Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

Workers of the art-world, unite! You have nothing else to love but your supply chains!

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AICA Singapore Biennale 2016 Roundtable 3: Maybe it’s better this way, We’d hurt each other with the things we want to say [1]

“Tell me about the biennale you want to see”, was the question posed to the writers engaged in the third AICA roundtable on the Singapore Biennale, convened by Qinyi Lim. The result is a set of three speculative fictions by Kenneth Tay, Vanessa Ban and Hsu Fang-Tze, to be published on Arts Equator in three weekly installments.

To “tell” is to consider the premise and framing of the “biennale” — and for this roundtable of short speculative fictions, Singapore and Taipei were the points of departure. While both cities have assuredly adopted the mode of the 1990s biennale (which could be described as an exposition that has moved away from the historical Venice and Sao Paulo models of national representations and pavilions), nonetheless, critical questions regarding the aspirations of these biennales — be it education, accessibility, tourism, gentrification, political radicalism and even sustainability — still pervade. [2]

How is this all apparent on the ground? Or not? Kenneth Tay’s “WORKERS OF THE ART-WORLD, UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO LOVE BUT YOUR SUPPLY CHAINS!” decries the absurdity of the spectacle and fervour that biennales sometime generate through the publicity and opening event. Following a group of visitors over a course of seven hours, the piece mocks the arbitrary precision (and punctuality) of Singapore while examining the infrastructures that render the antagonism of certain artworks as artificial. – Qinyi Lim

 

SB_kenneth tay

By Kenneth Tay

(1290 words, 15-minute read; observing the time lapses, 7-hour read)

 

 

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11:58AM   There were thirty of them in total, he counted. CDG 1, CDG 2, CDG 3, ZRH 1 (himself), ZRH 2, JFK 1, JFK 2, JFK 3, JFK 4, WAS 1, CHI 1, CHI 2, DFW 1, SJC 1, SJC 2, LAX 1, LAX 2, NRT 1, NRT 2, NRT 3, HKG 1, HKG 2, HKG 3, HKG 4, SYD 1, SYD 2, GIG 1, GIG 2, GRU 1, and GRU 2. The perfect sample size.

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All thirty of them had been loaded up a bus at the airport, and were now headed towards Tuas. Between them, there must had been some significant airline miles: Paris, Zürich, New York, Northern Viriginia (Ashburn), Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. We’re the Equinix packet, he figured, headed over to the new biennale.

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11:59AM   Even though they would see each other, ever so often, on the biennale circuit, sometimes in Singapore, other times halfway round the world, it still impressed him just how well organised and coordinated the whole affair would be, regardless of where they were: they would always arrive, somehow, within the hour of one another’s flight, gather quickly onto a chartered transport provided by the hosting member, and be promptly pushed out to the city’s biennale. That, he reminded himself, is the beauty of logistics, something that each and every member of the Society firmly believed in.

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12:03AM   “Enjoying the view?”

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A voice shot out from behind his seat. He turned to smile at Wong, a member from Hong Kong.

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“It’s supposed to be part of the biennale experience, after all,” she grinned, gesturing to the itinerary provided to each of them. “Approximately 40 minutes on the Pan Island Expressway”.

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12:16PM   He looked out from his seat and noticed that there were these three cars which had been following the bus for a while now. On the sides of the cars were reproduced in big, bright letters announcing the biennale’s title this year: VECTORS: MOVING ON FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA.

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“About time, isn’t it?”

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Wong again. She must have noticed the cars too.

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“I think they must be Uber-s. You know, someone told me earlier, that they are hiring these pre-selected Uber drivers to ferry tourists from the airport to the biennale.”

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“But I’m guessing that someone had the idea to use them as moving advertisements, and as shields for us just in case. And why not?”

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“Cheap. But also very smart.” She laughed. “Very Singaporean.”

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He said nothing, merely smiling in return. Wong was clearly excited to take her stabs at Singapore. He turned instead to his itinerary package, finding in it an invitation card cut to the exact same size as his name-card:

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HANS _____
ZRH

 

MEMBER, VECTORALIST INTERNATIONAL

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How convenient, they made our invitation cards to function simultaneously as a name-card.

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He laughed at the thought that everyone on the bus was now truly a card-carrying member of the Society.

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12:38PM   They arrived in Tuas, somewhere between the checkpoint and the Internet cable landing station. Their guide for the biennale, SIN 1, had walked briskly out of the gallery, exactly a minute before the packet’s arrival. He was suitably precise.

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12:40PM   Entering the front entrance to the biennale, they came to what looked like a briefing room and were almost immediately greeted by a PowerPoint presentation — the work of a local artist who had been steadily exploring the readymade medium of PowerPoint and the language of corporate speak in his latest series. A computer terminal sat in the corner of the room, allowing visitors to download the artwork as a PowerPoint file from the artist’s public Dropbox account. The work functioned as a corporate introduction to the biennale (presumably for the representatives of the biennale’s sponsors); but it also doubled as a self-reflexive critique of the many corporate processes that had gone into the production of the biennale.

