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Issue 230

‘Lonely Vectors’ Probes Our Potential to Escape the Alienation of Globalization

A group show at Singapore Art Museum’s new outpost invites viewers to discern the flows of capital in contemporary life and imagine more humane systems

BY Christine Han in Exhibition Reviews , Reviews Across Asia | 02 AUG 22

The proximity of the Port of Singapore – the busiest container transhipment hub in the world – to Singapore Art Museum’s new space at the Tanjong Pagar Distripark is a key impetus of ‘Lonely Vectors’, an exhibition of ten local and international artists. The show invites viewers to discern the flows of capital behind everyday objects while lamenting the further deterioration of the social bond, questioning the ways in which power is constructed, spotlighting inequity and addressing the possibility of more humane systems.

Stepped vertical white fluorescent lights ringed by plants in a gallery with plant wallpaper
Bo Wang, Fountain of Interiors, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: Singapore Art Museum

Even before entering the gallery, the intense white light from Bo Wang’s Fountain of Interiors (all works 2022) – a stepped vertical arrangement of fluorescent tubes – momentarily overloads the eyes. Then the work comes fully into view: a soaring tower flanked by plants. Wang’s use of light is ironic – a criticism of the political manipulation of migrant workers in Singapore, who are housed in crammed and unsanitary dormitories outfitted with harsh fluorescent lights, in stark contrast to the warmly lit city built on their labour.

Installation view of metal railings across an exhibition space
P7:1SMA, Loading/ Unloading, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: Singapore Art Museum

Architecture offers another compelling mechanism through which to contemplate these ideas. For Loading/Unloading, the Singapore dance company P7:1SMA explored the facilities of Tanjong Pagar Port, including its systems of co-ordinating cargo and maintenance. A series of metal modules – dissembled and reassembled in weekly performances – offers the public the opportunity to observe, both symbolically and literally, the relations between these megastructures and the workers who built them, by means of a choreography that documents the bodies traversing space within the port’s architectural frame.

An installation view of a colorful tapestry embroidered with motifs of banana plants and other worker-owner-related motifs, beside a text encased in a vitrine
Cian Dayrit, Penitent Plant, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: Singapore Art Museum

In a poignant reflection of the conflicts between the proletariat and the ruling class, Cian Dayrit’s Penitent Plant features maps of a vast plantation site hand-drawn from memory,  protests by the indigenous Lumad community over the use of ancestral lands for the plantation’s expansion, alongside books such as ICL Research Team’s The Human Cost of Bananas (1979). A large, wall-hung fabric work features a banana tree embroidered with motifs from plantations in Mindanao. Entwined with these are symbols intended to represent the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank – twinkling fires, bird cages, handcuffs, demons – and slogans including ‘Land to the Tillers’ and ‘Survivors Will Be Shot Again’.

Projected on seven large screens, Shu Lea Cheang’s video and performance piece UKI VIRUS SURGING situates her audience within a culturally diverse, cyber-bio-punk future, where artificial life forms discarded as e-trash by bio-tech conglomerates re-emerge as a virus that threatens society. Using digital techniques such as merging, dissolving and morphing, Shu creates ethereal composite bodies: computers and motherboards the size of houses, technicolour skies, polyhedral viruses, green cows. The work suggests that cyberspace offers the promise of a non-hierarchical realm in which to resist authoritarian regimes and master narratives.

An installation shot of a wooden house with a weathervane-like end in front of a video installation depicting a beach
Zarina Muhammad, Joel Tan and Zachary Chan, Dioramas for Tanjong Rimau, 2022 (detail), dimensions variable. Courtesy: Singapore Art Museum

In the last room, the mood shifts from critique to spirituality and cosmic energy. An evocative, dimly lit installation by Zarina Muhammad, Joel Tan and Zachary Chan features a display of wind instruments, spirit houses, salvaged oars, sand and rocks alongside a multi-channel video installation. Dioramas for Tanjong Rimau explores the eponymous ancient maritime gateway between the West and China, also known as Siloso Headland, which lies on Sentosa Island at the Old Straits of Singapore. This theatrical, junkshop-like environment presents an abstract drama in which scenes and conversations are fragmented, mixed and recomposed in a formalist experiment that demystifies Tanjong Rimau, the mentality of the islanders and the forces of modernization and globalization at play.

In a world where the disordered flow of global supply chains appears not only to mirror but to perpetuate global chaos and inequity, ‘Lonely Vectors’ reminds us of the powerful potential counterflow of our own life choices. The artists’ methods of examining this friction are both innovative and antagonistic – expressing the eternal will to resistance and freedom.

Lonely Vectors' is on view at the Singapore Art Museum until 4 September.

Main image: Shu Lea Cheang, UKI VIRUS SURGING, 2022, film still. Image courtesy of the artist

Christine Han is a Singapore-based art writer. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, Art-Agenda, ArtAsiaPacific, Flash Art, Mousse, Ocula and Sculpture magazine.