Art talk

Business World - - WEEKENDER - By Sam L. Marcelo, As­so­ciate Edi­tor, High Life

ME­AN­DER­ING AND THOUGHT­FUL, the ju­rors’ panel at the Asia Pa­cific Brew­eries Foun­da­tion Sig­na­ture Art Prize cov­ered a wide range of top­ics and raised ques­tions — a few of which be­came even thornier as the dis­cus­sion pro­gressed. Here are ex­cerpts from in­ter­views and from a con­ver­sa­tion fea­tur­ing Bose Kr­ish­na­machari, pres­i­dent of Kochi Bi­en­nale Foun­da­tion (In­dia), Joyce Toh, head of content and se­nior cu­ra­tor at Sin­ga­pore Art Mu­seum (SAM) (Sin­ga­pore), and Wong Hoy Cheong, artist and in­de­pen­dent cu­ra­tor (Malaysia), mod­er­ated by Louis Ho, SAM cu­ra­tor and cu­ra­tor of the Sig­na­ture Art Prize 2018 fi­nal­ist ex­hi­bi­tion.

• Nom­i­na­tors, more than ju­rors, wield the power.

Ev­ery coun­try in­cluded in the Sig­na­ture Art Prize is cov­ered by a nom­i­na­tor — or nom­i­na­tors, de­pend­ing on how ac­tive the art scene in that place is — in­vited by SAM. It’s up to them to make a case for the art­works to the ju­rors.

“It [the nom­i­na­tion process] gets a lit­tle bit over­looked be­cause ev­ery­one’s eyes are on the ju­rors and the win­ning works, but it’s the first cut.

And it rep­re­sents what the nom­i­na­tors be­lieve or what they want to pro­ject as the art of the coun­try, some­thing they want to say about the art of a par­tic­u­lar coun­try or re­gion. Or it might be even their own in­ter­est — maybe they have an in­ter­est in video art. Maybe they feel that a cer­tain kind of art has been over­rep­re­sented from their coun­try in the last few years and they want to show an­other side that has not been seen,” said Ms. Toh in an in­ter­view that took place af­ter the panel.

Much like lawyers mak­ing their clos­ing ar­gu­ments in a court­room drama, nom­i­na­tors have to be elo­quent but re­frain from bull­shit — be­cause ju­rors have finely tuned bull­shit de­tec­tors. “We’ve seen nom­i­na­tions where the talk­ing is so good but when you look at how the work is ex­pressed, it doesn’t match up,” said Ms. Toh.

• When it comes to awards as big in scope as the Sig­na­ture Art Prize, a lot rests on a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to look at art­works us­ing slides,” said Mr. Wong. Un­for­tu­nately, these are the pa­ram­e­ters that ju­rors must work with when it comes to any art prize of this scale. This de­pen­dence on slides re­sulted in what he called “the flat­ten­ing of an idea.” “What could be more stun­ning is flat­tened. What was less in­ter­est­ing be­came prom­i­nent,” he said.

Added Ms. Toh: “The first round may be some­thing that the artist strug­gles with as well. So much of their heart and soul is poured into the mak­ing of the work but the first point of re­cep­tion for this work is then ei­ther through so­cial me­dia or a slide. Mul­ti­lay­ered works, mon­u­men­tal works — how do you shoot and doc­u­ment this kind of work know­ing that peo­ple are go­ing to see this on screens?”

Ju­rors some­times had to make a leap of faith, de­pen­dent as they were on slides, and wait to be vin­di­cated. “There’s a kind of sigh of re­lief when you see the way the work man­i­fested in the flesh,” said Ms. Toh.

• The art world is bi­fur­cated in sev­eral ways: there’s the “Basel vs. Bi­en­nale” bi­fur­ca­tion and the “cos­mopoli­tan artist vs. provin­cial artist” bi­fur­ca­tion, among many other bi­fur­ca­tions.

A col­lec­tor seated in the au­di­ence the­o­rized that the dearth of paint­ings sub­mit­ted to the Sig­na­ture Art Prize was due to the gap­ing, un­traversable chasm be­tween art that ap­peals to col­lec­tors and art that ap­peals to cu­ra­tors. “Very few col­lec­tors would ever buy what you’ve put in this award, which is per­fectly all right,” he said. “You can see this dif­fer­ence when you go to the Venice Bi­en­nale and Art Basel: the art is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Even if it’s the same artist, what they pro­duce for the Bi­en­nale will be com­pletely dif­fer­ent from what they pro­duce for Basel. And that’s why I be­lieve there are no oil paint­ing in your awards show, be­cause that’s for Art Basel. Paint­ing is not grand enough, con­cep­tual enough, or deep enough. So the artist would rather send it to Basel.”

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween en­ter­ing the Bi­en­nale or Doc­u­menta or Man­i­festa and an art fair is that an art fair is com­pletely com­mer­cial art­work,” said Mr. Kr­ish­na­machari, al­though he did con­cede that Art Basel makes an ef­fort “to be cu­ra­to­rial” in its Un­lim­ited sec­tion. “As a col­lec­tor, you have to make up your mind as to what kind of things you are look­ing at, whether his­tory is im­por­tant for you, whether the vi­su­al­ity is im­por­tant for you, or the mar­ket.”

