The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea

5th April 2013 - 2nd June 2013

Introduction

 

The Private Museum is proud to present The Loss Index: Perishables and other Miscellanea by Singaporean artist, Ye Shufang, following the success of her previous exhibition, The Happiness Index, here in 2011. Shufang has created a series of new watercolour drawings and will also re-present her internationally-renowned agar-agar installations for the last time.

With an on-going research focus on the ephemeral and the ‘ready-made’ from her 17 years of art practice, Shufang’s current series of drawings are an attempt to measure, categorise and understand a miscellany of vast infinite items, from baking moulds to emotions, classified in a system using grids, circles and colour spectrums. In her past artworks, the study of and the attempt to measure and record the impermanent are manifested in installations that adopt basic processes, ephemeral materials and ready-mades. Aside from the 2 new presentations of her past agar-agar installations, Shufang will also be showing an agar-agar and rubber strips installation for the first time.

Artwork

Artist

Artist Bio

Ye Shufang (b. 1971, Singapore)

Ye Shufang’s art practice spans over 17 years, with a research focus on the ephemeral and the ‘ready-made’. She has participated in numerous solo and curated exhibitions and forums in Singapore, Asia and Europe.

Her exhibition credits include solo exhibitions at The Belgrade Cultural Centre in Serbia, Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta and Plastique Kinetic Worms in Singapore. Her curated exhibitions include Feminine Imaginare 2002 in Venice, Floating Chimeras in Sollentuna, 2001 and World Exposition 2005 in Japan.

Shufang’s drawing ‘Exercises in Shape (II) was selected as one of 100 favourite artworks of 2011 by Bazaar Art (China) magazine; featured in the January 2012 issue. Shufang was one of 10 recipients of the inaugural President’s Young Talents Exhibition award in 2001.

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS
2011 The Happiness Index, The Private Museum, Singapore
2004 Other Miscellaneous Uses of Agar-agar, Belgrade Cultural Centre, Serbia and Montenegro
The Black Forest Cake Project,
Plastique Kinetic Worms Gallery, Singapore
The Black Forest Cake Project,
Plastique Kinetic Worms Gallery, Singapore
2003 Orientations: a room of small gestures, The Substation Gallery, Substation, Singapore
2000 a wall drawing, LASALLE Gallery, Singapore

 

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2010 Etiquette, The Substation, Singapore
2009 Wolfnotes, Old School Gallery, Singapore 
2007 City_Net Asia 2007, Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea
2006 Love, Romance and other Recipes for Happily-ever-after, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
2005 The Case of the Missing Rose Merchant, World Exposition 2005, Singapore Pavilion, Nagoya Japan
2004 THE LASALLE SCHOOL, Earl Lu Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Art, LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore
2003 EXTRAordinary tales of skylarking, Jendela Gallery, The Esplanade, Singapore
text & subtext. Contemporary Asian Women Artists. X-RAY Art Centre, Beijing, China
text & subtext. Contemporary Asian Women Artists, The Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark; The Stenersenmuseum, Oslo, Norway; OPEN2002.
Feminine Imaginare, 5th international exhibition of sculpture and installation, Lungomare Marconi, Venice, Italy
2001 Floating Chimeras, Contemporary Asian Art, Edsvik Art and Culture Centre, Sollentuna, Sweden
The President’s Young Talent Exhibition, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
text & subtext. Contemporary Asian Women Artists, Ostasiatiska Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
2000 text & subtext. Contemporary Asian Women Artists, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, Australia; Earl Lu Gallery, Singapore
1997 Nine Dragon Heads, The 2nd International Environment Art Festival and Symposium, Chong-ju, Korea

Essay

Un-tracking Immeasurable Fields: Artist as Resistant Subject

by Seng Yu Jin

In Hal Fosters’ Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, postmodernism was reframed from a historical period bounded by a beginning and an end to re-visitations of its anticipations and reconstructions.[1] Borrowing from Freud, Foster posits that our subjective self shifts from living in the momentary present that comprehends everything at once to historical narratives whereby our subjectivities are engineered through the constructions and anticipations of traumatic events. It is these traumatic events that one needs to revisit to come to terms with the needs of the present. It is the drives, needs and desires of the present that motivates our re-visitations to the past that Foster conceived of new ways of developing artistic practices by which the artist becomes a resistant subject by being a critical force against global capitalism.

