Cre­ate to Cu­rate

To fur­ther un­der­stand the cu­ra­tor’s role, we spoke to Mr. Khairuddin Hori, one of Sin­ga­pore’s most sought-after cu­ra­tors

Portfolio - - IN THIS ISSUE - By An­ton D. Javier

A cu­ra­tor’s job goes be­yond putting to­gether an ex­hi­bi­tion – they cre­ate sto­ries to re­al­ize an artist’s vi­sion for the cul­tural zeit­geist at any given time. To fur­ther un­der­stand their role, we spoke to one of Sin­ga­pore’s most sought-after cu­ra­tors, Mr. Khairuddin Hori

Aca­reer in the arts was some­thing un­ex­pected for Mr. Khairuddin Hori, Cu­ra­to­rial Di­rec­tor and Part­ner at Chan + Hori Con­tem­po­rary (pre­vi­ously known as Chan Hampe Gal­leries). “I was al­ways in­ter­ested in the arts and was ex­posed to it mainly through ac­com­pa­ny­ing my el­dest sis­ter at­tend arts and cul­ture events,” shares Mr Hori. “But it was when I was 16 that I was dragged to par­tic­i­pate in tra­di­tional per­form­ing arts events and later, in­tro­duced to stu­dents from LASALLE and artists from The Artists Vil­lage by two of my best friends. It was then that I se­ri­ously thought about it.”

Through the arts, Mr. Hori was able to feed his fas­ci­na­tion with things he wit­nessed as a child, such as the oc­cult, prac­tices, and con­cepts of var­i­ous reli­gions, sci­ences, en­gi­neer­ing, and his­tory with equal in­ten­sity. And as a cu­ra­tor, this com­bi­na­tion of sub­jects strongly res­onates with his ap­proach.

With work ex­pe­ri­ence at Sin­ga­pore Art Mu­seum and Na­tional Her­itage Board, what did you bring to the ta­ble when you moved to Paris to take on the cov­eted role of Deputy Di­rec­tor of Artis­tic Pro­gram­ming at Palais de Tokyo?

Many thought that the Palais in­vited me be­cause of my net­work with South­east Asian artists, but that was not the case. While there, I worked mainly with non-Asian artists and su­per­vised the sea­soned French cu­ra­to­rial, pub­lic pro­grams, and editorial teams. I worked along­side Jean de Loisy, the leg­endary French cu­ra­tor and Pres­i­dent of Palais de Tokyo. Be­ing given the place and honor to work with an amaz­ing team begs one to won­der, “What else can one bring to the ta­ble?” I was told by Jean that I was “cho­sen” be­cause of how unas­sum­ing I was in my re­la­tions with artists, my ten­dency to cu­rate by in­tu­ition, that I have a knack for the un­ortho­dox, the abil­ity to spot and con­vert un­der­rated tal­ents, all while op­er­at­ing within the chal­lenges of bu­reau­cratic frames.

While there, were you in­tim­i­dated at all? What did you learn dur­ing that time that you brought back to Sin­ga­pore?

I learnt early not to give blind re­spect to peo­ple and in­sti­tu­tions of power. This be­came a part of my per­sonal ethos and modus operandi for work. In France, they love good ar­gu­ments at the ta­ble, all in the spirit of pro­fes­sional dis­course to draw the best out of us. You are en­cour­aged to dream the un­likely, de­fend what you be­lieve, and are given con­stant sup­port and free­dom to re­al­ize your vi­sion.

We should con­sider the youth­ful­ness of our state and con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety not as a hand­i­cap, but a good rea­son for us to be coura­geous and orig­i­nal in what we do.

Com­ing home, I brought with me the ex­pe­ri­ence of pro­fes­sion­al­ism at a very high level. Work­ing and spend­ing time amongst the world’s best made me re­al­ize how in­su­lar we can get here and how we of­ten lull in the mi­rage of ‘world-class ex­cel­lence’ with­out hav­ing ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced it first-hand.

After a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence at pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, what made you want to take up a role at a pri­vate gallery?

