The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new normal for the art world, with what seems like the digitalisation of everything. Though some say that we were headed there anyway, the pandemic has undeniably accelerated the transition from physical to virtual as galleries and institutions are forced to adapt to the need to exhibit safely.
It is little surprise then that established Singapore non-profit, Art Outreach, has dived headlong into the digital realm, embracing the medium with gusto in numerous iterations for Singapore Art Week 2021. The latest edition of its IMPART Collectors’ Show will – for the first time ever – take the form of an online exhibition allowing audiences to digitally ‘enter’ into collectors’ personal spaces. A trip into the world of augmented reality with artist Eugene Soh accompanies this presentation, where participants are invited to enmesh themselves in the spaces between their physical reality and Soh’s imaginative manipulation of technology.
The IMPART Collector’s Show
Aptly titled Leap of Faith, the 4th IMPART Collector’s Show seeks to offer something beyond a traditional exhibition space instead of merely trying to replicate it. Boasting an impressive range of collectors from all over the globe, Leap Of Faith succeeds in achieving that most elusive of online successes – utilising the digital medium not only to overcome geographic boundaries but to offer viewers experiences that are typically shut-off from physical access. By moving online, the IMPART Collector’s Show now gives audiences a privileged peek into the places that artworks occupy within collectors’ personal spaces; a rare glance into how art fits intimately into a realm beyond the public eye.
The list of collectors participating in this year’s show reads like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of local and international art. They include famed plastic surgeon Dr. Woffles Wu, powerhouse couple Lito and Kim Camacho (Lito sits on the Board of the National Gallery Singapore), and cutting-edge Indonesian collector Wiyu Wahono, amongst others.
“I worked with an architect to design a house that would be very suitable for our art collection,” Lito Camacho remarks, reflecting upon the great amount of effort that goes into incorporating art into daily life. Along with his wife Kim, the Camachos started collecting art in 1981 back when they lived in the Philippines. Since then, they’ve amassed an impressive collection including household names such as Manuel Rodriguez (often billed as the father of Filipino printmaking) and Yayoi Kusama, whose work Ladder To Heaven, will be featured in the upcoming IMPART exhibition.
Ladder to Heaven is an intimidating floor-to-ceiling installation composed of a ladder illuminated in alien-like neon green and two mirrors. It’s no wonder then that Lito and Kim had to hire a group of professionals to create special structural alterations to their living room in order to accommodate the work. Ladder to Heaven continues Kusama’s signature explorations of the concept of infinity, transforming a singular spot into a simultaneous descent and ascent into endlessness; something which manages to be both contemplative and awe-inspiring at the same time.
Previously displayed at the first Singapore Biennale in 2006 at the city’s historic Sri Krishnan Temple, the journey of Ladder To Heaven offers fascinating insight into the lifecycle of a significant and monumental work of art – from place of worship in a national art event, to the unexpected confines of a collector’s own home.
“It’s a big piece,” Lito says, “It’s not an easy piece to have at home.”
But the couple doesn’t at all regret acquiring the work. Once installed, he concludes emphatically that the effort was “all worth it.” Besides installation, maintenance is yet another challenge in living with art. For Jakarta-based collector Wiyu Wahono, there are different levels of difficulty in presenting 0°, the work of Deni Ramdani, winner of the prestigious Bandung Contemporary Art Award in 2017.
Ramdani’s dramatic artwork consists of a punctured plastic bag of fish ominously suspended over a mound of dirt. A metaphor for unchecked urbanisation and the unsustainable migration of rural populations into mega-cities, the work requires a constant stream of water to keep the fish alive as their living environment literally drips away into the dark and moist soil below. Without gallery staff present, the onus is on Wahono himself to ensure that the fish are kept alive – so when guests aren’t around, they live in an aquarium.