The process of revisiting the past with anticipations from the present is what drives this body of works by Ye Shufang in this exhibition, The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea. This exhibition could be appraised with Ye’s previous exhibition, The Happiness Index in 2011 at The Private Museum that showed watercolour drawings with images drawn from Enid Blyton that questioned what we, and more specifically, how Singaporeans consider, imagine and even measure happiness. The desire to measure something is driven from our anxieties to know if something is improving, stagnant or getting worse. The anxiety to measure and manage for improvement leads to the need for tracking what we intend to measure. For instance, we track how many hours we spend exercising to know how many calories we have burned to tell us if we are getting healthier as we run further and faster. Progress is the name of the game as we seek to improve by tracking and measuring. This anxiety to measure and track is entrenched in the Singaporean psyche, most evident from government agencies that seek to measure, track and finally justify whatever policies they are propagating. But can one measure and track the new places explored and experiences one derives when running? Can we measure the great conversations and camaraderie built from playing sports?

In The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea, Ye offers the role of an artist as resistant subject by making visible and critically appraising the obsessive desire to measure and deliver quantifiable results in a pragmatic Singapore.[2] Her drawings investigate into emotions, subjects and fields that are immeasurable. She adopts the artistic strategy of the paradox to measure the immeasurable in a gesture of futility through her use of grids, circles and other elements of drawing to measure and track. As an artist of resistance, she seeks to un-track and un-measure by revealing the futility of such exercises that swims against the tide in a Singaporean society built on a system of measuring all things to justify and amplify progress increasingly dominated by the desire for capital and economic growth.

Rulers as a basic measurement tool bend and turn like a snake’s build gets progressively longer from the left to the right of the picture in Exercises in Length (I). On closer scrutiny, the rulers do not necessarily move from left to right with units of measurement increasing in the same way. The rulers turn back and front again as if participating in a ritualistic dance with no fixed direction. Some of the rulers move upwards while others move backwards, subverting the common ways of using the ruler to measure the length of things. What are the rulers measuring? Are the rulers measuring themselves as they twist from back to front and vice versa? Is the artist interrogating the subject (the need for measuring all things) as it interrogates the object (the ruler as a tool for measuring)? Perhaps the problem lies not in the tool itself but how the tool is used. We need to understand the limits of these tools because what we choose to measure is even more important in order to avoid a narrow way of looking at life and deriving happiness from it.[3]

The repetitive circles in Exercises in Shape (III) are imaged using cookie cutters. Her choice of cookie cutters is significant. In an interview, Ye revealed that “Conventionally, art making is considered elitist and exclusive. As a counterpoint, the works I did then were intentionally made to look frivolous, common and light”.[4] The use of everyday cooking tools like cookie cutters to produce the repetition of circles is a reminder that we do certain things out of love and fun, which requires no motivation from measuring and tracking. The performative act of using the cookie cutters as a stencil effectively un-tracks our unquestioned need for measuring.

The use of repetitive grids and circles convey a sense of what Foster terms, “traumatic realism” as a “multiplicity [that] makes for the paradox not only of images that are both affective and affectless, but also of viewers that are neither integrated… nor dissolved”.[5] The viewer is both emotionally and psychologically aroused by the multiplicity of patterns and the images from children’s books and posters; while feeling detached due to the repetition at the same time in Exercises in Memory (I). The process of anticipation in remembering these familiar images from children’s books is a psychological experience that involves a reconstruction of our memories of reading these illustrations by Kwan Mei Shan without understanding the subtext of racial harmony and other forms of social propaganda messages critically.[6] Kwan Mei Shan’s illustrations of children’s picture books such as The Adventures of Mooty, the Singapore Folk Tales series and primary school books commissioned and published by the Educational Publications Bureau, Ministry of Education as part of the primary pilot project produced characters like Bala and Ah Lee the Road Sweeper that left an indelible mark on our childhood memories.[7] In an interview by curator, Lindy Poh, Ye revealed her own psychological and emotional responses from these picture books as an adult:

As an adult, associations of word/image/memory/emotion get more complicated. An image could trigger unexpected memories and emotions. Looking at picture books with your young daughter could trigger strong feelings of loss; the most beautiful cakes could remind you of your first encounter with disease and sickness. I guess I am trying to say that there is a fine line between positive and negative associations.[8]

 

The triggering of emotions when an adult re-encounters these images from picture books from their childhood past is a traumatic moment as social propagandistic and politically correct messages of multiculturalism, racial harmony and the state ideology of meritocracy which were unquestioned when we were children are made visible when we are adults. Bala as the spaceman suggests science and progress. The name Bala itself denotes power, strength and being child-like, derived from Sanskrit. The idea of meritocracy for all regardless of ethnicity in a multicultural Singapore that strives for progress is a strong message to all ethnic minorities as values that are inculcated from young.  The re-reading of these children’s books and images from posters as propagating social messages that we now question from the present marks the artist as a resistant subject that critiques the various strategies adopted by the propaganda machinery.

