SYDNEY. 12 APRIL – 26 MAY 2019.
Artists: Rathin Barman, Jessica Bradford, Erika Tan and Moses Tan
Taking Singapore as a locus of multiple regional identities, By All Estimates brings together works by artists that give form to narratives obscured by the city-state’s rapid urban and social development and the coexistence of competing projections of cultural inheritance and recognition. Over the past decade especially, Singapore’s investment in cultural institutions has been seen as an attempt to position the nation as a beacon of cultural capital in Southeast Asia. Underpinning this expansion lies an ever-evolving matrix of received and contested narratives that within certain contemporary public realms—from the streets of the city to the corridors of the museum—jostle, overlap or otherwise mingle in approximations of the influence of multiple societal and economic imperatives. By All Estimates presents works from Kolkata-based Rathin Barman, London-based Erika Tan and Singapore-based Moses Tan in Australia for the first time, alongside works from Singapore-born and Sydney-based artist Jessica Bradford.
Rathin Barman’s Home, and a home (2016) takes as its foundation the façade of a colonial shopfront building in Singapore’s Little India district. Commissioned by and created for the Singapore Biennale 2016, Barman considers his 1:1 scale structure of welded brass and steel as a three-dimensional drawing in which he invites viewers to physically enter, thereby transforming the body’s relationship to the work from an architectural exterior to a cage-like interior space. During his research for this work, Barman spent significant time engaging with migrant workers – mostly men and mostly from the Bengal region of Bangladesh and India – whose day of hard labour in the construction and maintenance sectors begins before sunrise. Many of these men live in cramped conditions above such shophouses that, on the outside at least, offer tourists a picture of Singapore’s colonial past while at the same time masking the visibility of the migrant workers that are essential for the ongoing development of the city’s infrastructure and the services that keep its economy humming.
Jessica Bradford’s ongoing historical and present-day research around Singapore’s Haw Par Villa underpins her most recent body of work spanning painting, ceramics, video and installation. Formerly known as Tiger Balm Garden, Haw Par Villa’s website describes the site as ‘an 8.5-hectare Asian cultural park, the last of its kind in the world … The eclectic park is a treasure trove of Asian culture, history, philosophy and religion—quirky yet enlightening, at the same time.’ Established in 1937 by Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the developers of the famous Tiger Balm medicinal ointment, the park was intended as a both an educational and entertaining experience that offered hundreds of statues and giant dioramas based on Chinese folk history, mythology and morality. In the 1980s, a period coinciding with Bradford’s early memories of visiting with her family as a child, the park was acquired by the Singaporean Government during a period of concentrated governmental debate around national identity marked by a renewed focus on ‘Asian values’. Over the years, sculptures have been added or removed, modified or relocated by various involved parties, often altering the intended symbolism or meaning of the statues, dioramas and the park itself. In her work, Bradford excavates and further obfuscates Haw Par Villa’s layered representations of the intertwined projections of cultural and national identities that jostle among competing ideas about tradition and its processes of inheritance.
Erika Tan’s Repatriating The Object With No Shadow: Along, Against, Within and Through (2013–14) takes the structure of an A to Z (a ‘gesture’ towards the encyclopaedic or comprehensive), to approach a glossary of terms, events, artefacts and personal accounts which connect us to the historical through the specifics and the context of the colonial museum in Malaya. Beginning with ‘A is for adventure, advantage and advocate’, Tan’s video work employs archival anthropological films of indigenous tribes of the Malay peninsula, tracking shots of museum displays, animations of collection objects backed by green screens, and a voiceover narration that hovers between pedagogical lecture and fictional fable, among other audio-visual material, to create a mesmeric filmic montage that challenges past paradigms of ethnographic commission and omission, inclusion and exclusion, with broader contemporary resonances and implications.
Moses Tan presents works from his recent series, Memorial for Boogie Street (2018). Incorporating drawing, sculpture, audio and virtual reality, Tan’s suite of works in By All Estimates seek to re-articulate often forgotten, repressed and censored queer histories of Singapore, especially of the communities and activities that centred around Bugis Street from the 1950s to the mid-1980s when the downtown area begun its transformation from a well-known (and well-frequented) site for cruising and transgender sex workers and their clients to what is today a haven for tourists with malls, markets and cultural institutions. Playing with ‘Boogie Street’, the title of a Leonard Cohen song that is said to have been inspired by the songwriter’s short stopover in Singapore in the early 1970s on the way back from Sydney as part of a world tour, Tan’s works are an elegy to an era that seemed more open – and paradoxically, compared to today – permissive of flaunting queerness ,while at the same time stand as metaphors for the relationship between the street and the inner lives and latent desires of its varying denizens.
