Taking the pulse: ‘Art Stage Singapore 2018’

Thidarat Chantachua,  Restart , 2018, installation view, SAC Gallery booth at the 8th Art Stage Singapore, January 2018; photo: Anne-Marie Jean

Thidarat Chantachua, Restart, 2018, installation view, SAC Gallery booth at the 8th Art Stage Singapore, January 2018; photo: Anne-Marie Jean

The atmosphere at the 8th Art Stage Singapore is friendly, collegial and excited. There is the impression of mature, engaging, playful and diverse practice through the almost exclusively Southeast Asian galleries represented. In his opening remarks, Art Stage founder Lorenzo Rudolf continued his dedication to strengthening market activity, focusing on the importance of private collectors, industry and government in nurturing the visual arts, as well as highlighting Thailand as the current regional leader with the opening of several new private museums on the horizon.

Augmenting this year’s individual gallery presentations are a trio of invited exhibitions, including a selection from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection’s often humorous and quietly political contemporary Southeast Asian artworks. Acquired over the past six years, the collection includes powerful pieces such as Rodel Tapaya’s Cane of Kabunian, Numbered But Cannot Be Counted (2010) and Donna Ong’s ornamental In Xanadu Did Kubla Khan (2011). Also new to Art Stage are dedicated design and fashion galleries. ‘The Artling Collectible Design Showcase’, for instance, platforms functional and unique pieces by established and emerging Southeast Asian designers.

Crucial to the success of the fair (once again at Marina Bay Sands as part of Singapore Art Week, until 28 January) are the multiple performance spaces and discrete sculptural installations. During vernissage, Singapore-based artist Isabelle Desjeux delivered a lecture asking: ‘What if humans were part of the plants’ grand plan to rule the planet?’ People queued to experience childhood nostalgia in Taiwanese–Malaysian interdisciplinary artist Poesy Liang’s Poesy Empathy – Hidden Messages (2014–18), while crowds clustered around The Money Tree Project presented by Bangkok-based Whitespace Gallery, replacing handpainted ‘Nong Baht’ notes with Singapore dollars on a traditional Thai money tree.

Creating a distinct and poignant impression in this context is Chinese–Thai artist Thidarat Chantachua’s installation Restart (2018). Reflecting on the fragmented lives of refugees, the Muslim artist’s fabric tent printed with text taken from newspapers (such as, ‘In many cases we learn that one ticket from the authority affects the demolition of many buildings belonging to families’) opens to reveal a black interior embroidered with geometric patterns to depict star constellations – symbolising one possible route home.  

Anne-Marie Jean, Singapore