I was ac­tu­ally asked to con­sider a ma­jor role with a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion when I re­turned, but for var­i­ous rea­sons, that didn’t work. Given that I have worked as an artist, with artist col­lec­tives, artist-run ini­tia­tives, and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, but never in a small, pri­vate gallery set­ting, this new frame of work be­came some­thing I was cu­ri­ous about. I never imag­ined that the small pri­vate gallery I chose to start work­ing with would soon carry my name. Just a few months ago, I was voted as Pres­i­dent of the Art Gallery As­so­ci­a­tion of Sin­ga­pore (AGAS). To me, these are marks of faith and both come with a plethora of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. I am an­swer­able for my ac­tions to col­leagues, peers, pa­trons, and artists that I work with. Ev­ery project is chal­leng­ing, as re­sources are lim­ited. Pri­vate gal­leries are an equally im­por­tant part of the thrust that sup­ports the de­vel­op­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity of artists and pa­trons, yet not much credit has been given.

Would you say that the role of the cu­ra­tor has changed? How dif­fer­ent is it now com­pared to when you first started?

When I started, the role of the cu­ra­tor was re­served for those work­ing within in­sti­tu­tions. The rest of us were re­ferred to as ‘or­ga­niz­ers’ and mostly op­er­ated with­out the pro­fes­sional train­ing re­quired. We learnt every­thing – from project man­age­ment, fund rais­ing, and mar­ket­ing – through hand­son ex­pe­ri­ence, fu­eled by a deep-seated de­sire to make things hap­pen and con­trib­ute to make a dif­fer­ence. My first 15 years upon grad­u­at­ing from art school was filled with un­cer­tain­ties, with very lit­tle op­por­tu­ni­ties for full-time work at art in­sti­tu­tions — un­like to­day. These days, I meet many young peo­ple who are spe­cially trained in cu­rat­ing at pres­ti­gious schools over­seas, re­turn­ing to a buf­fet of sup­port struc­tures. Yet, the fire seems lack­ing. There ap­pears to be an ad­ver­sity to ad­ven­ture and risk tak­ing these days.

In your opin­ion, what is the cur­rent state of Sin­ga­pore art? What is driv­ing it for­ward or hold­ing it back?

The ad­vent of so­cial me­dia ap­pears to have led to a de­mand for an art en­vi­ron­ment filled with the spec­tac­u­lar. So much re­sources have been ex­pended in bring­ing the pub­lic to art, but the in­trin­sic qual­ity of art pro­duced, and the pro­gram­ing of art-re­lated events here have not been very con­se­quen­tial to the pub­lic’s lit­er­acy of what art is and could be. While the state in­ces­santly com­mits to the de­vel­op­ment of the arts, it also needs to find some time to be brave, hon­est, and re­flect on the im­pact and sus­tain­abil­ity of what it has com­mit­ted our pro­fes­sion­als and our au­di­ences to. We should con­sider the youth­ful­ness of our state and con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety not as a hand­i­cap, but a good rea­son for us to be coura­geous and orig­i­nal in what we do.

What are some chal­lenges Sin­ga­porean artists face, par­tic­u­larly the younger ones? What can be done?

The pres­sure of op­er­at­ing from an ex­pen­sive city like Sin­ga­pore can be crip­pling, but young artists should per­se­vere, take time, and stay com­mit­ted for the ma­tu­rity of their prac­tice. A big part of mak­ing great art is to live our lives to the fullest, to make voy­ages, and gather new ex­pe­ri­ences. The ac­qui­si­tion of re­al­world knowl­edge and skills adds mean­ing­ful lay­ers to an artist’s prac­tice. In my own jour­ney, I have worked as ship­yard la­bor crew, a fu­tures trader, graphic de­signer, land­scape de­signer, and best of all, as a store artist at the now de­funct Tower Records. These di­ver­gent ex­pe­ri­ences in­form part of my world­view and taught me how to ne­go­ti­ate with the myr­iad char­ac­ters I en­counter.

What are you look­ing for­ward to in Sin­ga­pore’s art calendar? Per­haps in the next few months or next year?

Aside from the never-end­ing ex­cite­ment at Chan + Hori Con­tem­po­rary, I am def­i­nitely look­ing for­ward to the next edi­tion of the Sin­ga­pore Bi­en­nale at the end of next year. Visit Chan + Hori Con­tem­po­rary at 6 Lock Road, #02-09, Tel: 6338 1962. To­gether with the Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board, Mr. Hori is also cu­rat­ing a show ti­tled “Atyp­i­cal Sin­ga­pore”, which show­cases works by seven Sin­ga­porean artists and will be on show in Moscow from 15-16 Oc­to­ber and in Yan­gon from 30 Novem­ber to 2 De­cem­ber

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