Flirting Point, by independent artist collective Vertical Submarine, was commissioned by iconic Singapore club Zouk for its annual beachfront dusk-to-dawn dance music festival, Zoukout, in 2009. That year, Zouk collaborated with the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) to showcase works by some of Singapore’s most interesting contemporary artists at the festival and a version of Flirting Point was installed, right on the sand, at Siloso Beach in Sentosa.
The iteration of Flirting Point that was subsequently installed at the front lawn of the Singapore Art Museum consisted of a lit signpost and four benches. According to the collective, the work “acknowledges the basic inclination of most men, women, animals, and some insects: to flirt”. The collective goes on to assert that:
“Despite its noble aims for human civilisation, an art museum is not purely a place for art events or cultural activities. Besides looking at artworks on display, our vision, at times, would stray to hunks and babes in the galleries who are just as visually intriguing. This is especially the case during exhibition openings.”
Vertical Submarine’s tongue-in-cheek artist statement for Flirting Point alludes to an unnamed 2009 survey which found that “flirting at the museum is one of the fundamental causes of marital disputes, decline in workplace efficiency and the general public’s lack of interest in the arts”! Finally, they conclude that “… in order not to hinder the serious-minded museum visitors; to help unburden the huge social and moral responsibilities of museum staff and artists; and for the future of Singapore’s art, all flirtatious activities at SAM shall be restricted within a designated area.”
This humorous and satirical work pokes fun at the way in which so many aspects of life in Singapore are highly regulated and how readily we accept this incursion into our private lives and personal choices, in what a 2015 article in the Guardian calls a “Faustian deal”. In exchange for Singapore’s much-touted advantages such as low crime, cleanliness, efficiency and economic success, the work suggests that we should be willing to curb and control a very natural, spontaneous and primal human impulse, to flirt, and to allow it to be circumscribed and controlled – flirting within the lines, so to speak.
Vertical Submarine is an artist collective consisting of three members, Joshua Yang, Justin Loke and Fiona Koh. The group was formed in 2003 and its name is taken from the word “subvert”, meaning “to overthrow” or “to bring about the downfall of something established” that is rotated to be vert-sub and expanded to form Vertical Submarine. The collective’s artworks are often societal commentaries, presented in a playful and cheeky manner. Without ramming a message down the viewer’s throat, Vertical Submarine’s works gently confront and provoke the viewer to search for deeper meaning, insight and understanding of various issues that affect or matter to us.