Friday, 8 May 2015

Singapore secures 20-year lease at Venice Biennale

By Pichayada Promchertchoo, Channel NewsAsia, 6 May 2015

VENICE: The Singapore Pavilion at the the 56th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition was officially opened on Wednesday (May 6) by Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sam Tan.

The inauguration marks the first time Singapore's national pavilion is housed within the historic Arsenale on a 20-year lease. The Arsenale - a former military complex and shipyard - is one of two main sites for the exhibition.

"Singapore has a rich pool of artistic talent and we want to be able to always identify and create opportunities for them to showcase their works," said Mr Tan.

"The long-term lease of the Singapore Pavilion at the Biennale further underscores our commitment to our artists, who will fly the Singapore flag on the global stage."

Representing Singapore this year is artist and former Olympic sailor Charles Lim, who unveiled his installation SEA STATE in a 250-square-metre space inside the Sale d'Armi building, set against a stunning view of the Venetian Lagoon.

"It's an excellent opportunity for our artists to think about this space that they can play with and then be plugged into the exciting world of the Venice Biennale," said Mr Paul Tan, Deputy Chief Executive of Singapore's National Arts Council.

Wednesday will also see several other countries from the Asia-Pacific region raise the curtain on their pavilions, including Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

On Saturday, the installations will be open to the public and visitors can take part in a discussion titled The Geopolitical and the Biophysical: A Structured Conversation on Art and Southeast Asia. Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, India and Pakistan will be in the spotlight.

Twelve speakers - including Guggenheim Museum curator Thomas J Berghuis, Indonesian artist Heri Dono, and Director of National Gallery Singapore Dr Eugene Tan - will discuss the possibilities as well as uncertainties faced by societies in Southeast Asia and beyond.

After the Biennale's conclusion on Nov 22, Mr Lim's installation will be shipped back home for display at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore next year, giving Singaporeans a chance to savour the SEA STATE, making waves abroad.

The Singapore Pavilion is officially launched! We were honoured to have Minister of State for Culture, Community and...
Posted by Singapore Art Week on Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Singapore returns to Venice Biennale as 'SEA STATE'
After a brief hiatus in 2013, Singapore returns to to the world's leading contemporary art exhibition, the Venice Biennale with a presentation by artist Charles Lim.
By Pichayada Promchertchoo, Channel NewsAsia5 May 2015

VENICE: Singapore will make an official comeback to one of the world's most prestigious contemporary art scenes, la Biennale di Venezia, or the Venice Biennale, on Wednesday (May 6). The international art exhibition raises its curtain every two years in the Italian city.

This is the seventh time Singapore is taking part. It will be represented by one of its most prominent artists Charles Lim. The former Olympic sailor has spent the past decade examining the inseparable relationship between the island nation and the sea cradling it. The 42-year-old Singaporean's multi-faceted project is called SEA STATE.

"The importance about the Venice Biennale is that it allows - I wouldn't even say Singaporean artists - but artists who are dealing with the condition of the space we come from. It allows us to present our questions in a way that we want to actually in this platform," Mr Lim told Channel NewsAsia.

The installation uses audio and visual elements to draw the border of the island state, while exposing the real depths of the sea and challenges it poses.

"The installation will take you underground, take you into the sea, take you above the sea; will give you a fresh perspective on Singapore's space, the sovereign state, the island state through really hi-tech audio-visual technology, and really spectacular visuals," said Mr Paul Tan, Deputy Chief Executive of Singapore's National Arts Council, who commissioned this year's presentation.

Singapore is making a comeback at the #VeniceBiennale (La Biennale di Venezia) when it officially opens today, and local artist Charles Lim’s project, SEA STATE, is set to make a splash. Channel NewsAsia’s Pichayada Promchertchoo reports.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Tuesday, May 5, 2015

SEA STATE will claim a spot on the world map of contemporary arts when the Singapore Pavilion is launched by Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sam Tan on Wednesday. He will be joined by representatives from the National Arts Council and the National Gallery of Singapore.


Established in April 19, 1893 by the Venetian City Council, the Venice Biennale would not have taken place two years later without then-Mayor of Venice Riccardo Selvatico, who wished to transform the artists' evening rendezvous at Caffè Florian into a prestigious international art exhibition showcasing works of leading artists from Italy and beyond.

His endeavour finally turned into a great success in 1895, when the first edition recorded more than 200,000 visitors - among them King and Queen of Savoy. It was in part, thanks to the special return train tickets which included entrance to the event. Well over a century later, the Venice Biennale has attracted scores of talented virtuosos from across the world who wished to launch themselves into the international contemporary arts circle.

Singapore first took part in the biennial exhibition in 2001, but took a break in 2013, to the disappointment of arts practitioners at home.

"We took a break to reassess, to see the importance and the relevance of the Venice Biennale as a platform," explained Mr Tan.

"We have concluded that yes, it still remains a pinnacle platform, very critical for Singapore to be plugged into the larger conversation about contemporary art today. So, we decided after the review to return and then we said we are going to return with a bang."


The likes of the Philippines, Ecuador and Guatemala are returning after decades of absence at the Venice Biennale as well. Altogether, 136 artists from 53 countries will showcase their works - 89 of whom are making their debut at the event.

Curated by Okwui Enwezor, the 2015 edition carries the theme of All the World's Futures.

"Over the course of the last two centuries, the radical changes have made new and fascinating ideas subject matter for artists, writers, filmmakers, performers, composers, musicians. It is with this recognition that the 56th International Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia proposes All the World's Futures - a project devoted to a fresh appraisal of the relationship of art and artists to the current state of things," Mr Enwezor said.