From private museums to intimate living spaces, collectors work meticulously to personalise and upkeep their acquired bodies of work. Integral to the structure of the art industry, they are also one of the primary contributors to artists’ income. A 2016 study by Arts Council England reported that only 5% of artists earn money through exhibitions, while 50% and 31% of them support themselves through private commissions and sales respectively.
While they facilitate the existence of art as a profession, there is a barrier that collectors inadvertently put between the public and art when they choose to make their collections private. Leap of Faith works at eroding that boundary by offering a valuable glimpse into these special spaces for those of you who’ve always wondered how collectors organise and display their art.
Eugene Soh’s Explorations in Augmented Reality
The digital manifestation of artworks has seen art becoming more accessible to the public – instead of being something that only art enthusiasts seek out, netizens now come across art more routinely. Artists such as veteran computer programmer Eugene Soh have increasingly capitalised on this opportunity to make art more interactive, stimulating and easy to find.
Soh’s latest project with Art Outreach for its Art Encounters segment, AltARed State, continues the artist’s investigation of all things digital. AltARed State is part of a series first presented at SAW 2020. It is described as “a travelling artist’s studio and gallery” within repurposed shipping containers located along Singapore’s Orchard Road. For AltARed State, Soh has created an augmented reality filter, an impression of which can be seen below:
Working in a similar fashion to the Instagram filters that Soh has been creating recently, the AltARed State filter morphs viewers into a surrealistic creature which the artist says was inspired by ancient biblical descriptions of angels.
He explains, “Religious iconography fascinates me. For example, in Christianity, it’s actually very surprising what early Christians thought an angel would look like. References from the time point to the first visions being a cow’s head, a lion’s head, an eagle’s head and even a representation that shows a face constantly morphing, with six wings and eyes all over. There’s no one clear image that is used, and I find the myriad imagery very interesting.”
The artist describes the intrigue of seeing a distorted version of yourself on the large screens as being akin to seeing yourself in a different dimension altogether, something perhaps impossible to grasp and envision as a coherent whole.
The location of the containers along the busy thoroughfares of Singapore’s shopping district add a further element for viewers to unpack, melding notions of spirituality with that of hyper-consumerism. It matters little that the experience may have been driven by pandemic-led technological preoccupations, for Soh’s work feels complete in itself as an accessible, yet clever and nuanced examination of the human condition.
Soh is by no means new to exhibiting in the digital world. His 2013 work The Overview Exhibition replaced the audience’s vision with images streamed from closed-circuit televisions, while unique configurations provided them with new viewing perspectives, like that of a lizard with lateral vision or a bird flying above. He’s also done some extremely meaningful work with reminiscence therapy, enabling dementia patients to use technology to immerse themselves in historic locations in Singapore, as they would have appeared in days of old.
Soh muses that to him, “technology is a toy”.
“It is very scary, yes, it might infringe on your privacy and suddenly your whole life is no longer yours alone. But throughout my entire career, I’ve been using (it) as a toy to play with, to explore and create things with.”
During the long isolation accompanying the pandemic, many find themselves looking inward. AltARed State challenges and probes this phenomenon by turning one’s inner psyche into a hallucinatory externality, thus consuming the viewer in their own universe.
Soh leaves us with some further philosophical food for thought, “In response to this year, with stay-home notices and everything, everybody’s been keeping to themselves. It is a time to look inward at ourselves, and also at what is inside. When you look inwards… this might also look like another dimension. We can traverse our own dimensions, in our own way.”
Whether you’ll be staying indoors and continuing to view events online, or pounding the pavements of Orchard Road in search of more vivid human connections, Art Outreach’s plan for SAW 2021 includes something for you. It takes a bold new leap into domains previously unexplored and reminds us that where creative expression resides, so do innovation, hope, and the courage to experiment with new and ground-breaking modes of artistic delivery.
Leap of Faith went live on 19 January 2021. Art Encounters: AltARed State will be opening along Orchard Road on 21 January 2021 and will run till 7 February 2021.
This article is produced in paid partnership with Art Outreach. Thank you for supporting the institutions that support Plural.