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Living in a Material World (Part II)

Yesterday, I took a walk through two parts of the Esplanade’s current art exhibition, The Life of Things. In this final instalment, join me for a quick tour through the small but intriguing presentation, Museum of Modern Sympathy:

Museum of Modern Sympathy

(On till 8 April 2018)

The Community Wall is an unassuming area located on the third floor outside the library at the Esplanade. Three works by Singaporean artist Kevin Fee are presented here in the exhibition Museum of Modern Sympathy – Misfortunes of the Inanimate, One Minute Sympathy and To Live and Let Live. Fee is a visual artist who works primarily with photography and moving images. Museum of Modern Sympathy was previously presented at the DECK in June 2017, and was reported then as being:

“a fictional archive of sympathy in modern society. Sympathy is almost always in the form of a response, which is very easy to do as it also sets up no obligation to forming a connection… On a superficial level, the demonstration of sympathy often influences many aspects of our lives, endorsed by the powers of impression. Modern sympathy has become a social currency.”

I was amused that Fee’s works had found their way to a place called the ‘Community Wall,’ because they immediately me made me feel very uncomfortable about my own community. The works explore the human emotion of sympathy through the use of objects. This is achieved by assigning ‘souls’ to inanimate items and through statements and sounds emitted from an artificial voice generator.

A close-up of an object used in the art work Misfortunes of the Inanimate by Kevin Fee. Image credit: Esplanade
A section of the collective display of objects in Misfortunes of the Inanimate

In the work Misfortunes of the Inanimate, the artist captures everyday scenes which are transformed into sympathy-evoking instances for the otherwise soul-less objects. As shared in the exhibition text, the objects and places around us, “represent abstract ideas, signal emotion, and in the case of animistic belief systems, possess energies that people powerfully relate to.”

I am quite sure that the Community Wall at the Esplanade receives quite a high level of foot traffic and Fee’s works did not squander the opportunity to poke and prod at the general public. The voices in the work One Minute Sympathy are apparently meant to recite “expressions of support, which might be used to self-soothe, or show concern on social media.”

Far from being soothed, I found the voices to be absolutely eerie…they repeatedly told me amongst other things, that “it will get better tomorrow.” I sincerely hope the ‘tomorrow’ that the voice speaks of is never realised – because it seemed to be an electronically-generated voice of doom!

Singapore has time and again been associated with over-consumption and materialism by her critics and admirers alike. Some consider us as being overly-preoccupied with our material world, while others see it as a reflection of our entrenched system of values.

The shows, Subliminal City, Relics and Museum of Modern Sympathy curated by Sam I-shan, bring this relationship between material things and local viewers, to the forefront of the experience they offer.

If your commute is similar to mine from City Hall MRT to the Library@Esplanade, remember to take a detour and explore the exhibitions of  The Life of Things.

Subliminal City and Museum of Modern Sympathy run until 8 April 2018.

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