Unlike previous editions of the Singapore Biennale which presented art in evocative ‘found’ sites such as former army barracks (2006, 2008) and an old airport (2011), the Singapore Biennale 2013 is located squarely in the Civic District of Singapore.
Locating the Biennale in this area, so rich in cross-currents of popular and official histories, presents an opportunity to realise artworks that seek to uncover this rich substratum of memory and consciousness.
Wormhole by Indonesian artist-architect Eko Prawoto, comprises three large bamboo mounds pitched in front of the National Museum of Singapore that reference the forms of mountains and volcanoes, interrupting the genteel architectural facades of the Civic District with its thatched bamboo structures.
Here also are two differing experiences and expressions of monumentality; the phenomenological encounter offered by Wormhole introduces viewers to a celestial cosmology in which the mountain is regarded as an axis connecting and mediating between the earth and the heavens… Wormhole invites a rethinking about how our world has changed, as well as what we may have gained or lost along the way.
Also sited on the grounds of the National Museum of Singapore, not far from Wormhole, is Lumbung Ilmu, a small wooden hut sheltered under a banyan tree. Created by self-taught artist Rosid, Lumbung Ilmu (‘Granary of Knowledge’) began as a small personal museum to house the artist’s books and artefacts of his identity as an anak petani (‘son of farmers’). It quickly became a community space in Bandung, where people came to meet friends, socialise, read and pray.
The lumbung reminds us of the former National Library on Stamford Road. The passionate public debates surrounding its eventual demolition in 2004 were perhaps one of the first waves of post-prosperity civic dissent in Singapore over governmental decisions to remove popular landmarks. What remains of the former National Library today is a red-bricked entryway in the middle of a grassy patch, a few paces away from Lumbung Ilmu.
The siting of the Biennale in the Civic District offers opportunities to plumb and perhaps uncover the layers of histories and narratives in this rich terrain. It is worth noting too that the word ‘civic’ is defined simultaneously as being related to a town and its administration, as it is also related to the duties and activities of its citizenry. It is in the Civic District that the ongoing contestations and negotiations between a people and their government over the use and ownership of public space can take place, and art – as demonstrated by these three Biennale works – can play a role in initiating these conversations.
By Tan Siu Li
Event: Singapore Biennale 2013: If The World Changed
Dates: Till 16 February 2014
Venue: Bras Basah.Bugis Precinct; Our Museum @ Taman Jurong
Hours: Sun – Thu: 10am – 7pm; Fri: 10am – 9pm