Mean­while, Mr. Wong sidestepped the ques­tion and shared what he thought was a more wor­ry­ing di­vide: “I think what is im­por­tant for cu­ra­tors — again, this is a very per­sonal point of view — and art pro­fes­sion­als to think through is the bi­fur­ca­tion or the po­lar­iza­tion be­tween the cos­mopoli­tan artists ar­tic­u­late in the in­ter­na­tional trans­ac­tional lan­guage of English as well as so-called ‘provin­cial’ artists who are not very ar­tic­u­late, who work in more tra­di­tional forms, whose world­views are ‘trapped’ in provin­cial ideas.”

He called for re­flex­iv­ity among art pro­fes­sion­als so that “provin­cial” artists aren’t fur­ther marginal­ized. Both Mr. Kr­ish­na­machari and Ms. Toh agreed that pa­tron­age is part of solv­ing what the lat­ter char­ac­ter­ized as “a very deep, com­plex, and fraught topic.”

• Does the se­lec­tion process — and the art world, in gen­eral — fa­vor artists who are more skilled with words?

It is ac­knowl­edged that those who do not speak the lan­guage — the “in­ter­na­tional trans­ac­tional lan­guage of English” as Mr. Wong called it (per­haps a vari­ant of In­ter­na­tional Art English/ art speak?) — don’t get to play in the rar­efied realms of the con­tem­po­rary art world. From where this re­porter was sit­ting, Mr. Wong and Mr. Kr­ish­na­machari seemed to have dif­fer­ing opin­ions on this point.

“The dis­junc­ture be­tween what is thought of, what is ar­tic­u­lated, and what is seen — all this hap­pens. Some peo­ple are more ar­tic­u­late but then if you look at the work — oh, dear. There are all these con­cepts but where are they trans­lated. Have they been mis­trans­lated, or lost in trans­la­tion?,” he said. “And so, in this world, the abil­ity to present your­self has be­come so im­por­tant and those who are not ar­tic­u­late, those who do not speak this in­ter­na­tional lan­guage are left out.”

Where Mr. Wong pre­vi­ously called for re­flex­iv­ity on the part of cu­ra­tors (see pre­vi­ous bul­let point), Mr. Kr­ish­na­machari placed the bur­den of flu­ency on the shoul­ders of the artist. “Artists needs to know the lan­guage of what they’re work­ing on, es­pe­cially those who have con­tem­po­rary in­ter­na­tional prac­tices. They def­i­nitely need to know what is hap­pen­ing around the world if they want to be in the main­stream. ‘Main­stream’ in the sense of pre­sent­ing their work and not in the sense of com­mer­cial art world,” he said. “Whether you live in Ker­ala or Sin­ga­pore, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is im­por­tant. You need to know about the world. Op­por­tu­ni­ties — you have to find them. If you are not build­ing a ca­reer, it is your prob­lem. If you are pas­sion­ate and if you are com­mit­ted, you can make your ca­reer suc­cess­ful.”

• The Philip­pines has noth­ing to worry about.

Apart from Club Ate, a Filipino-Aus­tralian col­lec­tive based in Syd­ney, there were no Filipinos among the fi­nal­ists. That none of the six nom­i­nees were short-listed shouldn’t alarm any­one.

“I am fairly fa­mil­iar with the scene in Manila and there are plenty of good artists from the Philip­pines. I hardly think that you guys have any­thing to worry about. It just so hap­pens that for this edi­tion of the Prize, the se­lec­tion was a lit­tle bit nar­row,” said Mr. Ho in an in­ter­view. “The Philip­pines is al­ways a strong con­tender,” said Mr. Ho.

In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view, Ms. Toh said that any fears about Philip­pine con­tem­po­rary art could be as­suaged by look­ing at lo­cal events. “All you have to do is go to Art Fair Philip­pines or the Manila Bi­en­nale, she said. “In fact, Art Fair Philip­pines is a great in­di­ca­tor of where you are. Ev­ery year I go, it seems to be get­ting big­ger and big­ger. Not just more artists, but more peo­ple ei­ther go­ing to col­lect or to present.”

Viva Ex­con, she added, should get more love as it says a lot about the “tenac­ity and foun­da­tional strength” of Philip­pine art. The artist-run bi­en­nale, founded in 1990 by the Ba­colod­based group Black Artists in Asia, will open in Capiz this Novem­ber. The 2018 edi­tion is un­der the artis­tic di­rec­tion of Nor­berto “Pee­wee” Roldan of Green Pa­paya Art Projects. “It’s very im­por­tant to go to Viva Ex­con as it pro­vides a very in­ter­est­ing coun­ter­point to what you might see in Art Fair Philip­pines, which is geared to­ward col­lec­tors,” said Ms. Toh.

THE JU­RORS: (clock­wise from below) Mami Kataoka; Joyce Toh; Ger­ard Vaughan; Bose Kr­ish­na­machari; and Wong Hoy Cheong

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.