mind. I still don’t get it and I still wonder if my mental faculties are failing me. So I don’t mince my words when I say, “I felt dumb.” But I’m guessing that’s the reason I’m here — to be dumb, because it is only through ignorance that I figured out what I want and need to know. I guess then it’s really not so bad to take step back and honestly realise and embrace your stupidity because the only way forward is to get smarter isn’t it?

Yc out.

Friday, 15 August 2014

RECAP: Curatorial Roundtable 01 | Lines of Control: Curatorial Con-texts

The first session of the Curatorial Roundtable talk series was held at the Visitors’ Briefing Room in the National Library Building on 7 August (Thursday), from 6.30pm to 9pm. Moderated by Kenneth Tay, assistant curator at the NUS Museum, Dr Charles Merewether (NTU School of Art, Design and Media), Charmaine Toh (National Gallery Singapore, Jennifer Teo and Woon Tien Wei (Post-Museum) came together to explore the topic of ‘Lines of Control: Curatorial Con-texts’.

Despite the rise of the independent and transnational curator, the role of the curator is inextricably bound up in site - be it the museum, the international biennale, or the small non-profit space. To that end, how do we continue to speak about authorship in curatorial practice given that the latter continues to be influenced, changed and developed alongside the contexts curators find themselves in? As the inaugural session of the Curatorial Roundtable talk series, this session explored these questions while addressing also the perhaps problematic over-investment in the figure of the independent and transnational curator.


Dr Charles Merewether was born in Edinburgh. He received his PhD after studying literature, philosophy and art history. He subsequently taught European modernism at the University of Sydney before leaving to live in Colombia and then Mexico. He taught at Universidad Iberoeramericana, then at the Universidad Autonoma in Barcelona. In 1991 he moved to New York and received a research fellowship from Yale University and worked as the Inaugural Curator for the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey, Mexico (MARCO) between 1991-1994. Subsequently he was a Curator at the Research Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles for (1994-2003) and gave courses at the University of Southern California (USC). He was Artistic Director of the Sydney Biennale between 2004-2006. Between 2007-8, he was Deputy Director of the Cultural District, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi and from 2010-2013, Merewether was Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Singapore. He is currently Visiting Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Charmaine Toh is a curator at the National Gallery, Singapore, currently researching photography and Singaporean artists working in the 1980s and 90s. She was the Programme Director of Objectifs: Centre of Photography and Film from 2010 to 2014 where she played a pivotal role in revitalising the gallery programme and initiated plans for documentation and research of local art practice. She is also the founder and Director of The Art Incubator, an independent organisation that facilitates the production and presentation of new work via residencies and exhibitions. Charmaine was the co-curator of the 2012 Marina Bay Light Festival and co-curator of the 2013 Singapore Biennale. 

Jennifer Teo and Woon Tien Wei have worked together for more than 10 years, in The Artists Village, p-10 and Post-Museum, an independent cultural and social space which they set up in 2007.

Curatorial Roundtable 01 | in photos

Curatorial Roundtable 01 | video

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

journal | Reflections: Curating Lab 2014

by Cheng Jia Yun

Click to see larger image.

The map was my first attempt at summarising the first two and a half weeks of Curating Lab. While somewhat constrained by the breadth of two envelopes, the map format accurately reflects my sense of having been part of a Dérive, or what one might call a 'purposeful wandering', that had been in my opinion, masterfully designed for us eleven strangers to make our way through the landscape of contemporary curating. 

Contrary to Guy Debord's notion of psychogeography that takes place within the city of Paris, the first day of the Curatorial Intensive was a global tour led by Latitudes from the comfort of the National Library. From Amsterdam to Spain to London, and then the Interweb, the comforting, if rather dog-eared definition of a curatorial space as a solely physical one was elegantly rubbed off our maps. 

Curating Lab senpai Kenneth Tay's curator's tour of 'When you get closer to the heart, you may find cracks' made the exhibition pop, rendering a trajectory that successfully negotiated practical constraints visible to us, the seemingly effortless dérive within the exhibition space revealed as a product of carefully weighted decisions. 

Wonderwoman Michelle's thorough introduction to the NUS Museum and our Public Symposium (complete with packed hall) were rife with questions and new methodologies, rumblings of our fertile home ground, potent reminders to go design our own 'deh lee vehs' and generate our own start and finish lines. 

Whilst getting acquainted with the breadth and depth of Heman's expansive Moderations project, which straddled Spring Workshop in Hong Kong and Witte de With in Rotterdam, collaboration was foregrounded as a fundamental premise of production. It is only natural then, that the derivé (Hong Kong edition) was generously buoyed by Heman's chronic and infectious fondness for having people do things together. 

I leave you to trace or re-trace the paths that were taken on the Overseas Field Trip in my chicken scrawl of a map, pulsed along as we were from node to node, each one offering impeccably sophisticated modes of producing knowledge such that the reverie still holds sway over me. 

I'm happy to report in the meantime however, that the eleven strangers have gotten even stranger over these first two phases, but I'm of the mind that this bodes well for our 'deh lee vehs' of the future.

Monday, 11 August 2014

journal | Thoughts around the institutional prerogative: Part 1

by Melvin Tan
Field trip to No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia at CCA

I concluded that what hit me the hardest since finally graduating from the system and joining Curating Lab + working in a small production studio, is coming to terms with how disparate the institutional/corporate mould is to the way small enterprises/collectives run.

A lot of examples of exhibitions discussed and visited during the Curatorial Intensive were set within the authority and dispensation of a government-led organization. It got me wondering about local examples that embody other curatorial modes in exhibitions/programmes/publications. Some examples were put to us to consider and yet, I still struggle to break out of the institutional state-of-mind.

So you can only imagine how much HK was an eye opener for me. Spring Workshop

By context of being ‘community-led’, ‘civil’ or ‘semi-professional’ and ‘independent’ in Singapore, I find that —in all its administration and strategy— the curatorial within such programmes are often not a specific or distinguishable praxis in its production cycle.

My new experiences in an art collective allowed me to learn the different characteristics and processes that art operates outside of the known institutional system. I saw through how a different currency to art-making imbues very different art (presenting art that institutions can’t/wouldn’t carry), the discourse and criticality is different (with/without bureaucracy, KPIs and OB markers) and the atmosphere & spectatorship is different (with/without the aggregation of market/HNIs and stakeholders of statuary boards or state-funded agencies).

2013, opening of Closure in a Teban Gardens En-Bloc Unit
The effect of not distinguishing such properties, makes the purpose of the production and its art not clearly identifiable to the producers and audiences. On the lived experience, operations and criticisms blur the lines between the top-down and bottom-up modes and reflexivity is at stake as we follow isomorphic values and parochial views to spectate/create. So I found myself wondering about activism and liabilities of the curatorial particularly the local context. Within the sovereignty of practice, are curators sitting in a pivotal position to resolve such issues?