Rathin Barman (b. 1981, Tripura, India) is an artist based in Kolkata, India, who is interested in interventions in urban spaces. His sculptures, drawings and installations seek to redefine space and investigate the city as a spatial and political phenomenon, reflecting many ideologies and different socio-political points of view. Recent solo exhibitions include I Wish to Let You Fall Out of My Hands (Chapter II) (2017) and No…I Remember It Well (2015), Experimenter, Kolkata, and A Goldfish Bowl (2014), GALLERYSKE, Bangalore. Group exhibitions include Art Basel 2018, Basel; Rendez-vous/13 Biennale de Lyon (2015), Institut de’Art Contemporain, Lyon; Land of No Horizon (2014), Nature Morte, New Delhi; Dhaka Art Summit (2014); Edge Effect, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Kochi; Midnight’s Grandchildren, Studio X (2014), Mumbai; Art Dubai (2013); India Art Fair, New Delhi (2012–2014); nd Frieze New York Sculpture Park (2012); Barman’s work is in the collections of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi; Coimbatore Center for Contemporary Art (CoCCA), Coimbatore, among other important collections. He is represented by Experimenter, Kolkata.
Jessica Bradford (b. 1987, Singapore) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Sydney. Her work explores her mixed race heritage by questioning stereotypical representations of cultural or national identity. She has held solo exhibitions at Firstdraft, MOP Projects and Galerie Pompom, and is a 2018 Parramatta Artists Studios resident. Bradford’s work has been included in curated group shows at Delmar Gallery (2017), Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (2015), Fairfield Museum & Gallery (2014) and Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest (2013). Bradford holds an MFA by Research from Sydney College of the Arts, and was a recipient of the Australian Postgraduate Award. She has been a finalist in the John Fries Memorial Prize, the Tim Olsen Drawing Prize, and the Jenny Birt Award.
Erika Tan (b. 1967, Singapore) is an artist and curator based in London. Her work evolves from an extensive process of research focused on interests in received narratives, contested heritage, subjugated voices and the transnational movements of ideas, people and things. Solo exhibitions include APA JIKA, The Mis-Placed Comma, National Gallery Singapore ‘Uncommissioned’ tablet platform (2017-2020); Come Cannibalise Us, Why Don’t You? (Sila Mengkanibalkan Kami, Mahu Tak?), a major exhibition, symposium and artist book project presented at NUS Museum, Singapore, and Central Saint Martins School of Art, London (2014-2016), and Persistent Visions, Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester (2005), NUS Museum, Singapore (2010) and Vargas Museum, Manila (2010). Group exhibitions include Diaspora Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (2017); On Attachments and Unknowns, SA SA BASSAC, Phnom Penh (2017); Double Visions, He Xiangning Museum of Art, Shenzen (2014); Camping and Tramping Through The Colonial Archive: The Museum in Malaya, NUS Museum, Singapore (2011–2013); Thermocline of Art, ZKM, Germany (2007); Around The World in Eighty Days, South London Gallery/ICA (2007); the inaugural Singapore Biennale (2006); Cities on the Move, Hayward Gallery, London (1999). Tan studied Social Anthropology and Archaeology at Kings College, Cambridge; Film Directing at The Beijing Film Academy, followed by an MA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins School of Art, London. She currently teaches Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, was awarded the Stanley Picker Fine Art Fellowship 2018-2020, and is a founding member of Asia-Art-Activism, Raven Row, London.
Moses Tan (b. 1986, Singapore) is a Singapore-based artist whose work explores histories that intersect with queer theory and politics while looking at melancholia and shame as points of departure. Working with drawing, video and installation, his interest lies in the use of subtlety and codes in the articulation of narratives. He graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts with a BA(Hons) in Fine Arts and a BA(Hons) in Chemistry and Biological Chemistry from Nanyang Technological University. He was awarded the Noise Singapore Award for Art and Design in 2014, Winston Oh Travel Research Grant in 2016, and the LASALLE Award for Academic Excellence in 2016. He has shown in Grey Projects (SG), Hidden Space (HK), Indiana University (US), Sabanci University (TR), Kunst Im Dialog (DE) and also recently completed a residency in Santa Fe Art Institute (US).