Shifts between anticipation and reconstruction by revisiting the past from the needs and drives of the present suggest ways of practicing. Revisiting her earlier works almost 15 years ago in 1998 when she was pursuing her Master of Fine Art at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University), a period she regarded as being most significant to her artistic practice is such a way in which she continues a dialogue between her current and past practices. Ye’s Master studies at RMIT resulted in a series of installation plans and drawings with trajectories that link back to her current works in The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea that seeks to “explore how we use invented devices and templates to organize and quantify vast items and events, even emotions and memories by thinking of templates, cookie-cutters and book illustrations as a form of ready-made items; and to use existing items and images to create rather than create new items or images”.[9]

painting waiting for installation to fail comprises of an ice block that is melting into a funnel with 5 narrow openings that channels the water to 5 balloons in different conditions including: balloons that are squashed between 2 plates, leaking, contained in a small fish tank, and bolted to the wall. These balloons are expected to fill up with water from the melting ice block and eventually burst with some of the water spilling on to the “average” painting installed below the balloons. The artist wrote the following ideas on the installation drawing:

  1. Painting as potential disaster waiting to happen
  2. Painting waiting for installation to fail
  3. Painting as part of an installation that does nothing

The idea of an ‘average’ painting itself brings to the fore Fosters’ artist as resistant subject, as Ye was a Masters student at RMIT with its own ways of measuring and tracking academic excellence. Ye’s resistance to such ways of measuring “success” in the academia in the fine arts is revealed through her witty play on what is considered an “average” painting and the practice of painting itself, which has entered the discourse on art in Singapore when arts reporter, Huang Lijie asked if “painting is Dead?” in her article, Painting Under Fire.[10] Is the practice of painting condemned to playing the role of the poor cousin to installation art as a critical in the realm of contemporary art? Is painting really waiting for installation to fail to regain its vitality as is it really doing nothing more to offer? The willingness to fail, apparently doing nothing but thinking deeply and an embracement of spontaneity, accidents, and chance amidst disaster are all equally valid ways of practicing and making art that is ephemeral and resists consumption by capital. The artists as a resistant subject un-tracks ways of measuring an artwork based on its readiness to be converted into monetary value, and thus capital is revealed in painting waiting for installation to fail.

It was during her Master’s research that Ye began to explore spatial relationships and ways of seeing. Invisible Space with Shadow is a wall installation with suspended rubber strips casting shadows that are both real and painted; with nails in the wall that are both used to suspend the rubber strips but also uselessly nailed into the wall doing nothing. This work brings us full circle to Fosters’ Return of the Real  historiographic approach of deferred action through anticipation and reconstruction of events as the painted shadows cast suggest future possible shadows that might be cast that merge seamlessly with existing shadows cast by the rubber strips. Painting, the installative and drawing are united as one, grounded in materialities and social sites, a return to the real. By presenting her previous and current works in The Loss Index: Perishables and Other Miscellanea, Ye demonstrates how the present could be understood in relation to the past while it’s true understanding can only be subject to the future, with its interpretations that have yet to be written.

 

Seng Yu Jin is a Singapore-based writer and art critic. He is also an educator lecturing at LASALLE College of the Arts and curator. 


[1] Hal Foster, Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Massachusetts: MIT, 1996). Incidentally, both Ye Shufang and author have been shaped by Hal Fosters’ writings in their artistic and art historical practices respectively.

[2] Chuah Beng Huat, Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore (London: Routlege, 1995), pp.31-35.

[3] According to Ye Shufang, basic instruments are used for us to measure, observe and compare a range of things. They are created to quantify things/areas/items that are infinite, such as distance, curves or shapes. The French curve, for example, was created to enable us to create a wide range and combination of curvatures; and when used systematically, will enable us to replicate even the most complicated curvatures found in nature. Email statement from Ye Shufang, 22/02/2013.

[4] Interview with Ye Shufang by Salleh Japar, The President’s Young Talents (Singapore: SAM, 2001), p. 63.

[5] Foster, The Return of the Real, p. 136.

[6] Celebrated illustrationist, Kwan Mei Shan passed away on 8 May 2012, in Vancouver, Canada.

[7] Kwan Shan Mei illustrated many children’s books written by Jessie Wee in the 1980s, including the Adventures of Mooty series. Chek Chia Hearn and Chan Kim Imm were other writers whom Kwan Shan Mei collaborated with for the Folk Tale series (e.g. Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Pakistan, Mongolia, Tibet).

[8] ‘An Instrument for Making a Million Curves’, Interview with Lindy Poh in The Happiness Index (Singapore: TPM, 2011).

[9] Email from Ye Shufang, 22/02/2013

[10] Huang Lijie, The Straits Times, Life, Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore, August 14th 2012, Page C3

Documentation

 Installation Process

 Documentation of Impermanent Artwork

Opening

Press