against time and place

Friends, go watch The Impossibility of Knowing by Tan Pin Pin at the Singapore Art Museum as part of the Singapore Biennale 2011. It is screened together with another new film by Tan Pin Pin, Snow City and four other films.

For all the criticism that the Singapore Biennale seems to be getting in the press and as part of the general reception, the works at 8Q SAM seemed to be pitched just about right in terms of accessibility, criticality and... er, indoor temperature. For me at least, most of the works at 8Q all had this dual quality: one is the aesthetic, peculiarity and assertion of a singular or individual vision; and two, the encounter of a collective or common reality, memory or experience. In some ways, this tension or conversation between the individual and the collective is art's unique value and contribution.

But perhaps one should not expect a Biennale platform to always achieve that "just about right".

Unlike the public museum or any other institutional presentation, the Biennale platform should allow for some incongruence, error and dissonance between the curatorial or artistic and public or audience expectations.

Its advantage is that, as a form, it need not be inhibited by an institutional mission, collection or space/physical infrastructure - an advantage that allows it to be "ahead of its time", "off centre" in its approach, or even completely "missing the mark" in some aspects.

Its challenge, however, is that such advantage comes with a price tag so large that it often requires significant city or federal government funding. In the case of Singapore, where art's primary patron is still the government or rather public funds, a certain structure of accountability for the use of public funds is necessary; and with that, perhaps less room for "failure" or "dissonance".

It is a tall order: to feel right in its time and place, yet to go just that bit further to stretch the public's imagination of where, when and why.


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