Despite the shadow of the pandemic, Singapore's art scene is still bustling, even if its streets are not. Whilst many exhibitions, events and concerts this year shifted to online platforms in light of the situation, Singapore Art Week 2021 still saw a collaboration of local and international artists whose works were centred around the Civic District, Gillman Barracks, and even public spaces just as in previous years. What stood out most this year was a splash of new media works, not unfitting for a year in which most of our lives made the switch to the digital realm, albeit with a technicolour twist.
For many, the highlight of SAW is often the iconic Art Skins on Monuments, part of the event's Light to Night Festival, titled _____-in-Progress this year. This showstopper transforms historic buildings in the Civic District every year with its vivid projections done by local artists. Whilst the National Gallery tends to gather the bulk of the attention for the scale of its projections, it is the Victoria Concert Hall and Asian Civilizations Museum that truly stand out this year. Perhaps what is most impressive about these works is that they are put together by a group of students from Nanyang Polytechnic and NTU's School of Art, Design and Media (ADM). Generations, featured on the facade of the Asian Civilizations museum, is a carefree piece that explores identity, culture, and connection across and amongst generations through playful visuals such as origami animals and graphic cultural motifs, introducing a fresh touch to a familiar subject matter. Meanwhile, Absence of Presence, which illuminates the Victoria Concert Hall, immerses the viewer in a display both haunting and whimsical – and fittingly so as they aim to tackle the isolation of the pandemic that has brought both desolation and rejuvenation, reminding us that, like all things, alone has a silver lining.
Similarly, I'm All Hands, All Eyes is a 3-minute-long animated projection on the ceiling of the National Gallery's Rotunda that deals with connection in a seemingly increasingly distant world, especially in light of the pandemic. With its emphasis on expressive hand gestures, smatterings of words in various languages falling through a kaleidoscopic backdrop and absence of spoken word, it means to portray a type of interaction different to most, reflecting how modes of communication have changed under recent circumstances. The hands interlace and words overlap artistically over this sequence, demonstrating how different doesn't necessarily mean detrimental, and can even be rewarding if we work around it.
New Weave, a curation of digital artworks from nine international and local artists by Steve Lawler put a spin (pun intended) on SAW with its common theme on the craft of weaving. Often seen as the less dignified counterpart of fine art and, in this case, associated with forgotten groups such as women and ethnic/indigenous groups, this spotlight shed on weaving is both insightful and refreshing. Many of these artists are people of colour themselves, each with a different relationship to their background, and it is fascinating to see them reclaim and elevate their traditional crafts into modern, animated works of art. From whimsical dreamscapes of flowing fabrics to psychedelic spectacles of textile patterns, these artists, regardless of their heritage, come together to re-interpret and challenge our notions of what can or cannot be appreciated as high art through their mesmerizing pieces, much like different threads being woven together to create a fascinating fabric of stories and aesthetics.
Whilst SAW 2021 leaves little to ask for with such an array of offline works, these installations prove that there is still something poignant about art being viewed in real time and space. There is no telling what the future of Singapore's art scene will be in such uncertain times, but one can only hope for the best to indulge in the full sensory experience of creative products again.
Check out the other exhibits at the festival here: https://www.nationalgallery.sg/lighttonight/