Press | Singapore Biennale and Camping & Tramping

As seen on the online version of Artlink (Vol 31 No 3), 2011.

Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
By Pat Hoffie

"To the outside world, the city-state of Singapore projects a fa├žade of orderly compression – a smooth functioning, rational exterior that runs on the labour input of the foreign workers who make up the major proportion of its workforce. The fact that half of the sixty artworks were new or commissioned, together with the fact that nine of the artists were local, enhanced the exhibition’s potential to suggest a range of other ways of imagining the locale. Spectres of the past and fleeting visions of the uncanny flitted through a number of works, as did the tendency for the reappearance of mythical creatures more usually associated with other realms. Godzilla appeared as a cameo appearance in a number of works.

But it was another exhibition, run simultaneously at the National University of Singapore Museum, which provided a broader and deeper context from which to consider contemporary work in the Biennale. Much of the intelligence and magic of Ahmad Mashadi and Shabbir Hussein Mustafa’s Camping and Tramping Through the Colonial Archive: The Museum in Malaya came from a critical juxtaposition of a diverse number of objects from a range of historical periods. The exhibition format challenged the very taxonomies that separate rational from ‘non-rational’, art from artefact, and science from magic. Working like artists, the curators retrieved facts and data and details from cleavages that run under and between the idea of an ordered, ‘progressive civilisation’ that was used to establish Singapore as a nation. There was plenty of evidence of the kind of illegitimate, disqualified areas of experimentation and knowledge that run counter to the idea of polite, rational, classifiable cultural practices. All of which filled its rooms with the kind of irreverent, contradictory and speculatively rich tributaries of possibilities that often no longer flow so readily within the ecosystems of biennales."

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