Besides the national representatives, the Venice Biennale has also attracted aspiring artists such as Ms Erika Tan - a UK-based Singaporean lecturer in Fine Art at the Central Saint Martins College of Art, University of the Arts in London.

"I was shortlisted as an artist to present work in the Singapore Pavilion, so in many ways, I'll also be going and imagining my work in the space and probably feeling thankful that I can enjoy the experience without the pressure and stress of actually showing work," Ms Tan told Channel NewsAsia.

She added that she is familiar with Mr Lim's work. "I have over the years seen various elements of his ambitious overarching SEA STATE project, and am really looking forward to seeing him bring this work together ... in a context which allows the work to reach the kind of potential that events like this can provide."

The Biennale is open to the public from Saturday, and will run till Nov 22. It will also featuring a new interactive space called ARENA, where visitors can enjoy live programming against the historical backdrop of the Central Pavilion inside the Giardini, where the Venice Biennale was brought to life 120 years ago.

Singapore's seachange on show in Venice
Charles Lim's massive project on Singapore's reclamation was like a race on the high seas
By Akshita Nanda, Arts Correspondent In Venice, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2015

Buoy oh buoy - the massive maritime-themed installation at the Singapore Pavilion of the Venice Biennale was a challenge from start to finish for creator Charles Lim.

The award-winning film-maker, artist and former national sailor channelled a lifelong fascination with the sea into Sea State, which looks at the impact of reclamation and expansion works in Singapore. Curated by Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and on display in Venice until Nov 22, the work includes maps, charts and video installations grouped around a 5m-tall aluminium buoy encrusted with barnacles.

The idea is to show how the seas around Singapore have changed over the years, with islands absorbed into the mainland via reclamation works.

So Lim, 42, chose as his centrepiece a navigational marker similar to that which once marked an island off the coast of Singapore, Pulau Sajahat. It disappeared from maps in 2002, thanks to reclamation.

Getting the company which created the original buoy to make a replica was relatively easy compared with the task of turning the shiny new buoy into something approximating the barnacle- encrusted original.

"We wanted to submerge it for a year but it's illegal to submerge a buoy," Lim says. Eventually, he found a sponsor willing to let him keep the buoy in offshore waters for four weeks.

Then came the challenges of transporting the buoy while ensuring that the barnacles and sea-life encrustations did not drop off in transit.

When the buoy finally reached Venice's historic military shipyard, the Arsenale, one of two main locations for the ongoing Biennale, it was discovered that it was too big to fit through the 16th-century windows on the 250 sq m first-floor space that Singapore has signed a 20-year lease on.

Luckily, Turkey, which has the space next door, allowed the Singapore contingent to use its staircase and corridor to bring in the buoy.

The story of the buoy gives only a slight indication of the mammoth work that is Sea State, a culmination of more than 10 years of Lim observing, filming and recording Singapore's relationship with water, reclaimed land and history.

Part of the inspiration was the artist's own story: He grew up in the Mata Ikan kampung which no longer exists in Simei, and his paternal grandmother searched the shore for seashells which were then ground to make acidic limewater for painting house walls.

He remembers seeing her scars from the work, while his father, a self-taught sailor who later had his own pest control business, explored the sea on a homemade bamboo raft as a boy.

"Actually, I hated sailing at first," laughs Lim, who represented Singapore in sailing at the 1996 Olympics. "My father bought a boat and raced it on weekends so I began to associate sailing with him."

Lim was educated in boarding school in England, returned to Singapore for national service and then studied in London at the Chelsea College of Art and Design before completing his bachelor's of fine arts from Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design.

He began experimenting with film, thanks to his wife, arthouse film director Wee Li Lin, who also acts as his manager and producer.

Various iterations of the Sea State project have been exhibited at Manifesta 7, the 2008 European Biennial of Contemporary Art in Trentino, Italy; the Shanghai Biennale in 2008; and at the 2011 Singapore Biennale.

In the 2008 short film titled "it's not that i forgot, but rather i chose not to mention", a man swims laps across a leaf-choked abandoned swimming pool in Singapore.

Three years later, a surreal excursion through the drains and canals of Singapore, All The Lines Flow Out, received a special mention at the 2011 Venice Film Festival as well two awards in 2012 - best experimental short at the Nashville Film Festival and a Silver Award at the 17th Hong Kong Independent Film and Video Awards.

Lim's working relationship with curator Mustafa began with In Search Of Raffles Light, an archival project and exhibition about the Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu, one of several islands south of Singapore. It was exhibited at the National University of Singapore Museum in 2013.

Forgotten histories, including the disappearance of Pulau Sajahat as well as the relocation of Singaporeans from the offshore islands, are shown through maps and topographical installations at Sea Stage at the Venice Biennale.

Equally memorable is another surreal journey above and below the seascape of Singapore through two linked video installations.

One titled Capsize shows Lim riding the waves and when his vessel apparently sinks beneath the waves, the eye is drawn to the opposing screen. Here, in the film titled Phase 1, workers carry an Optimist sailboat through the Jurong Rock Caverns, the 130m-deep, 61ha area excavated below Jurong Island and used for chemical storage.

"These are new ways of looking at the sea. You have saltwater raining down but you don't get the feeling of being under the sea," says Lim, who originally planned to have someone else film this part of the project. He had to take it on when the cameraman hired refused to go in.

"This is how I think we as Singaporeans feel sometimes, very unstable on reclaimed land."

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