Art Week Aftermath: Gillman Barracks


Future Perfect (47 Malan Road #01-22), January 9 – February 22, 2015

“Thousand Knives”

Galerie Michael Janssen (9 Lock Road #02-21), January 24 – March 15, 2015

Boasting over a hundred events attracting 46,000 visitors over the course of a week, and anchored by Art Stage Singapore’s 152 galleries and 51,000 visitors over just four days, Singapore’s 3rd Art Week was, at least in numerical terms, a success (presumably, next year’s edition will involve exponentially spiraling numbers of visitors). With the dust now settled as collectors, gallerists and artists emerge from some kind of frenetic fugue state, it seems timely to take another look at some of the week’s finest shows, which are continuing past Art Week’s brief blast of sound and fury.

Unsurprisingly, one of the major off-fair sites of activity was Gillman Barracks, being home to both a significant concentration of Singapore’s major commercial galleries and the Centre for Contemporary Art. Amongst the hubbub, a number of shows stood out— in particular, solos by Justin Mortimer and Wong Lip Chin at Future Perfect and Galerie Michael Janssen respectively.

The former, “Sevastopol”, takes its title from the Ukrainian city which was the focus of last year’s Crimean crisis—it’s now under de facto Russian control, a state of affairs not recognized by much of the world. Being very much tied to the geopolitical conflicts and upheavals of the early 21st Century, the title seems altogether fitting for Mortimer’s subject matter: the media imagery of insurrection and resistance, as instantiated by Pussy Riot, the global Occupy movement, as well as ongoing protests in Venezuela and elsewhere.

On the face of it, it’s sobering stuff, which occasions a pause for reflection on the fact that even as one stands in a cool white gallery to peer at Mortimer’s lurid, half-abstract, half-figurative canvases, terrible injustices are perpetrated—and protested—around the world. However, to treat these energetic images as some tutting scold would seem a gross oversimplification, with the key to stepping past the surface being that the works emerge from the media images that orbit these spasms of resistance: a carnival of mediated imagery as a counterpart to insurrection’s strains of the carnivalesque, here amplified by Mortimer’s corrosively abstract brushwork. There’s a sense of detachment that yields, if not the opposite of coldness, then something nevertheless dissimilar—a savage vivacity as some common denominator of resistance, underlying whatever issues each holds dear.

Wong Lip Chin’s “Thousand Knives”, on the other hand, comes to us from a far more personal space: a relationship which, in the artist’s words, “failed disastrously.” Despite this intimate and melodramatic point of entry—the stuff of a thousand angsty DeviantArt accounts—there’s a sense of biting, self-aware humor. For one thing, the show’s title is lifted from a line uttered in the star-cross’d romantic blockbuster of the late 90s, Titanic, in which the suicidal protagonist is informed that hopping into the Atlantic would probably be quite unpleasant.

In acknowledging the risks of melodrama and sentimentality, the exhibition as a whole takes a turn towards the heroi-comic in an approach that marries theatrical staging with a behind-the-curtains exposure of that very staging. The showpiece of the exhibition finds Lip’s images—paintings on one, stainless steel reliefs on the other—mounted on a pair of imposing, Ferris wheel-like structures, rotating slowly amidst stylized stage lighting. As a whole, it seems suggestive of some interchangeable, combinatorial dramatis personae: each image suggests a specific attitude or emotion, with the possibilities of dialogue shifting as the images slowly rotate past. At the same time, the paintings and reliefs positively revel in the fact that they are not mounted flush to the wall; their “frames,” in a sense, being these thrumming, industrial constructs which wouldn’t look out of place powering a grain elevator.

While being, in some sense exhibitions of paintings, Lip’s and Mortimer’s shows each find their own way to do more than clad the wall in pleasing pictures. After the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it atmosphere of Art Week, these two merit more than a passing glance.

Wong Lip Chin, “Thousand Knives,” exhibition view, Michael Janssen Singapore.
Justin Mortimer, “Joker,” oil on canvas, 240 x 190 cm, 2014.
Wong Lip Chin, “Thousand Knives,” exhibition view, Michael Janssen Singapore.
Justin Mortimer, “Schluss,” oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm, 2014.

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