12.8.05

real life of an artist

Most people take a holiday out of the country when they are on leave from work. However, J and I are staying home instead because of this...but also to catch up on the things we really want to do:
1. Learn how to silkscreen T-shirts (we owe several people their angel and starry wings t-shirts!)
2. Finish a 3minute video
3. Start on a short story that's been sitting in my head for a year
4. Make posters from some of the drawings

Other than #2, we have accomplished next to nothing (ok, so this is meant to be a holiday). Instead of working our way from #1-4, we spent today helping real artists and curators at p-10 prepare for an exhibition...

The exhibition is called Errata. It is the result of years of work by art researcher Koh Nguang How. Koh used to be an assistant curator-cum-photographer at the old National Museum, before it became the Singapore History Museum (in 2006, when it moves back into its original premises, it will also go back to being called the National Museum). I met him through a friend when Koh had organised in the late 90s an amazing show of Singapore woodcut artists from the 30s-60s.

Koh's work in Errata continues from his research into the woodblock art (much of it was political) in that period. Errata takes as a start an erratum in a book on SEAsian art history by Singapore Art Museum director Kwok. The error was that of a painting by Chua Mia Tee "National Language Class" (see right pic), which was dated 1950 instead of 1959. From this error, Koh tells of the complex web of political, aesthetic and social narratives 2 decades or so before Singapore's independence in 1965. These stories of Singapore's early artists, their intellectual circles and political engagements are told through Koh's intriguing collection of old journals, magazines, exhibition catalogues, books, newspaper articles etc, all bookmarked with notes.

Viewing the exhibition is therefore no passive act.You mimic the researcher in trawling through his collection. As you do so (there is a guide and video, in case you don't know where to start!), you form your own stories of their lives and thoughts by making the relation between text and image, error and conjecture. It is a lesson in Singapore's pre-independence history, but also one in historiography. There are so many hidden stories of Singapore's road to independence, in addition to the official one so oft-shown (epitomised by the image of Lee Kuan Yew, tearing as his announces the news of our separation from Malaysia). And by spotting the error in Kwok's book, Koh also asks these questions - how well do we know our history? does knowing our history matter? what does "art history" mean? what role does art history play in national history? what roles do art play - in national, institutional, private lives?

And while I'm on the subject of art + taking a break + artists' lives, check out the work and adventures of Chin Yew as he tries out being a 30 day artist. Today is Day 11.

I don't think I'll ever do something like this (i.e. quit my job to be an artist, be it for 30 or 300 days). In many ways, I enjoy the interactions at work with my colleagues and with folks I meet because of my job - designers, artists, educators, arts managers, yes, even other civil servants. They challenge me and I always walk away humbled. I secretly like the routine that comes with a job and, even more so, openly enjoy the certainty of the monthly paycheck. I am also getting used to stealing time on train rides, in the night, or during weekends and these short breaks to write and draw. And so, guess I am not cut out for the real life of an artist.

(The exhibition Errata is on at the Singapore History Museum, 15 August to 25 September.

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