Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia
Erica Chung
Image: The Online Citizen

“The Past is not the Past”, an exhibition to remember (via The Online Citizen)

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“The party is not the….”, a visitor beside me squints into a portrait, trying to make out the tiny words handwritten just below it. After the words, an ‘Erica’ is signed.

“The past is not the past”, I corrected him. He grins and then realises. That is the name of the exhibition, after all.

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It was opening night for Erica’s first ever art exhibition. Erica is an art student and has always been intrigued with exploring different materials and mediums to express herself. She has also been interested in social and political issues since she was in school, and this series of works marks the first time both interests have intersected and culminated. Erica recalls, “I spoke to my tutor and he suggested that I work on issues in relation to my country and I thought, since I am always so interested in the political scene in Singapore, why not I do something in relation to it?”

This is also Coda Culture’s first exhibition since its inception. The gallery was started by artist Seelan Palay, who himself is featured in a portrait depicting his arrest after a performance art involving him standing in front of Parliament holding a mirror. In the portrait, his head is bowed, hands behind his back as two policemen eagerly handcuff him, after failing to persuade him to stop his one-man protest. Tonight, he seems less restrained, fervently welcoming, with messy hair and all, visitors and friends into his small gallery, no bigger than a HDB bedroom. Like melted ice, people spill out from the gallery onto the corridor outside. Streams of people come and go, quite a surprising bubble of activity for the second (and highest) floor of an old building in a sleepy estate, just behind Lavender MRT Station.

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The same handwritten words the visitor was squinting at are scribbled below each of the eight portraits, four hanging on each wall, facing each other. Below each portrait, an ice block with black ink melts away and stains the floor, surrounding itself in a puddle. Some puddles begin to bleed into each other. Footsteps in every direction are imprinted around them, suggesting the sometimes haphazard way people shift their focus from one artwork to another. Some visitors take little notice of the ice right in front of their feet.

“I decided to print on ice because it’s a performance in itself”, Erica explains.

“Normally when you are talking about performance art, people will ask, are you the one performing? No, the ice is the one performing it for me, the ice is saying what I want to say. When it melts, the image disappears, and people will think about the image behind it.”

 

Read Kenneth Lin’s complete review on The Online Citizen of Erica Chung’s exhibition “The Past is Not The Past” at Seelan Palay’s independent art space, Coda Culture.
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