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“I love his work,” Wong whispered to Hans, who was, by then, clearly scanning the room for the artwork label.

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Curatorial Introduction #5 (PPT series)
Ari _____, SIN

 

Artwork sent: 2022-09-21T01:44:43+08:00
Artwork arrived: 2022-09-21T01:45:10+08:00

 

It was clear to Hans, that the new biennale had turned its attention to the infrastructures that were themselves responsible for biennales to exist in the first place. At its best, the biennale was a welcomed addition to the recent debates surrounding infrastructuralism. (After structuralism, and after post-structuralism comes infrastructuralism.) At its worst, it could end up as yet another layer of artworld solipsism. But what intrigued Hans about the work in front of him was its cheeky critique of the “curatorial” as merely a set of logistical operations and risk-management techniques. The past decade, which saw the rise of “curating” as a metaphor ripe for an age of informational excess, could now finally be buried as the artworld reformatted itself. Curating was a short-lived metaphor, nothing more than a speculative purchase. Infrastructures were all the rage now, and the Society could not be happier. But even then, as Hans knew, and as did most on the tour bus, that the real blue-chip question for the day was really a matter of who controls the networks, the flows, the trace-routes, the vectors. [3]

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“Pity we missed the opening performance,” he said, to no one in particular, as he turned into the next room.

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13:36PM   The group was already nearing the end of the biennale. SIN 1 had made a brisk guide. They were now standing in a gallery room, stage set. A dance-performance had just started. Six minutes past its stipulated timing, Hans thought, mildly irritated. Could be better, but still.

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Onstage was a female artist-collective, who had flown in from Amsterdam just for this performance that day. The title of the performance: Workers of the art-world, unite! You have nothing else to love but your supply chains! One of the group danced dressed as a bobbing head of Karl Marx, the other as Friedrich Engels. At one point in the performance, all of them got down on their knees, formed a queer chain of human-connection, faces digging into asses; they were moving in sync and eating each other. It was fun. It was slightly irreverent. And it lasted all of three minutes.

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13:45PM   They left the biennale venue, just over an hour — as was promised by SIN 1. They had seen most of the works on display — again, as promised by SIN 1. As far as the Society was concerned, the art was nothing more than product-demonstrations of global logistics. And all was well in Singapore.

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Yet, even though they had been more concerned with how promptly each of the works had been shipped or transmitted over to Singapore, how smoothly the vectors ran, the art, to be fair, had been rather entertaining and enjoyable at times. Hans loved especially the installation he had seen on the way out: a work that was clearly poking fun at the regional framework used by previous versions of the Singapore Biennale. Titled Southeast Asia v2.0 (edits by SAM)_FINAL FINAL FINALLY FINAL(4).pdf, it was an amusing piece from an artist whose name was too long and too foreign to remember. The only thing he could recall was that the artist was from Myanmar, but was now based in Taipei.

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13:50PM   They were now onboard the bus again. SIN 1 waved the group goodbye as the bus turned towards the direction of the airport.

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13:54PM   “Singapore was fun, wasn’t it?”

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It was Wong.

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“Yes it was,” Hans laughed coldly, nodding silently as he took in the view of the city once more.

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14:28PM   The group arrived at Changi Airport, Terminal 8.

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15:06PM   Hans and ZRH 2 (Shit, what was her name? He could never recall it!) were now checking in for the flight back to Zürich at the Singapore Airlines counter.

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17:22PM   The last of the Equinix packet, WAS 1, departed from the airport.

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[1] George Michael (1963 – 2016), Careless Whisper, 1984

[2] See Charles Esche, “Making Art Global: A Good Place or a No Place?”, in Making Art Global (Part 1): The Third Havana Biennale 1989, Afterall Books, 2011, p. 11.

[3] See McKenzie Wark, “The Vectoralist Class”, e-flux, August 29, 2015, and A Hacker Manifesto, Harvard University Press, 2004.

Kenneth Tay is a curator and writer based in Singapore, with a research interest in media histories and media practices. Previously, he worked as Assistant Curator at NUS Museum, where he initiated the project CONCRETE ISLAND (2016).

Qinyi Lim is an independent curator and writer based in Singapore. She completed the de Appel curatorial programme in 2012.

The Singapore Biennale Roundtable is a three-part series organised by AICA SG (Singapore Section, International Association of Art Critics), and edited by Lee Weng Choy, President, AICA SG. The first Roundtable, convened by Dr Seng Yu Jin, was relatively straightforward, featuring students from the MA in Asian Art Histories programme at LASALLE College of the Arts. The second Roundtable, convened by Ray Langenbach, featured students from the Live Art and Performance studies programme at the University of the Arts/Helsinki, and it produced a less conventional discussion, as the multiple voices were never named, but just coded with symbols. This third Roundtable departs from convention further, featuring three pieces of creative writing from independent curators.

Lee Weng-Choy is president of the Singapore Section of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA SG). From 2000 to 2009, he was Artistic Co-Director of The Substation arts centre. Lee has taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Singapore.

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